First, you look for dippers in this type of stream. They actually move around the water's edge and even walk under water to get at all sorts of aquatic invertebrates. I'm actually standing on a bridge, taking this photo and a dipper nest is under my feet. The water is incredibly cold, full of freshly melted snow.
One of the striking things is that you will notice a white eyelid. They use this when they are in the frigid water looking for food to keep insulated. One of the cool things about the American dipper is that they kind of fit their name: they dip...they constantly dip. I went to Cornell's BNA to see if I could find out what the dipping is all about and under the "Priorities For Further Research" it reads, "Why do American Dippers dip? This remains one of the biggest mysteries about the species, with many theories but no answers. Why do South American species not dip or dive? How does the American Dipper compare with other stream birds in North America (Spotted Sandpiper, Louisiana Waterthrush [Seiurus motacilla], wagtails [Motacilla spp.]), in Europe, and in Asia?"
Some things that even Cornell doesn't know. I can't wait until some hard working graduate student unwraps the code of all the bobbing birds out there--what is that all about? And here are some videos I took with my digital point and shoot camera and spotting scope of a dipper dipping and preening and scratching. You can hear our field trip group in the background. If you click on the YouTube link, there's a link under the video that gives you the option of watching it in high quality and see the dipper in more detail:
As if that isn't cool enough, it even dips on one foot: