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A Spring Project

Since starting photography, one area I have struggled with was setting my sights on one species. This is a great way to learn the behaviours and habits of animals, however with all the incredible species around me it was tough not to get distracted. This year was going to be different.

With spring just around the corner, it was a perfect time to start looking. I wanted to capture a species where I could observe changes all the way through spring. I ended up choosing Great Crested Grebes.

In the past, I have done all my photography laying down at the waters edge. I began this project off the same way but after countless sessions ending with wet feet trying to get lower and lower, I decide to invest in some waders. When starting photography I never thought I would be one of those weirdos almost chest height in the water to get a shot but here we are. This allowed me to get even lower than before which helps isolate the subject and create some incredible effects. Most of the shots I started getting were portraits and small in the frames.

We were in mid-lockdown at the time I started photographing the Grebes so I spent quite a few mornings and evenings visiting a pair at my local lake. At this time of year they have started to pair up and begin their elaborate mating rituals. The most common of these is the courtship. This is a beautiful dance where the pair comes together and performs lots of shaking and bobbing of their heads.

Great Crested Grebe Courtship

If you get very lucky you may even capture their 'weed dance' which is when they both dive to retrieve a piece of weed. They then surface and swim low and then erupting out of the water, breast to breast, shaking their heads. This strengthens the bond between the pair. Unfortunately this year I got extremely unlucky with capturing this moment, never in the right place but I was fortunate enough to witness it multiple times. Hopefully next year I manage to capture something a little better.

Weed Dance

After watching the Grebes for a few weeks I noticed they repeated a few different behaviours; shaking, stretching wings, stand offs at another pair. I aimed to capture as many of these as possible.

One of my favourite moments from watching the Grebes was their rivalry with the other pair. They face off against each other, calling, diving and bluff charging. During this, they will perform the courtship to show off to the other pair. I managed to capture one of my favourite images with this behaviour being shown.

Two Pairs Performing their Courtship

Unfortunately just as the Grebes laid their eggs, I was back to work full time. This meant I was able to spend a lot less time with them than I had hoped. However, I kept an eye on them and by early June the Grebettes had hatched. Just after hatching they take to their parents backs, and are very competent swimmers after only a few hours. Sporting a 'humbug' feather pattern and hiding under their parents wings they are almost completely invisible to predators and even keen photographers.

I had been very fortunate with getting extremely close to the adults but once the young hatched they kept their distance. This meant I had to find another strategy to get close to them. I crept up and found openings in the reeds. This meant having very little choice in lighting conditions so my first photos were all backlit, which can make for some lovely shots but the light was harsh by the time I got in position.

I came back at every opportunity and one evening while hiding in a overhanging tree I managed to get a photo I was happy with.

A Family Portrait

After I captured that, it was over a week before I managed to get back to visit them. By this time the young had grown up a lot. I was extremely lucky and had some incredible weather conditions and the family of Grebes came extremely close. These were some of the shots I managed to capture that morning.

This takes me to the end of my first project and I am extremely pleased with how it turned out. I have learned a lot with both photography and field craft and I experienced some incredible moments with this beautiful family of Great Crested Grebes.

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