The pied-billed grebe is a rather nondescript water bird most of us have never heard of. However, when you mention “di-dipper,” heads nod in recognition. They’re one and the same.
Just about every country boy who spent any time around a lake while growing up has encountered these shy little critters that are there on the surface one minute; gone the next.
I see the little brown birds frequently on the surface of the lake at Lincoln Parish Park and they only let you see them for a short while. Try to get closer and they dive, popping up a few seconds later 10 feet from where they dived.
According to George Lowery’s Louisiana Birds the most remarkable feature of these birds is their ability to submerge instantaneously, thus their French name of sac-a-plomb, which means “sack of lead”. Lowery also noted that it is virtually impossible to shoot a grebe because “at the flash from the muzzle, the bird submerges and is gone before the pellets arrive.” With all due respect, George, I beg to differ. Read on …
My first encounter with a grebe was down on Chee Chee Bay in Natchitoches Parish. I was in my early teens when I went to spend the night with a friend from school with the idea of going duck hunting the next morning. My friend, Arthur, lived near the lake, which made it convenient for us to be at the lakeside at first light, hoping to get some pass-shooting at a duck or two.
Arthur went one way; I went another as I waited in the cold dampness for a crack at a duck. While hunkering down behind some button willows next to the shoreline, I waited for what seemed an hour without a single duck flying my way. Then I spotted something moving on the water just up the lake from where I was. In my mind’s eye, it was a duck.
I formulated a plan to outsmart that duck and at least have something to show for my efforts that morning. By using the row of button willows as a shield, I belly-crawled through the cold mud for 100 yards until I had sneaked within shotgun range of the little brown “duck.”
When I’d gotten close enough, I eased to one knee, raised my gun, took aim, and fired. The “duck” rolled over, dead as a…..well, you know. Then I encountered a problem. The wind was blowing out and my prize was floating away toward the big lake.
Luck was on my side, though, because I spotted an old wooden boat somebody had beached just up from where I was. There was no paddle in the boat but I found a plank nearby that would serve as my paddle.
The boat was made of wood, it was big and very heavy. It took all the strength I could muster but I finally pushed and pulled; grunted and strained until I had the boat in the water. As you might expect, a boat such as this would never have been abandoned if it were still sea-worthy. It leaked; not too bad but enough that I figured I had to paddle fast to reach my duck and then get back to shore before it sank.
Flailing the water with the one-by-six plank, I was finally able to catch up with my “duck.” It was not until I had lifted it from the water that I realized my mistake. It was no duck; it was a di-dipper.
I had little time to browbeat myself because the boat was sinking. I had to fight the wind and paddle with all my might to get the boat back to shore. I just barely made it before the creaky old craft filled with water. I left it in the shallows and walked ashore, wet and muddy, with my di-dipper.
For the uninformed, the pied-billed grebe is described as a “ducklike water bird closely related to LOONS.”
After this hunt, I felt I may have been that grebe’s cousin.
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