Another four-day week following the Easter weekend; Easter Monday an extra special day due to the fact that our two children and my boss had organised a surprise drinks party for my wife’s and I fortieth birthdays. Lots of friends and family from the village and far flung parts of the country, turning up to drink lots of fizzy wine, eat nice nibbles and say happy birthday; a lovely day, typical of my employer, and not something I would expect many people get from their boss. The party was held in the Drawing room of my employer’s house which overlooks the lower reaches of the Bransbury Mill beat, during the early knockings of the party and before we were too sozzled to notice, a friend spotted a large bird sat in a dead tree over by the fishing hut. Closer inspection revealed it to be an adolescent Osprey, and circling high above it was a Red Kite keen to have a look at a prospective partner or love rival. The Osprey sat for half an hour, before, in full view of several sober partygoers it dropped to the river and plucked a two-pound plus Brown Trout in its talons and set off up the valley to consume it’s ready meal, the Red Kite retiring to Bransbury Common to have a go at the new trick it had just witnessed. The dead tree that the Osprey had been sat in overlooks the stew ponds, and when I went to feed the fish the next day, every fish in both ponds was hard on the bottom, refusing to come up to the surface to feed. It is highly unlikely that these fish had any experience of Ospreys before but their sixth sense told them that the dark shape above them was not a good thing and it was time to hit the bottom of the pond.
The weather is starting to warm up, and with the increasing number of dry days I am able to get on with sprucing the place up for the impending arrival of the fishermen. The Fishing Hut has to be treated, along with various other fences, bridges and bits of woodwork. I still have several trees to deal with none of which are in the river so they don’t have to be dealt with instantly, and the many golden willows that I pollard each year to make faggots or interesting garden features need doing before the buds break. The grass is starting to green up, and the weed in the river is growing. At this time of the year when everything starts to come to life the river and its valley starts to sparkle and shine a little more each day. One exception to this is the incredibly old pair of swans that have been here for a very long time. Each year the Pen builds her nest in the same spot in the spear bed by the pond, the Cob gets increasingly grumpy as spring progresses. On one occasion this week while I was feeding the pond the old Cob resorted to getting out of the pond and walking down the path towards the two dogs, and me a brief stand off developed with the swan backing down. I can appreciate how some people can be a little wary of swans, they are big birds and at this time of the year they can be particularly aggressive. The pair we have here are a particularly dominant pair, and while all swans will inflict some damage on the summer weed growth, this pair have the effect of keeping the legions of younger swans present on the water meadow above us away from this particular stretch of river during the summer. Sometimes it is better to tolerate one grumpy pair of dominant swans, than have to put up with between 20 and 30m juvenile swans crashing up and down the river and stripping the shallows of weed.
The resident Cob or the Pen appears to be infertile, as they go through all the motions of nesting and sitting on eggs, but never actually produce any progeny that would increase the damage on the Ranunculus on the shallows.While at college, some friends of mine who were working on a Hampshire Fish Farm witnessed a swan flying into some power lines, falling through a tree to the ground, where it was pronounced dead on arrival. Being hungry students they plucked and dressed the bird, took it home to their digs, put it in the oven diagonally, because that was the only way it would fit in, and cooked it for nearly ten hours. The rich dark meat keeping them fed for the best part of a week. Someone remarked that all swans belong to the Queen and that they could get into trouble if word got out that they were swan eaters, the student in question remarking that he had written to the queen inviting her to join them later in the week, as there was plenty of meat left over for sandwiches.