When I”m in the UK, I spend my time in Kendal in the Lake District. We’re pretty close to the River Kent, which flows from the top of the Kentmere Valley (to the north of Kendal) down into Morecambe Bay to the south.
The River Kent has a surprising amount of birdlife in and around it for a river that passes through an urban area like Kendal. In addition to the usual litany of ducks, we regularly see goosanders, grey wagtails, pied flycatchers, grey herons, kingfishers and dippers. As you walk north up the river (and out of Kendal and into the surrounding countryside), the Kent and it’s tributaries become ideal territory for dippers in particular.
I became interested in photographing dippers a few years back. They’re fairly challenging as a photographic subject: their white bib blows out easily and the rest of their natural color is dark enough to be 3 or 4 stops below the bib. They’re also very small, always on the move and can be quite easily spooked by movement on the bank.
They’re absolutely facinating to watch though. When they’re feeding, dippers spend a lot of time underwater and are forever in and out of the fast-moving sections of water looking for insect larvae and other food. I often find myself working to track them as they float down with the river current, completely submerged.
I’ve recently started to try to photograph dippers again during my walks up the river. Most of my dipper photographs from 2003 and 2004 were taken with my Canon 300/4 IS lens, 1.4xII convertor and my D60, which wasn’t an ideal combination for small bird photography. The 300mm lens is a little short for small birds and the D60 can have horrible auto-focus in the low light conditions you often find working along the river.
I’ve now got a Canon 500/4 IS lens for wildlife photography, which with the 1.4xII convertor and Canon 1DII lets me start to fill the frame with a dipper when working from an opposite bank. The image quality from the 500/4 is pretty astonishing and, when paired with the 1DII, it’s quite amazing how quickly you can focus in on small birds. I’ve basically run out of excuses for bad dipper photos now. 🙂
You’ll find most of my dipper photography in my River Kent and River Mint (a tributary to the Kent) galleries in my portfolio.