The Grebe Conservation Project, five years and still going strong

Clear Lake is one of the largest lakes in California, a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA), and a gem of Lake County. It’s an area famous for pears, and increasingly wineries. Audubon California and its partners Redbud, Plumas, and Altacal Audubon Society, hope to add to these layers of fame and recognition by helping Clear Lake support the successful breeding of sensitive Western and Clark’s grebe colonies.

During my own visit to Clear Lake, located in Redbud Audubon Society’s region of operation, I had the pleasure of being guided around this 19 mile long lake by Marilyn Waits, who like Lake County and its attractions, wears many admirable hats.  She is the former president of Redbud Audubon Society, current Grebe Conservation Project leader for Clear Lake, and a self-proclaimed beginning birder. She explains that people are surprised to hear that she’s not a hard core naturalist with encyclopedic knowledge of calls and wing tip variations. “There is an emphasis on naming things, but anyone can appreciate the beauty of nature.”

We take a quick stop at Rodman Slough after spying several grebe pairs from the road. Their elegantly curved necks give a syncopated bob back and forth as they prepare to rush through the blue-green water together. It’s a courtship so lovely and exciting the BBC documented it for their Life series. If you have never seen it before I encourage you to take a look here:

A little background: this collaboration between geographically dispersed—and largely volunteer--chapter groups and National Audubon’s state program has spanned an impressive five years, six intermountain lakes, and has reached thousands of community members. It has been dubbed The Grebe Conservation Project and its goal is to protect and grow grebe breeding colonies through monitoring, education, and outreach.  Our challenge at Clear Lake is that human communities find glittering summer lakes just as appealing as these diving birds do. The overlap can often be disastrous as grebes navigate a landscape of speed boats and discarded fishing line.

There is physical evidence of the Grebe Conservation Project visible all around Clear Lake. In addition to community outreach and monitoring, Redbud Audubon refurbished, installed, and maintained several structures that will aid in long-term breeding colony protection: fishing line recycle bins, strategically placed illustrated signs, and speed limit buoys.

As time passes and the project continues, we hope that Clear Lake and the other study sites become more hospitable to these charismatic species and their delicate young. Beginning birders, expert naturalists, and curious kayakers alike can support and celebrate Western and Clark’s grebe conservation together by keeping an eye out for nests, minding the signage, and participating in the many outreach and education programs put on by chapters around the lake.

Thanks to the generous support of the Luckenbach Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)  Audubon California and chapters will continue implementing this multi-faceted conservation project that integrates science, education and conservation efforts to benefit breeding grebes.

If you are interested in learning more about the project or volunteering go to

How you can help, right now