I’m pleased to report that the teeter-peeps along the urban stretches of the Ogden and Weber Rivers are doing just fine — and so are a lot of other teeterers, peepers, dippers and quackers.
I was watching a spotted sandpiper — colloquially known as a teeter-peep and fondly known to birders as a spottie — at the Slaterville Diversion Dam. Spotted sandpipers inhabit a wide range of watery habitats across North America from still mountain beaver ponds to crashing rocky seashores.
Watching this species move is always entertaining. How they manage to dip their tails while delicately stepping forward is a mystery.
The spottie’s parenting strategy is the opposite of most species. The female establishes and defends territory to attract mates and then may abandon the clutch to the male while she lays another clutch with him or with another mate. The male shares incubation or does it all, and then shepherds the hatchlings for up to a month until they’re independent. Male spotties are devoted daddies while the females could rightly be called hussies.
The spottie I watched was surely the daddy. While the reasons for his energetic peeping were not apparent at first, he was alone and was obviously pulling sentry duty. Rather than run away when I approached across a weedy gravel patch, he ran toward me peeping loudly and then flew to a log.
A movement in the weeds gave him away.
Two impossibly cute and fluffy hatchling spotted sandpipers teetered through the weeds below the adult. Daddy was doing his job, and I backed away until his alarmed peeping stopped. There’s no way to stop a teeter-peep from teetering, however, and he continued to teeter in place while overseeing his teetering offspring.
A movement downstream caught my attention. An osprey, a raptor that sports a five-foot wingspan, had plunked down in the river for a bath. The bird’s demeanor dispelled its image as a fierce fish hawk with talons that can pierce flesh to the bone. The osprey waded in the river with abandon and was enjoying the hedonism of a great bath.
What a quandary! Which should I watch: The teeter-peep intently protecting his fluff-balls or the raptor splashing water over its back and paddling each wing for maximum saturation? I elected to watch both, switching between them until the baby spotties melted into the brush and the osprey lifted from the water and landed on a power pole to continue its ablutions.
Spotted sandpipers and osprey are not the only species thriving along our rivers and signaling that the preservation and restoration efforts are on the right track.
The American dipper is possibly the most accurate water quality indicator of rushing mountain streams and rivers. Also last week, I watched two adult dippers each feeding a yellow-gaped, fluffy gray baby along the Phase 1 stretch of the Ogden River Restoration project. It’s likely that the parents nested under the Wall Avenue bridge; one of the adults swooped repeatedly from the rocky bar under the bridge up to the I-beams where it ran along the edges gathering insects for the insatiable youngster.
The dippers have noticed where landscaping crews have replaced concrete slag with natural boulders along the embankments. The other parent-baby pair was dipping on boulders at water’s edge and the parent foraged underneath overhanging boulders for baby food.
Many more species indicate the returning health of the rivers: A female belted kingfisher landed on power lines over the Ogden River with a flopping three-inch fish in her beak and then flew to a cavity excavated in a sand bank where hungry young awaited. Barn and cliff swallows gathered mud in the Ogden River’s manmade flood control ponds and transported the mud under footbridges where they’re building nests daub by daub. Cedar waxwings sallied out from willow branches to catch flies in the morning’s insect hatch swirling over the current. A brood of eight wood ducks swam along the West Haven section of the Weber River escorted by mom and dad. A Caspian tern rested on the rocky bar in the Weber River just west of I-15, likely planning its next fishing circuit over the 21st Street pond.
There is still restoration work to be done. Perhaps the most difficult to repair is the attitude among some parkway users that it’s OK to chuck that empty plastic soda bottle in the water. It was disappointing to see the adult dipper surrounded by trash and feeding its baby on the rocky bar under the Wall Avenue bridge.
But seeing the dippers, the spotties, the osprey and all the other birds along the river parkways tells me there’s hope — hope because our proverbial canaries in the coal mine are thriving.
Kristin Purdy can be reached at email@example.com.