Under the Open Sky: This Time Last Year

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
I had a major computer disaster this month — although it was not on the scale of Hurricane Sandy, of course, but still, the thought of losing all of my precious photographs had me, at times, sitting in my computer chair with my head between my knees, ready to feint.
Fortunately, my son-in-law-to-be was able to recover my work from my failing hard drive. As I was moving photos on to my new computer I couldn’t help but do a little reminiscing. What was I doing this time last year?
Fishing, a LOT of fishing, but a little birding too.

Last year at this time was my first experience with the American Dipper, an unusual, over-sized, wren-like songbird that loves to ply the icy waters of rivers and streams for its supper.

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. An American Dipper stands at the edge of the Cowlitz River at the Barrier Dam watching a salmon on a stringer floating at the edge. Dippers will pluck salmon eggs from the water, as well as insects and small fish. Perhaps this little dipper is waiting for the angler to clean his fish and provide him with another meal.

The dipper is specially equipped for the job with an extra eyelid (called a nictitating membrane) that allows it so see underwater and special scales that close its nostrils to keep the water out.
When John Muir first came upon this little bird in his wilderness travels in 1894, he was enchanted.
“[H]is music is that of the streams refined and spiritualized. The deep booming notes of the falls are in it, the trills of the rapids, the gurgling of margin eddies, the low whispering of level reaches, and the sweet tinkle of separate drops oozing from the ends of mosses and falling into tranquil ponds,” he wrote.
Muir called the American Dipper the “Water Ouzel” or “Water Thrush.”
Dippers can be seen at the Barrier Dam area of the Cowlitz River nearly all year round. The Barrier Dam is a great place to watch geese glide in every morning and go out in the evening, to heard the clatter of Belted Kingfishers as they noisily complain and fly from one side of the river to another, to see eagles soar and Song Sparrows flit. Even if you don’t fish, it’s a great place to watch the action.

Get Ready for FeederWatch
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the FeederWatch program last year and I’m looking forward to it again this year.
Project FeederWatch gets underway Nov. 10, it’s not too late to sign up. Anyone can participate, you don’t have to be a skilled birder to join.
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from early Nov. through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch.
There is a $15 fee to join, but with that fee you receive a research kit which contains instructions, a bird identification poster, a wall calendar, a resource guide to bird feeding, and a tally sheet—everything you need to start counting your birds. You’ll also receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, “BirdScope.”
Visit feederwatch.org to sign up and join the fun.

Another Call for Photos
If you would like to share your latest kill or thrill in the outdoors with The Chronicle, we’d love to see what you have to offer. Send your photos to sports@chronline.com and/or to kim@almostdailynews.com. The bigger the file size the better for the print publication, cell phone photos normally don’t print well. Photos of at least 1mb in size will best.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website at almostdailynews.com, find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason – The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.