Date: 4/11/18 6:34 am
From: Robert Lyons <boblyons...>
Subject: [birders] Western Grebe possible?
Here’s a question from a fairly casual birder, and a frequent lurker on this list:

This morning about 7 AM, I saw three grebes swimming together on the Huron River empondment just West of the Superior Rd bridge, North of Ypsi. By the time I realized they were not Pied-billed Grebes, they had begin moving across the pond, and my view wasn’t ideal. They had black on the back of their necks, extending over the tops of their heads. The front of the necks and the bottom of the head on all three were stark white, with a sharp delineation between dark and white. Their bills could not clearly be seen, but they seemed longer than I expected for a Pied-billed Grebe. There was no tuft of light color at the tail, as I commonly see on a Pied-Billed; at most there was a slight patch of lighter color there. I did not note the coloration on their sides before they disappeared in the brush on the opposite side of the pond.

Consulting my reference books, the best physical match was the Western Grebe, but these are uncommon in Michigan, especially here in Southeast MI. Another possible match was a winter-phase Eared Grebe, but the separation between dark and light on the Eared Grebe's necks does not appear to be as starky delineated as I saw on the birds this morning. As they turned their heads, they gave almost a “semaphore” effect, flashing the light-versus-dark on their necks.

Are Eared Grebes still in winter plumage currently, or should they be in breeding colors?
Is the Western Grebe too unlikely to consider, based on what I saw?
Am I missing other possible suspects?
What should I look for, if these birds reappear?

They never showed again this morning, after I lost them in the brush at the far side of the pond, despite half an hour of watching. Chances are they flew away when I was looking elsewhere.

- Bob Lyons

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