Cold weather helps gets natural cycle of things back onto a proper footing

It must have been five below freezing last week, when I set out on my daily dog walk along my usual riverside route.

Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 3:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 1:15 pm
Deeply dippy - the courting couple of dippers on the Ettrick last week.
Deeply dippy - the courting couple of dippers on the Ettrick last week.

Although it was overcast, the frost still clung to every fragment of vegetation and the ground was brick hard. Icicles hung in curtains at the hydro-electric generating station, formed by the constant splashing from the spinning turbines.

Further upstream, fieldfares chattered angrily at my approach before taking off in a noisy flock. It is so difficult to get anywhere near these nervous birds.

Just below the pool where Ettrick and Yarrow meet, I heard the unmistakable melodious song of a dipper.

I stopped and quickly located it sitting on a stone in midstream, head back, singing his heart out.

Dippers are unusual in that they have feathered eyelids which happen to be white and I couldn’t help noticing that he seemed to be blinking more than usual, which is part of the courting ritual.

As I watched, I caught a glimpse of movement on the far bank and saw that another dipper was edging closer to the songster. I took it to be a female as no aggression ensued.

Slowly she made her way closer to the vocalist, who by this time had his head right back and giving it his all.

Eventually she stopped on the stone in front of him and began to rhythmically bob, seemingly in time to his music.

This went on for some minutes, giving me time for a couple of quick snaps, before the pair finally took off together and flew off downstream.

I reckon he had pulled! Dippers will be on their breeding territories by January so they are all busy pairing off at the moment. My stretch of river is excellent dipper habitat and I heard a further three singing males further downstream on my return trip.

I also encountered a little grebe diving just above the cauld, which is an unusual visitor for this stretch of water. The pond where it usually resides was probably frozen over, so it probably decided to head for the open water of the river.

Winter seems to have arrived early this year, but the extremely cold weather will do a lot of good in getting the natural cycle of things onto a proper footing, after several years of unseasonably mild winters.