The chipper dipper


This is the first in an occasional series.

WE live on the bank of a fast-flowing stream and a regular treat is to see a dipper (Cinclus cinclus). It’s a year-round resident, about the size of a blackbird but chubby, in shades of dark brown with a bright white chest and throat.

You would think the white chest would make it clearly visible, but the colouring provides it with perfect camouflage against the rocks and splashing water. If you don’t see it moving you will never spot it. It has big, strong feet which enable it to walk on the bed of the stream, often completely submerged, to find caddis fly larvae and other tasty snacks.

The great thing about it is (anthropomorphism alert, sorry) that it looks cheerful as it bobs up and down on a rock, then leaps into the water with every appearance of glee. It flies fast and low along the line of the stream, giving a short sharp call. I have been told that each one needs a mile of stream to call its own but I don’t know if that is right. Male and female look the same to me but presumably they can tell each other apart, because we see young ones (a sort of faded version of the adult) occasionally.

Here is an interesting little film:

However I have some problems with it. For a start, what they never point out is that there is a second cameraman filming the first. I have real doubts that two people tramping about with heavy equipment, in and out of the water, and most of the time talking at normal volume, would get anywhere near a dipper. Once the bird had been frightened away, it would not keep going back to the same spot as this one appears to do.

Here is an amateur video. It’s not so slick, but note that the cameraperson is not moving or talking.

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