Dipper

The last ‘hurrah’ of summer has seen butterflies, bumble bees and wasps flying around, and perhaps even given our very late swallow brood a fighting chance of success. We have never seen so little water in the Ardle, though recent rain has increased the flow a bit, hopefully allowing salmon to move up-stream to their spawning grounds.

I spent quite a while watching a dipper on the bend of the Ardle just below the centre. It had quite a ‘scaly’ appearance, the wing and back feathers showing a pale fringe, so it was probably one of this year’s young. It gradually worked its way upstream, and, with the water being so shallow and clean, I could actually watch it walking along the river bed, effortlessly moving against the considerable current. Every now and again it would clamber out onto midstream rocks, constantly bobbing and flashing the brilliant white eye membrane.

I didn’t see it catch anything, but assume it was after the usual fare of stone-fly larvae, though it did scitter along at one point as if chasing some small swimming beastie. Our school river dipping sessions have not been finding many creatures this summer, perhaps as a result of the low water levels, so maybe the dipper was having a hard time finding food.

Dippers sing all year round, except when moulting in late summer and when feeding young. At this time of year birds are establishing winter territories, and both sexes sing vigorously. It is a lovely liquid song, a bit like a cross between wren and robin, and a particular treat to hear through winter when so few birds sing.

If you want to learn more about this bird of our upland rivers, ask your local library to get hold of a copy of ‘The Dippers’ by Stephanie Tyler and Stephen Ormerod (Poyser).

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