A couple of weeks ago I joined my expert birding buddy Tommy D up in the White Mountains for a couple days' end-of-summer bonanza. I've made many trips to the southeast corner of Arizona in the last several years, chasing after migrants and regional specialties there. The higher elevation climes of Arizona also hold some gems, birds that can't be found much elsewhere in the state, and are also a habitat I really haven't visited enough with birds in mind. It helps that the White Mountains have some of the prettiest territory in AZ, and are also a fair bit cooler in late July than Phoenix. One of my main targets for the trip was the American Dipper, one of the best named, best all round' birds in North America.
Check out the squishy pads on this guy's feet in the above photo. America's only aquatic songbird, they spend their time foraging in mountain streams and being adorable with their stubby build, white blinky eyelids, bobbing nervousness, and peeping calls.
I first saw Dippers several years ago in Oregon, and since that delightful experience it had been one of the most coveted state birds I had yet to view and photograph.
In addition to their sticky, lobed feet, the Dippers also possess a nictitating membrane, or transparent eyelids, and they can close their nostrils while foraging for larvae on the underside of river rocks.
We watched and photographed this fella at close range in the Little Colorado River, near the base of Mt. Baldy. My favorite aspect of these birds is their direct feeding. There are many aquatic birds that bob or dive for their food, but the Dippers just walk right along the bottom of a stream, sometimes fully submerging themselves and even becoming vulnerable to salmon and other large fish.
We scrounged up and down a stretch of the Little Colorado, with light rain and soggy shore plants soaking us pretty thoroughly. Since the Dipper was one of my main photographic targets, I came prepared with water shoes, so I wouldn't be restricted to obscured shoreline views. It worked well in a sense, but good grief was that water cold!
The Dipper soon acclimated to our presence and went about its daily business--foraging, preening, and doing it's little bobbing dance.
Some people train their dogs to balance bones and treats on their nose, showing great self-control against their instincts as tasty food is suspended so near their maw.
We trained our Dipper to do it too. Pretty good trick huh?