Friday 22 July 2016

A Leopard Cannot Change its Spots....But

The last time I fished the river my car was broken into, the window smashed, leaving me with a bill for over £300. I had fished from 4am until 8am, and was not expecting trouble during those hours, but the area must have had round the clock vandalism. Yobbos who get up early!  Whatever next?  I had not been back to this inner city river since then, but the time had now come, I had learned of a new parking spot, and after some truly devastating floods of the winter I needed to see whether the fish were still present.  I travelled light, arrived early and parked...although the car park looked quite desolate, next to a crumbling shopping parade. A feeling of post Armageddon remained, and I once again worried about the safety aspect of leaving the car there, but crossing fingers I grabbed my gear, abandoned  the car to what I thought was its probable fate and wandered down to the river.   The river has been extensively tailored for flood control, but now is largely neglected.  It is full of the varied debris cast in by uncaring locals, and luxuriant growths of giant hogweed suggest that the local council also cares not too much for the watercourse either.    The river was low, and clear, revealing that, at the bottom of the floodbanks, the river bed is that of a spate river, rocky and having extremely variable depths and flows.

I was seeking a chub, and spotting a deeper looking area, some eight yards by four, I lobbed a large lump of breadflake, on a light leger, to the far edge of the deeper water, into which it sank from sight. Three feet, maybe four feet of water.  Less than two minutes has passed before a vicious bite pulled the rod tip around, and a good solid thumping passed its way up the carbon fibre.  In the heavier current closer in, it was difficult to control, and it used its deep profile to good effect in the current, for it was no chub, but a bream.    A male, something over five pounds, in excellent condition, with only faint traces of spawning tubercles remaining on its head.  My first bream from one of the more rapid sections of the river. A significant fish, because I felt that, if a bream could survive the winter's major flood, then everything else could do so too.  Although, having seen the river at the time, God only knows how they survived.

A Very Healthy River Bream.
A fish, in broad daylight, within minutes. So I was convinced that , bream being shoal fish, the spot would give up some more of the species.   It didn't.   But a cast into some faster, streamier water produced another bite, and another fish.   This time a brown trout of maybe twelve ounces.  It surged upstream powerfully, and when landed, displayed that gorgeous greenish brown colour, speckled with red and black spots. A good looking truly wild fish. I was far less surprised to catch the trout than I was the bream.  The swim went dead, with no more signs of life, other than about a hundred Canada geese, a few swallows, swifts, house martins, sandmartins, mallards and goosanders, two herons.   All were appreciative of the river. A flotilla of twenty goosanders moved upstream. 

The Upper Quartile of the Goosanders
 They dived down together, like a squadron of U-boats, bent on sinking every small fish they found.  These may well be just one female with its young.  I don't know the maximum egg count that a goosander might lay, but I certainly saw one female on another local stream with 15 very young chicks in tow.   These must have been from a single clutch of eggs, so nineteen seems possible too. These nineteen were all pretty much full grown, and so the stretch of river has provided enough food, enough small fish for twenty birds.  Yet I see very few small fish at all. Do they only eat fish?

I moved a few hundred yards upstream. The new swim, on another river, would have screamed grayling at me, but there are no grayling here and so chub were still on the menu, chef''s speciality of the day.  But when the bite came, it was once more no chub.  Another bream: and from quite fast water.  And larger than the first.   Over the next few hours three more decent bream were landed, the largest being a very plump fish of a bit over seven pounds. Four others shed the hook, which in retrospect, may have been a little too small.  Back in the late sixties, early seventies, bream of this size were rare, rare enough to be included in a photograph in the later editions of Walker's Still Water Angling.   There is a lot of suggestion that today's far bigger fish are the exclusive result of the use of large amounts of high protein bait.  But this river is rarely fished, and is not subject to much bait being input at all.   I have to therefore advance the theory that the mild winters of the last decade or two, have also made a major contribution to the growth rates of our fish species. So many waters produce so many big fish these days that it surely cannot be otherwise?

The final fish of the day also powered its way upstream when hooked, and gave a very good scrap indeed, one totally different from the breams' fights, which had utilised the currents on their flanks to make landing them difficult.   This last fish proved to be a trout.  And a good one at 2-11.  But this fish did not have the characteristic features of the earlier brownie, it was silver, with black star shaped spotting, all the spots being black, with a white underbelly.  

