PLOUGHING at speed across the lake, what is that little round brownish thing that’s not a coot or a moorhen and not a duck? It’s probably the ubiquitous little grebe, a less flamboyant swimmer than its larger, whiskered cousin, the great crested grebe.
Grebes like things just so: a nice stretch of fresh water such as a pond, a reservoir or a sluggish stretch of river, but it must have plenty of reeds on its margins wherein these shy little creatures can hide, feed and, in due season, raise a family or two (or even three, in a good year).
A thick, woven mat of floating material makes the nest, hidden in the reedbed. The eggs, being white, could be seen by predators, therefore, when mother departs for some swimming exercise and underwater feasting, she first pulls a covering of reed leaves over them, which also helps to maintain warmth and humidity within the nest.
Winter plumage is as seasonally subtle as the reeds themselves: a pale, dull brown above with pale cream down the throat and undersides. Summer breeding dress is more glamorous, however, rouged in a dark, rusty red on the cheeks and neck. On hatching, the chicks rapidly get the idea of swimming, but will also save the effort now and then and hitch a ride on their parents’ backs. KBH