Eared grebe pairs make good parents. Mom gives the kids a ride that keeps them warm, dry and away from predators while dad keeps up a steady flow of food for the ravenous youngsters.
Driving down the wildlife loop at Camas National Wildlife Refuge last week was frustrating. No matter how slow we drove, the crunch of the tires and the engine cooling fan always seemed to push wildlife away. I particularly wanted a nice portrait of an eared grebe, a handsome waterbird, but they would see or hear us coming and with a plop would dive under the water only to resurface behind us or too far out for the lenses.
Then my friend, Gary, spotted an eared grebe chick near shore. This had some potential. We crept up, sure the parents would dive, but they seemed to pay no attention to us. Soon we saw another chick floating nearby and I realized why the mom wasn’t diving. Like loons and mergansers, grebes often carry their chicks on their back. Mom’s posture was a little off and I wondered if she might have a chick hitching a ride.
As we watched, the two swimming chicks came over to mom and tried to scramble up onto her back. One made it but the other didn’t and it began paddling around again. As the successful chick scrambled under mom’s wing, we saw a sibling already there.
In the meantime, dad was diving and coming back with morsels to feed the chicks. Both mom and dad were so busy they scarcely seemed to notice us so long as we stayed in the truck.
I shot a few images but there always seemed to be a reed or two right in front of the birds. I would edge forward or backward just a bit for a clear shooting line only to have them drift behind a cattail.
While we played this game, we kept an eye on the youngster that had not gained a free ride from mom. Neither parent made any attempt to corral in or feed the errant offspring and the separation grew wider. We wondered what would happen, sure that if the parents didn’t collect the little one soon, its fate would be sealed.
As a hardened biologist used to managing the population and not the individual, I feigned indifference but inside I worried for the little guy. I realized that on a population level, whether or not this particular chick survived meant nothing. Yet, I couldn’t help but think of the story of the boy throwing stranded starfish back into the sea. A man came along and chastised the boy, telling him that his efforts meant nothing to the starfish population. The boy reached down and picked up another starfish, examined it, and tossed it back into the ocean. “It means something to that one,” he countered.
I continued to photograph, all the while keeping an eye on the errant one. The parents finally drifted into an area without reeds or cattails and I had my shot, but the little chick seemed abandoned to its fate.
To be honest, though I was equipped for it, rescue never entered my mind. Nature would take its course, whatever that would be. As it turned out, I am glad I didn’t interfere, for when mom drifted close again, baby practically ran on water to her and with a little boost, scrambled up to join its siblings.
Once she had her full brood, mom headed away from us, clearly a sign that she had not forgotten her little one and proof positive that nature, given a chance, isn’t always cruel.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho