Friday 30 May 2014

A Mayfly Feeding Frenzy and a Bizarre Bassoon (not Clarice Cliff)

Apologies over the delay in posting but I have been cutting grass that grows while you watch it and have also paid a flying visit to Nanook of the North to bother some salmon, more of which later.

Currently we are experiencing some superb hatches of Mayfly, they started relatively early in the month but these past few days have been nothing short of spectacular.Seen here for the first time are a couple of videos, one from above the surface that doesn’t do justice to the masses of mayfly and one from below where one of our more senior fish embarks on a ten minute feeding frenzy. Unfortunately The Nicholas Chientaroli trio were unable to give of their best in the medium of free jazz on this occasion and tuning issues have forced the removal of a groundbreaking musical score,

Maybe next time Nicholas,

Avant garde’s all very well but let’s keep a little more discipline in those bizarre bursts on the bassoon.

The fish in the film has not been given a name, It is not a Disney production or form part of Springwatch. A small camera was carefully concealed in a bed of a ranunculus to film this fish that had been on station for three days and in the river for a few seasons. Although the clip is only ten minutes long the fish fed hard for over forty minutes on both hatching mayflies and spent mayflies. The next day it was not on station and as is often the way with some fish during the heaviest hatches of Mayfly, it took a day off from feeding and hunkered down under some weed

The second film was taken the day before the first from above the surface of the water by my own fairish hand, The fish can be seen as an ectoplasmic shape in the centre of the river downstream of some water celery. From above it is a very pale coloured fish, having spent several days lying on bright gravel, but it is possible to make it out moving left and right across the flow as it gets its eye in on hatching mayfly without actually rising.

This week water clarity issues have melted away and this stretch is sparkling in a manner that it has not done for some years with verdant weed growth, a bushy fringe and luxuriant water meadows. Some sunshine would be nice, but the current lushness of the chalkstream environs makes up for the grey and drizzle and green is definitely the season’s favourite colour. Sit down on a bench and you can see the grass grow, and mowers and strimmers graunch their way through the interminable task of cutting wet grass, which today disturbed a brood of very young pheasants in the meadow on the middle bends who were forced into their first short flight as I approached on the big blue tractor.

Kingfishers are also feeding young and while huge numbers of minnows hang in the river one adult Kinger continues to try and gain access to the fry tank that houses our own brown trout fry. Three weeks ago I saw the biggest Roach I have ever seen. As I crossed back over the bridge from the fishing hut I looked directly down into two feet of clear water and was surprised to see half a dozen Roach in some slack water at the tail end of some ranunculus. Not normally a regular haunt for redfins it was spawning time and in such a condition we are all sometimes driven to strange things, the smallest was a pound and three quarters, four were good two pounders but a broad backed fish that I initially took for a chub was the Jennifer Lopez of the group that I put at over three pound. The biggest carp I have ever seen I clocked from a bridge feeding in the River Lot in the middle of Cahors, it was over forty pounds and instigated a reaction that can only be conveyed in asterisks and deleted letters, but which a passing frenchman seemed to understand. A similar reaction resulted from catching sight of this redfin, it is without doubt the biggest roach I have ever seen in any river.

Politics pending,

apologies, but rather than send me sharp emails and messages if this is not your thing, please skip to the picture of a mayfly having the time of its brief life.

I was away for the European elections, which is probably just as well as I didn’t have a clue as to who to vote for. With my chalkstream hat on, Flashy must be rubbing his hands at a noisy UKIP whose success may lead to an easing of environmental protection afforded to the chalk rivers of these isles, so frack away chaps the shackles are off and F*&% the aquatic environment. With fascism on the rise in other parts of Europe, it’s worth a thought for those brave blokes who fought at Montecassino who were commemorated the other week who thought they had this one beat. I won't go into detail but I still have no clue as to who to vote for next year, putting my chalkstream hat back on it could be The Green Party, although I will need a pension soon and I don’t think they have any financial planning and I suspect old folk will be required to exist on foraging and an extensive range of home-made pickles and preserves.

