Sunday 18 January 2015

Beefeaters Twitch across the Sky pursued by a Fair Failed Fuckwit.

The lower Dever valley is a very special part of the south of England that I am fortunate enough to enjoy access to. In an increasingly crowded corner of the county parts of the valley resemble the land that time forgot. It is renowned for its colony of short eared owls, but plays host to many other species including all the other owls, hen harriers and much more besides. At this time of the year it is not unusual to receive rare winter visitors and it was with that in mind that I bumbled down the lower Dever earlier this month. There was a hen harrier about, inevitable owls, snipe of course, but then a glint of glass betrayed a phalanx of birders nosing at a great grey shrike, It was a first for me in this valley but there it sat perched atop a lone blackthorn, the avian equivalent of Vlad the Impaler. It sought mice and frogs to impale on the tree's thorns. Magpie and crow are held rapt by its cousin's grisly tree decorations, a fact not lost on French falconers who dubbed the bird "mat'agasse" the magpie killer, although the amount of meat hanging from this lonely blackthorn reinforced the bird's usual moniker of the butcher bird.

Opportunities to dress up are always welcome and the arrival of a pair of ravens in the valley instigated a wine fuelled internet search for a Beefeater costume, the self imposed curfew on internet purchases that kicks in at 9pm was fortunately reached before an appropriate garment could be sourced.

We have had some tremendous showers of rain this week along with some strong gusts of wind, although no trees have been toppled. The river is bank high and quick to colour and grayling fishing has been challenging, a few spring ditches have broken and are making their contribution to the Dever's discharge and ranunculus on the top shallows is doing very well and may well need a cut before the start of the season which is often an indicator of a decent winter's rain.

A substantial pike put in an appearance in shallow water on the flight pond, soporific with a belly full of roach and rudd it is well into double figures. Same old, same old where work is concerned as my big orange saw shows no sign of weariness with regard to its' work in the wood.

I have been joined in this task by Lord Ludgershall who has a similar saw and a vehicle that may be a little camp for some men of the woods, although he does remove his crown and ermine.
The camera has been out and a short film is currently under edit with the working title "Into the woods with Vidal Sassoon".

I'm not one for chain sawing on my own, it's a risky business and very occasionally the saw can kick and catch you out, and I am very aware that it is easy to become over confident particularly when carrying out the task for several days in succession so Lord Ludgershall's attendance is welcome, not least because he laughs in the face of the scam that is Dry January and insists upon a good lunch. Potatoes are cooked in the fire, and ox parts roasted above it and served with candles, crackers and beer, all to a soundtrack of Pavarotti's take on Ave Maria.

We have just received word of improved efficiancies at command centre central that promise to make the business of applying for fish movement orders all the more easier. I have had a few funny responses to applications in years gone by. It's their game, and it pays to play by their rules as things can get difficult if someone so chooses, but I once had an application to put fish in the river at Bransbury refused because it was deemed to be a particularly sensitive stretch of the upper Itchen, and a few years ago we were asked to fork out four hundred pounds to cull thirty pound plus fish for a health check in order to move a batch of their mates to the other side of a stew pond screen. The inner Osman was subsequently released and I reared up to my full height to highlight the pointlessness of such an exercise, as whatever was in the receiving water would be in the pond because it had the receiving water flowing through it.

But hey that's how we used to roll on these rivers.

Increased efficiencies should mean an end to this kind of caper, that seemed to proliferate when the whole business was taken out of regional hands and centralised in the name of increased efficiencies quite some years ago. Fingers crossed it works, because with regard to the spread of notifiable fishes, the licensing of fish movements is an important process that provides certain safeguards to populations of freshwater fish.

A crisis has just occurred,

Unbeknown to me we have been long term subscribers to Sky TV and have had in our possession a Sky remote control for many years

Who knew?

This remote control, has just cashed in its chips half way through "Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages"

The remote control and Sky TV have now broken cover and my assistance has been sought over their repair. Which, with great magnanimity, I have agreed to do on agreement that we first deal with the more pressing matter of what business does Penelope Keith have in hiding villages, and when did she make the leap from bossy lead lady in the Good Life, to deranged despot.

Mrs Dooms- Patterson must be quaking in her boots.

The Sky TV lady on the phone has been most helpful and a new remote control is winging its way to us as I write, meanwhile our TV is stuck on something called QVC which is proving to be strangely addictive but may not be the case after five days of "It Cuts, It Dices, It Slices and all at incredible prices......."

This house is now teenager free after Child B turned twenty at the weekend. We are all grown ups now and the pressures that come with acting like an adult begin to press hard,

Which I still find difficult, but one day I may grow up.

Child B will be OK, he has just completed three weeks work with a planning company that was very grown up and for which he daily donned the sharp suit and pointy shoes of office, while Child A studies sociological issues incomprehensible to our befuddled minds. We popped out for a celebratory lunch at the weekend and it was Madam and myself who took to the booster seats in the back of the car.

BREAKING NEWS: Keeper causes upset at RSPB

News, Really?

Surely that's a given, in recent times.

Sunday afternoon and with wine on board, a belly fully of meat, and a mind to roam Madam, myself, child B and Otis set out for skirmishes on Bransbury Common. Access used to be restricted to people of the parishes that sit on its borders but now it seems that any old Jonny can rock up. As I have already stated, it is a magical place that has recently played host to a Fair Failed Fuckwit,

No, make that a Bar Tailed Godwit,

Or was that the beaky bird we saw in Scotland?

Just a minute, I'd better look this up,

Great Grey Shrike, that's the dicky

Now Birdwatchers and keepers have somehow migrated to opposite poles in recent years, at which point I would like to point out that many of my friends in the field sports fraternity have a spectacular appreciation of all things avian, excluding myself whose own shortcomings have already been exposed earlier in the piece. There are people who work and fish on this river who could identify a willow tit from a marsh tit in two seconds at a distance of fifty metres.

For many weeks cars have been parked just down the road by people driving many miles to take in the Shrike, along with complimentary owls and a hen harrier. On this afternoon there were no cars, so we set out for our post prandial parade confident that we would have the place to ourselves. We traversed the manor house with the intention of walking down the common, wading through the ford and walking back up the track that borders the wood on the opposite side of the river. A trek of a few miles in bracing air that promised to remove the fug of a good lunch. We soon encountered some fallow deer, which was a surprise this side of the A303, but they may have been the beasts that rocked up in the fields behind the house a few years back. As ever there were short eared owls and a surprising number of little egrets, a heron chased off a great egret, which was not on the bill and the hen harrier flopped about, golden plover lifted from the field bordering the common and a merlin flushed from the floor. With Otis giving of his best we negotiated the workings of a billion ants and approached the ford when it became apparent we were not alone. Massed on the opposite bank of the river next to the ford were fifty or so twitchers clad in real tree and armed with long lenses, the main body had formed up by the ford with pickets posted further along the bank in their efforts to take in the Shrike, and for the past ten minutes we had bumbled our way through their field of fire.

We were in a congenial state and retracing our steps would have been an admission of defeat, and meant a further ten minutes of shuffling back across their field of fire. So we pressed on regardless with our original plan of crossing the ford. Halfway across, the fug descended and it became apparent that either the river had risen or our wellies had got shorter, Child B, Madam and Otis looked to me for guidance, so in the spirit of Lou Nolan I urged us on toward the battery of long lenses with the cry of "Gentlemen, there are your guns". Boots soon filled with water and as we sloshed through the massed ranks on the other side, I am proud to say that all involved in the charge, got in amongst the guns, and made light of our water filled boots, before making our way to the wood a hundred yards away where wellingtons were emptied of water out of sight of the real tree crew.

We were perfectly within our rights to walk that way, and I think our "carry on chaps" air made that point perfectly, but with all those cameras it felt like a Norman Wisdom trip on the red carpet that drew little mirth, but distinct disapproval.

Which made us laugh all the more,

The Shrike's still there by the way, but is not tempted by the slice of sausage we leave out for it daily.

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