Nature Notes

Vol. V July 18th, 1927 Summer Season No. 3


A tourist who had been scrambling about the steep bluff that hems White River camp on the north reported a peculiar bird, "that kept bobbing up and down and walked into the water and came out as dry as it went in". His description was sufficient to identify the American Dipper or Water Ouzel. The naturalist who was busy wrestling with refractory stove pipes, and otherwise caring for his "family" decided to take an hour off and see how Mrs. Ouzel cared for hers. A brisk ten minutes walk brought the naturalist and his wife to the point where a little creek came tumbling down the bluff. Up the bluff 250 feet, through dense woods and matted undergrowth, the stream divided in three parts and came cascading over a 30 or 40 foot precipice designated by the tourists as "triple cascade"--typical habitat of this fascinating feathered friend. When we arrived Mrs. Ouzel was away but her three lusty children--now about three quarters grown, were bobbing up and down on the logs and moss covered rocks in the spray of the waterfall; bobbing up and down as Water Ouzels have since Mount Rainier was young and before. Mrs. Ouzel's return was presaged by loud chirping, flapping of immature wings, and wide open mouths on the part of the youngsters. The lucky one of the three gaping bills received a nice fat worm. Then Mrs. Ouzel started a series of operations which make her one of the most unique and most interesting of birds. Hunting for worms she walked about on the moss covered rocks or the bottom of swirling pools with equal facility. Wading into pools turbulent or quiet, large or small, she disappeared from view. After what seemed a great length of time she would reappear walking out without the slightest show of concern. Checking with the watch for time spent under the water was difficult for she would disappear in one place, walk about underneath the water, and presently be observed hunting on the opposite bank having come up unobserved behind a waterfall or other obstruction. The longest period of underwater operations accurately checked was 12 seconds, but the pools were small and the bottom easily explored. There seemed no reason to believe that 12 seconds approached the limit of her endurance. Almost as amazing was her ability to walk up the face of a cliff down which an inch of water was cascading. Seldom did the water interfere with her foothold and if for the moment it threatened to dislodge her she would hover with her wings for a moment until her foothold was regained. Each time she found a worm or bug a gaping bill was ready to receive it. After a most fascinating half hour of observation we felt that our time was up. The busy mother's task apparently was not at an end as we started back to our prosaic stove pipe as the three tiny bills were gaping as widely and three shrill voices were clamering as loudly as ever.

By Clarence B. Hickok-Ranger Naturalist

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