Done, done, diddly done, no more politics, and here’s the picture of a Mayfly with a smile on its face.

Sorry that's a dead one, hence no smile.

Several mornings this past fortnight, Otis and I have been accompanied on our first bumble of the day by a Barn Owl, a young bird it does not seem to be the brightest of birds and we are able to get quite close before it flops away to the next tree to take in our movements. It may have come up from the Common, where hunting may now be difficult or other owls have sent him elsewhere but he has found some easier hunting along the conservation hedgerows and beetle banks that surround our neighbouring field and would do well to stick around as since the barn up the road was converted into a house we have seen fewer barn owls around here, despite the plethora of owl boxes, some of which occasionally play host to our neighbours cat. Many years ago when the neighbouring barn was derelict it played host to a senior barn owl for quite some years. One evening when Child B and myself were returning home down the lane in the blue pick up from junior football practice on the local recreation ground, it flew parallel to the vehicle eight feet away from Child B’s open window for a hundred yards or more. Harry Potter was quite the thing at the time and had he had his coarse fishing landing net Child B would have plucked the bird from the sky and taken it home to be his own personal Hedwig, an U12 footballer’s plan that was scuppered by the owl exiting stage left to the barn in which it resided for a good few years before it was converted into rental accommodation by the neighbouring estate.

To continue the theme of wise owls, Child A has completed her degree which it turns out is a first class honours,

which I guess trumps my 2011 Hants FA Groundsman of the year level 7 Runner Up, so Mdme has now removed the certificate from above my side of the marital bed,

which seemed a little opportunistic.

Mdme and myself are very proud and not a little surprised that such an achievement has been attained in the eye of a three year social storm. Child A plans to travel a little, initially on trains around Europe and then a little further afield, possibly in planes, before returning to be a student for as long as she can get away with, which is fine by us.

Well done Maisie (Child A)

Thursday 8 May 2014

Living the Nun's Priest's Tale

And, they’re off. Ten days into the season and quite a few fish have been put on the bank, many to a hawthorn, although I have yet to see the real thing (not the popular seventies disco combo but an actual hawthorn fly) The odd addled mayfly has also put in an appearance, several weeks before their cue, and on the whole all fish caught have been in reasonable knick with few long thin fish that have found the previous winter a struggle. Water quality remains an issue, the brown gunk that lifts from the bed of the river to break up as it passes through broken water is prolific this year and the river carries a heavier taint as each day progresses. Every angler has commented upon it, some have also expressed surprise at how quickly the river has fallen away, thoughts echoed by several who work in this valley. A trip down to the middle river revealed water still lying in the water meadows of another tributary along with mushy meadows on the main river, the aquifers of the Dever seem to struggle to hold onto their water in recent years. The weed and margins are growing well and while a few sections of bank remain inaccessible due to heavy deposits of silt during the winter, ninety nine percent of this stretch of river is fishable.

The numbers of consecutive months that I have walked through the wood and come across another tree that has fallen over now extends to eight. Recent skirmishes to source hazel sticks for runner beans led me to a second enormous beech tree that has cashed in its chips. The tree that fell on our home and whose trunk currently assumes “interesting feature” status in our garden has had an unexpected benefit. A large Hebe that we grew from a cutting taken from a plant in Cornwall when Child A and B's years were single figure numbers, lies prone under the reclining Field Maple. The branches of the squashed Hebe thrust deep into the soil have all rooted and where we once had one big Hebe, we now have lots of little Hebes surrounding a chuffin great tree trunk.

The first yellow flags have cracked open and the meadows are dotted with hundreds of cuckoo flower, although so far only one cuckoo. Knitbone is also bursting into bloom and will feed many buzzy things that feed on its nectar when the sun eventually shines, and the heads of many grasses form up like Monsieur Magritte's men with umbrellas falling from the sky

Last week we rejoined the poultry keeping community. After a break of six months we really missed our chooks, even Child A and Child B on touching base have lamented their loss. They have lived alongside chickens since the day we had four hens called “Pocahontas” who lived in a converted trailer at the top of the garden.

