I can recall my excitement at the time I saw my first Dipper whirl down a river, perch briefly on a rock before entering the water searching for food, to emerge seconds later and to fly off towards an unseen nest with its catch of larvae.
The Dipper is a bird of fast flowing rivers and streams, mainly in the uplands of Britain but it can also be found in lower lying areas in the southwest. A small, plump brown bird with a contrasting white chest and short stubby wings, Dippers are perfectly adapted for their peculiar method of walking into and under water in search of food. Dippers have earned their name from their habit, when perched on rocks or other suitable perches, of frequently bobbing up and down.
For a photographer, the biggest challenge when working with Dippers is the amount of available natural light as most Dipper territories are along water that is overshadowed by river banks and trees. For this reason, I have found early spring, when most deciduous trees are without leaves or their leaf canopies are not yet fully complete to be the best time of year to photograph Dippers. Spring is also the time when Dippers start to breed and as a result they are very active. At the start of the breeding season, both male and female can be seen collecting nesting material.
During the breeding season, male Dippers will frequently perch on favoured rocks and other perches to sing and display.
In photographing Dippers, as for all animals, I do not wish to simply make pretty images of birds sitting on rocks in water. Instead my aim is to make images that provide an insight into the life of these birds by photographing their behaviour within their habitat. It is always a privilege to be permitted the opportunity to spend time with any wild animal in their environment and I never forget nor take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to do this. It is also a pleasure to share the experience and the images. Like all animals I have worked with, my work with Dippers is not complete and probably never will be. Shortly after I made the image shown above of the male displaying on the rock, the pair breed but unfortunately I was too busy defending my camera and lens from an overly inquisitive but very friendly dog to capture this action. But for now, I have included in this post a few images showing a brief glimpse into the world of the Dipper.
Along one stretch of water where a pair of Dippers had a territory, the riverbank was particular dark and made up of a section of very dark background rocks. Whilst presenting a few photographic challenges, this area of the river made for slightly different images of Dippers.
In this darker area of the river, the Dipper would fish with its back to the riverbank and plunge its head straight into the water when fishing for food. This behaviour made for interesting images with the Dipper reflected in the water.
When it comes to Dippers, it is unfortunate but fair to say that wildlife photographers have not always enjoyed the best of reputations. Not far from where I live, is Lathkill Dale which is one of the most picturesque dales in the white peak area of the Peak District National Park. Historically, Lathkill Dale was known for its population of Dippers and consequently became very popular as an area for photographing them. One very popular location was at the Tuffa Dam which is a short walk along the dale from the pretty village of Over Haddon.
The Tuffa Dam became a very popular location for photographers (including workshops) due to the close location of a nest and the photographic opportunities afforded by the dam. Sadly, the numbers of Dippers in Lathkill is currently below its historic level and due to factors including disturbance – and not just from photographers – Dippers have not nested at the Tuffa Dam for several years. Natural England have produced advice for photographers wishing to photograph Dippers, and in particular their nest sites, which can be found at: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/Dipper-nesting-leaflet_tcm6-10229.pdf. As with all wildlife photography, no image is worth more than the welfare of the animal being photographed.