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[riddels]Laughing Badger: Riddles and readers

  A dipper. Image: Tom Marshall/RSPB Images

  By Sean Wood

  I was writing a little reflective number earlier, but then I met a reader and it was, one, two, three, and back in the room.

  To explain:

  Being torn between the Devil and the deep blue sea is a long-standing habit of mine, and if Carlsberg did prevarication, that would be me right there.

  Regular readers might be surprised at this, as I present as a confident so and so who wears many hats, but in truth that is exactly where the problem sits.

  Which hat to wear.

  My dearly departed pal, Oaf, much loved in these columns over the years, summed it up perfectly when he mixed up his adages: “Woody,” (Everything was prefaced with Woody in a dulcet and unmistakable tone) “You’ve got too many balls in the fire!”

  Ouch, but I knew what he meant.

  And the shall I, shan’t I deliberations, on occasion a lifetime over trivial things, while life changers, have come easily with the toss of a coin; the never-ending choice word haunting me for over 40 years.

  I should be so lucky I know to have that ‘problem’, and too late to change now I would wager.

  Where’s the torment in making a decision in plenty of time, when you can spend weeks nipping over the fence and back again, with several pauses balanced right on top.

  But enough of that nonsense, a reader called to me in the street today in Mossley Alto and said I talked in riddles sometimes in the newspaper.

  I replied that I liked to keep people on their toes and he laughed.

  He then tempered his statement by saying I was a man of mystery.

  I’ll take that I thought, and promised to write a straightforward wildlife article.

  So let’s hear it for the chocolate brown dipper, barrelling along the river bank near Crowden in Longdendale earlier today.

  The bird looks black but is very brown, with a distinctive creamy white bib; one of my favourite Peak District delights, and an everyday companion during my 28 years at the head of the wood.

  Sorry, that was my first riddle.

  I meant Woodhead, bad Sean.

  This morning our dipper was agitated, even more than usual, flying past us at high speed, mouthful of larvae and other such scrumptious wriggly things packed into his bill.

  Back and forth, criss-crossing the fast flowing brook-waters towards the old stone bridge we were gawping from.

  The bird’s nest was obviously beneath the bridge, a favourite location, and after listening carefully I could hear the impatient yawping of chicks.

  We moved off to the cloak of the woodland to watch further to and froing as several craws were stuffed full of lovely grub.

  Dippers feed on aquatic invertebrates, including mayfly nymphs and caddisfly larvae, and even small fish such as minnows.

  While the majority of small food items are swallowed under the water, dippers bring larger food items to the surface to eat, and any undigested material is regurgitated as pellets.

  Dippers and a caddis, images: RSPB, top right: Robert Askew/RSPB

  To hold their position and move around in fast flowing streams, dippers use their wings, and lean into the on-coming flow heads down.

  It is a truly aquatic creature and literally flies underwater and has been known to dive into 20 feet of water.

  A movable flap over the bird’s nostrils keeps out the water, and the eyes are protected by a membrane.

  Dippers are also known to feed on land along stream banks, turning over stones, leaves, and debris.

  One time during my aforementioned decades at Bleak House, I observed dippers dropping through holes in the ice that had been made by people throwing stones.

  They would find food and sometimes emerge from the same hole or another one further away.

  I would say, a classic example of opportunistic hunting.

  Oh to be in a dippers head to ascertain the thinking, if any, of adapting on the claw, so to speak, to ice-diving.

  Okay, hands up, I slipped in one riddle, but you got a bit of me, and an insight into a very enigmatic songbird, so named because of it’s dipping up and down gait, rather like a chunky wagtail.

  The Laughing Badger Gallery & Cellar Bar Music Venue, which so many of you visited, has upped sticks and moved into his new natural habitat at Howard Town Brewery in Old Glossop.

  All the usual shenanigans, including workshops, live music and art.

  Find out more here and give me shout.

  The Laughing Badger is a weekly column: find more here.

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