It was dark, the steep slopes, rising either side of the road, a denser, deeper black shadow against the night sky. A cloudy sky that hid the stars, with only a few twinkling lights from nearby houses and the flashing amber of a sign on the road warning of ice as it wound higher into the mountains, a black snake through a black landscape. The water rushing below was a muted roar against the muffled night. In the light of a torch the water tumbled over itself and the submerged rocks, before disappearing from view, swallowed by the night. The torch swept past ledges and holes, searching. It only took a second to see what we are looking for. The torch light sweeps past again, the far side then assessing the rushing water in between.
Slowly he crosses the water, the white water pushing and swirling against the rubber wellies, reaching the top and then plunging down the gap between leg and welly. It is cold, enough to take the breath away, but not cold enough to put him off.
It is a short distance to cross to reach the roosting site of a small bird synonymous with the rushing streams of upland areas. With the bird safely ensconced in a bag it is a short wade back across the river.
Back on the road, and having emptied the wellies of what seems like half the stream, it is safe to ring and process the bird. Removing it from the bag, the torch light reveals the short-tailed, plump, stocky little brown bird, the feathers on its dark brown back fringed with silvery blue, its brilliant white throat and chest contrasting starkly with a deep chestnut band across the midrift that quickly becomes the deep brown again. Its grip is strong. It needs to be. The bird is the Dipper, and that grip will hold it under rushing water as it searches for food.
|The Dipper, ready to be released|
That night the bird is roosted in our house, safe and quiet until the morning when returning to the same bridge we release it into the grey drizzle of a winter morning.
Of course all of this was done with a licence to approach and handle wild birds.