2020VISION Assignment: Great crested grebes

Andrew Parkinson was given the opportunity to spend some more time with one of the UK’s most enchanting birds – the great crested grebe.


Grebes perform their courtship dance by wildlife photographer Andy Parkinson
BBC Wildlife regular Andrew Parkinson was given the opportunity to spend some more time with one of the UK’s most enchanting birds – the great crested grebe.
iWitness Assignment: Great crested grebes
Location: Various lakes and ponds, Derbyshire
Photographer: Andrew Parkinson
I’ve been photographing great crested grebes for several years now and it has become something of an obsession. In the early days I would use a floating hide: a deeply unpleasant, cold and limiting way to work.
Not only was my precious camera equipment balanced precariously, just inches from disaster, but my movements would disturb the rotting organic matter on the lake bed as I crept around in my floating contraption.
This, in turn, would fill the hide with the revolting stench of methane, and I quickly grew tired of the fruitless days spent up to my neck in the icy March waters. 
I then found a much better site. A fishing lake where I could sit, warm, dry and comfortable by a concrete outflow allowed me to produce those intimate images that only shooting at water level can produce.
I spent hundreds of hours at this fantastic site over a couple of years, but two key aspects of grebe behaviour still eluded me: their mating behaviour and the extraordinary weed-dance.
When the call came and I was asked to photograph the grebes for 2020VISION I knew that these two aspects of behaviour would be vital to the grebe’s story.
I therefore spent most of January and February scouting local sites to try and gauge where the most activity and the greatest numbers of grebes could be found.
With the site confirmed it was just a case of spending every possible moment there: watching, making notes and trying to find patterns in the birds' behaviour.
After a couple of months I was able to capture both aspects of behaviour but the resulting images, both fundamentally flawed, fell well short of the sort of images that I had visualised.
But this isn’t a problem, this is just a beautiful part of the process.
By taking what I learnt last year, and in previous years, I know that when the New Year comes and I find myself sitting by the side of the lake again I know that I’ll have a much better chance of turning the images in my head into the real thing.
I also know that I won’t be taking them from a floating hide!
Top wildlife photography tip
  • Many photographers will extol the virtues of discomfort like it is something to be cherished. But comfort is important!


  • The more comfortable you are the longer you will wait, and the longer you can wait the better your chances of success.
  • Whatever you are photographing try to make yourself as comfortable as possible – whether keeping warm, dry or just stopping your backside from going numb!
  • If you’re not comfortable you’ll be looking for reasons to go home, not to stay where you are! 

2020VISION is a multimedia project that highlights the link between people's well being and the restoration of natural systems.

Uniquely, it pairs the talents of 20 of the UK's most skilled outdoor photographers with writers, editors, videographers, sound artists and scientists to make a compelling case for rewilding landscapes - for wildlife and for people.

To see some of the best images taken on 2020VISION assignments so far, click here.

To find out more about 2020VISION, click here.


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