Monday, 14 June 2021

Up Ashlett Creek Sans Paddle and Ding Dong Avon Calling

Christopher de Cani is neither unwell or away, he’s just been a bit busy in the garden. 

Apologies everyone, I know it's been a while, but on this slow walk back out into the light and a return to normality, life’s been a bit hectic, details of which to follow, But first the Mayfly. 

Goodness it’s been good on the Dever. The last knockings of May and the early skirmishes of June saw some very heavy hatches with spectacular dances between the beech tree and sycamore that tower above our garden, followed by some heavy evening falls of spinners in perfect conditions for brer mayfly. 

Which is a good thing and bodes well for mayfly fishing next year.

Olives are also about along with a few large sedge. Many fish have been caught and the local smokery is already running at full chat. However we are now experiencing the consequences of such gluttony with many fish now sulking, feeding only occasionally while suffering from piscine gout. The mayfly were late in appearing and are late in disappearing, the June weed cut is now underway and the mayfly are still pouring off.
Weed has done well and carpets of flowering ranunculus are the main feature of this stretch of the Dever.

When weed growth is as prolific as we are now experiencing the main flow of the river is pushed around and is often right under the feet of the angler flicking a fly. While attending to the fringe earlier this week I disturbed many fish that were hugging the bank due to the main flow being pushed into the bank by verdant mid river weed growth. 
Early this week I received a kind invitation to fish the Avon midway between its Nethers and its Uppers. 

I’ve been a few times before and its always a fun afternoon in good company.
Carrying a little more colour than the Dever, fish betrayed their presence with free rises during a heavy hatch of mayfly. Five fish, three on a mayfly and two on a klinkhammer as some fish were ignoring brer Danica and feasting on a steady trickle of olives.
I was keen to take in the river restoration work on the top beat that had been carried out a couple of years ago. It’s a sensible piece of work, void of the extremes of some re-wilding projects pushed in some quarters. 

In normal times half term would find Madam and myself off and away to foreign climes and living for pleasure alone. 

Well the Pando put paid to that so we went for a few walks instead.
Firstly down to Titchfield to follow the canal down to the coast at Hillhead for a picnic on the dog friendly beach. 
Secondly to the other side of Southampton water and a bumble along the water from Ashlett Creek to Calshot. 

Ashlett Creek nestles between the Fawley oil refinery and Fawley power station which is not something that the Ashlett Creek tourist board would possibly seek to promote. However, by the old tide mill and marina accessible by boat only at high tide, the refinery and power station are invisible and our “holiday in a day” commenced.

It’s an easy flat walk for us oldies and brim full of interest.
Fawley power station is currently being decommissioned including the 650ft concrete chimney stack that has stood sentinel over the Solent for sixty years. Myth has it the thing is the highest point in Hampshire, it's not, but its aid for navigation cannot be underestimated. Every ship, cruise, freight or naval, that rounds the Isle of Wight heading to Southampton must receive the advice over comms, “Just head a bit right of the big chimney” 
Part of the Fawley site is now used for the manufacture of wind turbine blades. There were many piled up on a vast expanse of hard standing waiting to be transported by pontoon to their offshore destination. The two mobile cranes detailed to manoeuvre the things onto the barge have 90 tonnes of ballast on the back. The blades are collosal, why we don’t see more wind turbines with a blade down is beyond me as the stresses on joints various must be immense. 
On up across a swing bridge and the marshes to Calshot a place that Madam knows well. Formally a centre for seaplane activity the place now operates as an activity centre and velodrome that year six of the local school visit each year for a residential week of activity. Madam has attended in a supervisory/having a go at lots of fun activities role for many years. 
We had a picnic on the beach and both commented on the dearth of big ships entering Southampton water, one oil tanker made stately passage but the usual procession of banana boats, car transporters, container ships and cruise ships was absent. 
It was good to be out, and we had a nice picnic in the sunshine on the beach but Italian lakes it ain’t. 

Continuing our slow walk out into the light, life has become a social whirl with a series of garden based meetings with friends and wines of all colours consumed. 

I’ve always been a firm proponent of the “awkward silence” when in company.
I find it adds a certain “frisson” to the occasion and the recent flurry of social events gave several opportunities for its implementation as regular visitors to this house will know, we haven’t really done anything over the past year other than keep our heads down emerging intermittently to shake a fist at an increasingly frustrating world. 

Neither social occasion seemed the place to offload so we stuck to drinking vino and talking nonsense while trying not to offend. 

I think we pulled it off, although the flurry of invitations has now dried up so I may have let myself down somewhere.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Val-Deri Val Dera, Mayfly and Knitbone

Cygnets, goslings, ducklings and pheasant chicks and Derek Nimmo

All put in an appearance in the valley this week. 

Although the Derek Nimmo bit proved to be a falsehood as a lunchtime google confirmed that he is no longer with us, it must have been a Derek Nimmo lookalike just passing through. It was a brief highlight of a particularly slow day (The possibility that the parish had been visited by celebrity, not the confirmation of the unfortunate demise of Derek Nimmo) which is just about how we roll around here at the moment. 

The miserable Guilgud (after AA Mole) has become even more grumpy following the appearance of his sole heir, and today while strimming I saw him a long way from the river chasing off another male swan through the Christmas trees. With it’s many twists and turns it is a tricky stretch of river for swans to lift off to assume their lumbering flight and I have seen them take off from dry land before. Years ago an old dog of ours managed to grab a mouthful of tail feathers as one slowly gained height across the meadow. 

We are still well down on swallows, swifts and martins. They normally turn up in time for an easy meal at mayfly time which is now in full swing. At which point I could ramble off into eight hundred words about the “magic of the mayfly” an angle for feature pieces that is regurgitated ad nauseam with slight tweaks each year in the angling press. I was once asked to write more features on subjects along the lines of “The magic of the mayfly” or “Winning ways with worms” It all seemed a bit Walter Scott to me or possibly Walter Gabriel. Instead I sent in a fifteen hundred word feature piece on how Poldark couldn’t use a scythe properly and would do well to keep his shirt on during the sharpening process due to potential hazards, which was duly published and drew mixed reviews. 

Anyway the mayfly is on. Steady hatches from late morning through to late afternoon and the fish now know what they are. Some significant lumps have fallen to a mayfly dun this week and tomorrow I will make my third trip to the smoker. Over wintered fish are in surprisingly good condition. With the high number of fish in the river during the winter just gone one would expect a few thin fish to be put on the bank, but so far all trout have been fully finned and torpedo like in shape. This week the sun has shone more often and the wind has dropped significantly, which has made flicking a fly a far more comfortable and satisfying experience. Wind and heavy rain are the nemesis of the mayfly. High wind can result in egg laden females struggle to get back to the river to deposit their load. Heavy rain can see them deceived by a wet road where they will crash land mid carriageway in the mistaken belief that it is a body of water. I have yet to see a mating dance by the beech tree at the end of our garden but I don’t think it will be long.
Grass has really pushed on of late and mower and strimmer have both been whirring and banging keeping the banks and paths in order. The long grass in the meadows that we leave until the orchids have finished is around twelve inches high and dotted with cuckoo flower,knitbone and king cups. While strimming and mowing my new clever noise cancelling headphones have been a revelation. While listening to podcasts, radio and talking books via the magic of the Bluetooth pixies, I no longer need to have the volume turned up to the max. Turn the noise cancelling feature up to high and all noise from the outside world melts away, it really is clever stuff although it does take a little getting use to. 

Before making preparations to go at the grass with the four stroke strimmer the other day, I popped up the road to the garage to fill the petrol can. Passing the small car park by the allotments at the end of the road, I caught a group of ramblers mustering to complete the four mile circular walk that now features in many walking guide books. It was a welcome sight and another baby step in the slow walk out into the light and normality. Petrol purchased I returned home put on my strimmer trousers and clever headphones and turned the noise cancelling feature up to max. The pando has caused my mind to skip and slip around a bit and I suddenly remembered that the compost bin that takes the food waste unsuitable for chooks would benefit from a layer of grass clippings to aid the composting process. It wouldn’t need much and the small strip of grass between the Mill house and the road would provide just enough clippings before I set off with the strimmer.
Still in strimmer troos and clever headphoned up I dragged my small rechargeable mower (we’re saving the planet here) out of the shed and made my way over to the grass. Two turns in the rambling group, suitably roped together, pass by. All twenty have their hats on the sides of their head, are all smiles and waves, which send me into a reverie centred around the benefits of walking with regard to mental health throughout my third pass with the mower. 

