Juvenile American Dippers

American Dipper juvenile looking for preyAmerican Dipper juvenile looking for prey – Nikon D810, handheld, f5.6, 1/160, ISO 640, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The drive to Cascade Springs was beautiful yesterday with the beginnings of fall colors on the mountains but for me the best part was photographing American Dippers again. American Dippers are North America’s only aquatic songbird, not only do they fly and sing they also swim, wade and dive for prey. The two American Dippers I photographed yesterday are juveniles that hatched this year, I did not see the adult birds.

American Dipper juvenileAmerican Dipper juvenile – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO, 1600, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The lighting was more than challenging as the two young dippers stayed mostly in the shaded area of a pool at the base of the spring while they foraged for food. I could tell on my camera LCD that ISO 640 just wasn’t going to cut it because my shutter speed was slow and most of the images were blurry so I cranked the ISO up to 1600. I was handholding or resting my lens on my knees as I sat on the wooden boardwalk to get these photos, I think next time I go I will haul my tripod to the springs so I can use it for a little more stability.

Juvenile American Dipper at Cascade SpringsJuvenile American Dipper at Cascade Springs – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/1250, ISO 1600, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

American Dippers prefer fast moving, unpolluted waters that are found in mountain streams, creeks and rivers and their main prey items include aquatic insects, dragonflies, worms, small fish, fish eggs and flying insects. American Dippers aren’t migratory but in the coldest part of winter they may move to larger rivers that have more open water.  When searching for aquatic prey they dip their heads under the water up to 60 times a minutes giving them the name “Dipper”.

Behavioral display of a juvenile American DipperBehavioral display of a juvenile American Dipper – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO 1250, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

At one point I was focused on one of the juveniles when the other flew in and the first bird lifted its wings over its body and held them there for at least 30 seconds if not longer, the other juvenile did not raise its wings in response. This might be some kind of territorial display behavior but to be honest I am just speculating on that. This is certainly not a great shot because of the angle of the light but I wanted to share the behavior.

American Dipper juvenile with preyAmerican Dipper juvenile with prey – Nikon D810, handheld, f5, 1/400, ISO 1250, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

The air was crisp and clear and the rushing water was loud as tumbled over rocks as it headed down stream and I wish I could share that all. I tried to do a video on my phone but I couldn’t hold it still and the resulting video was so shaky that it looked like a drunken pirate took it so I will try that again another day. I can share the sounds of the American Dippers singing with rushing water found here though.

Several times I was able to get images where the American Dippers had prey in their bills and liked this frame because of the flying water droplets caused by the dipper shaking the prey, the low angle, prey in the bill and the eye contact from the young bird.

This was only the second time I have had the opportunity to photograph American Dippers and I hope that one day I will be able to photograph them out in the open sunlight as they go about their lives.

Life is good.



  1. Kathie September 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Mia, I think I have told you before that I love dippers! I saw my first one when I lived in Idaho. These pictures are amazing! I love that you captured their behavior!

  2. Utahbooklover September 25, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Wonderful series! Thanks to your influence Mia, I have been going back through my digital images to crop many of them in a more interesting way.

  3. Mary McAvoy September 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Amazing! Fantastic! Glorious! Thanks, as always.

  4. Wally September 24, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Mia, superb shots, despite the challenging light conditions.
    I’m jealous! Have never seen a Dipper.

  5. Elephant's Child September 24, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Such a privilege to see. Thank you.

  6. Colleen September 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    What a pretty little bird!

  7. Chris Rohrer September 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Very sweet images!!! I’ve never seen the juveniles before…..so this makes me happy. A pair was successful!

  8. Lindy September 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    the photo with prey, and droplets from shaking, WOW…thanks

  9. Sarah Mayhew September 24, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Very nice! Like the low angle. I love to watch Dippers!

  10. sharon bedell September 24, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Enjoy your photographs so much and also your comments and description about how you took them.

  11. Stu September 24, 2014 at 11:01 am

    A wonderful set of photographs. Love the birds. the colors. the action, the narrative. Loved that raised wing shot!! Excellent

  12. Patty Chadwick September 24, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I like your comments as much as the images you capture. You and Ron are both very poetic as well as interesting writers…you both have good, strong, poetic”voices”, though completely different from each other. A coilation of just your comments would make wonderful reading…I Always accompany my paintings with comments, too, which I paste onto their backing…or, if its a show, along with the display info…they all have stories. I hope some day to see these fascinating little water birds myself…

  13. Humming Bird Lover September 24, 2014 at 8:32 am

    HI! So beautiful color and You surely get the best ever Pictures! Thank you for making my day! It is dark and raining and Cold! We are to get the eastern storms today! But You have a great day!

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