Bird #342 — Red-necked Grebe

podiceps (from podos, foot, and caput, head) grisegena (from griseus, gray, and gena, cheek)

Monday, July 15, 1991 — 7:35 am

Crow Wing County, Minnesota — North Long Lake — Route 371

This one was easy. Almost too easy. A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota says, “There are two excellent lakes in Crow Wing County for observing the sought-after Red-necked Grebe. On North Long Lake their nests are visible in the bulrushes just a few yards off Hwy. 371.”

Bang Printing is located in Brainerd. The owner, John Kurtzman, had a cabin on Gull Lake. We were invited to stay in the cabin for a week, and we accepted.  When Sally was little, her family lived in Brainerd, and her dad worked at Lakeland Press, which was bought out by Bang. Some of Art’s coworkers still worked at Bang.  So Art, Beverly and Jonathan came up to spend the week with us. We arrived on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday morning at 6:30 I woke up to the sound of Art and Beverly heading out for their daily walk. I drove into Brainerd (almost 20 miles to the south), then headed for North Long Lake on Route 371. I hadn’t even slowed down when I noticed two birds swimming in the open water just beyond the wild rice. I pulled over, set up my scope and … Red-necked Grebes. I didn’t see any nests, but I saw plenty of birds.

The two birds were lazily swimming, drifting and occasionally diving about 10 yards beyond the rice and 60 yards or so from shore. One was preening, rubbing its neck on its back and picking at the feathers. I noticed a bump on its back. I was trying to figure out what it was when the grebe fluffed up its wings and made a little jump forward. A tiny chick popped off its back and landed in the water behind the adult. A few seconds later this was repeated, and another chick landed in the lake. The two very tiny chicks followed closely after the adults for a few seconds, then climbed back aboard and hid under the wings. The adult resumed its lazy drifting.

I scoped the rice beds and noticed another pair about 150 yards further south. One adult was floating still in the rice while another swam up to it with a five-inch fish in its bill. The reeds were too tall for me to see much of what was going on.

I heard the original pair giving a loud, high-pitched “ki-ki” call and resumed watching them for a while. They weren’t doing too much.

I got back in the car and headed north. I spotted four more grebes about 300 yards along the lake. Two adults were swimming close to shore amidst the rice, about 40 yards apart. Each adult was accompanied by a larger, stripe-headed chick.

Later in the day, I stopped by again to take pictures. Sally, Jon and Art were with me, and I showed them the grebes. In the area where I saw the two with the fish, we saw two adults and two larger chicks for a probably total of 12 grebes within a 400 yard stretch of lake. One of the adults was swimming in a line, dipping its head under the surface every few seconds and letting the water run over its back.

There was a bit of irony to all this. In 1987, Jim Matheson and I went to Brainerd to inventory our company’s stock. One evening we went out to dinner with John Kurtzman and Roger Wagner (the salesman) at Iven’s on the Bay. That’s the restaurant on the shore of North Long Lake, just up the road from where I saw the grebes. At the time, I didn’t know about the grebes and so I didn’t see them.  This is a good example of something or other. Incidently, at Iven’s I had a piece of chocolate-covered cheesecake, one of the 10 best things I’ve ever eaten.

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