Sunday 20 February 2011

Wild Geese I & II and other ducks also

It has rained and the river has risen, nowhere near enough, but good steady stuff that has got springs moving, the tin is in and silt is being shifted. The fish in the river look to be in pretty fine fettle and feed sporadically on midday flurries of flies. Crack willow will be conquered and victory will be mine, although the battle is on hold for a few weeks, after a two-pronged attack by a couple of hernias. The girl and boy in charge of the whole operation seemed a bit giggly and didn’t look old enough to be playing with knives, but it seems to have been a success and I must thank the whole Kit and Kaboodle at Winchester Hospital who successfully put my loins back in line. Hors de combat for a couple of weeks, the willow will inevitably gain ground, but I shall return stronger and more determined to defeat the devil’s own tree.

The old saw, underpowered and over worked, gave up the ghost a week ago, so a new one has been purchased, and what a difference it has made. I could clear fell the Isle of Wight in a week with the new Swedish number, Crack Willow will ultimately bow to the shock and awe of my new saw…… when the doctor allows me to pick it up.

An area I have cleared on the top shallows demonstrates the effect shade from low growing crack willow can have on a river. Where light is inhibited the fringe thins, the bank is open to erosion, the river is subsequently over widened, slows down and silt is deposited, weed and all that depend on her die and the river takes a turn for the worse. If all who reside in them are to flourish, the chalk stream environs must be managed as they have been for hundreds of years, and don’t let any body in a fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes tell you otherwise.

The Geese turned up, several months later than usual but in far greater numbers. Over a hundred honkers of various hues currently graze the top water meadow. What Ducks that are about are paired up and engaged in the preliminaries of courtship. There are plenty of Pheasants about. Through December and January we shot our fair share, but plenty still reside in the wood. Many can be heard “cocking up” in the wood as night falls, and Otis put twenty out of a bunch of brambles no bigger than a small family car earlier in the week.

Photos of boxing Hares have appeared in the papers this week but I have yet to see any in the field behind our house. In previous years this venue has hosted more boxing bouts than Earls Court and Wembley Arena combined, which suggests we have some more winter to come yet.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Hosepipe Ban?

Whisper it quietly, we need several months of rain if we are to have respectable flows this summer. It could happen, the past two days here have been wet with much of the steady rainfall getting down into the ground although springs are not flowing very high up the ditches and there is no chance of the river coming over the banks. The Ranunculus that sprung into life during the cold clear snap has steadied up a bit, but is still more luxuriant than some years in May. We have had some hatches of fly, mostly mid day stuff that both fish and Wagtails have made the most off. One of our regulars popped over for some Grayling fishing and despite much success in previous years struggled throughout the day. This winter it seems that the Grayling fishing has been either on or off, with no steady stuff in between. If the fish are feeding, then most are on the go, and some big bags can be had, but it doesn’t seem to take much to put them off, and when one head goes down they all go down. There are a few Pike about although it seems a bit earlier for them to be ganging up and heading for the sexy spring holes to spawn.

The fish in the hatchery are now in the main tank, a little earlier than normal as some were starting to show signs of Gas Bubble disease; bubbles of Nitrogen in the blood brought on by spring water that is not completely saturated with Oxygen. If we get it, we call it “The Bends” bashing the water about soon solves the problem, the lower stocking density in a larger tank also keeps the fish in tip top condition and a more natural environment.

I am still engaged in the interminable struggle with Crack willow. Kill rates are down this week following a saw malfunction. A little knick in my chainsaw trousers that would have put stitches in my thigh, left me looking skywards thanking the patron saint of safety textiles. The idea is that the chain pulls at the fibres in the thick safety trousers, until enough come out to jam the chain, no Steel, Kevlar or carbon fibre fittings, just fine fibres rushing the chain en masse to halt its progress, thankfully it works like a dream.

The Merlin returned this week, for the umpteenth consecutive year, we chased it up the road on the way to football practice before it swerved off at high speed through the hedge. Bittern are back in the valley although I have not seen or heard it yet, and the Harrier (Marsh or ring tail Hen?) still flops around the Common. This week we have had the Electricians in, bringing our fuse board up to the ultra safe state currently required. He came before Christmas to assess the likelihood of electrical death, unfortunately my wife was on a different path to the afterworld with a dose of Pig Flu and he had to work around her bed ridden form. This week we forgot he was coming and it was my daughter who was stuck in bed, home on a half day from college who was woken by an electrician in her room. A nice man, who hails from up near Inkpen, I asked him about the Red Kites that were released up there a decade ago, mentioning that we regularly saw one or two around here. One day this summer he counted twelve in the air over his house, a shooting man living in some fantastic shooting ground, he suggested that it wouldn’t be too long before some in the area took the matter in hand.

A similar view was expressed by a visitor from a neighbouring Wild Life Trust, a reasonably sensible bunch much removed from The “ Disneyfied Groovy Gang” of this parish. While drinking tea in our kitchen following a cold day Grayling Fishing, the soon to be retired WT man commented on what he had seen throughout the day, a couple of friends who live and work further down the river turned up to duff up some Ducks and fishing conversation kicked off. Cormorants were soon on the agenda, along with Otters, Canoeists and much else that chugs up and down the river valley. Frequently the discussion turned to a balance that must be struck, the man with Twelve Kites over his house suggested the same.

Species diversity has undoubtedly widened over the past decade and it is something of which we should be justifiably proud, but a balance must be maintained if all are to thrive. As Head honcho/ top predator we must face up to that responsibility and recognise what is required to maintain a balanced environment.
The derelict farm buildings up the road that provided shelter for a lonely Barn Owl for some years were recently converted, and an Owl box put up to provide the ghostly bird with an alternative abode. The Owl now prefers the Oaks and Ash alongside the road while the new tenants Cat spends his days in the Owl box,