Beautiful plumage: A pair of Australasian crested grebes on Lake Hayes. PICTURE: COLIN WALKINGTON


Lake Hayes is becoming an increasingly popular home for the Australasian crested grebe
— a bird previously so rare it was on the road to extinction.

Queenstowner Richard Bowman, building on previous work by Wānaka-based ecologist
John Darby, has taken on the job of monitoring the grebe population at Lake Hayes, one of the major breeding areas in the country for the birds.

His latest data suggests the population is ‘‘quite big and quite healthy’’.

‘‘At my last count I got around 180 grebes on the lake, of which I think about 57 were
juveniles or young birds.’’

Bowman, who’s been coming to Lake Hayes since his childhood, says there’s been a noticeable increase in the grebe population since the ’80s and believes the ‘‘good habitat’’ may be the reason behind it.

‘‘Lake Hayes has a good supply of food, lots of good sheltered breeding sites and it seems to work for them, and of course predator numbers are being kept down which helps.

‘‘Because it is a sheltered lake, they can build right next to the water, for example by overhanging willow branches … the other thing is not having boats with wakes on the lake — that reduces the disturbance.’’

Bowman is hopeful the birds will continue to find Lake Hayes a hospitable home.

‘‘I think it’s really quite an interesting, unique feature of Lake Hayes.

‘‘It adds a lovely sort of dimension to it, because they are actually rather beautiful birds to watch on the water.’’