Mystery Grebe, Portbury Wharf


Luck put me on to this enigma.

I had got to where my local rhyne (Portbury, I think) slithers out into the Severn Estuary. Two or three stonechats greeted me and I never fail to fasten the bins on ‘em. This put Portbury Wharf in the background, where a flashing white cloud of waders was performing.

I transferred my attention and was happy to identify them as dunlin, now I know that knot don’t venture much further north than Clevedon this time of year. 300 or so birds swirled and wheeled across the marsh – all very distant.

Which is where a single, striking black and white grebe lurked, just offshore. My first thought was great crested but soon a wigeon entered the field of view. A bigger wigeon. Not by a great deal but enough to persuade me that great crested grebe would at least match it for size.

Little grebe, then? Hm, probably too big for that and this is where my magnificent sketch comes into play. Yes, I noted the sawn-off rump but the sheer black-and-whiteness was pushing me in the direction of Slavonian or black-necked grebe. They too have a somewhat truncated rear end.

So, there you have it. Had it been a game of poker and were I putting my opponent on a range of grebe hands, I’d have assigned the percentages thus: 40% Slavonian; 25% black-necked; 20% little; 10% great crested; and 5% red-necked, just to complete all the possibilities.

In any case, it became my 75th car-free species this year and 76 followed when I reached Woodhill Bay, where a turnstone was trying to escape the rising tide. Still no purple sandpipers at Battery Point but I did pass a chap with a scope who was on his way to Portbury Wharf. I mentioned my grebe to him and hope that he found the bird. It’ll end up on Bristol Ornithological Club’s website if so.

Hm, let’s go and have a look now…

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