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Dance of the grebes

I was to spend the day birding with a group of rule-breaking women, and as the youngest at 22, I felt ill prepared to hang tough with women more than twice my age. They knew each other well, and I was the newbie.

Akkie Pelsma organized our trip to the Klamath Basin during an International Migratory Bird Day weekend extravaganza in Klamath Falls. We set out to watch the Clark's grebes do their "little courtship dance" across the water at Putnam Point. I agreed to go because the activity of birding has literally consumed me, and grebes were something new.

I wore all my new birding gear: a khaki fishing vest with multiple pockets, a large, floppy sunhat, tan hiking pants and Keens on my feet. The ladies said I looked like a true field guide, so I took the role and ran with it, complete with enthusiastic arm gestures and loud exclamations about bird details.

"Moving right along ladies! To your left are eared grebes on the water. Be sure to listen to that bird call around us "… it's a red-winged blackbird. And there it goes!" It flew by.

The Clark's grebes made an appearance but were motionless upon the water. After attending to an older couple's questions in my official "uniform," I felt I had fulfilled my duties on the Wingwatcher's Trail. I beamed, and we moved on with hopes of seeing the dance.

After a stop for ice to chill our homemade Bloody Marys in carefully disguised coffee cups at Moore Park, we attended to our need for grebe. Boozing it up at midday, the vodka made me dizzy. Our directions to Putnam Point were somewhat disastrous, but we assumed we were in the right location. Alongside the Link River, we found American white pelicans, snowy egrets, a great blue heron and many Clark's and eared grebes. But no dancing?!

We checked a watch. It was well past noon — we had missed the "dancing window." Feeling defeated, we moseyed back. As a couple ran past us, kicking up dust in the air, we asked, "Excuse me, where's Putnam Point?" They pointed across the road, in the opposite direction.

I tried to assure Akkie we'd find it.

As we were almost leaving, two of the ladies ahead of the rest of the group caused a ruckus and pointed toward the river, "There they go! They're doing it!" The rest of us hurried over, missing the dance by seconds. We waited for them to start back up again, peering through binoculars with anticipation. Nothing. So, in true birder fashion, we waited.

We watched them pair off, preen each other's backs, thinking they were about to start "… but they teased us repeatedly. We were about to call it a day when suddenly a pair of grebes rose from the water, skimmed the surface in unison, and then sunk below the surface. A tip-toe, five-second dance.

We cheered!

Our mission was complete, and the grebes shyly went back to their business, as if we had witnessed their most intimate of ballets.

Oregon Outdoors reader Jayla Ardelean lives in Ashland.