Bird of the Month July: The Dipper
My bird of the month for July is the dipper. I wanted to chose something joyful and light-hearted. Seeing a dipper ALWAYS brings me joy.
We’ve spent a lot of time down by the river in the past month. The weather has been pretty glorious. Sometimes we take our tea down to the river after work. We eat and watch the water and soak up the hazy, warm golden hours. There’s no better activity with a two-year-old than throwing stones into the river on a hot day. Big stones that splash, little stones that go ‘plop’, skimmers, handfuls of stones all at once. Sometimes the splash from a stone makes a rainbow in the sunshine. We stop to watch little tiddly fish in the shallows, gasp every time a fish jumps, whisper so as not to disturb the the heron. If we are under the bridge we shout at the echo. We’ve seen lots of grey wagtails. And we love seeing the dippers.
The dipper is a plump little bird. It is chocolate coloured with a perfect round white belly. When it sits on a stone it bobs up and down. Bob-bob-bob. When it flies it flies low over the water, stone to stone, short wings whirring.
One of the coolest things about dippers is that they walk straight into, and under, the water to feed. It feeds on underwater invertebrates – such as stonefly or caddisfly larvae. It genuinely just walks up the bed of the river, against the stream, fully submerged. It uses its wings to steady itself in fast flowing water. They can stay under the water for a full 30 seconds at a time. They have a third, transparent eyelid called a ‘nictitating membrane’ that they can close enabling them to see underwater.
Dippers are of the river. They know the river in a way we can never imagine. Dippers are stones and water and rapids and flooding and droughts and minnows. They live the river, they nest in cracks on the bank or under bridges, they love the fast-flowing bits the best. For a few weeks in a hot summer I get to know a little bit about the river. The dipper knows everything about the river. If I could choose a superpower it would be to be able to talk to birds. I would love to have a good chat with a dipper.