Walking on Water – Rushing Grebes at Lake Hodges, San Diego

By March 8, 2022Birds

Yesterday was a wonderful morning on Lake Hodges, in north San Diego County.  I went out hoping to see Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes Rushing.  The day before a storm system had passed through, but surprisingly it dawned clear and still the morning I was to go out.  As I did a year ago, I joined Brian Caldwell , a guide and professional photographer with decades of experience on Lake Hodges, on his boat.  It’s a small skiff with several comfy seats and a silent electric trolling motor to avoid making any disturbance.  We had warm sun and glassy water.  The lake was a mirror from sunrise until about 10am.  We checked out the north shore of the lake for an hour or so, saw at least a half dozen different species of birds including a dispersed group of grebes, then went south and eventually into the eastern basin.  We saw rushing grebes on all sections of the lake.  Brian is the expert of course, and typically he will tell me when some grebes are about to rush. I’d like to think I would have spotted them on my own, but his advice gives me an edge, a little more time so that I can get my camera ready.  Sometimes the grebes are too far away for my lens, sometimes they rush away rather than towards us, and sometimes they fake us out and don’t actually rush in spite of their preparatory actions.  But given enough time and a little luck, we will have at least a few pairs rush towards us with the potential for a good photograph. After watching the famous grebes at Lake Hodges for the past two years from both the shore and a boat, I have begun to recognize the signs that a pair may rush, most importantly a particular sound the grebes make accompanied by face-to-face head motions directed at one another.  The entire spectrum of courtship behaviors these grebe exhibit is incredible (hint: there is a lot more than just the rushing).  It’s a lot of fun to watch and listen to them, try to predict when they will perform a rush, and then get the camera on them and capture an image. I managed a few on Sunday that I like.  Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Clark's grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii, Lake Hodges, San Diego, Aechmophorus clarkii

Clark's grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii, Lake Hodges, San Diego.
Image ID: 37857
Species: Clark's grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA

Western Grebes rushing in a courtship display. Rushiing grebes run across the water 60 feet (20m) or further with their feet hitting the water as rapidly as 20 times per second, Aechmophorus occidentalis, Lake Hodges, San Diego, California

Western Grebes rushing in a courtship display. Rushiing grebes run across the water 60 feet (20m) or further with their feet hitting the water as rapidly as 20 times per second.
Image ID: 37855
Species: Western grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA

White pelican flying over Lake Hodges, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, San Diego, California

White pelican flying over Lake Hodges, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.
Image ID: 37848
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA

Three Clark's Grebes in a courtship ceremony, Lake Hodges, San Diego, Aechmophorus clarkii

Three Clark's Grebes in a courtship ceremony, Lake Hodges, San Diego.
Image ID: 37856
Species: Clark's grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA

Double crested cormorant flying over Lake Hodges, Phalacrocorax auritus, San Diego, California

Double crested cormorant flying over Lake Hodges, Phalacrocorax auritus.
Image ID: 37849
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA