Monday 29 July 2013

Varied Wildlife and Even a Few Fish

A couple of days ago a friend, Dave, asked me to go fish a small pond with him.  A pond that, as far as he knew, had never been fished before.  The pond was in a walled estate, in which he works, and fishing in the pond had always been banned, even to estate workers.  Whether the local kids had ever fished it on the quiet I do not know, but, as it was very clean, totally litter free, it was a possibility. Free fishing areas, legal or not, tend to accumulate signs when anglers have been there.   It seems Dave had done something to greatly please the Lord of the Manor, and a day's fishing, with a friend, was to be his reward.   I jumped at the chance to join him of course. Unfished water!  Mystery!

On any lightly fished water there is usually little reason to do anything complex, and so I chose to float fish with bread and maggots.  Size 14 hook to start.   I have been using Kamasan X Strong B982's for such fishing, and as Kamasan say, these are a stronger version of the B980 specimen, which are themselves "made of carbon wire, heavily forged to strengthen the bend".  The B982 is described as being identical, but made from an even stronger wire gauge.  In sizes up to 10, I have had great confidence in these hooks, and as I made my first cast, I knew that they had never before failed me.  The pond was not particularly pretty, and was set in a coniferous forest, but did look quite fishy, a fact confirmed by the sight of rudd rising, some of which were already being caught by Dave.  Nothing moved for 30 minutes near my own float, but then it slanted away across the surface to the right, and as I picked the rod up I knew it was no rudd.  After a spirited minute or so, during which the fish seemed to reach the odd clump of light weed, the float suddenly came flying back at me.   I had lost the fish, which I was certain had been a very good tench. I initially thought that the line had snagged and broken, but I soon saw that I still had the hook.  The B982 had straightened and was now a 90 degree bend rather than
The Mystery of the Bent Hook.
180, which surprised me, but a greater mystery was that it had also been twisted.   The shank now had a 45 degree twist in it.  I can readily understand how a hook can be rendered straight by a fish, but I cannot imagine how it might also twist the shank.  Never seen this before with any hook type.   I will be doing a few more tests on this hook, to see if it should have bent on a 6 pound line, under probably no more than 3 pounds of tension.  But I have no idea at all why or how it also became twisted.   But the pond had yet another trick to play on me though.

To my right I noticed some trails of tiny bubbles, interspersed with some large clumps of similarly small bubbles. These were not "mythical" bubbles, but had to be caused by fish, and I hoped, by tench. I moved
Tench Bubbles, a Float and a Damsel Fly.
my gear a few yards along the bank.  The bubbles continued to come up in patches all around my float, whilst damsel flies used the float as a staging post. It took me a while to hook the first fish, but they were indeed tench. But not the tench I had hoped for.   I had been expecting fish of a similar calibre to that which I had

Tiny Tench
lost earlier.  Poor deluded soul that I was.  The first tench to take the bait was a fish of about two pounds, which shed the hook. Love-30.   But the match then moved my way and over a couple of hours a dozen tench took the bait and were landed.  They were all rather dark fish, with the eye being more brown than red.  The largest of them was probably only about 12 ounces. The smallest, maybe eight inches long.  I had hit on a large shoal of mini tench, all  bubbling profusely.  Game set and match, but did I win, or was it the pond which beat me?

A Poor Photo I Took of the Red Squirrel
I then had a very rare visitor in the trees nearby, an animal I have not seen for about 40 years, when one ran across the road, as I was going fishing one early morning near Windermere.  A few years before that they used to be common, even in my own town.  It was a red squirrel!   And I had my camera with me.  There was a red squirrel in the fir trees just a few yards away from me. Dave told me that there was a squirrel reserve a few miles away, and that sometimes they strayed away from the daily supply of food in the reserve's squirrel feeders.  A dangerous thing for them to do, I would guess, for when they stray, they are likely to come into contact with the invading grey squirrels, which carry squirrel pox, to which greys are immune.  Not so our red squirrels, who  usually find the pox to be fatal.  It worries me that stray reds might carry the pox back into the reserve, and wipe out all the residents. I assume that greys near the reserve are tightly controlled down to as near zero as possible.  The red squirrel seemed at lot less precocious than the greys, and
Greys Are Far Easier to Photograph Successfully.
although it was around for a few minutes, it only afforded me the odd glimpse, and a couple of snatched photographs.  

I moved back to my original spot, and cast even nearer to the lilies, but as with Dave, all that then came to my bait were small rudd, in ever increasing numbers.  The brighter and hotter the sun became, the more the rudd congregated around my bait, and the more annoying they became. The odd small perch broke the monotony, but the day itself had been very pleasing.

A Dozing Badger.
To make the day complete, as I was closing the gate on the track leading to the water, it was not quite fully dark, but getting there. Two young badgers appeared and were gambolling and chasing each other in the beam from the car's headlights. 
  They enjoyed themselves so for over a minute before eventually disappearing into the vegetation. I think I had also seen one briefly the same morning, well before the sun came up, but was not certain of the I.D..  These two youngsters did not present a good photo opportunity, but I have added a photo I took last year of a badger I caught napping by the roadside.   Only one photo, as the camera click woke and scared it before I could re-focus for a second shot.  I have had a few interesting moments with badgers.  When I had been married just a week, I took the wife through the Macclesfield forest, and there, in broad daylight, sun streaming down ,was a badger.   The only one I had ever seen in daylight at the time.  Twenty five years into my sentence now, and that remains the only badger she has seen.  I will save another tale of a rather angry badger for another time.  

