STREAM WALKER: The American Dipper

Juvenile American Dipper peering into stream for insects

Trout fishermen and trout know that rocky streambeds are teeming with insect life, in the form of mayflies, caddis flies, black flies, and numerous other critters. Dippers know this as well, and make their living feeding in the shallows of western wild rivers and mountain lakes.

I took this series of photographs during a backpacking trip to Melakwa Lake, in the high country not far at all from Seattle. We pitched our tent near a creek connecting the upper and lower Melakwa Lakes, and noticed that there were two American Dippers feeding in the murmuring stream.

This pretty subalpine stream is perfect Dipper habitat

After cooking dinner, we decided to try and photograph the birds. Dippers are not particularly afraid of people, though they like to keep a respectful distance from sweaty backpackers, and we were able to crouch down behind rocks and logs to photograph from perhaps eight feet away. This photo essay shows the birds actively exploring the stream habitats and successfully catching a variety of insects.

One added bonus to dipper-watchers is to hear their lovely song. Unfortunately, the season was late and we only heard a fragment or two of dipper music. Had we seen the dippers during winter or early spring, their effusive songs would have harmonized with the burbling stream.

Dipper exploring the stream

Success means never having to say you’re hungry

A coat of water covers the Dipper in this bizarre photograph

Dippers use streamside rocks to rest and to look for trouble (such as me!)

The camera will sometimes catch the eye as it blinks, showing the white nictitating membrane that serves as a protective layer

Long and powerful legs enable the American Dipper to walk underwater against the fast current

Look carefully to see a black aquatic insect in the bill

Walking down this steep log was tricky; with wet feet, the bird slipped several times

The Dipper spends a lot of time with its head underwater

The young Dipper occasionally looked at me, but without fear

Ready to take the plunge

Dippers are not afraid of fast water, within reason


Explore posts in the same categories: animal, behavior, bird, birding, birdwatching, cascades, environment, hiking, lee rentz, national forests, nature, ornithology, photo, photography, washington, wildlife

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2 Comments on “STREAM WALKER: The American Dipper”

  1. Greg Gillson Says:

    Nice job with the photos, Lee. Dippers always seem to choose well-shaded streams. The low light, coupled with their constant dipping and active feeding, make it hard to get non-blurry photos.

    Greg


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