Nature | Alternative Britain |Birds

The Man Who Hated Birds

Five minutes with the world’s most committed ornithophobe

Ian Vince
5 min readJul 4, 2022


European Dipper. Photo by Joe on Unsplash

It had been a long walk through the Shropshire hills in search of fossils and, with a good morning’s work completed and a bag full of rocks, I came down through the contours to Ludlow in search of a pub lunch. Checking the map, I noticed a path beside a woodland stream that was only a slight detour on the way to my food.

To fill the miles I decided to do a spot of birdwatching on my way down and was looking forward to a light hike along the stream in search of Cinclus cinclus — the Dipper — a small brown bird that looks a little like a stunted, barrel-chested Blackbird with a white bib.

Dippers are tenacious birds that often perch on rocks in the middle of fast-flowing shallow streams with their tails cocked like oversized Wrens. They feed by diving and swimming — even walking — underwater to catch aquatic invertebrates; at least, that’s what I’d surmised from the bird books because, in all my years of watching, I’d never actually seen one.

Bayleys Pool interpretation board cc-by-sa/2.0 — © Michael

Despite what the field guides may tell you, the most common appearance of a Dipper is as a line drawing on a ‘context’ or ‘interpretation board’ erected by the river’s edge — the mounted information panels that feature paintings of bucolic loveliness, of habitats teeming with biodiversity, the preferred modern term for ‘life’.

The boards are usually installed after a programme of works to dredge the last few shopping trolleys out of a river and they present an optimistic vision of a habitat created by a partnership of organisations — organisations with striking logos designed to fit along the bottom of a context board. This particular panel was illustrated with an artist’s impression of what it would look like if all the interesting organisms from thirty miles around were condensed into a 300 yard stretch of river.

I’ve long realised that anywhere that you can hear the white noise rush of a weir you’ll see a Dipper on a nearby context board and absolutely none in the river.



Ian Vince

Quick precis: Author, writer, ghost, online DJ, hopeless optimist, lapsed cynic, curios and bric-a-brac.