Yesterday was a public holiday in Austria and we had decided to take a drive out to Lake Constance / Bodensee to see what we could turn up – given that migration season has just started to kick in and we had had a dramatic turn of weather (fresh snows), we had high hopes for something spectacular turning up. My unharnessed imagination was dreaming of Terek Sandpipers (Xenus cinereus), an Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus), or a Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), maybe even a Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes).

After a day of scouring reed beds, huge open expanses of water, and gull colonies, we ended up at a little system of smaller ponds to see if we could scour up anything there. As it turned out, this would be the highlight of my day.

At breeding time, Great Crested Grebes just come alive. All winter long we have been seeing them in their rather drab non-breeding coat, peppering the lake surface as far as the eye can see, but now, in spring, they get wonderful complexes of browns, blacks and white in their plumage. And even better, they have a wonderful vigour, life and energy about them.

Here this pair exhibiting the vigour I was just talking about.

They crane their necks out at each other, play “Simon Says”, and generally just have a good time. And at some stage, things get serious:

Now, I have seen enough Great Crested Grebe nests for the excitement level to have worn off somewhat, but it was just the sheer numbers of dancing, mating and breeding Great Crested Grebes in this one pond that blew my mind – literally dozens of grebes all getting busy within a few metres of each other, and all of this right in front of our noses.

And then there were the 20-odd Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) vying for our attention, and I just could not resist snapping off a few digiscoping photos.

Our Barn Swallows are just starting to return from Africa, and are starting to put on a nice show, with this bunch of migrating birds alighting just a few metres from me.

After an hour soaking up the ponds and all they had to offer, we briefly checked the open lake again (alongside the last pond) and picked up a Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) – a very good bird for Austria, and a lifer for me.

But still, the sheer numbers of breeding and calling Grebes has to take my prize for greatest birding moment of the day. The thing is, I find it is often nicest to experience a deeper moment or see a different side of a common species, than a fleeting moment with something lost, but not that I don’t love the odd rarity 😉


All photos digiscoped with a Swarovski spotting scope and a Canon 7D.

Written by Dale Forbes
Dale grew up in the forests and savannas of South Africa, developing a love for nature from a young age. After studying Zoology and Wildlife Science, he moved to Central America to continue his work in conservation biology. He is a member of BirdLife International’s Advisory Board and is Swarovski Optik’s Head of Strategic Business Development.