Today we have eight egg laying machines and a puffed up Light Sussex Cockerel who has yet to be named, although Chanticleer is favourite, as we are living the Nun's Priest's tale as our hero feathers all eight of his Pertelotes at least twenty times each day, instigating much squawking.

A bespoke hen house has been constructed, the finest fodder sourced, and by way of thanks we are in receipt of half a dozen eggs a day. But in this technologically advanced age, laying an egg could not pass by without the addition of a few silicon chips. Plans are afoot for a webcam with a live feed from the nesting box and the opening and closing of the house has been automated. Following extensive consultation with fowl experts on the internet, a sliding door controlled by a light sensitive cell has been fitted. Sliding open with a smoothness that Blake's Seven could only dream of, it is one step away from the entrance to the submarine pen in The Spy Who Loved Me, closing automatically when the birds are up on their roosting poles (when submarines are safely in dock) and opening at first light to release chickens or submarines to fire their missiles at an unsuspecting world. However early tests uncovered a slight hitch. Returning from a Cricket Club Committee meeting one night, I crept across the paddock towards the hen house to see, as James Bond had assured me, that the door had indeed closed. Ten yards in and despite my stealthy approach, the security light on the back of the garage picked up my presence and burst into life, the light sensitive door slid slowly across and out came the chooks, convinced that morning had broken. Providing an easy midnight feast for Reynard.

The drawing board is to be revisited.

While taking in a crucial football match in this year’s fight for the premiership title, Madam posed the question “Why aren’t dogs trained to be ball boys?”

Naturally neutral, quick and willing, there would be no contention over the speed at which the ball was returned to play,

Or possibly Dolphins?

Half a dozen bottle nosed types in a big wide ditch surrounding a pitch eager to punt the ball back into play, teach them to hold a flag and they could run/swim the line as well.

And why not other sports? A couple of well trained collies could clean up at Wimbledon.

With all the money swilling around at Lancaster Gate it has to be worth a brief investigation, come on FA open your minds.

Returning to chickens, because this written rubbish, does after all purport to describe my activities looking after a river. Foghorn leghorn is currently being pushed as a means of achieving mindfulness (more of this later) Keeping chickens is good for "mental well-being" (what mindfulness was prior to the word's invention) a simple activity that for those whose mind has been scrambled by the remorseless pace of twenty first century life, can prove recuperative. After standing idly with my employer for fifteen minutes taking in four hens attacking a failed loaf of home made bread I will happily concur, keeping chickens is good for mindfulness/mental well-being/getting rid of duff loaves of bread.

But what is this mindfulness?

Mindfulness, and we are going to hear this funky new word a lot in the coming years, is all about "living in the moment" (similar to mental well-being, also invented before mindfulness, and shamelessly promoted by Martine McCutcheon through the medium of song ) The mind is switched off by focusing on a single point, an increased awareness of your surroundings results, that does not serve to distract you from your single point of focus. There is no future, there is no past, just the here and now.

Float fishing we used to call it.

The Buddhists attribute such a state a particular stage of enlightenment, but mindfulness for some can be attained by staring at a float at five o’clock on a mid June morning while waiting for patrolling Tench to pick up your piece of sweet corn. Focusing on a single point, acutely aware of your early morning surroundings as you wait for your float to sail away,

If you like Tench, you’ll never feel more alive!

To return to TV (and yes Al Jazeera, I am still waiting for your call on my proposal for an angling based programme with a Top Gear format in which yours truly takes a “James May in wellies” role)

Madam chose for our evening viewing (for it is she who has full command of the remote control as I am not to be trusted) an interesting documentary on the works of a Registrar. A harmonious beginning to our daily coming together was, however interrupted by an “in house” investigation as to who had registered Child B’s birth. Filing cabinets were flung open and brains wracked as to whether it had been carried out, and if so, by whom. At the time I had been keen for Child B to bear the middle name of “Dangerous” an epithet that I was convinced would open doors for him later in life. Madam, with admirable foresight, convinced me otherwise. The document was eventually found, Child B does exist, I carried out the registration and he has no middle name.