Five times up and down and I guessed the grass box must be nearly full. The collection part of the machine was removed and a close inspection revealed that it was completely empty.
That’s odd, I thought, the cutting height is set correctly and it normally fills up after five turns.
Removing my headphones to don the headgear of a rechargeable lawn mower technician a light bulb moment occurred. 
 The battery on the mower was flat, I couldn’t hear the rechargeable mower wasn’t whirring due to the clever headphones. 

I had just been pushing the dead mower up and down. 

I don’t know what the Val-deri Val-dera brigade thought, a very quiet mower or possibly a silly old fool, 

we don’t know, but the next edition of the rambling guide book may well be amended to “and at this point of the walk you will pass an old Mill house on the river Dever. There has been a mill house on the site for at least a thousand years. The current workings on the sluice by the road were installed in 1842 by a local Andover company. If you look closely at the wall on the end of the house you will see the initials of several of the previous mill owners and the year in which they were in residence. The area around the mill is rich in wildlife and an important example of a rare chalk stream environment. Fed by aquifers and springs that impart their unique character, they have been managed by man for hundreds of years. Occasionally local pagans can be seen outside the Mill in late spring muttering in tongues while wheeling small machines up and down in an attempt to appease the goddess of the springs. Pagans believe that this process delivers a soothing massage to the goddess of the springs who will reciprocate with a bounty of water throughout the summer.” 

Well that’s what I told them when they came past again ten minutes later.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

The Bridge Over the M3 at Fleet Services and Some Noise Cancelling Headphones.

What to write? 

This is getting hard. 

It’s been a while I know, but as we walk slowly out into the light now much of the madness has passed, a fug has once again descended. Time was when I could bang out multiple chunks of guff for platforms various of an evening

Damn this poxy pando!
Yes there is weed and yes there is water and the river carries a sparkle that only occurs at this time of year. Mayfly are putting in the occasional appearance and fish are slowly coming round to the idea that they may make a reasonable meal but other than that not much new to report. Swallows are about and Lord Ludg raises a glass to a squadron of swifts each evening from his garden throne but brer swift was a tad tardy in putting in it’s opening appearance. 
A warmer week has resulted in a more verdant locale. 

Last weekend Madam and myself moved south to Sway. She to score a cricket match, me to walk dogs and just be somewhere else talking to different people. On the edge of the New Forest the ground is surrounded by substantial oaks all of which were pretty much in full leaf and several weeks ahead of the oaks that live along this river valley. 
This week’s cricket, a home tie against Alton, fell to the weather, which was a shame as Child B had fled the capital in order to take part. We ran him home on the Sunday morning and visited the outside area of a Lebanese restaurant in Fulham, or possibly Chelsea, for lunch. The mighty repast was mostly meat based with the occasional chickpea and today, with a view to extending life, we felt duty bound to undertake a “meat free Monday” 

Which was nice (see Fast Show) 
Oh yes, a life changing moment. 

While working with machinery I always wear ear protection especially so now that one of my ears doesn’t work and I need to look after the one that does. I will often listen to soothing music, talking book or podcast piped in from my clever phone. My new clever phone monitors decibel levels delivered to my ears and got quite cross a few times while strimming this spring. A pair of noise cancelling headphones have been purloined and the clever phone is happy. The noise cancelling feature means that I can listen to said soothing music at a lower level and the good ear is thus protected.

That’s noise cancelling headphones everyone, get them if you can,
Apologies should have put P at the beginning of previous paragraph to indicate product placement. 

P: That’s noise cancelling headphones everyone. 

In weed news, the Dever is full of the stuff. Ranunculus is in flower and holding water up well, banks are becoming soft and mushy and the June weed cut will, for the second successive year, be a heavy one, which is as it should be and why it is the longest designated weed cutting period of the summer.  
In fly news, the fly are slow to put in an appearance, which may be temperature related. Mayfly are just beginning to show and last week we had several days of heavy hawthorn hatches which points to things happening a couple of weeks later thsi year than one would expect. 

