Multiple Leucistic Eared Grebes Along The Antelope Island Causeway

I photographed eight Leucistic Eared Grebes in 14 minutes yesterday morning and at least one more later on.

  • Prepare yourself to be disappointed by the small size of these images. As I mentioned yesterday we’re having problems with our server so in order to “lighten the load” I’m trying to limit my posts to a single image until we get it resolved. I wanted to post at least two photos today so both of these images are only half their normal size (450 pixels on the long side instead of 900). The birds weren’t very close and these photos have been heavily cropped so you’re not missing much detail… 

Leucism in birds is the lack of normal pigments in feathers and may be indicated by a single white feather, all of them being white, or anywhere in-between. Leucistic birds have normal colored eyes, legs, feet and any other bare part (leucistic individuals are not albinos).

Others have reported the occasional leucistic Eared Grebe along the causeway in past years but since I’m generally not one to chase rarities I’d never photographed one until yesterday. When we spotted our first one on the north side of the causeway I was close to being flabbergasted but when we kept finding and photographing more of them every couple of hundred yards or so I couldn’t believe my eyes. They weren’t close enough for good detail in my photos (photographing from the elevated road) but each one we saw was actually quite close to the shore.


The bird on the right is one of the leucistic grebes. The other one is typical of what almost all of the other hundreds of thousands of Eared Grebes on the lake look like right now – many of them are transitioning out of breeding plumage while they’re here. The leucistic grebes I photographed yesterday morning varied from almost pure white to significantly darker than this bird but there was no question that each of them was leucistic. In each case the contrast with typical grebes was dramatic.



This was one of the grebes that was very nearly pure white.

The incidence of leucism in Eared Grebes varies but it’s always low. One comprehensive study of Eared Grebes on Mono Lake in CA summarized their results as follows:

  • “Frequency of leucism. – Leucistic birds were rare among spring migrants (Table 3). I saw none among ca. 42,000 birds counted in March-May in 198 1, 1982, 1983; in May, 1984, two were seen among ca. 26,000 grebes. I estimated that they were no more common than 1:15,000-20,000 at this season. In summer (June-July), they were much more conspicuous. In 198 1, 1982, and 1984, I determined a ratio of ca. 1:5,000-8,000, but in 1983, there were at least 13 in a summering population of 6,000 (1:460)”.

I have no idea why we found so many leucistic grebes in such a short time and in such a small area. The first time I drove that approximate two miles we found at least eight of them. We were so excited we turned around and did it again and I’m convinced there were several more leucistic individuals that time but the coloration of some of them was so similar I’m not sure of an exact count.

For bird lovers these are exciting times along the causeway.






A Rare Frontal Look At One Of The Red-naped Sapsuckers

I say “rare” because over four days this was one of the very few times I photographed either adult sapsucker when it wasn’t plastered against the nest cavity entrance.


1/2500, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This was one of the pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers I photographed last week in Idaho as they were feeding a single chick in their nest cavity. The adults would fly in and land at the cavity, stuff insects down the throat of the youngster and then leave the area almost immediately. I had very few opportunities to photograph either bird doing anything else.

But this one surprised me when it flew to one of the branches of the nest tree and posed for a few seconds. I like this image because it’s such a different pose than I usually got and I also enjoy the similar angles of the bird and the vertical branch at right. This is most likely the male of the pair because it doesn’t have any white under the chin as the female often does but that trait is variable so I can’t be certain.

To my eye two areas of the background of this shot look suspiciously like I might have done some amateurish cloning back there but I haven’t. All I’ve done to the image is crop, adjust exposure slightly and selectively sharpen the bird and perch.


Note: We’ve been having some issues with an overloaded server so until we can get them resolved I’ll only be posting one or two images per post. Hopefully it won’t take long to solve the problem.