Several days a week, our local schools are bussing parties of primary school children in to the local supermarket to learn about food. The Superstore has a community officer who guides parties of small children through the varied delights of the delicattessan and meat and fish counters

Which is brilliant, as food awareness is a great life skill, but all the same a little sad.

Walking to catch the school bus of a weekday morning in the middle of the North West Village (population 2,500) in which we lived, I would pass a greengrocer who grew all his produce in fields around the village, two butchers who sold locally produced meat and employed on a part time basis, several friends who had no business with knives but knew their way around the arse end of a cow, Charlie Parrafin’s bright orange DIY emporium, a bakers, a barbers, a newsagents and for some reason the county’s finest purveyor of tropical fish ( he did lizards as well) further on was Hair by Annette, a chip shop, three pubs, two garages and a video shop. We still shopped in a supermarket but were fairly “food aware” and made full use of the village shops.

A two hour tour of the local town’s High St (serving a population of 60’000 and rising) would provide the youngsters with an opportunity to preview a variety of betting shops, mobile phone emporia, charity shops and the full gamut of tax dodging coffee houses. It is a High St on its knees, which shouldn’t be the case as the town’s population is expanding rapidly. There may be a link to the vision of sixties planners who steam rollered all those lines of higgledy piggledy buildings made of little bricks topped with peg tile or thatch, and replace them with functional square buildings of concrete construction. Portsmouth had the excuse that it was bombed heavily during World War II for its creation of the Tricorn centre; once voted the ugliest building in Britain, it has now been demolished.

Our local town didn’t need intervention from the Fuhrer, they saw the future, and the future was concrete and subsequently knocked the old buildings down and built in their place what is today, a dysfunctional series of shops interspersed with boarded up units. Two High Streets within twenty minutes of here, Winchester (population 45,000) and Newbury (population 40,000), are thriving, so a lesson needs to be learnt somewhere as the offspring of local town society are being provided with their High St education through a savvy supermarket.

Overheard, as I passed by a visiting school party on gliding through the store at midday with a basket of what a Scotsman would term “messages”

Team leader: “Who can tell me about Sushi?”

Indifferent small child in pink: “Sushi could’n come on today's trip cos she bin bad”

She may have been referring to her friend Susi, or her unfortunate chum may actually have been named after some raw fish that has been fiddled about with,

I don’t know,

I was away down the aisle, gripping my sides with mirth,

But at this point I confidently predict that the major scandal to rock the next generation will be over psychological damage incurred through names awarded by parents in the early twenty first century. A booming claims industry will drop the scent of PPI and switch instead to cold calling people on the electoral roll with unusual names offering aid if they wish to make a financial claim against either parent for monikers assigned.

Titled by his parents in honour of the erstwhile rapper who crooned through conception with a nod to Sid James et al and all things "Carry On"

Mr Kanye C Mycock will lead the charge,

Upstream from here work on the problematical stretch of river that caused problems through the recent floods remains at the planning stage. Thirty years ago a couple of slashers would have been thrown at a brace of students with a “here’yar nipper, get on with it”. The official process for such works can now involve a cast of thousands and so it was that a few weeks ago a large crowd poked, prodded and ruminated in the required high viz and hard hats, at a problem that is some way from being the Gordian Knot, although inspiration could be drawn from Xander's no nonsense solution.

Time for a reaffirmation of a "note to self":

Beware experts in stunning sunnies and waders spun from silk who promise to provide a recommended course of action within an hour, effective chalkstream management requires a little more consideration than that.

Funding for River Restoration projects is welcome and once again available, but expect an increae in the number of fishery management “experts” pitching for the work. Hopefully the River Restoration team will have an “approved list” of those deemed competent to carry out any work.

Today’s newspaper reports that an influential House of Lords Committee warns that red tape must be cut in order to speed up the race for fracking. For” red tape”, read "necessary safeguards for the environment". The shale gas isn’t going away anytime soon, so if we are to pull it out of the ground, let's make a proper job of it, and stop this politically motivated call for the process to be speeded up.