THERE’S MORE TO FISHING THAN CATCHING FISH
We all like bagging up but it’s not the be all and end all of fishing. Nature is always busy and there’s always something going on to tantalise the senses especially in those quieter moments. Just keep your eyes open and your ears pricked!
A Beautiful Lady Saves The Night
There was only one car parked in the farmyard when we pulled up on the Friday of opening week. Ahead of us we had an all night session on the beautiful River Dove. After a chat with the farmer, a lovely chap, we hoiked our tackle as far as the electric fence before I decided to recce the swims while the Charioteer moved house, hauling a predigious mountain of gear down to the bottom of the horseshoe. I had the pleasure of meeting fellow angler Ade, a thoroughly good chap too it seemed to me. He told me he had taken a 9-4 Bertie barbel from the swim about an hour before and was about to move back to his base at the downstream end of the horseshoe. I gave a hand with his gear while at the same time casting an eye over the remainder of the available swims.
Eventually I settled for the famous 'Chubby's swim, just above Alg who had elected to fish the pitch Ade had just vacated. I lobbed a rig bearing an 8mm pellet unerringly into a hole beneath the trees just upstream followed by a maggot feeder downstream towards the far bank bushes. The final touch before settling down was to erect the brolly as protection from what had now developed into steady rain. Rodders arrived while all this was going on and he elected to fish from the high bank, the scene of a famous dunking for a match angler when the bank gave way beneath him while playing a good barbel. Sadly that fish was unfortunately lost.
The maggot rig was away on the first cast and a brownie cavorted and leapt all over the swim before coming adrift at the net. A foretaste of a night of frantic action to come? Not on your life, a couple of hours of nature watching ensued while the rod tops remained stubbornly lifeless.
A large party of long tailed tits examined the leafage with forensic thoroughness, but then consuming all the evidence. A hare skirted the far bank field in a series of rapid bursts, seemingly in a hurry to go nowhere in particular. "A weird creature" Alg proclaimed, "half rabbit, half Labrador". This and other cameos kept our attention before another rattle on my downstream rod announced the arrival of another brownie, this time successfully netted. A 'three foot twitch' followed which lifted the rod butt from the ground but the strike resulted in nothing but puzzlement. The hook that had three pristine maggots mounted on it when it was cast in now sported four pristine maggots but the addition was hooked through the head! A double thump on the pellet rod also amounted to nothing before Rodders announced his retirement from fruitless session on the meat.
The hours of darkness yielded just one more trout with another coming adrift while Alg had decided to snatch a few zeds until day break. The session yielded its highlight not long after dawn when a dancing rod tip resulted in me hooking into what seemed to be a reasonable chub but turned out to be a stonking grayling of two pounds twelve ounces, a personal best by over a pound. After a period of net rest and a considerable time hand nursing in the margins she swam off only to belly up a little way downstream. Alg waded in to intercept it in his net and while he was engaged in holding it in a faster flow, I noticed from my vantage point that his rod top appeared to be bouncing. At first we decided it was the wind but then no, it was definitely a bite. Leaving the grayling in the net, Alg hurried to his rod and the strike saw a large barbel roll and the battle commenced. The fish turned and charged off towards the downstream rapids with Alg applying side-strain to discourage it, and then disaster as the line parted and his only chance of the session lost. Would he have landed it if he had seen the bite earlier? Who knows? For sure though, his concern for a stricken grayling certainly didn't aid his cause.
The rest of the session yielded only another brownie to my rod similar in size to the other two at around twelve ounces or 'supermarket size' as Alg describes them. At nine in the morning we called it a day and wended our weary way back to the car contemplating the capture a beautiful lady and the gut wrenching loss of a big barbel.
DEFINITELY A CASE OF LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!
Up on the top cistern the other day a small roach came hurtling out of the water through some thick lily pads, probably to escape from becoming a meal for a hungry perch. The unfortunate fish landed right on top of a pad and flipped about for ages, unable escape back into the pool. The skimming of water on the lily pad seemed to keep its gills moist enough to keep it alive for a while. I tried to find a branch long enough to help the roach back into the water but none were available close at hand. Ranging further afield in order to find a bough of a suitable length, I returned to find the roach had gone. It had either been taken by an opportunist predator or had somehow managed to flip itself back into the water through a miniscule gap between the pads. I hope it was the latter but if it was I think the fish should seriously re-examine its escape strategy!
