You might think it’s just the little Robin that goes bob-bob-bobbing along but no!
After two days of weather warnings, gale-force winds and heavy rain showers, I was itching for a walk, partly because I tend to go a little stir crazy if I can’t get out every day but also because I’ve been learning this year how much weather affects the movements of birds. On Thursday, though more rain was forecast, I decided I’d head down to Penarth Marina for a walk along the Ely embankment path to see if anything unusual was sheltering from the tumultuous weather in its relatively calm waters.
The three Redshanks were a nice surprise, the most I’ve seen there this autumn, but the highlight came right at the end. As I approached the last bend in the path, I spotted a dark bird at the water’s edge. I hadn’t brought my bins with me so used my camera to take a photo and zoom in. A Dipper! What a treat!
The Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is a rotund little bird, more often seen prospecting for food in stony streams and low-flowing rivers. It’s the only British passerine (birds that perch) that feeds underwater and the only British member of the five species of Cinclidae found around the world. Their name cinclus comes from the Ancient Greek word kinklos, meaning a small tail-wagging bird that lives near water.
In deeper water, the Dipper swims down to the river bed, ‘flying underwater’ – an action probably more akin to rowing with wings, and its sturdy claws can grip even the smoothest of stones. This lovely bird, though, was working the shallow water where the stony embankment of the River Ely meets the brackish water of Cardiff Bay, poking about and flipping stones in its quest for aquatic insects.
It paused when it noticed me watching it from the top of the bank above so I stayed completely still, hoping it would then ignore me and return to its grazing. It blinked at me several times, exposing its pale upper eyelid, an action I have since read is either a courtship or threat display – I don’t think it fancied me!
Luckily, after a couple of minutes, it obviously decided I posed no immediate threat, bobbed a couple of times and carried on. Bobbing is an odd motion that several different birds make – it has been interpreted as a means of visual communication but that seems unlikely in this case as the bird was on its own. I also read on the Birdnote website:
One possibility is that the dipper’s repetitive bobbing, against a background of turbulent water, helps conceal the bird’s image from predators. A second theory asserts that dipping helps the bird spot prey beneath the surface of the water.
Perhaps we’ll never know the real reason for its bobbing but it was certainly a joy to watch this particular bird a’dipping and a’bobbing on my local patch.