The Dapper Dipper
“DAPPER” fittingly describes the dipper. It means ‘neat and trim in appearance, alert and lively in movement and manners.’ If you prefer more dignity, however, you may use its Latin name, Cinclus c. gularis.
I first spotted this dipper perched on a large rock in midstream in a fast-flowing brook in the north of England. It was only seven inches [18 cm] in length, from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. Immaculately dressed in dark brown plumage, the dipper sported a clean white bib extending from just under the lower beak to halfway down its breast, contrasting sharply with the wet green moss covering the rocks.
Ignoring the roar and splashing of the nearby waterfall, the bird stood as if on hinged legs, dipping its head and curtsying, living up to its name. Suddenly it plunged into the stream and “flew” to the bottom. It then walked upstream, searching for food consisting of caddis larvae, water beetles, water boatmen, spiders, tadpoles and nymphs of the mayfly or dragonfly, and sometimes small fish. While it is doing this, the dipper’s eyes are protected by a third eyelid. When the bird is on land, this eyelid can sometimes be seen as it flicks over the eye, giving the impression that the bird is winking.
The slant of the dipper’s back is designed in such a way that the force of the rushing water keeps its head down. It also uses its wings to help counteract the natural buoyancy of its body. From time to time, it comes up for air and floats on the water, or it may choose to swim, although it does not have webbed feet. When it does reappear to return to its rock, it is every bit as immaculate as when it first entered the stream!
My dipper had evidently finished foraging and had returned to feed its young. It makes a beautiful dome-shaped nest of moss, woven with strands of dry grass onto the rock face, under tree roots and rock shelves, or tucked in beneath overhanging ferns. But the nest is so well camouflaged that it is possible to stand beneath it and not realize it is there. I had looked for some time for this bird’s nest but in vain.
Then, as I continued to watch, in a flash the dipper flew straight into the waterfall! I slowly moved along the bank of the stream to see behind the waterfall. Its nest was built into a crack in the rock face behind the cascade. What a fascinating sight to see this bird flying through the water to feed its young!
This dapper little dipper had made my day memorable.—Contributed.