A more extreme example of fish jumping into danger can be found by going to the forum (button next to the site visitor counter on the home page) and then clicking on the web link provided in the entry ‘Night Fishing’ by ‘Guest’. Don’t worry, it wasn’t shot at Heesom’s but anybody trying it out in the night matches will be disqualified!
WAGS BY THE WATER
Our club has always had a number of real wags in our ranks particularly amongst the matchmen but there are wags from the bird world that can also be seen around our waters. If you’re sat close to any stretch of river then you won’t be far away from members of the wagtail family, two species of which have always been fairly frequent visitors to our waters. Everyone will be familiar with their tail wagging behaviour as they dart across the grass looking for insects which of course gives them their British name. The most common of course are the pied wagtails in their neat black and white livery. Actually we are talking about the male birds here, the females having a paler, grey back and wings, a plumage that the males also adopt outside the breeding season. The summer breeding population in lowland areas is much boosted in the winter time when numbers of pied wagtails come down from the uplands to find a milder climate and some town centres act as night time roosts for large numbers of these birds because the temperature is a degree or two warmer than in the rural areas.
Many people are confused by Grey wagtails, thinking that they are Yellow wagtails because yellow does indeed feature prominently in their plumage particularly in the males with their completely primrose under parts. The females are yellow under the tail and in the summer, on their upper breast. The ‘grey’ to in the English name refers to the dove grey head and back and darker, slate grey wings. A pair of grey wagtails nest along our stretch of the river last year and this photo of a young fledgling was taken through a telescope close to the sunken barge. I haven’t seen any young this year and I fear that the high water level we have had this summer may have flooded the nest site.
For me however, the most exciting wagtail sightings I have had this year were of Yellow wagtails feeding fledglings beside the Junior cistern which is where the photograph below was taken. This particular youngster must have been fresh out of the nest as residual nestling fluff can still be seen around its head. Years ago I used to see lots of Yellow wagtails migrating across the local fields in spring but until this year I hadn’t seen any for over ten years with the species seemingly in rapid decline. I have never seen any evidence of them nesting at all in the local area so I was exceptionally pleased to spot these birds. In all I counted three young although there could well have been more as they never seemed to group together, the parents visiting their well spaced out progeny in turn with diligently gathered insect offerings.
As can be seen from the picture, the back is of an olive greenish hue rather than grey and the yellow around the head also sets it apart from the grey wagtail together with a shorter tail. I am hoping that in years to come we will continue to have all three of our regular native wagtails breeding close to our waters. (Let’s hope the angling wags continue to flourish as well!)
A FINE DAY AT HEESOM’S POOL (EARLY JUNE EDITION)
After the account of the fishing session at Heesom’s in early May, I thought I would follow it up with a fairly brief account of my next trip in early June (I know, I’m not getting out enough). My mate Al picked me up at five thirty in the morning and not surprisingly we were the first to arrive at the pool. It was a warm morning and we elected to follow the wind to the top end of the pool. I decided to fish down the side with pellet on the hook using five sections of pole. Alan plumped for a rod presenting red strawberry corn and cheese under a waggler fished close to a bush. Having settled in, he reached for his flask only to find he had neglected to bring it. Feeling he was unable to fully enjoy the day without his caffeine fix, he decided to nip home for his flask. I fished on in his absence but it was nearly an hour after I had initial cast in before I had my first bite. Thankfully it was a positive one and the strike saw me connected to a hard fighting tench of around two and a half pounds which really stretched the red hydroelastic before being safely netted. The next cast brought me a two ounce rudd just before Al arrived back at his swim. Quickly he re-established himself and with coffee poured, started to fish in earnest. Trying an approach without groundbait, relying only on loosefeed initially, he found bites slow in coming and eventually mixed some crumb feed which when introduced into his swim speeded things up considerably. From then on fish came regularly, mine, taken on pellet, were mainly crucians with the occasional skimmer while Alan caught mainly skimmers on corn with the occasional crucian. Interspersed through the session I also bagged four tench between one and two pounds one of which obviously thought it was a trout jumping high out of the water during the fight. I was snapped twice by good fish too but I’m not sure whether these were tench or carp. Oh, and I also had my first rudd/bream hybrid from the pool, not big but a beautiful fish nonetheless. At the end of the day we had both had excellent bags on what seemed to be a slow day elsewhere on the pool judging by my conversations with other anglers there. You may have noticed that so far I haven’t mentioned the wildlife in this piece. I’m sure many of you think “Why doesn’t the old fool stop banging on about the birds and stick to the fishing?”
