It is a rare thing to find a nesting red-necked grebe in Idaho. We are fortunate to have several pairs nesting in Island Park.
As soon as the ice on Silver Lake in Harriman State Park melted several weeks ago, migrating birds began to pour in. Hundreds, if not thousands, of birds of many species have been using the lake as a stepping stone while other waters such as Island Park Reservoir and Henry’s Lake remained locked in ice. Ring-necked ducks, common loons, eared, pied-billed and western grebes, American white pelicans, trumpeter swans, mallards, great blue herons, red-breasted mergansers, and more all plied the waters for energy to continue their journey or looking for a spot to rear their family this year. Among them was a bird rarely seen in Idaho, except during migration, the red-necked grebe.
These handsome birds have spear-like yellow bills (or black with a yellow base), black crowns and silvery gray cheeks sometimes separated from the crown by a thin white line, and the namesake brick red necks. Males and females are similar.
On the lake, they called repeatedly back and forth to each other. They were clearly the most vocal birds on the lake. This mating behavior seems a little premature given that most red-necked grebes summer in Northern Canada and Alaska and thus have quite a journey ahead of them before mating can occur.
However, there is an exception and it occurs right here in Eastern Idaho. There is a small group of red-necked grebes that go no further than Henrys Lake to nest. In 2010, when I made the image that accompanies this article, I could find only the one pair. I suspected that there had to be more, but I could not find them. Last year, 11 years later, we easily found red-necked grebes in several locations and on different days. That suggests that the population has found Henrys Lake to its liking and is continuing to expand.
Red-necked grebes are much larger than pied-billed and eared grebes, with a longer bill and neck. They are a bit smaller than the commonly seen western grebe. Otherwise, they are much like our other grebes. They sit low in the water, sport legs far back on the body and dive for fish and other prey. Sometimes, like loons, they will hunt by submerging their heads and scan for prey.
As visual predators, they require relatively clear water. They also prefer shallower lakes where they can hunt the entire water column, and that makes Henrys Lake, with a reported maximum depth of 23 feet of clear water, perfect. They also require some shoreline with emergent aquatic vegetation for nesting and that habitat is abundant on the west side of Henrys Lake.
Nest building is accomplished by both the male and the female and consists of a bulky floating platform of reeds and cattails. Nests can be large, averaging 44 inches across. The female will lay a clutch of up to nine light blue eggs. When the chicks hatch, they are covered in down and active. They are able to swim, but usually spend much of their first two weeks atop a parent’s back. This must look pretty comical when there are nine chicks.
Red-necked grebes are currently listed as species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That is good news and means that populations of red-necked grebes are stable or possibly even increasing and perhaps my great-great-great grandchildren will have the opportunity to see them as well. In the meantime, now that the ice is off Henrys Lake, I think I will go see if I can find a red-necked grebe.
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. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
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:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
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