Monday 22 July 2013

What is the Average IQ of a Fish?

Fishing the other day, I happened to pass a couple of carp anglers deep in conversation about their latest captures.   And one was saying to the other something like:
"It took me three days to catch him, only 14 pounds or so but one hell of a challenge. But after a lot of deep  thought I finally outwitted him, and the fish was mine, in the net."
How often have you read something like that? Or heard it on the bank or in a fishing meeting?  A fair few times I should think. Outwitted?

Oh My God, it's a fish!  Just a thick, stupid, slimy, wet fish.   It was hardly you versus Carol Vorderman in an advanced mathematics challenge.  The fish was extremely unlikely to have been discussing the evolution of the Cosmos before you trundled up to interrupt its thought processes by sticking your hook in its lip. Nope: fish are pretty damn stupid creatures, and to claim to have outwitted one, and to have taken three days to do so, is hardly a claim likely to get you into your local pub quiz team.
No, that fish you "outwitted" has probably only got an IQ of about 20...

or has it

My quest for useless facts got the better of me, and so I searched the internet, and googled:
"What is the average IQ of a fish?"  The first answer was from Wikipedia and I quote it here:

Since there are still many species of fish for which no IQ has been measured, the answer to this question is still unknown. However, we do know that IQ depends heavily on the species of fish. For instance, goldfish tend to be very unintelligent, with IQ's measured in the 30-40 range, while some fish (such as freshwater salmon) have had IQ's measured to be as high as 130. To put this in context, President Obama has an IQ of 125. Generally, there is a tendency for fish which live in warmer climates to have higher IQ's. Theories on why this is tend to vary, but there seems to be an emerging consensus that warmer climates are more hospitable to marine life. This leads to increased interspecies competition, and ultimately more evolutionary pressure selecting for intelligence.

So, a salmon is closer to a Mensa membership than is President Obama!   More intelligent than President Reagan, or Ed Milliband maybe,  but I had thought a little better of Obama.

I was of course astonished by this Wiki answer, and looked elsewhere.  These two are probably  more considered views:

Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match or exceed those of 'higher' vertebrates, including nonhuman primates.
a scientific review presented to the Australian Veterinary Association completely disproved the myth that goldfish have three-second memories; instead, the veterinarians found that goldfish have impressive memories and problem-solving abilities.

So, even measured in human terms, fish have certain qualities that can be considered as intellect. I can only assume that, the first article must have in some way evaluated how well fish deal with their usual daily environment, applied an IQ average of 100 to their results, and thence concluded that salmon were 30 points above average. I wonder how they measured these fishy IQs?  They could hardly use a Cattell, or Binet type test.   That goldfish could never grip the pen properly.

So back to our carp angler:  I guess that to outwit a carp, probably a rather more intelligent fish than a goldfish, an IQ of 110+ might have been needed.  So maybe your "outwitting" claim is justified,   but don't apply to Mensa until you have that salmon safely on the bank.

Unlike all others, these two photographs were not taken by me.

Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

And finally:   can your fish play soccer?

Go train your carp.

Angling Myths No.1

This is the first in what may become an occasional series of angling myths.   Basically bits of information doing the rounds, based on either nothing at all, pure speculation, or on incomplete and inaccurate data.  All with the tag "in my opinion" of course.
So: number one.   "Fish cannot see red fishing  line".  
This was doing the rounds a while ago, and still persists  to an extent, mainly in some river fishing, barbel forums and probably elsewhere.  At least a couple of very successful anglers were touting this about, and using red braid on their reels. Practising what they preached of course, but did they have any basis for their thinking?   Well, sort of, but with some very inaccurately applied science. 
The colour red is absorbed more readily by water, becoming less and less intense as the water depth increases, and this effect can be seen quite clearly in all those underwater sea videos, where, unless the camera shot is close to the subject  the whole scene looks bluish.  It is bluish because the red end of the spectrum has been greatly absorbed compared to the blue end.  To get reef fish photographs in true colour it is often necessary to add artificial light before clicking the shutter.
So what happens with red line?   In shallow water, seen at close range by the fish, it remains red, limited absorption of any colour taking place.  At great distances and depths the red component of the line would no longer be visible, BUT the line would then look to be black.   Absence of red light does not mean that the line would then become invisible.  It simply means that there is no red light available to be reflected from the line.  If red light is the only colour to be reflected from that line in air, then in deep water, little red light remains to be reflected from the line. Any object emitting or reflecting no light, or very little light,  appears as black.
The only way to make line invisible in water is to make it from a clear, transparent and colourless material.   And then, additionally, to use a material that has, as far as is possible, the same refractive index as water.  Under those circumstances, light rays pass straight through the line, without being bent as they pass through the line.  In effect the line then appears not to be there.   And that is exactly what some modern lines try to do.  They try to eliminate the "bent stick" effect that you can easily see when you penetrate a water surface with a straight rod.  The rod appears bent, because the refractive index of air is different to that of water.   The objective therefore is to create a line without any of that bent stick effect. I understand lines which get near to this are called Fluorocarbons.   Such lines have their limitations, I am informed that they are usually stiffer than conventional lines,  and there is little advantage to use them as floating lines, because the meniscus effect will still allow them to be seen.
To those who might still subscribe to the invisible red line theory, I would say: "Take your red line, put it into the river.  Can YOU still see it?   Of course you can, and so can the fish."