Well you haven’t escaped completely. All seven baby coots from the May report have grown into great bruisers, bigger than their parents and will soon be driven off to fend for themselves. Another pair of coots has hatched a new brood along with a new family of moorhens and a couple of great crested grebes have appeared, spending most of their time lazing in the middle of the pool.
Next week the traditional fishing season gets underway so the next water report will probably come from Anderton. I hope the fishing gods smile on you.
A FINE DAY IN MAY AT HEESOM’S POOL
(And All Is Well With The World)
I hadn’t been fishing since last October so with the fine spring weather, I told myself that I needed to get my backside into gear and get out to Heesom’s for a session. Barbara diverted from her normal route to work to drop me off by the gate at half past seven in the morning and, for the moment at least, I found I had the pool to myself. Unlocking and opening the dipping tanks produced a rattle of chains that wouldn’t have been out of place for the ghost in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. After dipping my landing net I decided that I would fish on a low numbered peg and dropped my gear on peg four. A slight movement in the grass caught my eye to reveal a lone baby coot wobbling uncertainly on weak legs. I gently scooped him up and carried him round to the other side of the bush placing him close to the water’s edge in the hope that he might take the plunge and swim off to find his parents. I then set off for a circuit of the pool to survey the wildlife and the work that is underway around the banks. The air was filled with birdsong, each bird proclaiming his right to his small area of territory. At least two of the bird boxes had young in them with parent great and blue tits involved in frenetic feeding activity. Meanwhile, in the water, many of the trailing branches of waterside bushes were playing host venue to the spawning rituals of excited bream and crucian carp. Spring it seemed was in full swing.
Back at my chosen peg I started to assemble my gear or the session. I decided to restrict my approach to a pellet attack close to a nearside bush with an alternative on-the-drop rig offering maggot on the hook.
I plumped for white hydro elastic through the top two for the pellet rig which I figured would give me enough ‘humph’ to bully fish away from the snags. A 4x14 pole float on 0.16mm pole line with 0.12 mm hook length and strong size 16 hook completed the set-up. I used 0.1mm line with 0.08mm hook length, a 3 no. 8 canal waggler and a size 20 hook on the maggot rig fished in conjunction with no. 4 solid elastic through the top two sections. After a little judicious plumbing, I was ready to go and introduced a couple of small balls of groundbait and a few pellets close to the bush on my left. Leaving that swim to settle, I started fishing on the drop straight out in front of me, loose feeding a few maggots with every cast. A few casts later the float dipped hesitantly before sinking slowly beneath the surface and a strike saw me hook the first fish of the day, a small rudd. More followed along with the odd roach but the fish did not seem to be in the frantic feeding frenzy that regular loose feeding sometimes triggers and after about half an hour I took a break for a coffee. The consumption of the reviving liquid was interrupted by the penetrating ‘pink-pink’ call of a female chaffinch perched on a nearby bush. She quickly came down to the maggots I scattered on the ground close to my box and polished them off in no time.
Coffee finished, I resumed fishing, more of he same really, smallish fish but in pristine condition. I was visited at intervals by the chaffinch which seemed to realise that if she announced her arrival with a ‘pink-pink’ it would bring an instant shower of fat white grubs for her to devour. Before long I tired of the steady stream of silver fish and made the decision to switch to pellet. A few expander pellets were flicked in to my left close to the bush followed closely by the baited rig. The float cocked and then settled further as the two dropper shot exerted their pull before the pellet settled on the bottom. The float tip had been dotted down so that it was a mere pimple on the surface. Almost immediately it moved steadily sideways and then sank very slowly beneath the surface. A strike met with the characteristic jagging fight of a crucian carp determined to reach the sanctuary of the underwater roots. The hydro elastic through my pole was new to me and the stretchiness of it almost caught me by surprise. I had to rapidly pull sideways with the pole to stop the fish gaining safety. After a few more seconds of dogged resistance the buttery golden flank slid across the surface and into my landing net. Only about half a pound in size, it wasn’t among the biggest crucians in the pool and this set the pattern over the next hour or so, with fish ranging from 4-8 ounces with the odd one going to maybe 14 ounces. Each one though proved its fighting mettle when it was hooked and gave me a thoroughly enjoyable period of sport.