In Beaver news, we have no beaver in the Dever valley, for which some continue to give great thanks. 
In Tarantula news, we have no tarantula in the Dever valley, for which we also give great thanks. There were tarantula on “Cruising with Jane McDonald” last night and they were not doing the dance.

Sneaky feckers (Tarantula, not Jane McDonalds per se), they hide in holes popping out to pounce on prey; although Jane McDonald hiding in a hole, leaping out to deliver a killer blow or possibly belt out some ditty classified as"easy listening" could be equally terrifying.

I’ll stick with the rabbit as my hole dwelling demon of first choice. The nemesis of the allotment, he can be dealt with reasonably effectively, doesn’t offer a deadly bite and, if cooked long enough, is the food of the gods. 
On the allotment the taytos are up and suitably ridged. Broad beans promise much and strawberries bear flowers. The one struggle has been runner beans. I had great success with “Tenderstar” last year but this year three packets of seeds have failed to germinate and rotted in their pots. I’ve now gone back to the safe pair of hands that is “Enorma”. 
Driving up the M3 to deliver Child B back to the smoke, Madam commented that the last time we had driven up the M3 we were 51 years old and both my ears worked. 

We’re 53 now, we’ll forget the ears. 

Pre Pando, we’d pound up the M3 many times a year on the way to somewhere else or just to visit bits various of Das Kapital. 

I never imagined I’d feel nostalgic for a trip up the M3. 

In its interminable transfer to “smart motorway” status it was the stuff of Dante. 

Last Sunday as we delivered Child B back to the smoke, we took our time, idly rolling along cheerily pointing out sights that we had not seen for sometime. 

The short deceleration lane at Junction 5 to Odiham, the brown sign to Birdworld and the bridge over the motorway at Fleet services being particular highlights. 

We’re going to try the M27 soon, which is in the throes of attaining “smart motorway” status which may instigate further traffic based nostalgia in the months to come. 

Got there in the end, 850 words plus, which used to be like falling off a bike back in the day.  
One step. two step, one step two step, one step two step, slowly we walk back out into the light (after Bill Hicks)

Friday, 30 April 2021

An Icy Zephyr, Robin Page and Samson's Mane

And we’re off. 

Trout fishing has begun. 


An icy zephyr has blown most days, fly have been a bit reluctant to put in appearance, but fish have been caught. We’ve Daddy Long Legs bumbling about the house. We always get a few in April, and most fish that have been put on the bank have fallen to a Daddy or some other large variant, although I haven’t seen a real live DDL anywhere near the river. We wait for the hawthorn, and here’s the ying to the uncomfortable yang of the icy zephyr. A terrestrial fly the bulk of the hawthorn that hatch hang about the hedges of the valley. Any hawthorn larvae that hang out in the meadows during a wet winter will drown. A gentle breeze can blow an unaerodynamic featherweight hawthorn fly bumbling about a valley hedge down onto the river where brer trout eagerly anticipates its arrival. 

We are at the tail end (I hope) of a prolonged period of frost. The wisteria on the Mill House presents a soupcon of former glory with many buds having falling to the frost, the hydrangea by the gate took a bit of a battering too. The ancient Mulberry however knows stuff, and despite three days of twenty degrees or more earlier in the month continues to reserve the right to present a bud. It has also been very dry in this part of the world.

 

Yesterday we had a reasonable amount of desperately needed rain, the last time anything fell from the sky was the snow at the start of the month when I was cutting weed (it’s on here somewhere, probably around the start of the month) before that - mizzle in March. 

With grass slow to grow, been plucking wood from the wood to introduce to the log burner in winters to come. We’ve plenty of ash piled up about the place which all needs to be transported back to base via the medium of tractor and trailer. There are some substantial rounds heaped up and goodness knows how I humped them about eighteen months ago pre pando. Samson taught us that long hair was a sign of strength, well my locks have not been this long since my twenties and I could barely lift some of the bigger lumps this week that I was gaily flinging around a year and a half ago, seems another victim of the pando is my musculature. 


The lambs in the back field grow ever more boisterous and roam in gangs. They spend much of the evening charging up and down in their hood in what may be attempts to gain territory and assert boundaries. 

