There’s a Republican debate tonight. I don’t need the aggravation. So instead of watching the debate, inevitably hearing something that irks me, and coming out here and blogging about it, I’ll do another photo story. This is a relatively recent one, from this summer and a family vacation.
We’ve been to Yellowstone National Park a number of times, but had never been up to Glacier National Park. We also greatly enjoy the Oregon coast. Of course, it makes sense to combine a vacation in Oregon with a vacation in Glacier National Park, since they’re only many hundreds of miles apart! So this summer, we took a driving vacation, spending a number of days on the Oregon coast, and then heading up to Glacier National Park for several days on the way back home. I really had no specific plans to bird while in Glacier, but did have my camera equipment with me. Our time in Glacier was the first week of July, and unfortunately for us, our first trip to Glacier was the first time the Going-to-the-Sun road wasn’t yet open by the first week of July. Record winter snowfall still had the road closed.
We could still drive the road partially into the park, and on one beautiful morning we drove the road northward along Lake McDonald, eventually passing the lake and driving along McDonald creek. At one particularly beautiful location, we stopped to take a hike along the creek. As we crossed a bridge over the creek, a stubby dark blur came hurtling down the creek, coming to a stop on some rocks amongst the rapids. It was an American Dipper that had flown in from upstream to forage along the creek. I’ve seen American Dippers a number of times before. The Black Hills in South Dakota are the easternmost location in North America where you can find American Dippers, and I’ve enjoyed seeing them there a number of times, including one particularly close encounter.
American Dippers are still one of my favorite species to watch though. How could you not enjoy such an unusual species, part bird and seemingly part fish, just as home “walking” along a creek bottom in search of food as it is flying or walking on the shoreline. While my wife and son took a break to have a snack, I walked down to the shoreline of the creek. As I approached, the Dipper took flight and headed back up river. From watching the Dippers in the Black Hills, I knew if I sat down and waited, there was a good chance the bird would return in a few minutes. At this time of year, Dippers are busy feeding their young, and often have a pattern of flying downstream to forage, gathering a beak full of food, flying back up to feed the young, and then repeating the process.
It didn’t take long to see the Dipper was returning. After a couple of minutes, a dark stubby blur again could be seen heading towards me from upstream. I simply leaned back against a rock and waited as the Dipper approached, with it soon landing a mere 10 yards upstream of where I sat. While Dippers are famous for their unusual habit of foraging underwater, they will also forage for insects along the shore of rivers and streams. This particular bird showed no interest at foraging in the water, but was instead focused on insects on the shoreline. As I sat next to the rock, I slowly raised my camera and waited as he walked ever closer to my position. At one point the bird seemed to notice the slowly rising camera, as it paused and looked in my direction. I thought I’d blown my chance, but the bird soon resumed foraging, and kept moving closer, closer, closer…whoa…TOO close! At one point the bird was so close my lens couldn’t focus, which means less than 12 feet away, given the minimum focusing distance of my lens!
The bird continued to forage right in front of me as I took photo after photo, including the photo at the top with the Mayfly (??) that it had just caught. The whole experience from the time we first saw the Dipper from the bridge, to the couple of minutes where the bird was feeding right in front of me, was only 10 to 15 minutes. But it was one of those magical moments where you’re witnessing the natural world unfolding right in front of your eyes, and certainly one of the most memorable moments for me from our first trip to Glacier National Park.