Audubon Society champions grebes
This western grebe nest, like those of Clark’s grebes, floats on the lake waters. Lowering lake levels can leave the nests stranded and the eggs at risk from predators.Photo by Ryan Burnett
Almost from the moment they are hatched, grebe chicks climb on their parent’s backs where they will ride for two to four weeks until they grow large enough to handle the cool lake waters.
The organization has launched a summer outing program for youth and has provided no cost day trips to local lakes in the communities of Loyalton, Westwood and Susanville.
Plumas Audubon has also made recent outreach presentations to the Rotary Club of Susanville, Lake Almanor West board of directors, the Lassen Land and Trails Trust Nature Camp and at the Eagle Lake Amphitheater.
“We have many more activities planned and we will keep you posted as they are scheduled. Please take a look at our new website to learn more about what is going on with the Plumas Audubon Society,” Lunder said.
In addition to Lunder’s position, David Arsenault works as director to Plumas Audubon.
The project is broader than community outreach and includes the physical counting of grebe nests on each of the local lakes.
Grebes stay on their nests approximately 24 days — the time it takes the chicks to hatch. At this time, grebes are most vulnerable to water sport wave activity and lowering lake levels.Photo by Gregg Thompson
“This summer we had two interns, Feather River College students Ricky Haworth and Liz Hauner, who assisted with the implementation of our summer tasks,” Lunder said.
Plumas Audubon Society has also hired biologist David Hamilton to oversee surveys on Almanor and Eagle Lake, a task Lunder performed last year.
The California Grebe Project is a four-year project that involves not only Plumas Audubon, but also two other Audubon chapters in California.
The three chapters, plus representatives from Audubon California and the funding organization, the Oil Trustee Council, met in Chester Aug. 23 and 24 to discuss their successes and future project goals.
Lunder provided the following update on brood survey results.
Lake Almanor is having a great nesting year so far; there are approximately 800 active nests in three colonies along the Chester Meadows.
The lake is falling fast and the grebes are reacting by moving their nest colonies into deeper water.
The most recent census of the lake was conducted Aug. 1 and revealed there are nearly 3,300 adult grebes on the lake. Observers counted five adults with young on their backs and more are hatching each day.
Observers saw instances of direct disturbance of the nest colony by kayakers, carp shooters, low-flying airplanes and boaters. River otters, ravens, bald eagles and gulls, potential predators, were also observed during nest colony monitoring.
Eagle Lake is lower than it has been in 50 years; as a result all of the tules are out of the water. Observers have not yet seen an active grebe nest and believe there will not be nesting on the lake this year.
An Aug. 6 census showed approximately 3,200 adult grebes on the lake.
Last year, Eagle Lake had nearly 1,500 nests and more than 4,000 adult grebes.
It was a very dry winter in the Eagle Lake Basin, with virtually no inflow on Pine Creek, the primary stream contributing to the lake.
Unless the region receives more precipitation, there will likely be no grebe nesting on Eagle Lake due to the lack of available nesting habitat.
Lake Almanor and Eagle Lake are home to migrating grebes each summer. The grebes winter along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Washington state. Western and Clark’s grebes are found on both lakes.
While of the same family, the grebes have slightly different coloring. Western grebes have black on their head that descends below the eye. Their bill is also a yellow-green color. Clark’s grebes also have black on the head but the coloring level does not descend to cover around their eyes. Their bills are a yellow-orange.
The grebes’ diet is primarily small fishes, insects and invertebrates they catch by diving and chasing.
Grebes swim with their feet and, while at the breeding lakes, they do not fly. A true water bird, the physical positioning of their feet to the far back of their bodies results in tremendous difficulty when the grebes attempt to stand up on land.
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