Trout or Sea Trout?  That is the Question.  
 These were all the signs I had been told to look out for in a sea trout.  But I still have little confidence in my abilities to correctly identify a sea trout so asked around. And as is usual, those I asked were split in their opinions,   some said brownie, some said sea trout, and  slob trout was mentioned as well.  One angler, for whom I have the greatest respect suggested that it was a brownie because sea trout have slate grey fins.  All in all it is hard not to come to the conclusion that no-one really knows, and that unless  a fish is caught actually in the sea, or very near to the sea, no one seems to be sure.   The problem is compounded by the simple fact that brown and sea trout are the same species,  some fish choosing to migrate downstream from the rivers, others deciding to remain. 
Whilst in the river as parr, very young trout, I have to assume that all the fish look pretty much identical, all therefore having some red and some black spots amongst those lilac coloured parr marking stripes.   Then some head for the sea, pausing in the estuary to acclimatize to the changed conditions, adjusting to the salt content.   I would expect there to be some internal body changes, if only to the chemistry dealing with salt.    But once in the sea it would seem that, unlike leopards, trout can change their spots, and the red spots disappear, sea trout only having black spots.    It seems unlikely that the arrangement of spots, or their number, could change, so I must assume that  the red ones become black and that they possibly change in shape to a more star like spot.   There are many more questions that I have.     To what extent do the fish change as their re-exposure to fresh water progresses.   Do any decide to then remain in the river rather than returning to the sea?  After some time would their red spots then return?   Do sea trout interbreed with the river's resident brownies?    And do their fins slowly turn from slate grey to a more brown colour?    Fish in the local rivers are very variable, and I have caught a few fish that look very silvery, yet may well be browns.  But are these actually long stay sea trout in the process of reverting to look live resident fish ( or perhaps heading back towards the sea)?   Were all silvery coloured browns once sea trout?   Will they ever become indistinguishable from wild brownies?  Do any adult browns head off to the sea? Why is it all so bloody difficult?  Does ANYONE really know?

I am having trouble with the moon as well.  The moon is just NOT right.  It is behaving oddly.   When I first went to the Far East, near to the Equator, one of the first things I noticed there, was that
the moon was sitting sideways in the sky.   It did not take much thought to realise that a half moon in the tropics is either the top half, or the bottom half.  The locals accept this as normal, only getting significantly confused when they see the DreamWorks Film Logo.

But I am now confused back home, OUR moon is not right.  I have observed this problem before but never figured out the solution to it.  I even asked an Astrophysicist to explain.   But she was French and probably did not understand the question. On some days, depending upon how the earth, Moon and Sun and juxtaposed, the moon can be visible in daylight. Such was the case a few days ago. 
Moon, Just before Sundown, Camera Held Horizontally.
So: here is the moon, last week, just before  sunset.   You will note that is it a 3/4 moon.  Waxing or waning?   No idea but that is irrelevant.  As I took the photograph, the sun was about to set over my right shoulder, at an estimated angle of 135 degrees to the right of where I was pointing the camera. The moon does not shine by itself of course, it shines due to reflected sunlight.   And the reason we see some parts of the moon as dark, or invisible, is that, that part is where the sun don't shine.    Now it seems to be fairly simple logically, to deduce that the brightest part of the moon should be that directly facing the sun, but as can be seen in the photo, the brightest part of the moon is its upper right edge, and is pointing up into the sky at an angle of about 45 degrees...WHILST THE SUN IS ON THE HORIZON TO MY RIGHT.   Why was it not looking something like the dreamworks moon?    This is not a one off, but a constant feature of how the moon can appear. I have tried to figure out what I am missing in this interpretation, but so far have not twigged.  I cannot look at the moon these days without being annoyed that there is something about it that I fail to understand...and it is in all probability, blatantly obvious, a forehead slapping realisation, a "How can I have been such an idiot? " moment.  I get a few of those.

P.S.  It was waxing, as it went to full moon  days later.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Back Down by the River.

