The river is up, with several more trees down. The bridge that I am poised to build with my split telegraph poles lies in bits, this is often the way at this time of year, the bridge can wait until I have dealt with the trees.
The fish in the hatchery are feeding well now and are packing on weight. Unseasonably mild weather in the middle of the week when the temperature climbed to 14 degrees instigated a hatch of fly around the middle of the day. This drew the attention of several fish in the river who regularly rose as if it were the middle of May. Hatches of fly through the winter may be few and far between, but are vital in returning the fish to their pre- spawning condition. For two to three weeks before spawning the Brown Trout go off the feed. The exertions of digging a redd coupled with the act of spawning, result in the fish losing weight and condition. The more food available to them after this spawning period, the quicker they regain their condition and are less likely to develop fungal infections. The river is crammed full of Gammarus shrimp at all times of the year, but a trickle of Olives hatching in Winter to a Brown Trout is like a nice juicy steak to you or I and they lap them up, putting a little flesh on their winter bones.
The mild weather has also bought on the snow drops, crocus and the first few daffodils. The grass has also stood to attention and greened up, a timely reminder to get the tractor serviced and order new blades for the Tractor mounted mower.
At this time of the year it is not uncommon to start seeing and hearing a few funny birds around. Many are passing through, some hang around for the summer. Hen Harriers have moved onto Bransbury Common, one of the first designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest; it is a magical place and home to many rare and unusual flora and fauna. Noted amongst other things for its Short Eared Owls that can be seen in groups during the day, it is an area of marsh between the rivers Test and Dever that I would not think had changed in several hundred years.
For several years now we have had a resident Merlin, who although small is spectacular in flight, it is not uncommon to put him up from the side of the road, you are then treated to his low flying display as he hugs the road in front of you before careering up and off at an incredible angle to make his escape. In complete contrast to the large lumbering Marsh Harrier, who’s floppy flight leads you to think that he could fall from the sky at any moment.
The red Kite is still around, I have seen him overhead in Bransbury and also over at Longparish cricket ground, unmistakeable in profile, I have only seen the one although the chap down the road said that he had seen a pair. If we are to see an Osprey passing through it will be over the next few months.
One bird that has increased in numbers over the past few winters is the Cormorant. A voracious fish-eater and resident of the shoreline and estuaries, they have been gradually working their way up the Test Valley over the past few years. Two years ago while fishing a pond near Stockbridge for Carp, William - my son, and I counted 21 Cormorants get up off the two-acre pond. At one time the pond in question had a reasonable head of small Roach and Rudd, there is little left in the pond now bar Carp of two pounds or more. Cormorants are decimating fish stocks in this country, clearing out lakes and some stretches of river of juvenile fish. The cost to Coarse Fisheries is immense yet little is done to control their numbers. The river Dever at Bransbury is an alien environment for a Cormorant who view shallow and fast flowing water as a last resort, yet as their numbers increase and their food source in their natural environment becomes more scarce they are forced to seek food in tricky waters like the Dever. On the Friday we had our beater’s shoot. None of the beaters at Bransbury are paid; instead they are rewarded with a huge lunch on each day, some risqué conversation and a days shooting at the end of the season. Not all of the beaters shoot; this year eight of them put themselves forward as guns. Several, like Mick, Alan, Brian, Gary, Niall and Jenkins are keen and accomplished shots, for others like Trevor - the world’s noisiest pig farmer, it will be the only time they shoot all year. The bag on the day was Nineteen pheasant, four partridge, two duck, five pigeon and a Rook, over the years the Beaters bag has ranged from four to forty, the one constant being that Jenkins insist that we look for a Woodcock that he shot eight years ago that was never found. Sally gave us a huge lunch that went on until well into the afternoon to mark the end of another enjoyable season. It is a matter of fact, that now the season is over the fields will be full of Pheasants who seem to have an in-built calendar that tells them the guns have been put away.