December 21, 2017
Pileated Woodpecker And An American Dipper

The other day I headed down to Goldstream Park and saw two birds that I rarely see a Pileated Woodpecker and an American Dipper.

I had specifically gone to see the dipper as at this time of year after the salmon spawn they are usually quite visible as they eat the eggs.

In the past, I have taken pictures of the event, but this year I was a little late as most of the fish had finished spawning and there were just a few carcasses being eaten by seagulls alongside the stream.

The salmon were late this year due to lack of water so I missed the main spawn. If you hit it just right you get the dippers, bald eagles (maybe even a golden eagle) and usually an unusual seagull or two that are not normally found in this area.

Goldstream is famous for its salmon run and the number of visitors it attracts every year. The park is easily accessible and there are usually tour buses and school buses in the parking lot as everyone comes to see the big event.

But the best part of the park is its big trees and lush forest and the pacific wrens calling from the underbrush.

As I was walking along the path to the river there were numerous stellar jays calling from tree to tree and the little golden-crown kinglets flitted amongst the branches.

They never stay in one spot long enough to get a picture of them and as the light was dull for picture taking in the trees I didn’t even try. I just enjoyed their presence and little golden heads.

The path comes to a fork and if you go right, you can walk along the stream and onto a bit of a bend where there is a rocky beach.

Lots of dead salmon and seagulls and above the din, I heard another noise. It was one of hammering.

Looking around I found the source of the noise which was coming from a tree and found a Pileated Woodpecker banging away in the crook where the branch and the trunk join.

pileated woodpecker

I was thrilled. My backyard gets all the other local woodpeckers in this area except for the Pileated Woodpecker so very rarely get pictures of them.

What a treat.

Leaving the steam and dippers to their own devices, I tried to find a spot between the branches where I could get a good picture of the woodpecker.

It was beating its head against the tree and with the force it was exerting, it really should have had a headache.

pileated woodpecker getting ready to strike

(Thinking about this I did a search when I got home and found out the reason. You can check it out here if interested.)

I could see chunks of wood flying out as it pecked its way into the tree to get out the bug and ants that are its staple diet.

pileated woodpecker tossing wood chips

After taking oodles of pictures it finally finished its meal and flew off across the stream. Such a delight to see with its bright red head and white stripes on the face.

So I went back to my original quest of looking for an American Dipper.

These little dippers can be hard to see as they can look the same colour as the water and unless they move they are well camouflaged.

American Dipper hard to see in the water

Walking up and down the stream I could hear one but couldn’t find it until I realized that it was upstream and there wasn’t a path to get to it.

Then in a flash of wings, there was two of them. One chasing the other. They are very territorial of their stretch of the stream.

I headed downstream to where I saw them disappear and proceeded to scan the water, but to no avail.

At this point, I was joined by another photographer who had come to take pictures of the eagles that weren’t there. I lie… there were eagles but so high up in the trees if you took a picture you would have to draw a circle around them so people knew where they were.

This man had been to this exact same spot a few days ago and said he saw 5 eagles all in the trees close by overlooking the stream and him without his camera.

So he had come back to take pictures of them, but the eagles didn’t realize they had an appointment so of course didn’t show up. 🙂

Briefly, we exchanged a few words and I told him I was looking for the dippers. He then spent most of the time talking on his phone to someone explaining that there were no eagles.

You would have thought that one sentence was enough, but he kept the commentary going for at least 10 minutes and I was beginning to feel sorry for the person on the other end of the phone.

Suddenly, I saw a movement upstream and heading up the path spotting a dipper across the stream.

To my delight, it flew over to my side and I just bent down to take a picture and the man who had come to see the eagles followed me down the path, pushed his way through the undergrown to where I had my camera focused on the bird and started to talk with me.

I said “damn” as the bird flew away and he said “didn’t realize you were taking a picture” and I figured at that point he must be blind. No judgement here.

Ignoring him I heading down the stream again looking for the little bird and saw it in the widest part of the stream and of course, it was on the other side.

It was interesting watching them forage as they dunk right under the water searching for aquatic insects, fish eggs and even small fish.

American Dipper dipping

They appear to walk underwater as they will disappear out of sight only to reemerge further downstream.

When the current catches them they just float along the surface like a duck until they get to a likely spot and start to forage or preen.

They don’t stay still for long and are constantly probing the stream bed with their beaks to find food.

American Dipper with bug

After following one up and down the stream I decided to stay in one spot and see if it would come to me.

A short while later, two flew by chasing each other and one came so close to me that I could feel the wake of the feathers on my cheeks. Talk about a close encounter with a dipper.

Both of them disappears but after about 10 minutes one appeared right in front of me and searched for food along my side of the bank before it headed off downstream to preen its feathers.

American Dipper

What a lucky girl I am.

Apparently, the dipper got the appointment time right.

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