Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

There were just two records, both in the first winter of this Atlas. One was off Hoylake Shore (SJ29A) on 13 February 2005, and one seen briefly at Inner Marsh Farm (SJ37B) on 19 Feb 2005 was a first record for the site; it could conceivably have been the same bird.

There are two subspecies of Slavonian Grebe that occur in Britain: arcticus birds breed in Iceland and northern Norway, with a few in Scotland, and these spend the winter in their breeding range and in Greenland, but not further south. The Slavonian Grebes wintering in England are of the subspecies auritus, breeding from Sweden eastwards, these birds mostly wintering around the southern North Sea, with a few flying to the Mediterranean (Migration Atlas).

This has always been a scarce bird in Cheshire and Wirral. Only two 19th century records are known: one in a collection labelled ‘Burton, January 1839’, and an adult in summer plumage shot on Tatton Mere about 1860 (Coward & Oldham 1900). Both of Cheshire’s most famous ornithologists logged their only Slavonian Grebe for the county on Marbury Mere (SJ67M): Coward saw one there on 4 November 1916, and on 6 February 1937 Boyd had the enviable experience, probably unknown to most birdwatchers, of seeing the three larger wintering grebes together when a Slavonian Grebe arrived on Marbury Mere with a Red-necked and 25 Great Crested Grebes (Boyd 1951). Bell (1962) traced a further two records at inland waters: two shot at Cheshire’s other Marbury Mere, near Whitchurch (SJ54M) on 10 February 1922, and one at Oakmere on 27 April 1952. Four winter records at Hilbre, 1954 to 1957, are not mentioned in the Liverpool Ornithologists’ Club’s 1960 checklist for the Wirral, or by Craggs (1982) and Bell (1962) wondered about their identification. Bell’s supplement (1967) added one at Hilbre, October to December 1963 and one on Hurleston Reservoir, 16 January 1966.

Since then, the annual county bird reports show that Slavonian Grebes have been recorded in 25 of the 42 winters from 1964 to 2006; but they are sparsely distributed and only in five winters have more than two birds been found. They have become slightly more common, with seven birds during the 1970s, 17 in the 1980s and 18 in the 1990s. Despite the description in the BTO Winter Atlas of their ‘essentially coastal’ distribution, more than half of the county’s birds since 1964 have been inland (28 out of 52 birds).