March 11 – Strictly for Birds

Great Crested Grebes dancing in the shallows of Toft Bay

Great Crested Grebes dancing in the shallows of Toft Bay

I don’t know about you but it has seemed at times that this ‘winter of discontent’ would never end. We have had a right old bucket of rubbish thrown over us for the past few months, so it was a particular pleasure to see the first snow drops breaking through and as I write this hmm the bright spring yellow of daffodils is spreading like a rash in parks and open spaces – lovely.

I’ve visited Draycote Water quite a few times recently. If you don’t know it, it’s a huge Severn Trent reservoir on the outskirts of Rugby and it’s probably the premier place for birding in the county particularly if you like waterbirds. I’d been promising my wife Laura that she’d know that the winter was over when we saw the Great Crested Grebes (GCGs) dancing and Draycote is absolutely alive with these wonderful birds.

In winter plumage the GCG is a rather drab looking creature – grey on top, white below, but with a slender and elegant posture. As the season changes, both sexes grow the most gorgeously coloured ear tufts such that their heads appear to be adorned with pretty Easter bonnets.

We were too early on our first trip for even much of a view of their bonnets and not even a whiff of a courtship dance. On our second trip towards the very end of February headdresses were in full position on most of the birds, but we only saw one pair face each other and rather desultorily shake their stuff for a moment or two.

And then on the first weekend in March we hit it just right. It was the first bright blue sky for months and at times we could even feel the sun on our backs. Best of all though the GCG’s were dancing in the shallows of Toft Bay. We lapped up the way they faced each other, looked away shyly one from the other and then locked their eyes together and shook their bonnet -adorned heads like a pair of heavy metal fans.

A pair right at the end of our trip took their nuptials a step further. One bird dived down and emerged with weed in its bill. They faced up to each other as if about to head bang, but no, on an invisible signal they both vigorously trod water and rose up together so very elegantly so that the weed could be offered and accepted as a gift.

A reward for our perseverance definitely. Perhaps most potently though, a beautiful symbol of hope for better times to come.