The highlight of the session came with the hooking of a two pound tench which I only just prevented from reaching the snags and stretched the elastic to its full extent a number of times before finally succumbing to the net. John Morrison arrived to join me on the next peg and we moved the coot again, this time putting it in the water in front of peg six. It could swim alright but it just hurried to the bank and climbed out settling once again in the grass.
Once he was set up John was soon into fish using up in the water tactics and catching rudd and roach to half a pound, again mostly in absolutely immaculate condition. After a while he too switched to the pellet and found the crucians in feeding mood. Not long after midday I broke off to enjoy a spot of lunch (crisp bread rolls filled cheese and ham). By now the chaffinch had been joined by a robin in the quest for a share of my maggots but he wasn’t as bold as her and she continued to bag the lion’s share. Soon after the resumption of my fishing activities the bites tailed of markedly. Only a few more crucians and a solitary three-quarter pound skimmer graced my net before sport on pellet had almost completely ceased.
Out on the pool a flotilla of coots appeared consisting of two parents and six offspring. As they swam close to our pegs this suddenly became two parents and seven offspring as our prodigal waif on the next peg rejoined his family. I love happy endings!
With the lull in sport, I sat back and surveyed the surroundings. On the opposite bank Peter Knight was shipping out a cup full of groundbait. Having reached the required distance he turned it upside down but despite vigorous waggling of the pole the bait remained stubbornly within the cup. Dipping the cup in the water failed to dislodge the offending mixture and the whole lot was shipped back again to be poked and prodded before the whole process was repeated. It took a third attempt to finally achieve the emptying of the cup but to be honest unless the fish were equipped with pickaxes I can’t imagine that they were at all attracted to the mix! (There you are Peter I told you I would put this little episode on the internet).
I elected for another walk around the pool. At the top end in the warm sunshine were countless rudd and skimmers basking high in the water accompanied by a couple of slab bream and two carp. I was being picked up by my wife in under two hours so it wasn’t worth upping sticks and moving there but I made a mental note to consider trying up there next time. All around Heesom’s anglers had suffered from the lull in bites and when I got back to my pitch I had made up my mind to go back to fishing with maggot on the drop for my last hour. More rudd and roach, a skimmer, a perch and a gudgeon which grabbed the bait from well off the bottom was the result of this final assault. Pete Harradine fishing on peg two, round the corner from me, had a nice tench which gave him a fair tussle before he landed it by. Not long after this I felt I had fished for long enough and gave myself plenty of time to pack away my gear before it was time to be picked up. I hadn’t learned an awful lot about the capabilities my new pole having only fished with four sections throughout the session but I had thoroughly enjoyed a very laid back session and miracle of miracles, hadn’t suffered a tangle or break-off all day!
A LOT TO CROW ABOUT
The crow family are a much maligned group of birds. While undoubtedly the clan, some more than some more than others, do have a deserved reputation as nest robbers, there are many other families of birds including such unlikely candidates as the woodpeckers that include nestlings in their diet. Their role in keeping the country clean is underestimated and our byways would be littered with road-kill were it not for the carrion eating habits of the crows and magpies. Let’s run through species that can be seen around our waters throughout most of the year.
The largest of the genus is the raven which in the last few years has moved into Mid-Cheshire and nests on the support legs of the limestone conveyor belts at Winnington chemical works across the river from our stretch of the Weaver. The species however remains comparatively scarce in Britain with fewer than 5000 pairs of nesting birds countrywide. I have seen ravens at Heesom’s pool as well as at the Anderton complex. Their presence is often signalled by its distinctive throaty ‘Pruck pruck’ call and a look up may reveal a small group indulging in joyous aerobatics including complete aerial rolls.
The rook is at all times a communal bird feeding in groups in fields, especially those that have been newly turned over by the plough. The rook is easily identified by the bare patch of skin on the face at the base of the bill and the ‘baggy trousers’ around the top of its legs. Grain is popular with the birds at harvest time which it has to be said has not endeared them to the farming community. On the flip side they also consume large quantities of insect pests such as leather jackets in other seasons which may go some way in reparation. It seems to have some culinary value too with rook pie still a traditional seasonal dish in some parts of the country. I can’t find any trace of sources of rook and raspberry ripple ice cream made famous in ‘The Two Ronnies’ rook restaurant sketch! At this time of year they can be seen repairing their nests, several to a single tree in rookeries which to my mind seem to have become a less common site in the Cheshire countryside.
