For last Sunday I had planned a hike in the mountains but the day before, while I was heading towards what we have always called Chialamberto playgrounds, I looked at the Stura stream from a bridge.
This behavior comes from fly fishing, I usually look at the most interesting holes in the stream to see if I can see trout in the water. No trouts but very active dippers.
The dipper is a small bird (17-20 cm long, weighing 40-70 g) that lives along the banks of mountain streams. Excellent swimmer, it feeds on insect larvae and nymphs that have an aquatic life cycle such as those belonging to the orders of mayflies, plecoptera and trichoptera.
This welcome sighting led me to a sudden change of the program: Sunday morning would be dedicated to photographing the dipper!
In the early next day I mount the camera on the tripod, cover myself with a camouflage cloth and hopefully wait for the dipper to make its appearance. Actually this happens after a few minutes but dippers always are too far from my position to take some good photos.
It's the beauty of wildlife photography, when it comes to wildlife, results are never guaranteed. Almost two hours pass and, when I am now resigned to an unsuccessful photographic output, a complacent bird lands on a stone emerging from the water a few meters from my position. It is amazing to see how it can resist the strong current and how skilled it is to dive into the water in search of some nymph attached to the stones on the bottom.
It's time to go home: I had luck for this time.
To conclude I try to summarize some small tips to be able to photograph the dipper.
1) Before the photographic output, do some inspection on the stream, preferably equipped with binoculars, to observe the movements of these cute birds. You will discover that they tend to always use the same perches and stones, also recognizable by the guano they deposit there. It is in the vicinity that you will have to take up a position to photograph dippers.
2) A camouflage sheet or a shed are indispensable. It is unlikely that the dippers will get close enough if you stay out in the open or, even worse, move around. An excellent choice would also be to arrive on the river at the first light of dawn. In this way, when the dippers begin their raids along the watercourse, you will already be hidden inside your position.
3) Use all your patience! Personally, I don't really like long stalking but in some cases they are the only way to bring home good shots. The worst thing you can do is change position every 10 minutes, in this way you will alarm the dippers, disturb their food research and do nothing good.
4) Try to shoot with rather fast shutter speed. Birds in general and dippers in particular perform very fast micro-movements and if you do not use very fast shutter speeds you will risk having many blurred images. Rather raise the ISO sensitivity ... better to have a slight decay in image quality but sharp photos than the other way around.
5) As in many situations that nature photography presents, a good tripod and a lens with a focal length of at least 400mm will be of great help.