Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Never entirely certain when the seasons end or begin it is with some risk that I entitle this piece as I do, but it feels right.

The Stillwater continues to piscatorially bamboozle me. Yes, the perch fishing had been a lifetime's best by quite some margin, approximately double the best other catch I can recall in weight per perchy capita in fact, but, as yet, the other fishes have tended to leave me alone quite nicely thank you. Obviously they think I am there for the tranquility and that it would be rude to disturb my peace too much. At all, in fact.

Recovering from a rather debilitating illness has seen me on the bank quite regularly, if dozily, these past few days, being ignored by the fish, and The Stillwater has set me to giving ever more consideration to birds, and especially the birds I am likely to encounter there.

The more advanced birders at the site have taken me rather into their world and now accept my record submissions with alacrity. Being immersed in the nature that appears magnetised to the place makes one realise what exactly one is missing by not fishing still waters of necessarily significant proportion.

On a personal level my birdwatching has been very much along the lines of my approach to angling over the years in that I have hardly ever knowingly 'twitched' a bird and the vast majority of the time have been, and remain, contented to compile a list of whatever species can be mustered from wherever I happen to be, or perhaps travelling to and from. In fact, very much like angling, it's the not knowing rather than the knowing that makes it engaging, enjoyable and rewarding in that very same order.

Since taking up residence at The Stillwater when the river season ended, it has been the birds rather than the fish that have engaged the most. Albeit a bite takes precedence over a passing bird in that moment, it cannot be denied! It doesn't begin and end there however for the attractions are many and varied. Butterflies still exist here unlike many of the places that used to have their flora spread with them not that many years ago. Dragon and damselflies abound and a good smattering of various mammals are more than possible, in fact likely, sightings too.
Southern hawker dragonfly at rest
Botanically I am generally totally stumped but there appears to be an interesting array of wild plants that, were I capable of pinning them down, would produce another even more extensive species list. The natural bottom line of course is that the botany dictates the invertebrates present and it is they in turn that dictate their consumers and so on it goes up that invisible line we used to call the food chain to top predators.

Like any former, but intrinsically since trapped, schoolboy it is the latter that seem the most appealing and cause the most excitement to the majority of us. Somehow they seem that bit more incredible with their extra, imagined, calculatingly cold-hearted dimension. Of course a kestrel catching a vole is no more unusual than a wren catching a spider from many different angles but the more advanced the prey the more impressive the captor appears to us.

This spring and summer I have had the sudden surprise of the noise made by the wings of a hobby pursuing sand martins in a strong breeze close overhead jolt me out of my slumber; the intermittent flap, flap, gliding of the osprey down the centre of the lake seeking those big roach I have never yet connected with; the floating giant moth-like foraging of the barn owl before my very eyes in daylight and the pursuit of all manner of small passerines by the sparrowhawk. Yet the most fascinating thing, the all consuming subject, is the wider picture. The whole wondrous ecological spectacle. It too I am happy to be bamboozled by.
Hobby silhouette
The all but inaudible high pitched squeaking of common shrews chasing in and out of rushes growing from the rocky bank.

The clouds of common blue damselflies flushed out of the grasses with every step after their daily emergence as marching armies of nymphs exiting the water for any promontory, however little it may rise above the water, there to transmogrify from little green alien larva to beautiful, here bountiful, imago.

The rudd, sucking sedge flies from the surface between phragmites stems with an audile slurp and the remant thick oily bubbles left long-term in the surface film.

The raucous barking of the muntjac from deep cover at dusk and the replies from distant cousins.
The frantically fluttering Small Skipper in search of a food plant for egg-laying.

The inquisitiveness of the sedge warbler, creeping ever closer through the reeds to check-out the large unnaturally dressed mammal examining it in return.

The creaking sound of the pond snails emerging through marginal water plant debris at dusk as they suck and blow at the surface.

All of these and more can and will keep me amused, quite literally, for a lifetime.

No fish? No problem!


  1. Personally, I will forever associate the evening call of wood pigeons with canal fishing. Hearing it always take me back to the mid 90s fishing the Lee Navigation with my dad. Once they starting cooing, I was always filled with excitement about something better arriving, which it rarely did of course, but I'm sure it was the backdrop when I caught my first carp .

    I saw a barn owl swoop out of a farm shed the other day whilst fishing the drain - what a treat. Buzzards are ten a penny round 'ere.

    1. Now that takes me back! The cooing of pigeons when I first fished with my Dad too. A small crucian pond in my case and a handful of gudgeon caught on an ash pole from the hedge with line & hook tied to the end.

    2. For me, canal fishing will always be about magpies. One very early morning when the canal was so still that its surface was actually dusty looking, with pollen and other Summer debris, a magpie made a mistake and, believing the surface to be solid, tried to land on it. It was then unable to take off. The canal had shuttering to both banks, an unscalable barrier to the bird's escape. What it then did, surprised me. It flapped its way across the surface directly towards me, stopping at my feet and looking up at me. It allowed me to pick it out of the water. It flew away then but not before a rather ungrateful peck at my fingers as I released it. It is hard not to think that it reasoned I was its only way out, and that it overcame its natural fear of humans for that chance of freedom.

    3. Hmm, kind of making friends with the biggest bully at school tactics. Maybe there is something in it?
      Amazing tale JZ.