Dipper – St John’s Chapel, Weardale

At the end of our first day up north Clifford and I had walked down to the River Wear in St John’s Chapel, along the bank to the bridge in Daddry Shield and then back again. We were looking for Dipper but with all the recent heavy rain the water levels were so high that there were no exposed rocks for the Dipper to use and we drew a blank.

On the Monday morning Sarah and I tried again, this time the water levels were noticeably lower and pretty soon I found a Dipper preening on an exposed rock only 25 yards away. This was very close to a small waterfall and natural pool where my Mum had swum regularly as a girl 70 years before. The Dipper remained on the rock for several minutes allowing me to make some sketches.

For birds like Dippers preening is essential to keep their feathers waterproofed and this bird was very busy. Eventually it started bobbing like it was on springs and then it seemed to run (rather than dive) into the water before re-emerging a few seconds later. The water quickly beaded and fell from its feathers so that it looked bone dry immediately. When it blinked you could see it’s white eye lid. The rich chestnut belly and warmer brown head identify this as the British and Irish race ‘gularis’.

Dipper is an upland bird and is extinct in Hampshire and also very difficult to see in Dorset. In the UK overall numbers are currently stable.

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