One week after my first visit to the American Dipper nest I was back in the water, hoping to film some clumsy and adorable fledglings. Instead of going directly to the nest, I entered the creek downstream of it and began wading against the current. After some perilous crossing of slippery log jams, I came across the wonderful sight of an adult dipper hunting in the shallows. As she made several trips carrying food upstream and back, I was eventually led not to her nest, but to a young fledgling waiting patiently on the shore.
Dipper fledglings are adorably helpless. For days they do little more than sit on a rock and wait for their parents to stuff food into their mouths. After finding the fledgling, I sat on the other side of the shore and watched him for 40 minutes as his mother tirelessly delivered bug after bug without a moment’s rest. In between feedings he seemed to grow despondent and lethargic, but each feeding seemed to liven his spirits and cause him to happily bounce, stretch, and preen. After 40 minutes he grew adventurous. He hopped of his rock and made feeble attempts at finding his own food in the shallows, reminding me of a hungry teenager who “cooks” whatever’s in the freezer when his mom is working late. Eventually, the dipper grew so bold as to hop and fly 40 yards upstream. I didn’t think of it at the time, but I really wish I had stayed put to see what his mother did when she arrived to find her chick gone. Did she drop her bugs, call out in distress, and hear with great relief the high-pitched trill of her chick upstream? Sadly, I’ll never know because I wandered off somewhere else to do something I don’t remember.
Nonetheless, I eventually located the fledgling, filmed a couple more feedings, and headed home. Finally, I have the second dipper video:
Two things interested me about this trip. First, it was pretty clear that the adult was only feeding one fledgling. Sadly, I think the other four perished sometime after my previous visit. I don’t think it’s likely that the other siblings were resting elsewhere because I’ve seen American Dipper fledglings once before and they stuck together pretty closely. Second, I only saw one adult that day, whereas I frequently saw both feeding their young the week before. My guess is that the father left his mate to take care of the sole surviving chick, betting that if the two of them could take care of five young, she could take care of one. After watching her work, I bet she can too.