The lonely grebe of Oldfield finds a devoted mate

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 25, 2013 

A pair of grebes at Oldfield.

MARVIN BOUKNIGHT/SUBMITTED PHOTO


  • Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com

Thanks to Marvin Bouknight of Beaufort for sharing a special love story from Okatie. Marvin is staff naturalist at the Oldfield Club in Okatie. He also is a photographer and in 2010 published the book, "South Carolina's Lowcountry ... Naturally" (www.naturenookllc.com).

'THE LONELY GREBE'

By Marvin Bouknight

When I first started at Oldfield, I was amazed at the incredible diversity of wildlife in and around Oldfield. I began my first day on the job in April and throughout the spring and summer, I was excited to see painted buntings, warblers, raptors and other birds, in addition to the other array of flora and fauna.

I started to anticipate the arrival of winter and eagerly began to think about the winter migrants that could be seen. Sure enough, around November and December, we started seeing small flocks of ducks, cormorants, shorebirds and other waterfowl in our ponds, lagoons and in the Okatie River.

One day, I noticed a single pied-billed grebe sitting on the water. I was happy to see a grebe on our ponds, as I love to watch them dive, sink and scoot around the water. But this grebe was the only grebe I saw.

I asked Dave Murray, our Outfitters Center director, if he noticed the grebe on the water, and he told me that for the last couple of years, we have only seen a single grebe. It struck me as odd, and I was saddened by the thought of this little bird making the long trek from up North, arriving here at Oldfield all alone and spending the winter alone. I began to keep an eye out for this little guy, feeling sorry for him and finding myself very concerned about the well-being of this shy, lonely little grebe.

This didn't change through my first winter at Oldfield, and that little grebe stayed in the back of my mind over the next couple of years. Each winter, that little grebe migrated in, spent the lonely winter on the River House pond, and then, around March, he would be gone again. I found myself secretly hoping that the next year would be the year he arrived with a friend or mate. No matter how hard I looked, wished and wanted, my little buddy would arrive alone and leave alone.

Folks who know me would probably be surprised at this, but seeing him arrive alone left me feeling quite melancholy, and upon his departure, I discovered I missed my little grebe. I even mentioned it to my wife, Gabrielle, and told her the story of the sad, lonely little grebe, and she, too, was saddened by the thoughts of the bird.

The winter of 2009 was approaching and lots of things were going on. The year was winding down and the holidays were fast approaching, and in the midst of it all, I would, time to time, think about "my" little grebe and look forward to seeing him again.

Sure enough, one day I arrived at work and looked out, and there he was, sitting out on the pond. There wasn't a single ripple on the water, and no other birds were around. It was a very peaceful morning, with the sun just coming up over the trees. I walked out to the end of the pier to get a closer look at my little friend, and he turned around in the water and looked back at me. Silly enough, I actually waved to the bird, making myself feel and think that the little fellow was as happy to see me as I was to see him.

All of a sudden, to his left, I saw a disturbance in the water. Water was welling up and bubbling, and something was just underneath the surface. I panicked, hoping that the little guy wasn't in any danger. Thoughts of an alligator flashed through my mind, when up popped another grebe!

I was shocked to see another little grebe in the pond and stood at the end of the dock dumbfounded. Suddenly, it dawned on me that these two grebes were together, and I found myself laughing with a big, stupid grin on my face. Finally, my little grebe friend had found a partner.

I spent the next half hour watching these two little grebes dive, surface, chase each other and paddle around, seemingly inseparable. Days and weeks went by and the two birds stayed together, side by side, often touching as they rested on the water. It was an amazing sight to see, and for some reason, I felt proud -- yes actually proud -- of that little grebe. I was just so happy he was no longer lonely.

As a naturalist, I normally like to view nature as nature and don't look at wildlife through human eyes and human emotions, but I will have to say that little grebe tugged on my heartstrings. The connection I have with him, I'm sure, is totally in my mind, but I can't help but hope that he knew I was watching and keeping up with him.

I vividly remember walking out to the end of the dock on Feb. 14, 2009, Valentine's Day. I was meeting Gabrielle for a special Valentine's Day date, but for some reason, I felt compelled to check on my little buddy. As I reached the end of the dock, I saw my little grebe friend with his mate, swimming close together, side by side, and I knew in my heart they were a happy couple and, like me, were spending Valentine's Day with the ones they love.

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