Wednesday 17 July 2013

A Hybrid, Hedgehogs, and a Dragonfly

I arrived at the Sunday pond a couple of days ago, on Monday, a little later than intended, equipped with just a rod, net, two slices of bread and spare hooks.  My fault I was late, it took me 30 minutes to come to terms with the heat in the house.  I really detest these high temperatures, with my hay fever and the sun's negative effect on the fish, I sometimes wish I was religious so that I could pray for rain.   I have had far more of my fair share of global warming this year.
I was also somewhat tired from watching the hedgehogs the night before. Two of them were doing an odd sort of dance.  The larger of the pair  continually followed the smaller in a clockwise circle, constantly trying to get around the back of her.  I assume these were male and female. The female was having none of this sort of hanky-panky, and constantly kept her head pointing directly at the larger animal.  For over five hours the two kept circling each other, making quiet-ish snuffling sounds, both maintaining enormous patience and determination.   All the fun of Big Brother with even less real action.

Once Upon a Time, There Were Three Hedgehogs...Daddy Hedgehog....
We feed them with meat scraps, seeds, and other odds and sods.  No milk, it being supposedly not very good for them. Bread? How can anything be harmed by Warburton's? But when the have the choice, they usually go for the meat and fat scraps first, followed by the nuts, and if any bread ( part of the day's birdfood) is left, it is usually ignored. Occasionally I put out my maggot box with left over maggots and casters in it.   They invariably tip this over onto its side to get at the contents.  Part way through the hedgehog dance, I noticed that the plastic maggot box was upside down...and moving!   A third, much smaller hedgehog was revealed, and released.  Pleasing, as it would appear the other two have bred successfully this season.   I wonder how many other young are about?  So, the total count for the garden is at least four now.
Back to the bankside. The pond's regular heron was already in residence, and my arrival sent him a little further down the bank.   He had been wading in the water and a grey scum  was floating in the margins.   Herons are covered with a grey powder that is supposed to deter the slime of eels and such from contaminating their  feathers.  As far as I know the powder comes naturally, and the Nog has no need for a 45 minute make up session before venturing out each morning.

Arriving at 5AM though, I thought I had missed the best of the pond fishing.  I cast into a three yard wide channel that someone had dragged into the solid Elodea, as near to the left hand weed edge as my poor casting would allow. The bread was taken within a couple of minutes, by a fish which rocketed across the channel, and buried itself in the thick weed  so rapidly that I had no chance to react.  I had lost fish like this before,  but by holding constant pressure on, the fish, along with about a cubic foot of Canadensis , was slowly drawn towards the bank.   At the edge I had the choice of netting the whole weedball, and hoping that the fish was still in it, or of removing the weed, and allowing the fish to make a break for it.   I chose the latter course, and a very lively two pound carp tested my brand new John Wilson Avon travel rod.   A very speedy fish, and as I netted it I was convinced it must be a small wild carp.   But it did not look right, and "not looking right" is my
Carp/Goldfish Hybrid...I Think.
primary diagnostic tool for hybrid identification, a closer examination showing it to have just two, tiny barbules similar to those sported by tench.  Previous captures from the pond have included small carp, both mirrors and commons, and some purebred crucian carp.  I have never seen any fairground goldfish in the pond, although it is so clear and shallow that both I and the heron would have seen them.  Uncoloured goldfish remain a possibility, for I am fairly sure that this fish was a cross between a carp and an uncoloured goldfish. It may not of course have been born in the pond. The first such fish I have caught.  It was certainly not any sort of crucian hybrid, which rather limits the remaining options. Apart from a tiny roach of a couple of ounces, I was to get no more bites.  I packed up before nine o'clock, to go home for breakfast.   As I did so, two guys arrived, sat in the full sun, having carried two mountainous packs of bait and tackle to the swim.  I cannot understand why any angler would need so much gear to fish a tiny pond, just two feet deep. Having tackled up they cast very short, to where they would be very obvious, and easily seen by the fish.  Crazy. 

