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Western Grebes find life at Lake Anna just ducky
Bird watchers head to Lake Anna for a rare glimpse of a pair of Western grebes

 Bird watchers David Youker (left) and John Adair, both from Yorktown, look at two Western Grebes from the beach at Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania County. Western Grebes are rarely seen this far east.
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Date published: 1/8/2013


Dave Youker, a bird-watcher from Yorktown, was looking over a state ornithology website in mid-December when one item caught his eye.

A Western grebe had been spotted from the shore at Lake Anna State Park.

Youker, president of the Hampton Roads Bird Club, was intrigued, he said in a telephone interview. Western grebes--diving, fish-eating birds resembling ducks--are native to the West Coast.

Two weeks later, when more sightings were posted on the Virginia Birding Listserves website, he decided to drive the 2 hours from his home to the lake for a look. Two other birders, John Adair and Adair's wife, Marilyn, went along for the ride.

"We drove up to see if we could actually see them. It was kind of a long shot," Youker said.

They were not disappointed.

Shortly after setting up their scopes at the park, the trio spotted one grebe, then another.

The website was "only reporting one, and we happened to see two that day," he said. Youker believes the pair somehow got disoriented, winding up a few thousand miles from home.

"It happens where birds, instead of migrating west, migrate East," he said. "Sometimes, when this happens early in a bird's life, they continue to migrate along the same path. If this is the case, these birds may be visiting us in subsequent years."

Noted for striking black and white feathers, blood-red eyes, and elaborate courtship displays, Western grebes are typically found west of the Mississippi River. They winter from southern British Columbia to Central Mexico, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"People from all over Virginia and beyond have come to see the birds, and more are expected as these two birds continue to remain at Lake Anna," Youker said.

"It was pretty exciting. We never expected to see that--a bird from so far west," said Marilyn Adair.

Angie Morris, the office assistant at the state park, said three birders who stopped by in recent weeks reported seeing the grebes.

"I have noticed a few more people than usual, looking for them," she said.

Western grebes have been reported on Lake Anna before, with reported sightings dating back to at least 2005.

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