The River Usk

20th January 2019

The last place we drove to, was a section of the river Usk. The river Usk is a fast-running clear river and is great for birding and general wildlife watching. One species that I had previously encountered here was the characteristic dipper. The river was surrounded by open fields, which in turn were surrounded by a large woodland. The habitat here is perfect for dippers as the river is filled with large boulders and in many areas the water is very shallow and fast flowing. Walking along, I quickly noticed something that at first appeared to be a shiny pebble, after a glance through bins it was a dipper.

The comical dipper is a characteristic species of fast-flowing rivers.

This delightful bird was happily foraging, leaving only its shiny brown back visible. Another beautiful bird for my year list. This dipper was quickly alerted to my presence and flew downstream. I had expected the dipper to land on the fast-flowing rocks slightly further downstream, however if flew quite far downstream. I walked further on, keeping a close eye on the rocks. Picking up my binoculars I scanned the river downstream, unfortunately the comical dipper had gone elsewhere. Nevertheless, a familiar species struggled along the fast current, another female goosander. This individual probably roosts on Llangorse lake and feeds on the river Usk like many other goosanders. Similarly, to the dipper, this goosander quickly departed.

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Further downstream I caught up with it and acquired some photos. The sun was now fully out and it was beginning to become a beautiful day. A grey wagtail flitted over the river and a stunning kingfisher landed on the low growing willow.

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The vibrant kingfisher called a few times then this metallic jewel shot down the river, only giving away its presence by its loud squeaking call, like a door in need of oil. The time passed quickly and before long it was time to head back. The scenic blue waters sadly lost some appeal due to the numerous plastic bottles and bags scattered over the riverbanks.

Although I hadn’t seen anything moving along the opposite riverbank, I noticed the lively chattering of the dipper. Checking with my binoculars, I managed to find this bird sat on a long-fallen tree, partially submerged in the river. I watched this captivating songbird singing for only a few seconds, before it returned to gathering nest materials. The dipper is a species strongly associated with fast-flowing river habitats. They present a bark brown scaled back, lighter ochre coloured underside and a dazzling, intense white bib that immediately identifies it.

The dipper spends a lot of its time feeding on aquatic invertebrates in suitable shallow waters. The dipper as its name suggests, doesn’t dive into the water, but dips. When feeding, this bird will happily trudge along the submerged pebbles with its head underwater, catching its prey. The last encounter from the walk, was not a bird, but a mammal. Swimming around playfully, was a magnificent otter.  The otter was out in full view, sliding on and off the steep riverbank.

This graceful mammal had a glossy, smooth coat reflecting winters cold sunlight. The otter in Britain is one of only a few success stories, it came to the brink of extinction in Britain, however a successful reintroduction has now allowed them to cover every county. The otter has remarkably had a 44% increase since 2008. It is a success for both the otter itself and for the conservationists, proving that it is possible to bring species back from the brink.

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