Sunday, 9 November 2014

Autumn in Full Flow

The rate of decomposition of aquatic plants has been quite surprising and given that the daytime temperatures have been more akin to a poor summer and the first noteworthy frost only bit this week this appears to prove that, unlike the triggers our so called intelligence would have us believe apply to such events, it is not simply heat that controls the reaction of life to the seasons

On the stretch of the Leam that Parps and I have the rights to the arrowheads were slipping into browning dormancy some weeks ago and now, it always seems sudden, the bulrush is losing its bottle green shade in many stems, and ‘cabbages’ break up into slimy, khaki folds as, with the oncoming winter, they prepare for that which will ultimately leave only the rhizome intact

Ten days ago the first seasonal redwings sipped in panic as they burst from foraging to the shelter of thick hawthorn in the nearby Warwickshire countryside and only this past week their erstwhile companion the fieldfare followed a similar pattern as a flock of forty took an undulating course parallel to the Fosse

The gnawing sound on stems being trimmed becomes ever less frequent whether I sit bankside or walk quietly near water and the family of six swans on our stretch is reduced to four by the ravages of predatory instinct and the need to feed the next generation of ‘higher’ species

Yesterday morning a train of five jackdaws sky-jacked a quite massive cronking raven as it headed out to the meadows, its Maltese cross profile as evident as ever it could be in this fascinating individual. How long before we become blasé about their presence in the central and east midlands much as we have with the buzzard, and yet at the same time we worry about the loss of species? Strange times indeed

I read recently that the great ecologist Edward O Wilson was marking the start of the MEMO project to build a shrine to the species which have become extinct since the dodo began the decline, now known widely as the sixth mass extinction, on the ‘Jurassic Coast’. A thirty million pound investment in what, to my mind, could prove to be the most powerful reminder to us (in Britain at least) that it really is time to act. Human life created the issue and, if it is possible to reverse the collapse, surely we owe it to the earth to urge it back to fitness

(see here

Speaking of counter-intuitive increases in populations as I was, I am seeing, preceded by a deep dull drone, regular hornets in many locations now and yet, until about three years ago, I could only recall one dead individual noted on a bathroom window cill during a survey of a rural house a decade ago. A friend of mine had a swarm take up residence in her porch just a month ago but while they seem somewhat breathtakingly repulsive, with their bloated wasp-like appearance, they are apparently quite docile and unlikely to attack unless, like the bee, they are provoked to such a degree that they feel the need to defend themselves – such as at food sources or nest sites. In fact there is only one documented record of anyone seeking medical attention after a hornet encounter in the whole of Europe! So, like the buzzard and then the raven, is the hornet expanding in Britain having been restricted to southern counties in the past? Well yes, according to the Natural History Museum, it is indeed as they say ‘a known fact’ that hornets are spreading from their historic stronghold around the Exeter and New Forest area

The wet weather towards the end of this week has pushed the Middle River Leam level from the standard summer range of 0.25-0.3m to a positively healthy 0.75 over the past two days and with this in mind fresh vigorous lobworms were obtained and are added to the bait range with the obligatory bread. So with a simple Avon quiver set-up and the contrary, but still relatively strong, sun bursting across the field and in through the windows a plan was hatched

Roach, chub and anything else daft enough to be fooled would be the target. The spaniels seemed to know too but they, with live lamb on the agenda, would be staying to bathe in that same sunlight from indoors

On arrival, the afternoon sun was starting to slide behind a comforting blanket of light cloud while two herons took flight and barked, as only they can, their raucous contact call. As I sauntered to the water’s edge kingfishers piped and their neon blue streaks abounded. Jackdaws jack-ack-acked as, in their fluster, they exploded from the wood with fears all their own…and all was well in the valley

I all-but trod on a field vole as it scurried underfoot into waterside rush margins where cattle and sheep had broken the bank into terraces as it dropped toward the water. But it was not him I sought. For me it was the waterscape that drew me in search of undercuts, slacks and glides; and therein, I dreamt, the aforementioned quarry

Recently I had discovered an undercut with overhanging grasses and hoped it would offer steady water under these first suitably raised water levels of the colder months, but it was not to be; the water gently, admittedly, boiled and surged through the channel and I would need to wait for levels to fall, or rise considerably more, for this area to came back into play
An enticing slack I had harboured far from complementary thoughts about when approaching from the opposite bank in the past suddenly seemed all the more attractive downstream of a substantial bed. As the main flow cut past the outside of the shelter, it cried-out for a stab at its likely refugees. Heads, tails and indeed the haemorrhaging middles of a series of unfortunate lobworms were offered to its inhabitants, and, cast after cast, bites ensued. Roach, perch around 12 ounces, then a river best (though far from exceptional example) of 1-1-3 battled and failed to get under the decomposing but, at the same time, high water-animated rush stems. Then another roach before the closing gloom of the evening pushed me back to my prepared bread swim to engage in the last rites of the angling day at the head of an awkward to access shallow gravel run

Last weekend I had been buzzed by a tawny owl elsewhere on the river just minutes after briefly observing its barn-dwelling cousin hunting over rank bankside vegetation. An incoming message from mission control had lit me up in the dark and the enquirer came for a closer look, delaying his fly-by with a brief hover and eventually alighting over my left shoulder until, as I reached for the camera he slipped with the flow and out of sight. This week was to be little different, a male buzzard had landed in bare branches on the opposite bank but soon realised there was a bigger predator already here and silently flapped north and away from this imposter but, as darkness fell and before the evening hoot commenced, another tawny owl swept in from behind willows to my right and settled ten metres in front of me. This time I managed to reach the camera but the owl, wiser than I and fearful as to survive, saw this as an invitation to drift back from whence he appeared and to my horror the gadget slipped from my grasp, bounced down the grassy bank and settled part-submerged in the water. As I write it sits upside-down, stripped-down as much as is possible, next to a radiator – in hope, whether vain or not is yet to be revealed

Although another two small roach were quite taken with the bread after dark the swim wasn’t ‘right’ and I decided to tidy-away and weigh the perch with a heavy dew coating everything at hand

Next week. There's always next week.

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