Friday, April 22, 2011

Mystery at Milepost 3 Solved! ...Sort Of

Monday and Friday (today) of this week I surveyed, with Johnny's help, the known and suspected nesting sites for American Dippers on Agency Creek. That sounds so official. Actually, I clambered over downfalls, pushed my way through stickery flowering currants, sloshed through mud, was tripped by berry vines, and got lost a few times. But I did find two more suspected nests and determined that there really is a pair near Milepost 3 between two other known nesting pairs.

However, the Milepost 3 pair are, near as I can tell, not nesting. At least, I followed them upstream from one end of their territory to what must be nearly the other end without them showing the least sign of going to a nest, protecting a nest area, or having any desire to fly back past me downstream. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

On Monday I scouted downstream from The Chutes (the local name for an area where the water goes through a narrow channel... in the drier season, at least. This time of year it flows over the rocks on either side of the channel.) Two Dippers were feeding near The Chutes, then flying downstream to where, I felt certain, was their nest. The only possible nesting area I could locate was in view only when I stood at the foot of a tall dead fir at creekside and looked downstream. Sure enough, today I found the birds feeding unseen nestlings in that very location. Here are the photos I took on Monday looking toward the area I believed the birds might be nesting and zoomed in on the only vertical rock wall that looked suitable. Notice the fallen log across the bottom of the photo right.

Here are the photos I took today from that same location after I watched a Dipper feeding in a crevice in that moss and fern-covered rock wall. How's that for good guessing! In all honesty, I did not find the nest from that spot at the foot of the dead fir today. Rather, I tortured myself by crawling through the worst underbrush and fallen logjam of my survey thus far to land just downstream. Look closely in the photo on the left and you will see a log sticking out in the water behind and right of the nest area. That's where I plunked myself to wait for the Dippers, that were feeding in the stream in front of me, to go to their nest. One finally did, but it flew into the bank around the corner from where I could see. So up and over I went, through all those blessed downed trees and underbrush, to the base of the dead fir upstream, where I saw a Dipper carry food to a crevice in the bank shown in the two photos taken five days apart that look nearly identical. Score One!

This is one of the Dippers I was watching.
It took not just one bug but a whole mouthful each trip to the nest.

Next I hiked another long way chasing the Milepost 3 Mystery Dippers. They foraged and dipped and preened and screamed when I came too close, but as far as I could tell, never went to a nest. And I did not find a suitable area for a nest along their portion of the stream. But I'll try another day and see if they've found a place to take up housekeeping. One of the pair is on the far left of this (lousy) picture and one on the far right, near the bottom.

The biggest thrill today was finding the Asinine Bridge pair's nest. (Have I explained Asinine Bridge before? It is so named because the blue print got inverted by mistake and the bridge when built curved the wrong direction.) This nest is in a new place from where it has been in the past. And this nest takes no bushwhacking to view. Drive up, pull over, take photos out your window.

Of course, I didn't find it that way but that's how I'll view it from now on because the birds were quite agitated when I stood on the bank right across from their nest before I knew it was there. The photo above is of both parents chewing me out. I moved upstream which quieted them down. That's when one, after singing and singing, grabbed a bug and flew up to the mossy nest on the vertical cliff above. Woohoo! Score Two! These photos were taken after I walked back to the car and we drove to the nest site and parked. I took the pictures out our car window.

Although Monday's scouting was not as dramatic as today's, it set the stage for today's discoveries plus had some of the most beautiful wildflowers I've seen this spring. And my first butterfly of the year. Flowers pictured are Pink Fawn Lily and Giant Trillium.

My survey is nearly complete. I know of five nesting pairs plus one pair that apparently isn't... yet... in the 6 1/2 miles of Agency Creek that I cover. With time and luck I'll learn the nesting success of these pairs, plus make sure I haven't missed anyone. And, who knows, maybe the Milepost 3 vicinity pair will show me a nest before the season ends. Today they just ran me ragged. After hiking along the far side of the creek for the length of their territory, I gave up and crawled across a log to the road side where Johnny patiently waited. Here he is at the end of my creek-crossing log, searching for those mysterious Milepost 3 Dippers.


  1. "...pushed my way through stickery flowering currents..."

    The stream was overflowing with berry vines and covered with flowers? Or you ran across some low, overgrown power lines?

    Neither one seems like something I'd want to be pushing my way through, but whatever boats your float.

  2. Okay, so I can't spell. I fixed it now. Thank you, son.

  3. I think it is poetic myself.

    "Lay down these words
    Before your mind like rocks
    placed solid, by hands
    In choice of place, set
    Before the body of the mind
    in space and time:
    Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
    riprap of things:
    Cobble of milky way,
    straying planets,
    These poems, people,
    lost ponies with
    Dragging saddles----
    and rocky sure-foot trails."
    Gary Snyder

  4. Lovely poem, Ingrid.

    Currant-ly speaking, I believe the current currant proposition is that currants do not grow (at least willingly) in either water currents or electric currents and therefore should be spelled with an "a" not an "e". Or, as The Bard might say, "Such belief hath much currency."