In the mean time, there were plenty of other birds to observe, including Pied-Billed, Western, Clark's, and Eared Grebes, as well as Coots and Redheads. There was also a solitary Canvasback, a less common and more noticeable diving duck.
I made one bad miscalculation however, in failing to appreciate the size of the lake and the distance between the pedestrian bridges and the waterfowl. I'm getting too used to the little city ponds where everything is nice and close, relatively speaking. But in the end, it was probably safer to be so far away. As you can see from the pictures, these lake birds have rather evil looking red eyes, the eyes of killers, the eyes of relentless carnivores. Truly, I worried that every time one of the red-eyed predators dove underwater, it would reemerge and launch an attack...
The Eared Grebe is probably the smallest bird you'll find on the lake. But do not let down your guard. The apex predators--lions, tigers, bears--have killed far less humans than the little organisms in this world. No one will ever know how many lives the Eared Grebe has claimed, but as Macchiavelli said, "It is far safer to be loved than Eared."
Slightly less lethal but far more numerous is the American Coot. Compact and coal-colored, this red-eyed water-chicken descends upon the Phoenix area waterways in vast hordes, like the barbarians amassing outside of Rome.
The Western Grebes and similar looking Clark's Grebes keep well away from the bridges, but are definitely the bosses of the lake. Grebes are known for eating feathers, supposedly to help cushion their stomachs from fish bones. But really they do it to get a taste for other birds, which they eat by the baker's dozen, just for fun.
Redheads are beautiful birds and, as evidence by their not-blood-red-eye, are of a gentler breed. That doesn't mean you want to put your hands anywhere near that pastel blue beak though...I've lost 11 or 12 fingers making that mistake (I learn slowly).
But when it comes to the similarly patterned Canvasback, forget about it! The largest of the diving ducks, this red-eyed ravager commands the utmost respect and distance. It is rumored that the U.S. government had to take a restraining order out on the Canvasback so it's not allowed within 500 feet of anything governmental, so dangerous is this bird. The name Canvasback comes from the habit these birds have of wiping their hind feather with the blood of their enemies. It's gruesome stuff.
As much as we humans may like to think we're at the top of the food chain, when we get in the water it's a different story. In the water, chains only weigh you down after all. Sometimes birders have to risk it all, for the tick, for the glory, for the Grebe.
All photos by Laurence Butler