Skip to content

Dipper from the Water of Leith

April 7, 2016

Dipper on the Water of Leith, Edinburgh.  Image: Kris Kubik

The Water of Leith valley runs like a thread of blue and green from the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh and through the city to the sea at Leith.  It is a corridor of urban biodiversity: a place where brown trout, kingfishers and otters live within just a mile or two of the crowds and traffic of Princes Street.

One of the Water of Leith’s most charismatic residents is the dipper.  This small brown and white bird – known for its ability to ‘dip’ and swim underwater – relies on fast-flowing and unpolluted rivers.  Their presence on the Water of Leith is testament to years of conservation and restoration activity on the river following decades of industrial pollution.

Jungle mix

Kris filming in the field.

The Water of Leith’s dippers have also caught the eye of an Edinburgh filmmaker and become the stars of a new BAFTA nominated film on the river.  Kris Kubik, a film and TV student at Edinburgh University tracked dippers along the river over a number of months to capture stunning documents of their ecology and behaviour.  Kris even built a hide at the waterside in order to film dippers in their natural habitats, and his film ‘Dipper from the Water of Leith‘ is currently being shown at film festivals ahead of a wider release.

We spoke to Kris to find out more about tracking and filming dippers along this diverse urban river.

Tell us about the background and inspiration for the film: why the Water of Leith, and why the dipper?

The idea to create a short film about the dipper appeared quite long time ago. When a few years ago I came to Edinburgh from Poland, the first thing I noticed in the city – and more generally in Scotland – were the large populations of dippers.

For me, it was something both amazing and really unique. In my country, this bird is not common and can be found only in some parts of the Tatra mountains, the Sudeten and Beskidy mountains. And then it occurred to me that someday I would like to be able to make a film with the dipper in the lead role.

How did you go about researching the dipper, its ecology and behaviour?  And did this research influence how you approached shooting the film?

The dipper caught my attention, mainly because of the niche in which this unique and complex species live. Over the years, I recorded some facts about this bird. But it was general knowledge, so I felt that I need to explore its ecology in more depth. So I had to find researchers who studied the species for years. In this way I contacted, among others, ecologists Steve Ormerod and Peter Mawby.

The first step for research was to gather as much information in understanding the dipper’s behaviour and its habitat.  The second step, importantly for me, was to try to look closer at my protagonist by spending all my spare time in the same habitat as the dipper: spending hours observing their lives and habits. Over the course of many months of research, I realised that I could film the dipper in a way that could tell a story.


Dipper from the Water of Leith uses underwater cameras to give a ‘dipper’s eye view of the river’ Image: Kris Kubik

The film is beautiful, and features a range of perspectives on/around/from the dipper.  Tell us about the filming process and how you immersed yourself (quite literally) in the dipper’s world.  What were some of the logistical challenges of shooting in the bird’s land (and water) scape?

It may sound quite humorous, but the main challenge for shooting footage of the dipper, wasn’t any wild animal or even the weather, but much simpler: avoiding walkers! It turned out that much of the land where I wanted to film and research the dipper was often busy with people and dogs.

I think that’s the nature of The Water of Leith: people love to walk there. And that’s fine, up to the point where you start to observe species through the lenses, and on a busy river, is impossible to reach dippers.

Therefore, it was important to find a location that would be well away from people. Fortunately, I managed to find a place near Edinburgh where I built a hide, so that I could blend in with nature, sit all day and not to be disturbed by anyone.


Dippers aren’t the only bird species on the Water of Leith… Image: Kris Kubik

Did making the film give you any new perspectives on the Water of Leith and its inhabitants?  If so, how?

Making of film about nature gave me an amazing opportunity to dive into the world of wildlife. When you starting working on a project you have some rough idea and some basic knowledge about the whole subject. When you go deeper and deeper, beyond and above all of the surfaces,you start to see more details of the bird and its habitat.

It’s similar to the experience of seeing the bird in the distance: you know it’s shape and plumage. But when you start drawing the bird, you focusing on more details, and you discover a new dimension of the individual you are studying. It’s quite similar but obviously it’s not the same.

After many months spent in the wild under difficult weather conditions, you become a part of the landscape. You not only see the trees, you see a moss on them, single leaves, shapes, shadows, reflections, the way they are absorbing light and many other things. When you see the river, you don’t see just running water with rocks. You are see the river bed life, fishes, insects. Your senses become sharper. Your vision is more profound, and at some point you begin to identify yourself within nature.


A heron in the river margins.  Image: Kris Kubik

The film has already been nominated for a Scottish BAFTA New Talent award – congratulations – will it be shown anywhere and will we be able to see it online?

Thank you so much, I’m so pleased by this nomination, this really means a lot to me. In my view, camera work is a really crucial part of wildlife filmmaking and it requires a lot of hard work and development.

At the moment, Dipper from the Water of Leith is showing in festival circles so for now, it isn’t available in full online (but see the trailer above). This project is really important for me, and my goal is to create a further length monograph film about the dipper.

Based on my short film, I will try to raise funds to create a more accomplished story about this species. I’m researching new locations, developing my camera skills and collaborating with some researchers. I finished a shot-list and most of the location hunting, and I’m in the process of filling up all the necessary documentation.

I will be honest with you, I can’t wait to get back to filming the dipper again: telling and sharing stories about the beauty of this unique species.


A ruffled dipper.  Image: Kris Kubik

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.