Gallery: Spring dance delights nature-lovers

A CENTURY and a half ago it was one of the rarest birds in Britain - shot in thousands to provide feathers for fashion-conscious Victorian ladies.

A CENTURY and a half ago it was one of the rarest birds in Britain - shot in thousands to provide feathers for fashion-conscious Victorian ladies.

Today the great crested grebe is one of Britain's conservation success stories - and its spring courtship dance delights birdwatchers across the country.

These stunning pictures of the dance were captured by regular Star contributor Steve Plume as the pair completed their courtship dance on Alton Water near Tattingstone.

The courtship dance is a delight, with the birds carrying out elaborate swimming moves around each other as they pair up for the breeding season.

The highlight is when they stand on the water and exchange a sprig of water weed.

Steve said he had been following grebes for some time before capturing the entire dance.

Most Read

“I had seen them several times, but they had not performed like this in front of the camera,” he said. “Then earlier this month I went to Alton Water, set up my camera and within about half an hour they performed the whole ritual - it only lasted a minute or two.

“It was just a bit of shame that the day itself was not a bit better, it was overcast and frankly a bit dull - but the pictures were okay.”

Great crested grebes can be seen at lakes and reservoirs across the area.

“I've been following a pair at Barham pits for years. They have tried to bring up young but the nest keeps getting predated.

“And there are several on Needham Lake - people go along there to see them.”

Although great crested grebes prefer still water like lakes and reservoirs, they can also sometimes be seen on rivers.

They are well-known for diving deep - and although they are protected there is a suspicion that they are persecuted by a small minority of rogue anglers.

“Overall they seem to be doing pretty well and are certainly a very attractive bird,” said Mr Plume.

Back in 1860 the number of great crested grebes was estimate at just 100 pairs in Britain - they had been persecuted so their feathers could be used in women's hats.

It was the fashion for using feathers in hats that led to the formation of the Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889. It was awarded a royal charter and became the RSPB just 15 years later, in 1904.

Since the great crested grebe was offered protection its numbers have risen steadily. There are now an estimated 9,400 breeding adults in Britain, and nearly 20,000 winter in this country.

The bird is now not considered to be endangered in this country - it is on the conservation “green” list.

The crested feathers on the head only remain during the breeding season - later in the year they have a much more drab appearance.

Great crested grebes are the most commonly seen grebe in Britain, but there are actually more little grebes - which are much more shy - in this country.

Other species, red-necked grebes, black-necked grebes, and Slavonian grebes are much rarer in Britain.

Source: RSPB