Introduction

Wild Time

Spring

Feel the beat of spring

Be dazzled by bluebells

Harken to a bittern's boom

Seek a swooping sand martin

Pen poetry among daffodils

Sway with dancing grebes

Get sent packing by a grouse

Take a ringside seat

Track down a tiger

Watch a rare sky dance

Chatter with a natterjack

Enjoy the great rush north

Look up in awe

Shine a light on newts

Eavesdrop on a nightingale

Go spotting early orchids

Follow a sat-tagged osprey

Gape at hunting hobbies

Nurse a passion for purple

Scour riverbanks for Ratty

Tip-toe among fritillaries

 

Summer

Hail the success of avocets

Go batty as night falls

Bewitched by a buttercup

Play the summertime blues

Thrill to damsels and dragonflies

Go after Dartford warbler

Make a splash with gannets

Stake out a badger sett

Hurrah for the king

Rejoice in Manxie's chorus

Delight in a glow worm

Fall for THE fastest bird

Be spellbound by orchids

Journey to a seabird city

Exalt at a skylark's song

Party with the puffins

Lounge with a lizard

Haunt a churring nightjar

Head seawards on safari

Discover the rare spoonbill

Join the toadlet exodus

Spot our largest butterfly

Wear a hat for terns

Hunt woodland beauties

 

Autumn

Admire our eager beavers

Marvel at migration

Forage for Autumn's bounty

Go nuts over squirrel nutkin

Ramble through purple

Gaze in awe at reds' rut

Wander in the wild wood

Cheer on the salmon run

Try a wild goose chase

Foray for fungi

 

Winter

Pay homage to the Russians

Go on a winter ghost hunt

Wonder at wintering waders

Fall in love with a seal pup

Hear Britain's tallest bird

Revel in roosting wagtails

Kiss beneath mistletoe

'Ooh' & 'aah' at murmurations

Lie in wait for an otter

Rock 'n' roll with geology

Wrap up for a raptor roost

Sway with dancing grebes

Great crested grebe (c) Margaret Holland

These slinky water birds are famous for their wonderful courtship dance, a ritual fit for ‘Strictly’.

All you need is a pair of binoculars and a little patience… although a flask of hot chocolate might be appreciated too

As mists rise from the water’s surface on early spring mornings, great crested grebe pairs join together to dance.  With orange and black head plumes spread wide, an elegant ritual of head shaking, bill-dipping and preening culminates in the famous ‘penguin dance’, when the pair rush together, paddling their feet frantically to raise upright from the water, standing chest to chest, flicking a beak-full of water weed at each other before one final shake of the head and the weed is dropped, and the deal is clinched.

The 19th century saw a fashion for bird plumes, and the great crested grebe was almost driven to extinction in Britain, the head plumes (or ‘tippets’) used on hats and densely-feathered ‘grebe fur’ made into the lining of fashionable capes and muffs.  By the 1860s there were maybe as few as 30 pairs left in the whole country.

The plight of the great crested grebe was one of the triggers for the birth of the modern conservation movement: attitudes and laws were changed, and there are now around 4,600 pairs, and great crested grebes can be seen dancing their dance on many park lakes, reservoirs, gravel pits and canals.

How to do it

Great crested grebes are widely distributed across lowland Britain.  Find a gravel pit, lake or canal with a pair in residence and try your luck.  To make things more comfortable, settle in to a bird hide at a wetland nature reserve.  All you need is a pair of binoculars and a little patience… although a thermos of hot tea might be appreciated too.  If you are lucky enough to see that final penguin dance, then come back in five weeks’ time and you should be able to see their humbug babies, riding on their parents’ back.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below… Your local park lake may not be home to great crested grebes, but look out for coot.  Although not as extravagant as grebes, their courtship display involves pairs bowing in front of each other and nibbling the top of each other’s head, with wings raised and tail fluffed up.  Coots are also very territorial, frequently chasing other birds off from their patch.  From the comfort of your computer, you can also see some great footage of grebes going about their business at the BBC website

Special spots

Tring Reservoirs in Hertfordshire was where Julian Huxley first studied the behaviour and courtship display of the great crested grebe, then a great rarity, publishing his landmark paper in 1914 describing the dance for the first time. And the grebes are still here, presenting each other with their weed gifts and dancing their dance.

Buckinghamshire, College Lake 

Cambridgeshire, Grafham Water

Derbyshire, Hilton Gravel Pits

Denbighshire, Gors Maen Llwyd (Llyn Brenig)

Derbyshire, Willington Gravel Pits

Essex, Abberton Reservoir 

Hampshire, Blashford Lakes

Lincolnshire, Deeping Lakes

Lancashire, Mere Sands Wood 

Lancashire, Wigan Flashes 

London, Woodberry Wetlands (open from Easter 2016)

Nottinghamshire, Attenborough

Perthshire, Loch of the Lowes 

Staffordshire, Croxall Lakes

Yorkshire, Staveley 

Great crested grebes © www.alastairmarshphotography.co.uk