I don’t know, I don’t do sheep, 

I do fish 

Well I say I don’t do sheep, but in my summers working on what is now the Waitrose farm I was coerced into some ovine activity. The estate ran a flock of around five hundred sheep, the shepherd students who turned up at lambing time would be housed in the farm house split into bedsits where Madam and myself lived and inevitably after an evening at The Peat Spade we would pop up to see the student at the lambing shed. Day time ovine activity included moving sheep along the lanes and dipping sheep. Lady sheep go through the dip with some reluctance but reasonably efficiently, men sheep (rams I believe) jump in the dipping channel and because of their extra bulk, get stuck and have to be heaved through the dip forcibly, which is where the student employed for the summer who happens to be comfortable in the old eau comes in.
 

When I first started falling into the River Dever by way of employment back in 1992 a dozen or so sheep ran up the middle between the main river and the mill stream. The grass was kept short and there was no need to mow the meadow, but the rivers marginal reed growth was also munched away and there was not an orchid to be seen. They also had a propensity to wander and after a summer of experiments with sheep, it was decided a different method of meadow management should be undertaken.  One option was to fence the river bank a few metres from the water’s edge in order to continue to run a few sheep on grass but the conclusion was reached that it would look a little odd so the sheep were dispensed with. The meadow is now left to grow until mid June when the orchids and others are done and the topper is introduced. 

There Robin (Page), that’s all I’ve got on sheep. 

I met him a few times (Robin Page) 



A ruddy faced cove who at the time didn’t dress up, he once gave me a signed copy of a book he had written on songbirds. The last time I saw him he had lost a significant amount of weight, was wearing a clean jumper and had a much younger lady on his arm, it just didn’t seem very Robin and I’m guessing a wheel must have come off somewhere in the preceding years. 

And that’s all I have on Robin Page,

next week Robin Cousins - my municipal ice skating slush puppy heck.  

How did we get to this? 

Reading this back through, the year 1992 jumps out and I realise that this is my thirtieth season of chucking up fishing for trout on this stretch of the Dever. 

How did that happen?


Some may contest the claim, but I maintain that I retain most of my youthful looks, vim, vigour and some, if not all, original zest. 

When I first started in this game many used to revere venerable keepers who had spent so much time toiling on the riverbank, they seemed wise and some cases wizened, 

how things change, 

although…… 

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to do what I do for a living, I once declared on national television (Village Voices, a seminal piece from Meridian TV filmed in the late nineties that focused on innovative thinkers in the rural environment) that I would do the job I do for nothing. This caused considerable consternation in the financial wing of “team de Cani” who were engaged, deep cover, in the business of raising two young children. 

While we are on television, and I was on television telling the world (employers and HMRC included) that I would do my job free gratis, Keith of Ireland is worth a watch, more genius from Sharon Horgan et al. 

Anyway, a fisherman once commented, “Chris you do know you retired at the age of twenty two to become a Riverkeeper” 

Well yes, I probably did, and goodness what a golden period for being a pensioner, but the importance of an active retirement cannot be over emphasised. 


Here’s to another thirty years working on the river, as the age for collecting a state pension continues to be bumped north of the standard 65 so I may still have waders on and scythe in hand when I finally cash in my chips somewhere around the age of 123.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Nicky Witchell and an Odyssey on The Cheshire Plain

Nicky Witchell’s been on and the word on the street is that the ninety nine year old D of the E is no longer with us. 

Who knew?

Oh well, here goes, roll the state music,

Once when visiting Cowes during regatta week we walked past the tender that had transported Phil from the Royal Yacht Brittania to the yacht club where he was due to take in all things sail and boom. The Prince sat with the squadron in the clubhouse behind the brass starting cannons. We sat on a bench eating chips trying to work out which boat was winning. 

Many years ago on a trip north to bother salmon across the border my paterfamilias briefly shared the waxed jacket aisle in John Norris with his highness Prince Phillip, they lost touch soon afterwards and didn't speak for the remainder of his years. Clearly things had not gone well 

In her preliminary years, Child A was detailed to take a day away from her formative education and travel to Southsea Common to present flowers to her majesty the Queen (Phillip’s wife) Her Majesty wore yellow,  Child A wore a burgundy school jumper with an owl on the front. They spoke at a length of sorts, but they too lost touch soon afterwards. 

