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The Sirhowy River Dippers.

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on January 12, 2015 at 12:30 PM

Since the loss of the Coal and Steel industries in the South Wales Valleys, the waterways have become much cleaner and as a result the Wildlife that once thrived here have returned. A speciality of these fast flowing rivers is the Dipper.

Early last year myself and Andrew decided to do a photographic project on Dippers, documenting their lives from nestbuilding right through to fledging young and with the help of a friend that walks the River Sirhowy each day thats exactly what we did.

Andrew called me to let me know that his mate had found a pair building a nest on the Sirhowy so we arranged to meet up at the site to if it would be viable for photography. Luckily the river was quite narrow at the point where they were building with a broad shingle bank opposite.

The plan was to set up the pop up hide away from the waters edge and watch from a distance to see if the Birds were agitated by its presence. They were fine and over the course of a week we moved it closer and closer until it was at the waters edge. Had they been agitated by the hide we would have shelved the plans for that site and found another as no photograph is worth a failed nest. When the river was low enough we found that we could actually place it in the shallow water of the shingle bank to get us within 10 metres of the birds. We had to anchor it down though as it floated. For a hide that cost only £65 it has served me very well from photographing Grouse on the high hills and moors to now Dippers in the deep valleys..........bargain!

The first session in the hide had both adults bringing moss back and forth to build the outer dome of the nest that was set on a rocky ledge. The final part of the nestbuilding process was them bringing Beech leaves to line the inside but not before they washed them in the River first.

Things were quiet for a week or two afterwards as the eggs were being incubated by the female but on the third session something caught my eye just inside the nest. At first I thought it was the white throat of the female waiting for the male to bring her some food as she incubated the eggs so I took a shot to check. As I zoomed into the image on the Cameras LCD screen I could see it was half an eggshell! This was great news on two counts. Firstly they had successfully started to hatch and secondly we could now time how long it would be before they fledged which is normally three weeks.

The next session had both parents busily coming back and forth to feed the young and we were shocked to see how aggressive the adults were towards each other when they arrived at the nest the same time. We also noticed that a lot of the time they would wash the food before taking it to the young.

We had another two sessions whilst the young were still in the nest which made for some great pics. One image I wanted in particular was one of an adult swimming in the deep water below the nest. They would do this usually after depositing faecal sacs to clean themselves and looked quite funny as they bobbed around like a Pike Float.

One of the most memorable sessions we had was when the three chicks fledged and to see them flapping around taking their first steps was amazing as they looked so awkward on the rocks. As the parents were coming back and forth feeding them they were also visiting the nest itself. We initially thought that there was another chick in there but they came out with the now dried and broken Beech leaves that were used to line the nest. It seems they were already preparing for the next clutch to be laid.

The final visit just had the male downstream feeding and everything quiet at the nest with no sign of the young. We had accomplished what we had wanted to do and three more Dippers were now living on a river somewhere in the South Wales Valleys.

Please see the latest images in the Waders/Waterbirds Gallery.

 

My next blog will be on another success story on the Valleys Rivers, the Kingfisher.

 

As a footnote I would not recommend anyone to photograph any Birds at or near the nest unless they know exactly what they are doing. The greatest weapon in a Wildlife Photographers arsenal isnt the camera and equipment they use but the Fieldcraft and Knowledge that is required to do so responsibly. I have been photographing Wildlife for a very long time and the skills required to do so have been learned in the field and not out of a book. Every Wildlife subject will have its comfort zone and you will find out pretty much straight away how close you can get to a particular species. As soon as the subject starts behaving in an unnatural manner you need to move back straight away!

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