American Dipper – At Last

The American Dipper has managed to elude me for several years.

“While you were in the restroom,” my friend Barbara lamented sadly, “there was a dipper under the bridge.” It was early in January and we were at the Bosque del Apache. Dippers are not normally seen there. This was my first missed dipper, but not too great a disappointment, since I had not been birding long.

I searched for dippers by rushing streams in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. Alas no dippers.

On a visit to Glenwood, NM, the motel owner told Barb and me that a dipper had a nest along the stream that runs under the Catwalk. We carefully scanned the edges of the rushing stream, the rocks and the water all the way up one side of the canyon and down the other side. We saw my first Painted Redstart, but no dipper. When we reached the picnic area at the bottom, I popped into the restroom.

When I emerged, Barb had a sheepish look on her face. “I saw the dipper leave its nest and dive into the water. It has returned to the nesting area,” she related. We hung around watching intently, but it didn’t re-emerge.

The American Dipper was on my list of target birds for my trip to Alaska with the Audubon Naturalist Society.

On our drive from Anchorage to Seward, we stopped at the north end of Tern Lake. After watching the Arctic Terns and a couple of Wandering Tattlers, we followed the stream leading into the lake. “Would this be a good place to spot a dipper?” I queried Mark, the trip leader. “The dipper is one of my nemesis birds.”

“It’s possible,” Mark responded. We looked diligently, but didn’t see a dipper.

Every time we stopped along a rushing stream, my friend Sue would say, “Maybe Judy will see her dipper.”

As we left the Denali River Cabins, Mark announced that we were going to make a stop right up the highway at a fish hatchery. As we drove into the hatchery, we crossed over a rushing stream. I hopped out of the van to see if perhaps a dipper was nesting there. There was a group of male Harlequin Ducks, resplendent in their ‘coat of many colors,’ that paddled off down stream, but no dipper.

Mark motioned for us to join him over by the hatchery bins. “Luke is going to share the breeding process of the Copper River Salmon,” Mark said. “However, he won’t mind getting interrupted if you happen to see a dipper.” And, he motioned to the bins.

I squealed with delight as I watched a dipper hatchling wander between two of the bins. “Instead of nesting in the river,” Luke told us, ”the mother dipper built her nest above a swallow nest box on the side of a building adjacent to the rushing stream. She had three chicks.”

As Luke shared the salmon’s life cycle, he told us about how they use a crop dusting plane to deposit the salmon fry in the three lakes they stock. The salmon will live there for three years, before heading down stream to the Gulf of Alaska.

When he was finished, I wandered around looking for the dipper who had disappeared behind the bins. At the end were the other two chicks huddled together, moving their mouths to indicate they were waiting to be fed.

What a delightful way to add a bird to my life list.


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