There are five species of grebe you can reasonably expect to see in Britain: the Great crested and the Little grebes are relatively common here in south Wales, while the Slavonian, the Red-necked and the Black-necked are rarer visitors. Yet, I’ve been lucky enough to see all five this year and all within 30 miles of home – in fact, except for the Slavonian at Kenfig National Nature Reserve, the other four were within walking distance of home, and one of these lovely rarities is currently visiting Cardiff Bay.
This handsome little water bird is a Black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis). Its generic name Podiceps is a combination of two Latin words, podicis, meaning vent or anus, and pes, meaning foot. This has nothing to do with the bird’s bottom – cute though that certainly is – but is, rather, a reference to the fact that its legs are attached to its body at the extreme back end. The epithet nigricollis is Latin for black-necked (niger means black and collis means neck).
This is a bird that switches from freshwater to saline habitats throughout the year, favouring freshwater lakes throughout Europe in which to breed, then moving to saline waterways to undergo its moult, before migrating to winter in the coastal estuaries of the south-western Palearctic and eastern parts of Africa. According to the RSPB website, an average of 130 birds opt to spend their winter in Britain.
This is the second Black-necked grebe to spend some time in Cardiff Bay in 2018: another – or perhaps the same – bird was here for a couple of weeks in September. Although I did see that grebe, I didn’t get very good views of it, whereas this latest visitor has been treating birders to relatively close views from the Cardiff Bay Barrage in recent days, usually in the company of Tufted ducks and Coots.
It’s a small bird – only about 12 inches long and, from the way it appears to bob about on top of the water, it must be as light as a feather. In its searches for the aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans that make up its diet, it dives frequently, staying underway for several minutes at a time and sometimes reappearing a considerable distance from where it originally disappeared.
Some of the local birding community, me included, are hoping this little grebe will stay around until at least the dawn of 2019, as it would certainly be a treat to have this on our bird lists on the first day of the new year.