The carrion crow is much less of a social bird and although groups can become quite large when feeding, nesting pairs are usually solitary. It can easily be distinguished from the rook with its stouter black bill which is covered with feathers at the base as can be seen from the picture on the right. The tail is quite square while that of the rook is more rounded. It is far more widespread in the countryside than the rook and can be spotted near to all our waters throughout the year.
The jackdaw is a considerably smaller bird than the previous two and is characterised by the blue grey feathers on the back of its neck. Jackdaws are lively and agile characters especially in the air, jinking and wheeling calling to each other with their familiar ‘chack’ call. Like other members of the family, it is attracted by bright objects and the nest is often adorned with aluminium foil and similarly shiny material.
The jackdaw is equally at home around buildings as it is in the woods and open countryside. It can often be seen flying above any of our waters.
Magpies are much more common than they used to be with the decrease in persecution from game-keeping interests and numbers have virtually quadrupled since the seventies with numbers now approaching a million pairs in Britain. Many bird lovers are dismayed by this fact as it is commonly thought that this increase is to the detriment of the numbers of smaller species, however recent studies have shown that the increasing magpie population has no discernable effect of songbird populations in rural areas. To say he has a tarnished reputation is to understate the fact. Rossini wrote an overture to the ‘Thieving Magpie’ and the bird has been portrayed in a villainous light in televised police campaigns to encourage greater security against burglary. However you feel about magpies there is no denying the fact that they are handsome fellows. Black and white at a distance, closer inspection shows the black to be shot through with iridescent blues, purples and greens especially in bright sunlight. Wherever you go in town or country you will not travel far without seeing a magpie.
Finally we come to the jay, the most striking of the family. Quite stunning in its livery of cinnamon pink with a black moustache, white rump and black and white wings adorned with the eye-catching azure blue secondary feathers, it is a shy bird easily alarmed by human presence. I did however find I could get decent photos by strategically placing handfuls of peanuts in a place that I knew they regularly visited and keeping myself well hidden. Jays can often be seen flying over the Anderton waters and lurking in the spinney at Heesom’s pool and you are usually alerted to their presence by their cacophonous screeching. If you should one of those bright blue wing feathers while you’re out fishing stick it your hat for luck. It might just work!
KING OF THE CHIMNEYS
I was crossing the main car park at Anderton Nature Park the other day when I glanced over the river towards the chemical works. Above the works was a pair of Peregrine falcons indulging in an airborne display which I believe was part of a courtship ritual. They chased and followed, circled and glided for several minutes. The pigeon flocks in the area seemed to sense that with the falcons preoccupied, there was little danger of them ending up as dinner and went about their business with seemingly little fear. They even flew right below the predators although the loose flocks tightened up considerably when they did so. Eventually the pair diverted across the river passing over the car park and the junior pool before they disappeared. A couple of days later a single bird could be seen perching on the handrail of the platform around the top of one of the power station chimneys. This is a regular perch for the falcons and though they don’t yet nest at the Winnington site (but have done so at Lostock in recent years) it is a distinct possibility in the near future. Indeed the adult birds seem to bring their newly fledged young to the Winnington chimneys, possibly because of the readily available food source (the pigeons). When the falcons first started to nest in the area it caused a good deal of alarm amongst local pigeon fanciers but I think this has proved unfounded with plenty of feral pigeons around to satisfy the peregrines’ needs. When I first started watching birds the peregrine was a rare creature indeed. Having been shot in large numbers during the war to protect carrier pigeons carrying vital information, the species suffered catastrophic decline in the fifties and sixties when the pesticide DDT got into their food chain which, among other effects, made their egg shells very thin and few chicks were actually hatched.
Mercifully things have changed and thanks to the banning of the pesticide, successful protection laws and the birds’ ability to adapt to industrial and urban nesting sites, the peregrine falcon has gone from a species under severe threat to a thriving and rapidly spreading population in a few decades. Long may they reign on our local chimneys!
THE LATE LATE SHOW
What a strange and unseasonably warm autumn it has been. Not only has only have good roach and bream catches been taken much later in the year than usual on the Anderton stretch of the river, but nature in general appears to be a little confused.