A jay had landed on the far bank a few times, before the anglers, to pick up traces of bait left by an angler the day before.  On the third visit, it was seen off by a magpie.  The magpie had a small white object in its beak. It parted the grass, and deposited the object between the blades.   It then plucked other pieces of grass and used them to cover over its little treasure trove.  I had meant, when I finished fishing, to go and see what it was that the bird had so carefully hidden, but had forgotten all about it as I left.  Magpies are intelligent birds though.   Many years ago, on very hot and still summer's morning, I fished the Macclesfield Canal very early.  The surface was exuding a lot of mist, and had a sort of dusty look, probably caused by a coating of plant pollen or something similar. Absolutely flat calm, so completely flat that a magpie was taken in and tried to land on the water. It succeeded.  But it could not take off again, feathers made too heavy with absorbed water.   My side of the canal had a foot high concrete edging, and the other side had been shuttered with those awful metal pilings.  The bird was going to find getting out quite difficult. What the bird did next astonished me.  It flapped its way across the canal surface, directly towards me, stopping as it reached the margins, just a few inches from the bank, and right in front of me.  It then looked up at me, in a way that I could only describe as pleading.  Magpies normally stay well clear of people, but this one allowed me to lift it from the water onto the towpath.  With a shake of its feathers and a couple of ungrateful attempts to take a piece out of my finger it flew off. It is difficult for me not to imagine that the bird knew that its only chance of rescue lay with me. But I'll let the reader make up his own mind on that one.

Pine? Spruce?  Larch? 
Another evening, another tench water, and another blank in progress.  A new water for me, yet again. Nice pine trees. A shoal of about fifty, four inch rudd constantly swam past me, back and forth, to and fro.  They swam at a speed that was far too great for this hot weather.  A solitary perch swam with them. Billy No Mates, or rather Percy No Pals?  A few tench rolled, and a cluster of twenty or so carp were to be seen basking in the sun, mouths and dorsals breaking the surface tension.  Only one bite during the night, and I missed it.  But I suddenly noticed a dragonfly larva was climbing up the edge of my bait box.   My boredom was relieved by watching the dragonfly hatch out.  It broke out of its old exoskeleton and gripped it as it dried its wings.  The wings were slowly inflated, as was the insect's abdomen.  I could see that the abdomen was slowly  filling up with air. The final insect was at least twice as long as the box it came out of.   Not even the wife could have repacked that.   It climbed onto my finger for a photograph before it eventually flew

Common Darter Dragonfly?
off across the lake.   I suspect it was a common darter dragonfly ( Sympetrum striolatum ) , but I am no expert, and I suspect it had not developed its full colour at the time making identification difficult.  Metamorphosis in dragonflies seems rather different to that of butterflies.  There is no intermediate chrysalis stage.  So it all seems very science fiction.  The dragonfly, somewhat compressed, is nevertheless complete inside the shell skeleton of the dragonfly larva.  It must be operating the skeleton from inside, rather like a robot similar to those depicted in the film Avatar.  With caterpillars, the "unripe" chrysalis is already formed inside the final caterpillar skin.  The Chrysalis itself must therefore be operating the caterpillar's legs, all N+1 of them.  I assume that the legs must break off as the Chrysalis performs its final moult, shedding the caterpillar skin.  Nature stranger than fiction.  I really must try to learn a little more about metamorphosis, fascinating subject.  How it evolved I have no idea, yet so very many insects use the process.  I read somewhere that the contents of the chrysalis turn to mush, and just sort of re-arrange themselves into a moth or butterfly.   I am sure that must be an oversimplification, but the fact remains that this is an astonishing process, and to me rates higher, as a wonder of the world, than does the Grand canyon. Metamorphosis, along with the origins of the Universe, are likely to be problems remaining unsolved when I finally depart this earth. 
So a plea to all the cosmologists and biologists out there: get your heads into gear and solve these two problems for as quick as you can. (That includes you Sandra!). I don't want to be reading the solutions when my brain has started to pickle with age.

Friday 12 July 2013

Tench: Little and Large

Well, the tench are still calling me, to the exclusion of other species, so my apologies for the monotony of my blog at the moment.  I caught my first tench about fifty tears ago, and even now, when I have a tench on the bank, the sun shining onto its flank, I am still amazed by that green colour. Why does a bottom living fish need to have such fabulous colouration?  Anyway, I have had a couple of tench trips these last few days. But very different in their nature.  One to a recognised tench lake, the other to my Sunday challenge pond.

I arrived early, before the sun did, at  the tench lake.  The surface was half covered in the scum that accumulates in very still conditions, with it covering the far side of the lake from me.   Conditions during the previous day were hot and humid, and nothing seemed as if it would change.    I suspected that the fish would feed early, if at all, and concentrated on getting a baited area set up some fifteen or twenty yards out.  I chose to fish fairly light, with four pound line and 12 hooks ( small for me!).  Maggots, that ever reliable tench bait would be on the hook.    The first cast produced a bootlace eel, but the second fish was a scrapper, a very good tench of 6-10, which after only a brief journey into the lilies, was landed, photographed and returned safely.   A kingfisher flew past about this time, returning a minute or so later, speeding a foot above the water.   The light was still insufficient to show the electric blue of the bird, but its identity was obvious.
Three other, smaller tench were landed, and three lost over the next three hours or so.  One lost to the lilies, one to a hook pull and one to a careless angler from the past.  A few fish in this lake have damage to their mouths, caused by people who do not take proper care when unhooking their fish.   Consequently, what I thought was a hook pull was not. A small piece of tench lip remained on the hook after I reeled in, following the loss of the fish.  I must have hooked into a remnant of a lip.  Some say that carp anglers are to blame, anglers who care only for their precious carp.  I suspect it is more general than that, just anglers eager to get the hook out quickly, but not skilled enough to deal properly with a deep seated hook in a tench's tough lip.  I appeal to all anglers to take their time unhooking fish, and if they do not have the skill level needed, then they should stay with barbless hooks.   I had intentionally put out a few floating casters on the edge of the scum, and two or three carp were nonchalantly sucking them in. One carp, maybe a little over nine pounds, but under ten, came as a bonus fish, having taken my legered maggots.   It fought well on the tench gear, and I struggled for a while to contain it in a small clear area amongst the lilies.    It prompted me to try four casters, next time in, and another  slightly larger carp quickly took those, giving a reel screeching bite.  The baitrunner was overpowered, and the reel revolved rapidly in reverse as the carp scorched off towards the horizon.  It too was eventually played in the lily gap, but made a final and successful bid for freedom into the deeper stalks. Bites predictably dried up as the sun rose higher.

It's Ashes time again, and I wonder if, whilst sitting biteless, I should plug in and listen.  My memory has, so far, been unable to remember to  find the headphones and spare battery pack that came with my new-fangled mobile phone, and until I do remember, the test matches will remain well away from the lakeside.   Whenever I mention cricket, someone pops up and throws in the Brian Johnston commentary about "The batsman's Holding, the..."   You know the one.   But few remember the far more subtle, and far ruder comment made by  commentator Alan Gibson, who said 
"This is Cunis at the Vauxhall End. Cunis, a funny sort of name: neither one thing nor the other."   A very clever comment, and I forgive him the crudity. But poor old Cunis, I bet he has suffered from that remark.

But no headphones today, so I spent the biteless moments watching the great crested grebes.   A month or so ago they had 4 tiny chicks, which spent much of their time riding together on mum's back, whilst the male bird brought them an astonishing number of small fish.  The female did her guard duty with immense dedication, but did not fish herself.  A month later and the four chicks are

A Small Fish is Offered to the Piggy Back Chicks (Last Month)
four fifths grown.   The parents fish far less.  One chick has attached itself to each parent grebe, and defends that parent against all comers.   That includes the 3rd and 4th chicks, and even the odd coot.   Luckily the other two chicks are well able to dive, and although I didn't see them catch any fish, I suspect they are well able to succeed.   I watched a parent with two chicks last year on another water.   Again, one chick repeatedly drove away the second, thus getting all the fish for itself.   As the day progressed that parent bird joined in to chase away the other chick.  I suspect it did not survive.  I knew that adult coots kill some of their young, but had not seen grebes being less that perfect as parents before.  Better parents are the pair of resident mute swans.  For a month the cob has been chasing the mallards around the lake, with astonishing displays of aggression.   Even occasionally taking wing to chase the ducks.   The mallards are obviously not happy with this, but are easily able to keep well out of neck's reach.  The swan is not bright enough to realise that it is never going to catch a mallard, and is never going to drive them from the lake.  So it continues to chase ducks, and so remains a nuisance to all, including the anglers present. 

Things were different on the Sunday pond: a couple of herons jousted for position, but otherwise all was peaceful.

A Heron, Flying over the Sunday Pond.                                                                                                                                   .
  The young moorhens were very independent of the parent birds, rarely going back to them. Very outgoing despite being little more than half grown. I fished a tiny clearing in the prolific pondweed, casting a float into a clear space a couple of feet square. It produced a couple of three ounce tench, as expected, a mini rudd, a small bream and a twelve ounce mirror carp.   A second mirror carp of maybe four pounds ( nearly as big as they go in the pond) exited stage left into the weeds and was instantly lost. A second, a little smaller, shed the hook.   I have yet to see any tench over about a quarter of a pound from this pond. I was told that there used to be 2 or 3 good fish which spawned successfully two or three times, leading to the goodly numbers of tiny tench that I now see.   But, I watched three or four of these small tench chasing each other between the weeds in what I suspect was spawning related activity.  Maybe it was, or maybe the sun brought out high spirits.  most odd: I have always seen tench as being a serious minded sort of fish.

Thursday 4 July 2013

There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden

Well, not quite fairies,  more furries.    And maybe not so much furry as spiny.  Yes, the hedgehogs are with us for another year.  They have visited our patio, below the bird tables, for at least the last three years.  This year we have at least two, probably three different animals.  We leave out a few nuts, and occasionally scraps of meat on the patio, and invariably about dusk they come out to feed. 
A Hedgehog Emerges Late Evening
We think a couple of them live underneath next door's conservatory, and they emerge through the base of the separating privet hedge, and head straight for the nuts and water dish.  Recently they have become ever less cautious, and the first one now appears in fairly good daylight.    As long as we move slowly, and don't shine bright lights they tend to ignore us completely.   If we should disturb them, they retreat quite slowly into the hedgerow. I understand that their only natural enemy, the only one strong enough to unroll their protective ball, is the badger.  Unfortunately we don't have badgers at the bottom of our garden.  The occasional fox drifts through, but not a single striped face ever ventures near.
Another, on the Lawn
Last night there were two, one of which had rolled itself up into a ball.  The other was rolling it around like a football.  Very odd, some sort of mating/bonding ritual?   Unlikely to be mating as I feel they would have got over all that nonsense months ago.
The spines on a hedgehog, unlike porcupines and puffer fish, seem to stick out in all directions, the ultimate bad hair day. Individual spines seem almost to interweave between the other prickles.
We first knew about the hedgehogs some 15 years ago, when a young, dead one was found on the pathway.   I sadly consigned it to the compost heap and thought no more about it.  That week we had a visit from a couple of my Australian cousins.  Two girls, in their twenties shared our spare bedroom.  Mel wanted, more than anything, so see a hedgehog.   I have no idea why, coming from Australia, land of the echidna, that she would want to see our dumbed down UK version, the hedgehog.  I didn't show her the dead one, but she was soon to feel its presence.  
It appears that the poor thing had died from a surfeit of hedgehog fleas.  Most hedgehogs have fleas, but no more than would cause them minor discomfort.  This one must have had so many that they may have sucked out most of its blood.   A dead hedgehog, drained of blood it is no longer a suitable home for fleas, and so they left in droves.  We did not of course know all this at the time.   Fleas can remain dormant, waiting to pounce for years.  These did not wait years, but days at most, and jumped up onto any passing animal.   Mainly us.  As we walked along the paths, so the fleas must have been leaping onto our trousers.  By these means they quickly spread throughout both the house and garden.   Having established themselves in the house, the presence of huge reservoirs of Australian blood seemed to act like magnets for them.  Hedgehogs fleas seem to have wider tastes than just hedgehog blood. My wife and I had a couple of bites, and had begun to suspect the evil plot our dead hedgehog had hatched, but we could see many more bites on my cousins' legs.   We said nothing and hoped they had not noticed.   But how embarrassing, a flea ridden house when visitors arrive!
After Mel and Michelle had left we had to call in a specialist, who sprayed both house and garden with some sort of fluid, problem solved.   But we shall certainly be more careful of how we dispose of any dead animals in the future.
As I was writing this a young greenfinch flew into the lounge window.   At this time of year our lounge window is one hazard young inexperienced birds have to learn about.  We get several goldfinches, greenfinches and bullfinches most years.  Most fly off again, a few knock themselves out.  My wife picked up the greenfinch, cupped it in her hands for about twenty minutes and them placed it near the bird feeders, where, a few minutes later, it recovered well enough to fly off. 
A Young, Groggy, Greenfinch

You can see, in the photo, that its foot is still curled up.  The bird was not sufficiently awake yet to open its feet.  Many birds have tendons that make their feet curl up naturally, unless the bird intentionally opens out the claws.  It is a mechanism that allows them to perch whilst asleep, without falling off. So much for the dead parrot sketch: it is quite possible that a Norwegian Blue would have never fallen off its perch. Time for a  re-write, Mr Cleese.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Better Late Than Never.

This post is not about the funeral I attended last week, the funeral of a distant, occasional, acquaintance.  I felt quite guilty during the ceremony, as, for some reason, I was unable to stop thinking up some rather black jokes.  One was, as the coffin was carried in, dead on time: "It's not like him to be late".  Wondering why the crematorium only switched on the central heating as people were leaving, was in equally bad taste, but I suspect, that had he been able to hear, Dave would have appreciated the jokes. I did feel bad about it, but sometimes the mind wanders, especially on a day when I was completely unable to penetrate the thick Irish accent of the officiating priest.  Such is life, and death I guess, and I do hope that, as I finally go myself, that people are able to watch with a smile on their faces...even if it is a smile that says, "Thank god we finally got rid of the old bugger".
Sand martins Nesting Near the Mersey
In contrast to the ceremony, the swifts on Monday were having a wild time. They were constantly flying at great speed, with many an instantaneous change of direction, often so close to the water surface that it was miraculous that they never made the slightest mistake. They remained dry at all times, never even scraping the water surface. Their flight was pure perfection. They did make a few sounds, but not the shrieks and screams that they sometimes utter when chasing each other.  They seemed to be using me as part of their aerial games. As I sat by the lake or walked the bank, birds would often zoom past me, at full speed, missing me by inches, so close I could feel the backwash of air as they passed.  As I fished the tench lake again, it was obvious that these birds were enjoying both life, and their ability to fly, to the absolute full.  About twenty swallows, a handful of  house martins, and a couple of sand martins joined in the spectacle, each species flying in their own distinct style, styles which even change with the weather, with the rain, the wind or even the sun.  As I said last week, house martins seem to fly very low in rain, and swifts sometimes disappear completely. I usually only see sand martins near rivers, where they nest either in sand tunnels they build themselves, or if feeling lazy, in man-made drainage pipes, or gaps in old brickwork.
I had arrived at the lake fairly late myself. On the journey down, notices on the motorway signage, suggested that there had been a bad crash, with resultant major delays, a few miles before my intended turnoff. So I had placed my whereabouts into the hands of the pleasant lady who sits in my old Satnav. I don't argue with her very often, and on this occasion she guided me along unknown, but interesting roads as we got ever nearer to the water.  The journey took an extra hour, and, having baited the swim, I finally cast the two rods in at or around 6pm. I had the lake to myself, probably over a hundred acres of flat calm water. By ten o'clock it was becoming evident that I had the lake more to myself than I thought: for, despite constant flat calm conditions I had yet to see a fish move. Fish are also affected by the weather, and change their behaviour to suit.   But here I had fish that had changed their behaviour compared to their habits of last week, and under weather conditions that looked very similar.  It was thirty minutes later that I saw the first fish ringing the surface. Too late for any bright water, a roach or other small fish, it surfaced about a hundred yards away. The next fish to move was a good fish, of unknown species, which rolled just three or four yards from my baited patch.   This was a great confidence booster: rolling there, so near to my bait, it must have been a feeding fish. Ten minutes later a similar fish rolled, 30 yards off, and moving away.  The confidence level dropped a couple of notches. Confidence in a feeding fish was replaced by the thought that, in reality,  only coincidence had governed where that fish was.

