Raining Ouzels

American dipper on the deck

In a general way his music is that of the streams refined and spiritualized. The deep booming notes of the falls are in it, the trills of rapids, the gurgling of margin eddies, the low whispering of level reaches, and the sweet tinkle of separate drops oozing from the ends of mosses and falling into tranquil pools.  —John Muir (1838-1914)

American Dipper (aka Water Ouzel)

Latin name:  Cinclus mexicanus    

Description:  Small, gray bird, around 8 inches, with white ring around eyes, yellowish legs, a short, upright tail, and short wings designed for flight, and underwater swimming.  Males and females are similar.  

Habitat: Mountainous areas with rushing rivers, streams, and waterfalls, as well as some lakes, and ponds at lower elevations.

Diet:  Aquatic insects, and larvae, including mosquitoes.  Will also eat small snails and worms, fish eggs, fish fry and fingerlings up to 3 inches. 

It was early July, around mid morning that I was on the back deck drinking an iced coffee, listening to the sound of light rain falling when a small, stocky, gray bird landed abruptly on the deck.  Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Was I seeing this right? Was an American dipper standing next to me?

My eyes hadn’t played tricks on me.  It was an American dipper!  Almost immediately the dipper began its customary deep-knee bends.  Having observed these birds for years, I have never seen them far from water—ever, which made this encounter all the more special.  We live between two rivers with the Sandy River to our north (about a three-minute walk) and the Salmon River to our south (about a mile distant).  So while it is not unusual for a dipper to move from one river to another, catching one in the act so far from water, is.  The dipper had much forest to cover, included flying over busy Highway 26 before coming to rest on our deck, to eventually proceed through more forest, and finally reach the Sandy.

Based on the direction he came, the dipper was heading north when he dropped in to join me for coffee.  The dipper did a happy dance across the deck, then flew to the deck post where he perched for a moment looking somewhat bemused.  From there, he flew to the fence where his feet shuffled on the slippery metal.  Quickly regaining his balance, and his composure, he dipped his way along the fence to the gate.  There, he conducted another series of deep-knee bends for the longest time.  After fifteen minutes of his delightful company, he took to the air,  heading north through the woods.  If he makes no more stops, he’ll reach the Sandy River in a few minutes.

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