More mixed weather and the difficult fishing continues; with poor hatches of fly and changeable weather it is difficult to predict the exact time at which the fish will choose to feed. An indicator of the poor hatches of fly is the behaviour of the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins. Eager to source insects to build up strength for their impending flight south, they would at this time of the year be expected to be swooping low over the river and water meadows to feed on the hatching flies, instead they remain high in the sky or whizzing across unharvested fields seeking out terrestrial insects. Some years the Martins and Swallows nesting in the stables adjoining our house have had three broods, this year few have managed a second brood.
This time last year we were inundated with Daddy Long Legs that made up for any shortfall in fodder for feeding fish or birds, so far this year we have had very few Daddy Long Legs.
The Pheasants in the pen are doing well, bad weather makes for a hardier Game bird and this lot seem as tough as teak, coping easily with the intense showers and driving wind. To deter Foxes and Raptors I place a radio in the release pen along with several flashing lights in the hope that potential predators will associate the light and noise with a human presence and back off. I have often wondered whether the choice of channel affects the behaviour of the birds in the pen. A night of Radio Four or Three and they can appear particularly austere. Twenty four hours of dance music and they are all strutting around like James Brown, two hours of Radio Two and Terry Wogan and they are sat around shooting the breeze, while a short spell of Radio One in the evening has them fighting and tearing holes in the wire.
With the first cut of corn comes the perennial problem of poachers and pikeys out to take a deer or chase some hares with dogs or rifles. At the moment with little corn cut in our area there are small patches of stubble across the county. This has the effect of concentrating hare populations, which attract the illegal lurcher boys who are out to run dogs illegally for big money. They are not a nice bunch; don’t care much for their dogs, the quarry, or for anyone who happens to get in their way. They will travel many miles to run their dogs, and while out on their travels will have an opportunistic eye out for anything else they can lift. I have had to deal with several groups of these “gents” intermittently during my time here. Normally if you let them know that you are “on to them” they will move off to another area, sometimes they will get grumpy and rough you up a bit, something that has happened to me only once. Occasionally if the police have got there in time, and in an appropriate vehicle they will set off on some lunatic charge across fields crashing through fields and hedges until they make their escape. They are more often and not built like brick outhouses and not open to reasoned conversation.
This week we have been blessed with the presence of a particularly engaging bunch. Up from Southampton they have been chasing Roe deer with rifles in an old Range Rover. No barrier will stop them, tree trunks placed across farm tracks have been eased out of the way by the three Leviathans that emerge from the vehicle’s rear seat, bolted double gates smashed from their hinges and chucked in the hedge. They are breed apart and probably don’t exist on any register or poll in the County; one that I came face to face with recently had some particularly distinctive tattoos all over his face that would make him instantly recognisable to anyone who had made his briefest acquaintance, he had a history of misdemeanour written all over him (not literally) yet I would bet that he was known to few government agencies or departments.
This time last year the ash trees were looking very sick with significant die back in the crown, this year the ash trees look fine and it is the Horse Chestnuts and Poplars that look a little sick. Both have leaves already turning brown on both young and old trees. A Whitebeam in my employer's garden has also lost a third of its leaves.
With the school holidays upon us, my son and his mates have been fishing the pond. Yesterday as he was landing a twelve ounce Roach a Pike of around five pounds grabbed the fish held onto it for ten seconds before escaping, an occurrence that occassionally happens in the river. My son re-cast with his float rig on 3lb line with bread flake as bait on a size 18 hook and within seconds the Pike he had just lost took his bread and was landed within a few minutes. I have heard of Pike occassionally eating strange things, a friend once caught a double figure fish on Cheese and I remember fishing the Dorset Stour and throwing my sandwiches at the end of the day into an eddy of a weir pool. A double figure Pike rose from the depths and took one of the crusts from the surface, as a trout would delicately take an Olive. While spinning on the river I was attending to a tangle on the reel with my number 2 Mepps was static on the bottom, A Jack Pike of around 5 pounds drifted across the stream and picked up the Static Mepps from the bed of the river
Otis is coming on well. Full of beans, his energetic bounding highlights the ageing of his Uncle Zebo. Gifted added wisdom in recent weeks, Zebo dispatches his “Old Chinese proverbs” in staccato barks at inopportune moments that have us all jumping out of our chairs.