In an effort to earn further coin while a student in the late 80s I once coshed the Grandmother of The Duchess of York on the head with a ladder while painting the outside of a restaurant on Stockbridge High St (I was being paid to paint the restaurant not assault well heeled nonagenarians) The tower of London was briefly invoked but we eventually parted on good terms. In her last few remaining years our relationship attained "estranged" status and we never spoke again.

That’s all I’ve got Nick, is that ok? 

Moving on. 

We’re open for trout fishing and it feels gooooood (apologies, been listening to a lot of Partridge in preparation for his glorious return in the coming weeks) 

Not much fly about and the many fish that sit on the bends nudge and nose at most offerings rather than commit to a full on rise. Not much hawthorn around yet, but it is early. There are grannom over on the Itchen, but again fish remain circumspect. Leaky waders when weed cutting betrayed the fact that the river is still pretty cold but is also dropping at quite a rate. The spring ditch through the allotments that emanates from spring bottom has quickly run dry, and the track at the back that three weeks ago was passable only in wellies is now a decidedly dusty affair, some warm rain would be welcome.
I’ve come across three dead slow worms flat on the road recently. Like the frogs and toads they seem to head for the high ground of the grass verge along the line for their winter retreat, making their way back across the road to the meadows when spring is sprung. Only seen one swallow, 12th April which is a little later than we would expect, but the snow showers earlier this month may have had an influence on their estimated time of arrival. 

Popped up to Cheshire for a few days in an AirBnb last week in order to touch base with parents. We were very lucky with the weather and caught the sun while taking pegs and pie out in the garden. Dogs were in attendance and our digs were in the middle of nowhere on the edge of the limit of ponds that I used to fish when growing up in the area. As I’ve said previously, fishing was very accessible in this part of the Cheshire plain. Most fields were pasture with milk production the principle quest. Marl pits were present in many fields, scrapes made to extract clay to fertilise fields that filled with water and subsequently served as water source for dairy cattle. They all had fish in.  Rudd, crucian carp and tench mostly with the occasional perch or pike. 

The AirBnb that we visited sat on a remote farm with a couple of marl pits nearby full of fish.  I had no knowledge of  these pits as they were just out of range of a wobbly bike overloaded with fishing tackle. 

The twenty minute drive to our parents' abodes was a nostalgic trip of youthful fishing trips that Madam eventually drew tired of and  went something like: 
Kings pit – good pike, 

Littlers – tench up against the lillies, 

Greenaways – same, 

Eddy Walleys – fished many times at night, 

Sarmons – full of stunted rudd, 

Egg bridge – netted it with a pea net and moved bream in buckets on bikes to Sangsters an ancient dubisch pond full of big crucians. 

Marl pit – choked with potamogeton and again, home to stunted rudd, 

Walkers - crucians and little tench with overhead power lines, and full disclosure here (further Partridge), power lines that we once straddled with an aluminium landing net pole while having a go at the javelin (Tessa Sanderson and Fatima Whitbread were quite the thing at the time) knocking out the supply of amps and ohms to the nearby village of Oscroft, for which we/I now fully apologise. 

I didn’t mention the many meres and rivers that sit on the Cheshire plain that I also fished, but it is an easy place to fall into fishing.
You might pitch up to one of these ponds at four in the morning in June to take on the tench and find a dozen or more of your contemporaries in attendance. If fishing was good it was a reasonably sensible business but if bites were not forthcoming it could swiftly descend into a nonsense with fishing secondary. I think it’s the genesis of my penchant for social fishing. For a few years I could fish quite intensely for a prolonged period, but now the chat, the social side of being on the bank and kicking back with a beer if there is nothing going on is just as rewarding. 

Which leads me to think that my destiny may be the guy who inhabits every fishing tackle shop, turning up each day to talk a good fish without ever wetting a line that week. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that, 

I think that’s it, So with a nod to the large number of hares that currently bumble about Bransbury and Barton Stacey, 

That’s all folks,
(Bugs was a Rabbit, and apologise for the poor quality photo taken on your sub standard phone you dolt! – Ed) 

I’m off to read a book by Sue Townsend. She struggled greatly in the last few years of her life, lost her sight but continued to turn out fantastic material and died far too soon at the age of 62. I once had an opportunity to attend a week long writing retreat in Greece which she hosted and had a reputation for a bacchanalian air. I didn’t take up the opportunity, which remains a significant regret, 

Long gone, but a genius still much missed.


Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Scything Through the Snow and a Befuddled Quince

Well, I’ve been cutting weed in a blizzard, 

Which was a first. 

Mid twenties last week, below freezing this week, our fruit trees are very confused which may mean there will be fewer of our five a day about this year.
    
The quince appears particularly befuddled. 

The weed is pushing clear of the water in places and just needs a bit of a tickle up with the scythe to check its growth. Once it flowers, ranunculus often loses some of its vigor. Delaying the flowering via the medium of short back and sides should result in it remaining a viable resource in maintaining mid summer  river levels. 

The onset of trout fishing in this valley is imminent and we are good to go. The river carries no colour and is in great condition following all that rain in the autumn and early winter. Any rain that falls from now to September will provide little recharge to the aquifers so we are where we are for this summer and it looks ok. 
Over on the Itchen fishing is already underway. There’s normally a reasonable hatch of grannom in April that we don’t see on the Dever. Fluttery sedge like critters that always seem to be making their way upstream, they have yet to put in an appearance which may be due to the snow. 

Inspector Monkfish even put in an appearance when I was last over there.
Bankside willows are approaching full fuzz and the inky black flowers of the sedge in the margins are up, out and stand in stark contrast to the recent dusting of snow.
Each morning we wake to the bleats of new born lambs.
These three are sheltering beneath the substantial beech tree that borders our garden. They are popping out all over the place at the moment and we feel for lambs born last Tuesday in the sunlit uplands of a brief spell of twenty four degrees of bright sunshine and now plunged into the dystopian nightmare that arrived from the north of blizzards and high wind. 

Here’s one of a hare.
Hares are everywhere in these parts at the moment. This young leveret popped in for a parley with the chooks this afternoon. Riding my bike up to my allotment to issue stern words to my broad beans I counted twenty hares on the hundred acre Bransbury bank field that borders the mile long lane. It’s great to see as their numbers took a serious dip in these parts during the early part of this century. 

In other fast animal news, here’s one of a peregrine falcon on top of a telegraph pole.
I may have missed him/her, they are that quick. 

There’s a pair about somewhere and they do occasionally nest in these parts. A few years ago, a friend popping at pigeons on our top strip of rolled down game cover in March witnessed a peregrine stoop on his heavy duty plastic whirly gig decoy. It paused briefly on the ground, stunned in order to gather its thoughts. They can hit their target at well over a hundred miles an hour. 

Geilgud (After Moley) is getting grumpy
and Dame Peggy is currently building a nest right in the middle of the path around the flight pond. They abandoned their first attempt at a nest last year, I think it may be a repeat performance this year. They are the only two on the place, have some seniority in the swan world and keep all interlopers at bay. 

This is an owl box I chucked together years ago
It is fixed to the ivy covered dead trunk of a Christmas tree and normally plays host to a pair of jackdaws. We are a very “owl rich” part of the world. The old pig hospital that has been converted into a very expensive letting, often had a barn owl in its rafters that would hunt over the water meadows in the half light. People in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes insisted that if the conversion of the building was to go ahead owl boxes must be installed in the surrounding trees. I never saw the barn owl anywhere near them but the tenant’s white cat liked to kick back in them for some shuteye of an afternoon. 

Back in the eighties on the middle river, an estate ran a barn owl rearing programme and placed owl boxes throughout their extensive meadow system. When the people in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes arrived to survey the boxes they found a third of them full of nesting mandarin duck, a non native species introduced from the east back in the day and not quite what they had hoped for.

I think that was everything, we are way ahead in preparations for the trout season. A few small jobs remain and banks must be mown but with the weed now cut we are ready to go. There are plenty of fish about, the river is in great condition and I have seen a hawthorn fly. Still no sign of swallows or swifts and no cuckoo yet but when this uncomfortable cold snap is through spring will spring with a resounding Tadah! and will be most welcome after the January through to March that we have all just experienced.