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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Water Ouzel

December 17th, 2012 · No Comments

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The Water Ouzel is a special bird that I have longed to see ever since I hiked up to Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park more than four years ago. But I failed to see it then.

Actually, nowadays we call this songbird an American Dipper or by its scientific name, Cinclus mexicanus. But, like many people, I prefer to call it a Water Ouzel.

This spring, Sharon took to a swift-moving section of Boulder Creek to show me where she had seen one earlier. We didn’t see it that day or in the two or three times I went back there in the past six months. But I finally found it there last Wednesday:

A Water Ouzel Perches along Boulder Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/60 with fill flash, ISO 800)

A Water Ouzel Perches along Boulder Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/60 with fill flash, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

I was able to get close enough to use my camera’s internal flash, which was necessary because the sun had just gone down. Even though the light was poor and I didn’t capture the Water Ouzel in the water, I was pleased enough with this shot to send it to my friend Marveen. She in turn suggested that re-reading what John Muir had written about this unusual bird would be even more enjoyable for me now. It was.

Back in 1894 Muir wrote in The Mountains of California his delightful chapter 13, “The Water-Ouzel,” about this “singularly joyous and lovable little fellow.” The Water Ouzel, Muir writes, is “ever vigorous and enthusiastic, yet self-contained, and neither seeking nor shunning your company.” That hit exactly the right note in my experience, for this bird showed no fear of me. “He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, — none so unfailingly.”

More succinctly but less poetically, David Allen Sibley wrote in The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America that this bird is “uncommon along clear, fast-flowing mountain streams. Solitary. Perches on rocks within streams and dives underwater for aquatic insect larvae.”

I also looked up my prize copy of The Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio: Audubon’s Birds of America to see what this bird looked like to John James Audubon. But Roger Tory Peterson, who edited this edition, explained that Audubon had not seen it in life. That was because the Water Ouzel lives only in Western North America, which Audubon visited only briefly late in life. Peterson went on to explain that “its unique ability is to plunge into the boisterous maelstrom, where it is able to dive, swim underwater, and actually walk on the bottom in search of aquatic fare.”

All this impelled me to return this afternoon to Boulder Creek in hopes of finding the Water Ouzel at the same place that Sharon had told me about. The day was cool and windy, but the sun shown brightly. I went there at lunch time, which is not generally the best time for photography, because the light is usually harsher at that time compared to first or last light. But it’s the only time we can usually count on to get full sun in a canyon or on a creek. In fact, as soon as I arrived there this afternoon I saw the Water Ouzel in full sun.

The Water Ouzel Surveys Boulder Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 370mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -0.5 ev)

The Water Ouzel Surveys Boulder Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 370mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -0.5 ev)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Into the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 360mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

Into the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 360mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
In the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 370mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

In the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 370mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
On the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 360mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

On the Creek (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 360mm, f/8, 1/1500, ISO 800, -05 ev)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

I am so glad that this amazing little bird calls Boulder home, as I do too. But I know that if I spent most of my days in water, I would look quite bedraggled. I still don’t understand why the feathers of this Water Ouzel never seem to get wet.

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