BIRD WATCH: Heavy fall rains bring wildlife sightings

NOVEMBER MADE AN entrance that revealed its true colors.

The recent heavy rains are only a hint of what’s ahead.

We’ll survive.

There are even some who have been waiting for fall’s downpours.

The salmon are running upstream in creeks and rivers all over the Northwest.

Our beautiful, dry fall has them struggling a bit due to low water conditions.

Heavy rains are welcome.

Where the salmon are running, other wildlife enters the picture.

Anglers aren’t the only ones interested in salmon runs.

The bald eagles are watching too.

They look on this glut of spawning fish the same way we anticipate Thanksgiving turkey and dressing.

If you are planning to take one of the “salmon-viewing” tours, remember to watch for the eagles.

As the fish move from the estuaries they travel up streams and rivers toward their spawning grounds.

The eagles follow them.

After the fish lay their eggs and begin to die, the eagles feast.

It’s a cruel fact of nature but it’s exciting to watch them work their way through rocky shallows while fighting the current.

The salmon rest in small pools or in deeper water at the stream’s edge.

Then, as if on signal, they make the water fly and push themselves upriver.

Their splashing tails drive them over the rocks like a powerful outboard motor.

This is also when the young eagles, the darker birds without the white heads and tails, watch for a chance to get in on the feast.

They might even attempt to steal a fish from another bird.

This is where being aggressive counts.

The bird that hangs on and either flies or runs away usually gets the fish.

Crows and ravens will do the same.

While the eagles and salmon steal the show, other creatures plunder the water’s food.

In the coming weeks, one of my very favorite birds will haunt the waterways where the rapids and waterfalls make things exciting.

“Dippers,” also known as water ouzels, forage for aquatic bugs and crustaceans found in or under the water.

Their plumage resembles wet rocks and is one of the best camouflages in the avian world.

Even though they are active feeders, they fit in so well in this habitat that they often go unnoticed — even when you are looking for them.

The best way to find a dipper feeding at the edge of the rushing water is to run your eye along the shore and watch for movement.

They also will be feeding around rocks standing out in the middle of the stream or river.

If there is a waterfall anywhere near, you might be lucky enough to see one actually dive through the flowing water to get behind it. (This is also where they will build their nests.)

This fierce feeder that challenges rapids and waterfalls looks like a very large wren.

It has a short tail that sticks straight up and it does nonstop deep knee bends.

It “dips.”

This bobbing action suggests the bird is preparing itself to jump from one rock to another.

You can almost hear its thoughts. “Ready? Jump!”

Dippers actually swim under water.

They are passerines or perching birds, not waterbirds.

In addition to looking for an ouzel feeding where eagles are fishing, listen for this bird’s song.

To hear a dipper sing in the middle of winter when the air is crisp and cold is one of nature’s gifts.

The bubbling, burbling, ringing melody is similar to the song of various wrens.

It’s loud enough to be heard above the river’s noise.

Eagles and dippers go together well in habitat both frequent.

This combination is something to keep in mind in the coming weeks.

It only happens once a year.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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