Well, it's June 25th (or was when I wrote that), the river season is well under way, young life of all sorts is aboundingly plentiful, the rivers ponds and lakes have never looked greener...and I have to go to a bloody wedding.  I used to be good, well brilliant actually,  at avoiding weddings, always found perfectly feasible reasons not to attend, reasons that did not upset the bride and groom.  It is not so easy these days. I also have to not upset the wife.   I knew it was a mistake, attending that first wedding: my own.  I am now lumbered, having to go to other peoples' weddings too. My two brothers have each had three weddings.  I attended, of those six, none!    My youngest brother was first off the mark, and he knew in advance that I would not be there, even without asking me.  He was bright enough to know that all those years ago, fishing came first. He is suffering though as a result of an early leap into wedlock, and is already a great grandfather, poor sod.
But this today is now the third wedding I have been to.  That is one every fourteen years since I got married. Not even the wedding of a close relative, but the son of one of the wife's friends.  Worryingly the lady has two other sons in the pipeline leading towards the aisle.  Only a couple of days into Brexit and already I have to wear a damned tie. Of a colour chosen by my wife.  It is truly awful, and has a look resembling that flick-flack paint popular on some cars a few years ago, the tie veering between purple and blue as the light affects it.  We leave Europe and see what happens: immediate disaster: the pound drops, stock market tumbles, weddings and ties!   I am sure Brinit would have been a far better choice by far.  I dislike the term Brexit intensely, but at least they never thought of saying Brinit.  Had they done so, no doubt we would have had to suffer slogans such as "It's Brinit, innit, to winit?"    I'll have to pause here, whilst I explain to Nina that it is customary for guests to try to outdo neither the bride, nor the bride's mother, in the fashion stakes.  I don't have any chance of changing her mind of course (although she will change it herself a number of times herself in the long runup to actually wearing something), and she will be late as usual, after making damn sure she is right up there front running with the other red carpet dressers and posers.

Two hours to go and I watch a young magpie near the bird feeders. Its plumage does not yet have the precise black and white sharp definition of a fully grown bird. It likes bread, but has not yet learned the tricks of the adults, who always dunk dry bread into the water bath before eating it.  The garden is busy with young dunnocks, goldfinches, robins, blue, coal and great tits, blackbirds and the occasion jay.  Many of these nested in the garden this year.  The jackdaws, nesting on a neighbours roof have not yet brought their own young down to feed, but they will, at which time the magpie/jay/jackdaw three way fights are likely to escalate.  We also have young greenfinches.  Every year one or two fly into the lounge window, and knock themselves silly. One did so recently, taking over thirty minutes to recover.  A very few die, most I can pick up, and place safely on a safe tree branch whilst they recover, eventually flying off apparently unharmed.   Such is their dazed state that the scarcely notice my picking them up. Greenfinch, the grayling of the avian world, so often needing a bit of help. 

Excuse me: have to go and zip up the wife's dress.   Maybe that is why women are so keen on marriage: it gives them someone to zip up the backs of their dresses. Most women would have to go around stark naked were it not for the men in their lives.

A Moorhen Feeds its Chick
Down by the lakes and rivers other birds have their young.  All except for the tufted ducks.  Although tufties seem to form very devoted pairs, I don't think I have ever seen any young tufted ducks.  The two or three ornithological types, who live welded to their binoculars,  and whom I have asked,  have also not seen any.   I wonder why?  But the mallards have near full sized young, there are seven swans a swimming in the local lake.   The mandarins and goosanders are all guiding their young along the local streams. The kestrels have raised three young which are just starting to make their first short flights.  They remain very near to the nest site though, and their plumage does not yet look well developed.  Good enough to fly just those short distances.
A Small Goosander Family Pauses and Preens by the River.
A Little Further Downstream: Three Juvenile Mandarins With Their Mum.
 The kestrels have raised three young which are just starting to make their first short flights.  They remain very near to the nest site though, and their plumage does not yet look well developed.  Good enough to fly just those short distances. I was a little jealous of a friend who caught the three of them side by side just filling the nest box, rather like the three "see, hear  and speak no evil" monkeys, with one of the adult kestrels on the roof of the box. He photographed them the day before their first flight. But I am happy with my own efforts, although a longer lens at sometime in the future would see some use. 
Two of the Young Kestrels
And the Third.

