John Muir’s description of the Water-Ouzel

One might think that California’s most treasured naturalist; John Muir, who was instrumental in founding the Sierra Club and inspiring the establishment of the National Park Service, would count as his favorite bird a mighty condor or a colorful tanager. But no, it’s the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) who he often called the water ouzel;  a small, plain bird that most folks would never see unless visiting a stream’s edge in forest-clad mountains.

Here is how John Muir described this bird:

He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, –none so unfailingly. – John Muir, 1894. From The Mountains of California, Chapter 13:  The Water-Ouzel (1894).


Footage of the American Dipper

A friend and I  filmed this footage in the Cascades of central Oregon. We spotted a mother Dipper foraging for insects in a stream and watched as she fed them to her begging fledgling who was waiting, quite impatiently, for its meals. Obviously, we were thrilled to witness this special behavior of John Muir’s favorite bird, and one of ours, that of the American Dipper!

Both John Muir and the American Dipper hold special places in my heart. John Muir, because I grew up in the Sierra Nevada of California, his spiritual home, and because I taught summer camps at John Muir’s ranch. And the dipper, well he’s a special bird that has graced the rivers of most watersheds in which I’ve called home, and which Muir dedicated an entire chapter to of his The Mountains of California book.

 Resources for learning more about John Muir

The Sierra Club’s John Muir Exhibit

Visit the John Muir National Historic Site

Resources for learning more about the American Dipper

All About Birds – American Dipper page

BirdNote website with audio stories, photographs, and videos: (hear their songs, see videos of them ‘flying underwater’ and learn some theories about why dippers dip!

Read the children’s book The Singer in the Stream  by Mary Willson (Author), Katherine Hocker (Illustrator)

The Dipper Dip: A Song About John Muir’s Favorite Bird

Here are the words to a song about the American Dipper written and performed by my friends, Kristen and Stephen Hein of Nevada City, California.

De be dop dip bop dip dip
Doin’ the dipper dip (oh baby)
De be dop dip bop dip dip
Doin’ the dipper dip
She builds her nest behind the waterfall
Doin’ the dipper dip
He sings like the river when he calls
Doin’ the dipper dip
They fly underwater and through the air
Doin’ the dipper dip
Their wings can take them anywhere
Doin’ the dipper dip
Their feathery raincoats keep them dry
Doin’ the dipper dip
In icy water they’re warm as pie
Doin’ the dipper dip
Nictitating membranes help them see
Doin’ the dipper dip
Like underwater goggles for you and me
Doin’ the dipper dip
Benthic invertebrates are their prey
Doin’ the dipper dip
Like stonefly nymphs and mosquito larvae
Doin’ the dipper dip
They pick them off of underwater rocks
Doin’ the dipper dip
And then they jump out and they bob their socks

A Young Naturalist’s Songbook


I designed and illustrated a songbook that includes the Dipper Dip song. Feel free to download the songbook and use it (load time might be slow, it’s a big, colorful file!)

I created it to accompany the nature education programs I provide through various organizations. The songbook includes the words to 14 nature-based songs for kids written by Stephen Hein & Kristen Strohm (whose band goes by the name ‘Riparia’) The songbook includes both nature songs for kids and folk songs for adults, with fun illustrations and photographs and plenty of room for notes and sketches. I’ve used these songs and this book with lots of kids and they really love it.

Here’s what one parent wrote to me after a program I taught using these songs:

“Thanks, Christine for sharing your passion and expertise with us in your wonderful class today. Both my kids loved it and so did I. I appreciate you being so supportive of our different skill levels. And your nature songs were a big hit – the girls have been singing them all afternoon!”

Link to download A Young Naturalist’s Songbook (load time might be slow, it’s a big, colorful file!)

More Bird Resources on this Website

Here are some more stories, videos, and bird sketching resources I’ve written in the past.

My Costa Rica Birding Big (sketching) Day

Tips for Sketching Birds

Celebrate Vultures

How to Draw Hummingbirds (video)

Identifying Warblers in the Spring

John James Audubon

Autumnal Recrudescence

A Black-headed Grosbeak Nest (video)

Kid’s Bird Coloring Pages

Blue-winged Warbler


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