Isn't Britain wonderful? We're all of us in such easy reach of so many different landscapes. Over weekend the girlfriend and I picked out the unmatchable limestone beauty of Dovedale, on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. There was one bird, a favourite, that she wanted to see again, a species synonymous with Dovedale - the Dipper.
Notice the blinking? Its eyelids look white or even silvery. That's called a nictitating membrane, somewhat like see-through eyelids or goggles by another name, which allow the bird to search for underwater food (mostly insect larvae, fresh water shrimp). Neat huh?
They also have a special preen gland and undercoating of feathers to keep them dry, and their blood is richer in oxygen than most other perching birds, all adaptations for a sub-aqua lifestyle.
I really doubt there is any place in the world where you can get closer views. The Dippers along this most popular stretch of the Derbyshire Dales barely register the presence of passersby, and with just a little patience you can be within feet of them.
The heavy rains of previous days made for a high river which perhaps explains why for our visit the Dippers fed almost exclusively duck-style, swimming and diving from the surface rather than skipping in and out of the fast waters around the rocks. For me it remains a bizarre sight, this bird not unlike a Blackbird, so at home on the water. Look...
By the way, I should probably explain that winter in the valley is really too dark to get decent still photographs, at least not with the primitive kit I carry. Far easier to instead record the day on video, even if it's only lo-res stuff. Most of these I digi-binned through my 8x42s.
So real crackers, one of those bold and brilliant birds complete strangers birders and bird novices alike, will stop, watch and talk to each other about. Top #10 British Bird for anyone's money.
Plenty else in the dale too though, dozens of Siskin and plenty of Nuthatch showed well in the car park, that universal companion of the Dipper - Grey Wagtail were just as numerous, Raven were a nice touch over the woods and again relatively decent views for such a shy species. Redwing, Treecreeper and Buzzard, kept things interesting away from the water.
Last bird of the day was a redhead Goosander on the river. She should probably think about moving down to a lake or reservoir for the winter.
There was more wildlife treat though, a bonus; stellar views of a Weasel foraging the river bank. You can never expect such a thing, but just by going out you win the occasional lottery and there it'll be. Memorable stuff.
A couple more video links:
Last word, be careful on the stepping stones and think twice about crossing them in winter. We saw one accident with a mother and her kids ending up on their bottoms in the water, and it was only luck really that we had a blanket and spare coat to lend them from our car.
This isn't the time of year to be getting wet folks.