Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) sitting on nest with its chicks on its back and under its wing.

Fancourt, George, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

Canon EOS R5 with Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II USM lens and a Canon EF extender 1.4x attached with an EF/RF adapter.

The images in this blog cover 33 days from the time of having built their nest to their chicks becoming far more independent.  The adult pair started by building their nest which they situated under some overhanging sedge.  It was a well-concealed location in the pond, but unfortunately made photography very difficult.  Overhanging vegetation necessitated me lying flat down on the bank of the pond to get low enough to obtain a shooting angle without too much obstruction from the foliage. As I wanted the sun to be very low near the horizon giving some light onto the nest, I photographed very early in the mornings. Also, to get the sun angle correct, I had to position myself on the bank furthest from the nest. I had to use very long focal length lens set-ups to get reasonably sized images.

All images in the blog were taken with either a Canon R3 with an RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM lens and a Canon RF extender 2x or a Canon R5 with an EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon EF extender 1.4x. The images were captured using a Gitzo 1548 tripod with a gimbal type head or, in many cases, handheld because of the very low shooting position.

Both male and female were involved with the nest building, bringing in foliage and algae which was heaped in the shallow water. It looked a rather messy and somewhat fragile nest.

Incubation period is about 19 to 24 days. I believe the eggs were layed on about 7 September.  Incubation is carried out by both adults. I visited the site almost every day after that.  There had been an inordinate amount of rain so I was unable to go there every day at about hatching time. I did get to photograph the nest on 27 September and two chicks had just hatched.  This tallies with the incubation time.

At first the chicks stayed on the nest or took refuge under the wings of the adult on the nest, whilst the other adult hunted for food and fed the chicks.  They seemed to take turns in doing this.  The chicks are very demanding as you can see from the images.  I observed the adult taking tadpoles, insect larvae, grubs  and small insects to the chicks.  The adults are very busy and dive frequently for food.

Withing two days the chicks seemed to leave the nest quite often and were fed on the water by the adults. There were only two chicks and each one was attended to by one of the adults. They still however often crept in under the wings of the adults –  see the third image below where you can just see the eye of the second chick well concealed under the adult’s wing.

It seemed to be a fairly organized existence as they grew raidly and became more independent.
However, I did notice that a Reed Cormorant was now frequenting the pond quite often – much to the consternation of the adults. In spite of a big difference in their sizes, the Grebes would chase the Cormorant.

The last time I photographed any of the chicks was 11 October. By now they were some 14 days old.

Unfortunately, when I went to the pond on 12 October, neither chick was there.  I presume that the Cormorant had got hold of them.  I have been back often and the two Adults were swimmimg and feeding on the pond – but no chicks!  The breeding success of Little Grebes is very low, sometimes taking four attempts before chicks become fully fledged. 

However, I was back at the pond on 13 November and a new nest has been built and an adult was sitting on the nest – presumably incubating another clutch of eggs. The below image shows this. I trust they will have better success – I will be watching.