200 Feet up a Chimney
I took a trip to revisit the peregrines, as I was informed they now had two chicks. The trip turned into three trips, but yes, there are two young peregrines now.   Initially after seeing both adults, with the female chasing the smaller male for some reason or other, I finally spotted the two youngsters.  One hiding on the edge of a roof, the other so far up a very tall chimney that it must already be a competent flyer.
Young Peregrine Falcon
   It was high enough to have terrified Fred Dibnah. I did a bit of brick counting and mixed in a bit of 11 plus maths, and came up with a height of 230 feet. I continued to watch and saw the two youngsters chasing a group of pigeons: pigeons which seem to live far too close to the nest site for their own good. The young peregrines failed to catch any, but did not seem to have developed the surprise stoop high speed attack.   The chase, ineffective as it seemed to be, will no doubt strengthen their wings.  As ever, they did not pose close enough for my camera to take a really good picture, but the results are good enough to see that a peregrine in flight ( adult or young) may well be a sleek and graceful machine, but once it starts to lounge around on a high building it looks to be a right scruffy old bugger with its fluffed up feathers.  The day before, walking along the river I saw one of the adults chasing and screaming at a passing buzzard.  Would have made for a good photo, but for amateurs such as myself to take such photos, requires a lot of luck, and a goodly dose of needing to be in the right place at the right time.  I managed the right place, and the right time, but was not carrying the camera. Professionals have the time and background knowledge to be able to wait for such photo opportunities.  They know the right places, and can wait until the time is right. They are not constrained by their  equipment to about a maximum of 25 yards for a good photo. Success is never guaranteed, but they are able to gain a great advantage.  I would probably get bored all too quickly.  Oh yes, and professionals always have a camera handy!

Some of you may well be wondering how went the fishing.  Not too badly really, I finally broke the sequence of big tench blanks, landing one of 8-13, although a second one managed a hook pull and
At Last!
was lost.  Far less success with the big tench this year though. A lot more time has been spent on small local ponds.   This has had the advantage of being near to home, I can float fish with bread, usually on lift method, and catch a few fish of varied species, in shortish sessions,  without having to work too hard for bites.  

Nothing huge, but with fish like this gorgeously coloured rudd, who cares.  Only about 10 ounces, but a young looking fish, and so maybe the pond holds older and bigger. Another of the ponds I fished, a club water, has some wels catfish in it.  Always ready for something different, I decided to have a go. The carp on the pond were spawning when I arrived, lots of heavy splashing and cavorting in the lilies that cover the shallows in the centre of the pond.  So if the cats were not feeding, there was nothing else much to play with.   But over the evening and night a quartet of small catfish demonstrated that any fish capable of swimming both forwards and backwards, needs a larger landing net. It was fun, but all were landed and returned safely. 

Managed a couple of river trips, for a few chub, grayling and a small barbel.   It was almost a 1/2 scale model of what a barbel should really be, at about a pound and a half.  An odd fish: being 25% short on its barbule count.   It came from a swim I had identified during the close season, and was convinced no-one else knew of it. 
Mini Barbel
However when I went onto the river about the 19th, someone had beaten down the bankside screen of nettles that had previously hidden the fish, and flattened an area big enough for a bivvy.  The fish I had seen right near to the bank as I gently moved the nettles a inch or two, had now gone.  A couple of the chub had lumps and bumps where there should be none.  One had a marble sized deformity on its lower lip.  These industrial rivers, once polluted to the death of any resident life may now support fish and many other creatures, but they are still far from perfect.  There are a few distorted, bent back barbel, and many of the chub are imperfect.  Whether the remanent chemicals in the stream bed are responsible, or whether low populations have led to a degree of inbreeding I do not know.  But these fish are probably doing well to survive at all, raw sewage being pumped in during any period of heavy rain, and there being an ever present risk of incidental pollutants being allowed, intentionally or otherwise, into the rivers.   Being already none too clean, these incidents can take the river over that knife edge.  I have to remind myself how good things are now, for 40 years ago nothing lived in them, neither animal, nor vegetable. Far too much mineral content.

Finally have a look at what Nina eventually decided to wear.   And then tell me that she listened to
my advice not to outshine the bride's mother.   No-one else came close, save, possibly,  for some girl dressed in a big flouncy white dress and rather odd headgear.  She seemed to be  quite important, as she welcomed all the guests into the meal area. 
Nina, in Blue Flowered Dress, NOT Overshadowing Bride's Mother...or so She Tells Me.