Dawn, and Not a Ripple to be Seen.
The night passed, warm and still, with only two line bites to show for it, and those were caused by Daubenton's bats hitting the line, rather than by fish. Very few fish moved overnight, or at dawn. Those that broke the surface did so in a very disinterested way. A shame, for they would have seen a rather nice orange sky as the sun rose. The swifts returned and continued their wild games. I have no idea how they gain so much energy from just the odd midge or two.  They constantly seem to fly at full speed on their swept back sickle wings. Their flight is so efficient that I cannot understand why so many of our early aeronautical pioneers ever thought that pairs , or even trios of wings on their early biplanes and tri-planes were a good idea. Why did they not just copy the birds?

By oh seven hundred hours I was ready to give up, and slowly started to pack away my gear.  The rucksac was packed, the chair folded, umbrella (unused) packed away. Bait was packed.  Everything but the two rods and the landing net was packed.  I had even removed the screw in rod rests from the bank sticks.  The rods were then simply resting, butt rings atop the bank sticks. My glow bobbins, a variation on a device I invented 45 years ago were returned to the tackle box. I had previously used dough bobbins, made from real bread pinched onto the line, but dark nights and the availability of beta lights had triggered a burst of creativity.  Maybe I should have patented the idea all those years ago. But no doubt others would have had similar ideas at the same time. I might have called them glough bobbins...or if I fell into the modern trend to reduce everything to absurdity: Glo-Bos.  Yeuck!  These days I use Star Lights instead. Modern betalights are very dim by comparison.  My old betas are still brighter than their modern equivalent, 40 years on. Tritium gas has become scarce, and so much less is used in each glass vial. The half life of Tritium, at a little over twelve years, suggests that only a tenth the quantity of the active gas is now used.  Go check your old GCE Physics books for an explanation of that.  :-).   To compensate the price has increased tenfold.

As I reached out to pack the first rod, its tip twitched, and I struck into a nice tench of just over five pounds.  It fought reasonably well, right up to the net.  I still, working on old school fish sizes, weigh any tench I think will make five pounds, and detached the net from its handle to do so.  I then carried the fish, still in the net, back to the water and watched it swim away. As I did so the second rod lurched sideways off its precarious stand, and I was into a second fish.  A far better fish to judge from the dogged, solid fight.  It held deep and slow, characteristic of a big old tench, rather than a carp. I walked backward up the bank to retrieve the landing net handle from 15 yards behind me, and with some difficulty, re-attached the net as I played the fish. A superb scrapper, a female tench of exactly seven pounds was landed, weighed and photographed.  Two very late fish indeed, but better then than never.  So I stayed on, figuring that my baited area had at last been found, and that more fish were headed my way.   They were not, and the two fish were to remain my total bag.  Not a bad haul though, late as it had been in the session.

I did manage to watch a little vole, of unknown species, but chestnut in colour, messing about in daylight near some unused groundbait.   I failed to photograph it, as the battery pack in my camera had given up on life just after the fish photos were taken.   I have only seen voles twice, and on both occasions they have avoided my camera.  This little beast did manage to chew through my bait bag whilst I was not watching though.  I have also only seen one shrew, many years ago now.   Again in daylight.  I caught a movement in the grass, and saw the shrew.  I approached closer, and it ignored my waving hand, and appeared not to understand me as I told it to "Shoo shrew!". Eventually I was able to get very close, and stroked it for twenty or thirty seconds before it unconcernedly ambled away into the undergrowth.

So in short, an interesting expedition, very much up and down, with a couple of good fish very late into the bag.  We all tend to have that last cast, and that "final" last cast, and maybe even one more for luck.  This day's fishing showed how important those last casts can be.

Monday 1 July 2013

Swifts, House Martins, a Lonesome Tench and Utter Rubbish.

