Monday, November 14, 2011

Dipper Adventure

This weekend, DC and I went looking for a bird that's been elusive for me and one I've wanted to see since I was very young. It's a plain gray bird with an extraordinary ability.  It's named Cinclus mexicanus  or commonly, American Dipper and it's the only member of it's family in the U.S.

As I stated above, it's a plain gray bird, about the size and shape of a robin with a bobbed tail. Not really much to look at really. The real allure of this bird is its ability to walk under rushing mountain streams. It literally submerges its entire body under the water to look for bugs and larvae beneath the stones and gravel. Sometimes, it used its wings to "fly" under the water and, as I saw on Friday, sometimes, it also gets "blown" downstream!

The research I had done named several likely spots for viewing the bird. Almost all of the good leads I got were from the banks of the Little Colorado River north of here, so we started out early Friday morning as we had a three-day holiday weekend. We had clear skies as we drove north past Oracle, Globe and beyond - all the way through Showlow, Pinetop and into Greer.  Snow covered the ground above Pinetop, but the roads were clear and we did bring our very warmest clothes, including a new fleece/ raincoat combination for DC.  We pulled into the gravel at the end of the road in Greer and donned hats, gloves, warmer stockings and all that and set off on a trail that runs very near the banks of the Little Colorado. We weren't far from civilization - only maybe 500 feet from the nearest cabin, but that wasn't supposed to matter since the bird doesn't seem to be bothered too much by humans.

We walked about 500 - 600 yards away from the cabins always searching upstream with the binoculars. I felt excitement and trepidation at the same time as I slowly made my way upstream. I'd never seen this bird before. It's one I remember looking at in my dog-eared copy of Peterson's Guide to Birds. I remember thinking I would probably never see such a cool bird as that - all I ever saw were Starlings and House Sparrows. Well, within an hour, my trepidation gave way to elation when I lifted my bins to see a Dipper preening away right in the middle of the field of view!

Eventually, we were able to get closer and take some video of the bird. We watched it for about an hour and I realized the name is just right. The bird is constantly "dipping" its body kind of like the lizards who do push-ups in the sand - up, down, up, down, dip, dip , dip.

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