Pied-billed Grebe (and trailing flock) at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
During the winter, bird watching at our Great Valley refuges is relatively straightforward. There are thousands, even tens of thousands of migratory geese and cranes, and one can look practically any direction and see all manner of large charismatic bird species. At other times of the year it can be a bit of a challenge. A great many summer residents have arrived and they are having babies, and it makes sense that they would want to be inconspicuous until the chicks are grown enough to fend for themselves.
We were at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge last week and made a stop at the nature trail near the visitor center. At first glance not much was moving. At that point the value of binoculars or a powerful zoom lens became apparent. I saw something moving in the brown vegetation in the center of the picture above. I could barely make it out.
It looked like some strange aquatic beast periscoping out of the water. Then there were more of them, and then momma appeared. She was a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) with a flock of four chicks!
The Pied-billed Grebes are described as half-bird, half-submarine, given their penchant for constantly diving. They can be very frustrating to photograph for that reason. Invariably, the moment I have one in focus it disappears and reappears somewhere far away.
It's moments like this that I really appreciate a 60x zoom. I was able to see these cute little chicks from probably 150 yards away, get some almost-focused pictures, and I didn't have to disturb them.