Posted by: atowhee | May 3, 2023


My morning was most fortunate.  During breakfast my temporary dental cap came off a molar. I should have foreseen that was a good omen. Our Prius required attention—time for oil change and check-up.  So off we went to the Toyota dealership.  That meant hot chocolate from the coffee stand, and time birding Capitol Lake. The Prius approves of my coming along, knowing I will loyally stand-by, drinking sweet stuff, watching ducks or swallows or even a heron.

If I had listed what I foresaw seeing—swallows, Mallards, Song Sparrows, maybe a robin or heron or curious Osprey.  If I had been asked to list the 100 most likely species there I would’ve added warblers in the willows, blackbirds, finches, migrant vireo or flycatcher, maybe a raptor or two more, Green Heron, cormorant, coots, a common shorebird or two.  It would have been hard to list 100 bird species that could be expected in such a habitat surrounded by cars in  parking lots, and people, and traffic sounds. When I first got to the lake with my cocoa it was as expected: Violet-green Swallows circling, two coots swimming, several Mallards lounging onshore, a Song Sparrow singing, yellow-rumps with their three-note spring “song.”

Then I saw it, the result of Prius Privilege.  Prius: “You take me to the car people who sweep and wash me like you will never do, I will tilt the axis of reality and something fine will fall before you.”  Except this one was diving and swimming before me.

This is the first time I have seen a Red-necked Grebe in full breeding plumage.

Anybody know what he had in his beak? He ended up not swallowing it but spitting it out. It sank immediately, did not float, so it was dense. Capitol Lake is a “freshwater” feature in an old gravel quarry. It is not superficially much different than many of the other rock quarries now holding water in the Salem area.

A few of these grebes winter along the coast south of here. Their breeding habitat is primarily in Canada and Alaska. There have been some records of breeding in Klamath Basin. They use ponds with emergent vegetation. Their size is between the smaller horned/eared, and the larger Clark’s/western.

Here’s some Red-necked Grebe data from eBird. Most reports of this species are from Sepotember through December in Marion & Polk Counties. Never often, and never flocked. Usually a single bird, with a few reports of two. Never more than that. May is also a month you may find this species hereabouts, not April, never June apparently. So far in 2023 there was a single report in early January, then not another RN Grebe reported from these two contiguous counties. Until my Prius Privilege bird today!

EBird records for years 2020 through 2022 show: a single sighting of single bird in mid-May, then single bird again in late September and then in mid-December. Two birds were reported in late Octrober and again in late November. Likely a total of seven Red-necked Grebes seen in two counties over three years. Or just five if those pairs were the same individuals weeks apart. Scarce, bordering on rare, perhaps.

All my previous sightings have been coastal wintering birds in drab wintry outfits–love that red neck that gives the name. That little white niche at the back of crown is a crucial field mark, even in winter. The last time I saw this species was late September along SE Jetty Road at Newport, a much likely spot than the local Toyota dealership.

The expected songster at Capitol Lake:

Lake Capitol, Marion, Oregon, US
May 3, 2023 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.4 mile(s)
11 species

Mallard  6
Red-necked Grebe  1     pictures attached
American Crow  1
Violet-green Swallow  6
Barn Swallow  1
European Starling  X
American Robin  2
House Sparrow  X
House Finch  1
Song Sparrow  7
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3

One slot has just opened up on a Malheur Field Station Bird Photography trip that I will be leading. May 31-June 4. Interested?
Contact me:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: