American Dipper

American Dipper, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

American Dipper, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

It turns out it’s not really true that the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) and the other 5 members of the family can walk under water.  Instead, they propel themselves with their wings while gripping with their feet.  It still seems like a rather remarkable feat to me, underwater flight in a rushing torrent.  As a kid I always wanted to see the Water ouzel, the dipper that we have in England, but it’s not a common bird and I had to wait until I visited the Rocky Mountains in the United States, a lifetime later, to see its American counterpart.  But the bird I saw in the US is uniformly dark brown while the light-grey Costa Rican bird looks on first impression to be the same colour as the Torrent tyrannulet, a neat little flycatcher that shares its habitat.

Although I have found the tyrannulet not too far away, once on the Rio Aquiares high above Santa Cruz and once on the Rio Guayabo at the La Muralla waterfall, the Dipper has been completely absent from the region throughout my years here.  So much so, that I had long since ceased thinking about it as a possibility, even though the habitat is perfect.

The biggest surprise, then, of my brief walk the other day came when I turned back over the bridge from Nerón’s house, glanced upstream and saw the plump, grey figure of an American dipper sitting on a rock in mid-stream below some small cataracts.  I had ample time to watch the bird go through its paces, now plunging its head repeatedly into the water at the point where it cascaded over a rock, now standing on its rather long, pinkish legs and bobbing up and down.  I have read that the presence of the Dipper indicates a high level of water quality, which gives me the hope that local contamination (chiefly cattle and a pig farm) of Quebrada La Loca has diminished.

On subsequent days, I was, to my dismay, unable to locate a single one of this week’s finds. Yet I do believe that I am now approaching 170 species for the San Antonio bird list, and there are many more possibilities yet.

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