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.

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