The clean, cold, cascading water of the White Salmon River, flowing from Mount Adams glaciers and pristine springs to the Columbia River, supports and attracts a tremendous diversity of flora and fauna. It is the pulsing heart of our local ecosystems. FWSR’s “Ribbon of Life” blog series highlights eyewitness accounts and images of the many delightful species who rely upon the remarkable qualities of the White Salmon River.
Above the rushing sound of foaming whitewater, high-pitched whistles and trills rise from the White Salmon River into the cool morning air. Suddenly, one of the many small grey lava rocks protruding above the water’s surface in midstream unexpectedly moves and mysteriously disappears beneath the surface of the icy water. After several moments, an American Dipper (also called “water ouzel”) pops up in a small pool at the water’s edge and hops onto the dry surface of a tall rock. It takes a bow, followed by another, and then another, dipping up and down repeatedly before settling down to preen its dark bluish-grey plumage. This amazing swimming songbird forages on aquatic insects, larvae, small fish, tadpoles, crayfish, and fish eggs by diving, swimming, and wading through the swift water, utterly undaunted by frigid strong currents. The Dipper lowers a clear membrane over its eyes to see underwater, seals water out of its nostrils with scales, and navigates using eddies and backflows to its advantage. There it sits, on a rock that formed tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago from cooling magma flows on Mount Adams, warming up and grooming its “dry suit” of feathers into perfect well-oiled condition, as needed to insulate the Dipper from the freezing waters. After ten minutes, it flies low over the water to another rock downstream, and then dives back into the river to continue its hunt for food. The American Dipper, while declining across the West from poor land management practices that have caused habitat degradation and loss, pollution, and riverbank erosion, is still thriving in the White Salmon River! A joy to see!