One of my targets for this year was to get some shots of dippers in better light. To date, all shots had been taken in the gloomiest of conditions, under the shadow of overhanging trees and foliage, with the birds usually keeping a fair distance from me. And with either tall, steep banks or very muddy ones, getting to the right angle to get anything decent has been nigh on impossible.
Derbyshire had been suggested to me on numerous occasions by those in the know, and a couple of emails later (thanks Dave & Robert), I was sure of the spot to aim for, at a location called Lathkill Dale. A fair distance away, but the forecast for Saturday looked very promising, so another early start was in order, and by 8:30am, I was walking down the steep road to the riverside.
Following the directions suggested to me, I had a very pleasant wander alongside the river, with the first birds of note for the day being a pair of mandarin ducks, which didn't like the look of me and flew off before I could get close enough for a shot. Shame, such vibrantly coloured birds.
Various tits and finches were zipping and bobbing amongst the trees, and the hearty calls of wrens filled the air with their song. As with all such beauty spots, there were the inevitable dog walkers, but not that many at the time of the morning, fortunately. It is also one of those places where having eyes like a chameleon would help. Keep one eye on the river for birds, and the other on the path, so you don't stumble over. I tried to keep my eyes on the river as much as possible and soon spotted the first dipper.
Calling out, a blur of dark brown and white rocketed past, a few feet above the water. And it wasn't long before I could see another, stood on the opposite bank, its white bib reflecting in the mirror-like water. Bobbing, it gave me one or two looks before belting off downstream. Continuing my walk, I encountered a pair of grey wagtails, floating across the water, in their own distinctive style, landing on a scree, to potter about in search of small grubs.
At the waterfall though, I had better luck. There was a pair of dippers and they kept leaving and returning, allowing the folks there to get some decent shots of them. I initially followed them upstream, which led to the similar conditions as I'm used to, though these birds weren't shy, and I was at one point less than 15 feet from them, in full view too. They just bobbed, dipped and went about their business. Great birds to observe.
Returning to the falls, I decided to wait and see if they'd come for a show. The light was starting to go (the high, wooded valley sides don't help!) so it had to be soon. They didn't disappoint, with one landing right on the edge of the falls, to mooch about in the moss and weeds. They must have terrific grip and balance not to be washed away, given the currents and their size, but they take it all in their stride.
With the shade from the trees and the increasingly cold breeze blowing up, I opted to call it a day, and stroll back to the car. The camera hanging from my neck got the usual attention from other folks, one telling me about a slow-worm he'd just been observing. What an inappropriate name. They move like lightning and aren't worms. Wish I'd seen one - not seen any for donkey's years. What I did see though, were more dippers, one sat only a few feet from a couple enjoying a picnic on the riverside.
If only the ones in Somerset were so bold! Still, a great day out in beautiful scenery, and another mission accomplished.