Western Grebe And Chick – An Interesting Image For Three Reasons

Back brooding grebes are always fun to photograph but this image holds additional interest for me even beyond the “cuteness factor” of the chick.


western grebe 1704 ron dudley1/2000, f/8, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in 

I photographed this back brooding Western Grebe four days ago at Bear River MBR. The adult and its mate had three chicks but by this time the youngsters were too large for all three to fit on the back of one parent simultaneously so they had two strategies for dealing with it. Either two chicks would ride on the back of one parent with the other one swimming directly behind and waiting its turn for a free ride on the same adult or two of them would ride on the back of one parent while the third was back brooded by the other adult. When I took this shot the two siblings of this chick were on the back of the other parent. I’ll bet this little guy felt special…

I find this image especially interesting for three reasons:

  • I believe this may be first time I’ve seen, much less photographed, a chick riding “cross-beam” on the back of an adult. Usually they ride facing forward (sometimes backwards) and mostly buried in the dorsal plumage of the parent. This riding position gives me a unique angle and better look at the young bird than I usually get.
  • Normally this composition wouldn’t work particularly well for me because there’s not enough room in the frame to the right for the adult to swim/look in to. But since the chick is facing the viewer and looking to our left, that right hand tension is reduced and I believe a more centered composition like this works best.
  • Notice that there’s no discernible catch light in the eye of the chick but even with its reduced light there is in its reflection – yet another example of a difference between a subject and its reflection (recently I discussed the reason for this discrepancy in some detail here). This kind of subtle contrast between subject and reflection is usually not even noticed but I often find myself looking for and even appreciating the differences when they occur.


Yes, I think the image would be improved if there were more light in the eye of the chick itself. I also wish the head of the adult weren’t cut off in the reflection but I lost the top of the head when I rotated the image to level so in the end I went with this compositional compromise.

Tradeoffs. There’s always tradeoffs.


Addendum: I’m adding another version of this image in response to the request from Marya Moosman in the comments below.


western grebe 1704 not rotated ron dudleyMarya – here’s the version of the image you requested to see. It includes the head of the adult in the reflection but the image isn’t level and needs some rotation. When I rotated it I lost the top of the head of the adult. Including the head also makes the crop “squarish” in shape because I have no more room to the right – a composition that doesn’t appeal to many folks.





A Red-naped Sapsucker And A Non-critter Mystery

Occasionally my photographic pursuit of birds leads me to a mystery. This is one of them.


nest cavity tree 1835 ron dudley

Whenever I visit Montana’s Centennial Valley (which is often) I make a side-trip to nearby Paul Reservoir, a small, remote and beautiful “lake” surrounded by timber and sagebrush. It’s at the end of a long, dirt road in Idaho though it’s right on the Montana border and very near the continental divide. I make the trek for a variety of “critter” reasons – moose, deer, badgers, a variety of birds and the potential for other very interesting wildlife.

But this dead aspen adjacent to the road and very near the lake has been a primary draw. The tree and several of its neighbors have nesting cavities used by Red-naped Sapsuckers and House Wrens. Two of those cavities can be seen in this photo.



red-naped sapsucker 2585 ron dudley

 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

It’s a difficult place to photograph birds because light doesn’t hit those trees until midday so when it does the light is harsh and dappled as you can see here. I photographed this Red-naped Sapsucker (probably a male) last summer as it delivered a beak-full of ants to its chicks in the nest cavity. This cavity is the lower one in the previous photo.


Ok, here’s the enigma. Very near to Paul Reservoir is one of the trailheads leading to the Continental Divide Trail. Last summer (2014) I noticed an old pickup parked at the trailhead that had obviously been there for an extended period. It raised my curiosity but not quite enough to take a photo of it and I didn’t think about it again.

Until 5 weeks ago when I visited the area once more.



old pickup 7637b ron dudley

The pickup was still there. But now it was surrounded by a very active electric fence that was barely large enough to enclose the Dodge Dakota pickup. There were sunscreens on the windows, the tires were inflated and it had Colorado plates. There were no tracks in the grass to indicate that it had been moved recently. The sign in the foreground (within inches of the fence) reads “Closed Area – The area beyond sign closed to all”. There’s a little more printing at the bottom of the sign that is illegible – the sign has apparently been there for a very long time.



solar panel 7639 ron dudley

There’s no source of electricity nearby so the fence is powered by a solar panel attached to the pickup.



electric fence sign ron dudleyThey’re very serious about keeping folks away from the pickup, no matter their native language.



trail sign 7643 ron dudley

The “Closed Area” sign obviously is meant to apply only to the small area within the fence and not to the trail which was open and available for use.

Yes, I realize that I’ve gone off on a tangent with the primary subject of this post but this little mystery has been niggling at the back of my mind for weeks now. Why leave an apparently functional vehicle at a remote trailhead for so long? Perhaps it belongs to the Forest Service but the plates are from Colorado and they’re not government plates. If it’s a private vehicle why would the Caribou-Targhee National Forest authorities allow it to stay in the trailhead parking area for such an extended period? My curiosity continues to badger me about this little enigma.

Any thoughts from my readers? Perhaps the explanation is an obvious one but it continues to elude me. Won’t be the first time…