Another trip to the tench lake, a 2 night session.   For much of the first day, the sky was thick with swifts, and if it is ever possible to estimate numbers of such fast moving birds, heading in all directions, then there were about two hundred of them.  Every one giving a superb demonstration of how to fly: none of that Red Arrows amateurish rubbish.   They were, I am sure, picking up a lot of very small insects, far too small for me to see.  They do sometimes take larger prey, and some years ago, up in the Lake District, I watched a large mayfly hatch and slowly fly up, no more than a foot from my face.  As it drew level with my eyes, there was a brown horizontal flash, and the insect disappeared, having been taken by a swift at full speed.  A solitary wing was all that remained, spiralling slowly back towards the water. Quite a moment.  Swifts must hit their food at quite a speed, and for large flies there must be a significant impact into the mouth of the bird.  On the second day of fishing, it rained, and the swifts disappeared. I wonder whether they were seeking shelter from the rain, or maybe protecting their eyes from it?  In order to take insects at such speeds their vision must surely be partly binocular, with the eyes pointing at least partially forward . Raindrops at speed are unpleasant, so maybe the swifts avoid them?  The swifts were replaced by some fifty or so house martins, flying happily in the rain, and for the most part, just an inch or two above the water surface.  Their wingtips, on the downstroke, were millimetres from the surface for much of the time, yet never did a single wingtip touch the surface.  Brilliant little fliers.

It was probably silly of me to spend so long by the lake, thereby getting in trouble with the wife, and especially as the second night proved biteless. Not so much as a line bite to suggest that there were fish anywhere near me.  But the first day did produce one reasonable tench, a little over five pounds, and two or three missed bites.      After the fish, I had beautiful, flat float bites on each of the next three casts, each coming about five minutes after the cast.  Obviously tench....or were they?

I was concerned that I had missed three easy bites, from a species that is normally quite easy to hook.  And after some thought, and a sanity check, I realised that none of these three flat float incidents were due to tench.  I like to fish fairly light, and, in order to get a light float rig out some 20 yards, I had moulded a small blob of loose groundbait around my shot.   This achieved two things: a longer, but  easy cast, and some bait very near the hook.   The groundbait was mixed just hard enough to remain on during the cast, but I am now sure it was staying on the shot, for a while longer: about five minutes or so longer.  It was then soft enough to  fall away the shot.   However it appears that I had lost one of my BB shot earlier, and the remaining two were no longer sufficient to cock the float.  Hence, after five minutes, the groundbait, which had been ensuring that the float remained cocked, melted away, and the float  slowly lay flat.   Missed bites, but no fish were present.  A lesson learned.  Had I not realised what was happening I would have written some rubbish about missed bites, had a minor rant, and been guilty of writing before thinking.   "Obviously tench" was complete rubbish.

But in angling a great deal is said, and written, without thought, or knowledge, or evidence.  And it is produced by all types, from novices to experts. More utter crap is written about angling than about all other sports added together...and yes, that does include football.

Following a couple of words in one of my earlier posts I will try to get across the full stupidity of one conversation I recently heard, between two carp anglers.   They had been fishing one particular lake for a year or so, and had taken, between them, some 50 carp, almost all doubles. the split was something like 26/24 to the two anglers.   The angler with 24 fish, had taken carp to 27 pounds.   The second guy had caught, amongst his fish, a couple of low 30 pound fish.  In the conversation he was crowing about how he was therefore the better angler.   Both 30's had fallen to his rod, and he had also caught more fish.  Total rubbish of course, and looks very much like a "luck of the draw", cookie crumbling result to me. But what amazed me most of all was that the second angler, he with a best fish of only 27 pounds, agreed entirely with his mate!

I rarely watch angling on the TV, but occasionally lapse.   I quite enjoy the River Monsters, and The Robson Green series of programmes, probably because both are just intended to entertain, rather than educate.  The River Monsters gets quite funny at times, because "our Jeremy" seems to find ultimate danger everywhere he looks, the danger being exaggerated out of all proportions.  How he gets out of bed in a morning without a risk assessment is a mystery to me.  Educational angling programmes are another thing altogether, and often contain more of the  "utter rubbish" to which I referred earlier.  TV angling journalists are not exempt.  Consult Matt Hayes on how to hook maggots, and you are advised to carefully hook them through the blunt end, thus not damaging them.  John Wilson, in the same week's TV, said that it mattered not a bit how you put the hook in, and a bit of fluid leaking from the maggot would spread the amino acids about to entice the fish.  A or B?  You choose.    Another Matt Hayes programme advised how to tell whether a carp had ever been caught before.  He showed, on a carp he had just caught, a curtain of soft tissue just inside the carp's mouth.   The curtain was complete, unbroken, and, therefore, apparently, a sign that the fish had never been caught before. But...but...but...he had just caught the fish...and yet its curtain was still intact.  So he released a fish, curtain intact, and the next angler to catch it will also think it is a virgin fish, never hooked before?  And surely, if Matt had hooked and landed the fish, the curtain should have been damaged during the process?   Therefore you should never see an intact curtain?  Clearly matt should have said, that the more often a fish is caught, the more likely that the curtain will show damage.
 All of this shows it that those at the peak of our angling tree are just as prone to making stupid statements as the rest of us are.   I try to temper my wilder ideas with "possiblys" and "probablys", to provide me with escape routes, but will, I guess, still sometimes spout junk myself.  I apologize in advance for any such lapses, and please, feel free to comment.  I don't expect angling journalism, or pub chats to change, and the rubbish will remain as intact as Matt's Carp's curtain did.  I can only advise that, to think about the angling yourself, is as much likely to produce results as just listening to others.