First day of the new season and the first fish on the bank is a lunker of four and half pounds that fell to an Adams, in tip top condition it appeared to have over wintered well. I have yet to see a hawthorn fly although there have been a steady hatch of olives from midday onwards. It may be that most of the hawthorn larvae (a terrestrial beast) were done for by the wet weather and their corpses lie at the bottom of a puddle, in which case a gentle breeze may be desirable to blow a few down from the surrounding hedges on higher ground. The same may be true of the daddy long legs, the last three years has seen a flurry of daddies during April and then good numbers through August and September. I have not seen any daddies this April and our kitchen is often a favoured haunt for the bumbling wee beastie. The crows are making great efforts to seek out any leather jackets and have trashed parts of the local cricket pitch in their endeavours, but it may be that leatherjackets have been hit by a wet winter and the crows' multiple broad beaked probings may have been in vain
The Jackdaws are nesting in the hole in the large Ash near our house, as they do each year. A murderous bird with evil intention they are no end of entertainment all the same. Echoes of Carol Vorderman abound, a clever bird, they are both intelligent, fearless opportunistic and have a black beak. This pair regularly mob both Buzzard or Kite that occasionally threaten their air space and they have finally worked out a fat ball feeder test that we set for them this past month. Chuck them a sudoku and I reckon they would have it cracked in a trice and would make a fair fist of hosting Loose Women.
There are still plenty of pigeons about and for months the valley has resounded to the crash of bird bangers that are now becoming increasingly ineffective. The pigeons may move a little at each report, but within minutes they have returned to peck at crops. A little lateral thinking may be required to solve the problem, a few are flying kites over their crops, and scarecrows, often dressed in the latest “high viz”, have been sighted in several fields. On a fishing trip to France a few years ago we visited a small provincial town on one of the tributaries of the Loire. The local provost had taken it upon himself to install a PA system throughout the town, no doubt to relay public announcements efficiently to the masses, but during our short stay it piped Led Zeppelin’s “In through the out door” from tiny speakers on the corner of every small street of the pretty market town. A surreal experience but if my memory serves me correctly, which it often doesn’t, completely pigeon free. I am fed up with gas guns going off around here (Oh for a jolly farmer etc etc) they are not working, and what with the cold, mud and grime of recent months not to mention a bump on the head and an encounter with a lady with a lamp, recent times have had echoes of the Crimea. It might be time to try something different, promote pigeon shooting perhaps? or pigeon as a source of food. As with most birds, breasts are best, completely organic and free from artificial enhancement, I love them, but unfortunately with my eyes, am not a good enough shot to provide a ready supply, but there’s a market there for those who can hit, what can be a challenging shot.
A few duck are sitting, and our lone pair of swans have circled the wagons and laid claim to the bottom end of the pound. Perennially infertile they rarely raise more than a single progeny, Gielgud may be firing blanks, else she lets the eggs get a tad chilly, whichever, we can stand them in low numbers and he is a cantankerous cob who prevents the peroxide hoardes who reside downstream moving upstream to strip our weed from the river.
Weed growth in the river is currently good. On occasion the season has begun with a bare river and fish charging left right and centre in search of cover which can lead to challenging fishing but this year the ranunculus should flower in May, the June weed cut should be a heavy one ( as it should be) and piscine portents suggest a reasonable season could be forthcoming. The only blot the appearance of blanket weed in the stew ponds and a brown algae on the bed that threatens to rise through the water and break up in broken water colouring the river at the first sign of a significant sunny spell. At one of many meetings held in the name of saving the chalkstream environment, a previous chair of the Test and Itchen Association and chemist by trade, highlighted a phosphate checking kit, that would soon be available on the open market, I’d be happy to compile a graph of phosphate levels in this river, brown algae in spring when the sun shines is a problem in this river and its presence may well be attributable to phosphates, nitrates and an increase in nutrients. I have stated it several times before but I can clearly remember the first time I saw a grayling, it was in April 1986 , in six feet of water on the middle river. Look in the same hole in recent Aprils and a Hippopotamus could have lain there undetected, water quality remains an issue in this river and regular phosphate checking could provide a clue to where the solution to the problem lies.
While we are on the Test and Itchen Association, the recent Chairman’s report stated that there were no concerns over abstraction in the headwaters of the Test, a view also expressed by the association at the Chalkstream Summit. I can’t say that I agree with their stance, there are concerns over abstraction on the upper river, and there is plenty of evidence publicly available that states that no more water should be pulled from the ground around these parts as far back as 2005. Andover continues to sprawl, and the possibility of “Micheldever Newtown” will once again rear its head, water supply will always be an issue in the south where 70% of supply continues to be drawn from the ground, Concern over groundwater abstraction should be shown throughout the catchment if the chalkstream environment is to be preserved.
Recently, the lady who sleeps on my left and I were invited along to some racing at Ascot. On a sunny afternoon we took in what must be one of the biggest and most impressive sporting stands in the country. It is the size of an airport terminal. Six stories high and filled with glass bridges and long escalators, we were ensconced on the fourth floor for much of the afternoon, taking in the horses in the parade ring below before taking a forty pace walk past a bar and a restaurant to the stand on the other side where the whole course could be taken in. It’s a spectacular place to spend an afternoon, as Jeremy Kyle will confirm, he was holding court with a trio of beauties and as is often the case with TV personalities he is quite short (Noel Edmonds lives in a matchbox) but as voluble as one would expect. We didn’t back any winners but were grateful for the invite and also to be able to congratulate the owners of the course personally on their fantastic development.