I was pretty sure they were the resident swans of Tern Lake and their cygnet. Something told me they were going to Trail Lake, down in Moose Pass proper, rather than migrating south as many of their kindred swans have done. That also told me that the cold temperatures of late were freezing their home lake and leaving little space for the swans.
Sure enough, Tern Lake sported ice skaters the next couple days. At Dave's Creek, the lake's outfall, I still couldn't find any American dippers downstream.
What I did find were lots and lots of brown bear tracks in the snow along the path and everywhere else. And lots and lots of mangled silver salmon carcasses that had been pulled from the creek and partially devoured.
Then came the thaw, a couple days of warm winds and rain. When the nastiest of the weather was over, I ventured down to the lake. The swans were back, as I knew they would be. With little open water, they were feeding right alongside the highway and I stopped to visit.
Then, it was time to check Dave's Creek to look for dippers. I was ruing what a long, long winter it would be if the dippers were gone for the winter, and trying to tamp down a dread that the merlin that had been stalking the dippers might have been successful.
Now that the snow was gone, I couldn't tell if the bear was still active at the creek. I had bear spray with me and I was on high alert. The best thing to do would be to make a lot of noise as I walked the short path, but I was hoping to sneak up on the mergansers that like to hang out at a bend in the creek, and that was definitely counter-productive to keeping bears at bay.
Today, I caught the mergansers right at the outfall of the lake and, sure enough, the silly shy things took flight when they saw me, only to land at the ice edge about fifty feet away.
Then, I started downstream. There were a lot more fish carcasses around, only partially eaten. I was amazed that the bald eagles haven't been flocking here, as they did last winter.
There are still a lot of salmon in the creek and sometimes they get caught in shallows.
And then, I found the dipper right on the near shore at the bend in the creek.
It flew over to a favorite perch and serenaded me for several minutes. It frequently winked its white-feathered eyelid during its aria.
Then looked at me and said, "Watch what I can do!"
The dipper hopped over to a spot where a fallen log created a small waterfall, and, using the strong feet that enable these birds to walk under water, climbed up the waterfall to a still pool.
Then began a search. turning over rocks, moving leaves and other debris in its way, until it came up with a salmon egg.
It soon found, and swallowed, three more. With each one, it briefly showed off its find, as if asking me if I'd like one.
"No, thanks, I have some chick... Uh, pasta waiting for me at home.
Then, full of its salmon dinner, the dipper hopped to a branch and settled in for a nap, giving me one last look with sleepy eyes.
"Later," I said.
Turning onto the highway, I stropped once again to see the swans. The cygnet came over to visit.
"Look how much I've grown," it said, spreading its great wings.
"And I can fly!!!"
"I know, Sweetie. I saw you fly past my home with your Mum and Dad. You were doing so well."
I said goodbye, and the cygnet said, "Are you coming back tomorrow?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Sweetie. Not for the whole wide world."