DIPPER DIARY MAY / JUNE 2014
I have found a completely new Dippers nest this year at Watersmeet. I think it was the adult birds first breeding season and was very surprised at where they had built the nest, considering the amount of human ‘traffic’ walking by, (without realising it was there). The nest build took about 5 days from start to finish! This was followed by a period of relative inactivity while the parents took turns to ‘sit’ only changing about every 2 hours or so.
On the 16th May, the chicks had obviously hatched as the adults were kept very busy bringing in food for them. At times, they were coming in every minute with an assortment of insects, larva and the occasional juicy caterpillar! The adult’s activity would stop most days between 1.00 & 2.00 pm to have rest. I regularly had one of them sat right in front of me, on rock struggling to stay awake. This pattern continued for about 2 weeks; however, I then noticed that the male adult only made an appearance in the early morning and late evening, only occasionally bringing in food for the chicks. Much to the annoyance of mum, who more than once attacked him for doing so, they actually ended up beak to beak on more than one occasion and fell into the river. I have not witnessed this reaction before between parent birds and I did wonder if perhaps she thought he was an intruder. As there was another nest nearby further upstream and they are territorial. It was definitely ‘her’ mate though as he had a prominent mark on his otherwise white breast plumage.
After 3 weeks, I could now clearly hear the chicks calling for food and leaning out of the nest when the parents arrived. The adults could no longer enter the nest but instead hovered at the entrance to pass the food.
At 20 days, the adult would often sit outside the nest, apparently calling the chicks, perhaps to fledge. It was on one of these occasions that I listened to an adult ‘sing’ in the early morning for about an hour. I have never heard this before and it sounded very similar to a male Blackbird.
By day 23 mum was starting to look a bit jaded not the usual pristine plumage that Dippers keep themselves. On several occasions, one chick made a full appearance nearly falling out of the nest, resulting in a desperate scramble to get back in! It was on one of these moments that an intruder made an appearance, much to the annoyance of the parent birds, this ended up with 3 Dippers in a mid-air ‘dog fight’ the resident birds eventually saw of the interloper.
On day 27 (quite late not to have fledged, they usually fledge between 21 – 24 days) there was a definite change in activity, the adults had almost stopped feeding runs and both the juveniles were showing well. I now suspected fledging was imminent. So on day 28 I woke up early and arrived at about 5.30 am. Just in time to watch both chicks fledge! I managed to take stills and video of the moment, happy days!
Both chicks looked healthy and well fed, however one was very nervous of its new surroundings at first at took some time to venture away from the nest. The other however was a lot braver and started to explore the riverbed almost straight away. Already trying to feed itself, but picking dead leaves more often than not. Both chicks have the familiar grey plumage with brownish wing tips and yellowish/white breast at this stage. The adults occasionally kept them fed, which they would normally do for about a week. The more nervous chick eventually got a helping push from one the adults, before making its first flight and crash landing!
I usually have (time permitting) wildlife projects going at different times of the year and have found watching and photographing the Dippers this spring fascinating. I have managed to get all the shots I wanted including the birds in flight! This was not easy considering they often ‘skim’ along the water, not much slower than Kingfishers do.
All the images are available to purchase either online at
Exmoor Photography Gallery & Camera Shop
The High Street
T: 01643 862026
The High Street
T: 01643 862026