Wednesday, May 13, 2009

American Dipper

If you haven’t seen an American Dipper in action you are in for a treat. All you need is a mountain stream, some good timing and little information to locate this little fellow. The stream in which you may find this sooty grey, robust bird may even be as high as tree line. You might see him perched on a rock, along side running water, though not for long. He spends most of his time wading and diving under water.

I’ve been coming across these birds for many years and still they do nothing sort of astonish me. There is nothing quite like the first time you see one slip under water. You can’t quite believe what you’ve just seen. Usually, they stay fairly close to the side of the stream, jumping from rock to rock, with a quick dive in and out, lasting 3-4 seconds, but going completely underwater. But the one I saw last week in Boulder Creek was bravest by far. The creek, in one of it’s heavier flow periods with spring snow melt and rain, is rocking. This little fellow just flew out to mid-stream and dove straight in. He flew through my past perceptions of what they were capable of and of how long one could stay submerged. I’ve often seen them jump off a rock and pop in and out, but this guy had amazing stamina. The way he just slightly opened his wings before disappearing under the churning waters, looked slightly like a dark cape, giving the impression of batman on a secret mission. He would stay under up to 10-12 seconds emerging with his catch, a dark worm-looking thing, then sort of swim over to the side and sit on a rock and eat. But he spent way more time diving down and under than sitting.

He’s only seven inches with fairly non-distinct characteristics except when you see him diving into the flowing waters and, in my case, wait and wait and wait, till he reappears. It was extremely impressive. You know you are watching a highly skilled being doing what they are here to do. I can’t imaging how he isn’t taken downstream while under water but every time he pops up and wades over to the side.

I highly recommend this outing, searching for him or just happening upon one. His aquatic nature will endless surprise and delight you.


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