Has anyone noticed the butterflies on the wing in November this year? I have taken pictures of Red Admirals, Small tortoishells and a Comma all of which I have plenty of shots of, but taken anyway simply because it is extremely unusual to spot them at this time of the year. As might be expected most are looking a bit battle scarred and the Red Admiral on the right will not survive the winter and the same goes for the Comma butterfly pictured below.
The Small tortoiseshell (below right) however can hibernate through the winter months and you can often find them, sometimes in small groups, in a torpid state in garages and garden shed waiting for the first warm days of spring. Sadly the numbers of this beautiful insect have been falling alarmingly in recent years and the two that I spotted along the banks of the Weaver on the first day of November, doubled the total that I had seen throughout the summer months. These particular butterflies were actually in pretty good nick and had probably only hatched just recently. If they can find shelter through the colder months they will hopefully go on to produce the next generation in spring.
Unusually conspicuous too, for the time of year, are Common Darter dragonflies. I’m used to seeing them well into October but can’t remember spotting them in November before. These are very short lived insects in the adult form so the ones I have been seeing are almost certainly the last to emerge this year and may just have had time to mate before they perish.
It seems to me too, that the flocks of winter visiting members of the thrush family, fieldfares and redwings were late in arriving this year and only now have their numbers started to build. As a result the crop of autumn berries adorning trees and bushes have only just started to suffer their annual decimation. Anyone who watched the BBC series ‘Autumn Watch’ will know that wild geese and swans have also been late in arriving in their winter quarters in Britain. It seems as if the avian population is just as confused as the insects about the start of winter.
Just to complete the picture of nature’s disarray, some of the Spindle trees in Anderton Nature Park are bearing their usual autumn berries alongside a few of the greenish white flowers that should not be due until next May or June!
At last though, the stunning Autumn colours are becoming apparent as can be seen from the picture of a spindle tree (red foliage) and a field maple (yellow foliage) taken from the main car park at Anderton.
Stop press :
I saw a Red admiral fly across the road on December 2nd and on December 9th I came across this clump of daffodils alongside the stream flowing out of Marbury mere. Nature can’t make up her mind whether it’s late summer or spring!
ALWAYS STICKING THEIR NOSES IN
In this, the latest of my occasional series about the wildlife to be enjoyed while we go about fishing on our waters, we’ll take a look at some of the wading birds that turn from time to time. I will start with the oystercatcher, a striking black and white bird with a striking long red bill like a stick of sealing wax. For those of you who are not sure what a stick of sealing wax looks like, well it’s like the bill of an oystercatcher! Like most wading birds, the bird is equipped with such long beak to enable it to probe deep into mud in search of invertebrate food items. The photo on the left was taken on our stretch of the Weaver. More familiar in coastal haunts, the oystercatcher has in recent years increasingly spread inland and it is now quite common to see them flying over many of our waters. It is even more likely still you will hear the distinctive shrill “kleep-a-kleep” call which carries over quite a long distance. For the last few years a pair have successfully bred and reared young on Haydn pool at Anderton Nature Park, just a short distance from the river and cisterns, where I took this picture.
Another wader that appears in spring and then again in late summer is the common sandpiper. It can be seen while migration travelling to and from its breeding grounds beside rocky streams and lakes. Once again the voice, a ringing “tew-tew-tew”, draws attention to the bird as it flies with short bursts of its stiff down-turned wings which display a prominent white bar. When it lands on the bank it constantly wags the tail end of its body as it looks for food, a very distinctive piece of behaviour known as ‘teetering’.
The lapwing is a quite different wader in that it doesn’t possess a long probing beak and will glean its meals from fields as well as from mudflats. A member of the plover family, it is a handsome bird with iridescent green wings and a jaunty up-curved crest on its head as can be seen in the photograph below. The lapwing frequently breeds on farmland as well as suitable wetland habitats such as Haydn pool. The complex tumbling and wheeling springtime air-borne mating displays are an annual spectacle above the fields adjacent to Heesom’s pool. The accompanying call while displaying, an almost nasal ‘eeeee-zit’, gives rise to its alternative name, the peewit. Although the numbers of breeding birds have dropped in recent years, recovery seems now seems to underway thanks to incentive schemes to farmers to provide suitable breeding habitats for the birds.
So there we have it. That completes a brief look at some of the birds that enjoy being by the waterside just as much, if not more, than we anglers.
It was a grey February morning, just before daybreak when Martin rolled up outside the house. It was mild for the time of year though and we speculated as we loaded the boot with my gear, about the possibility of a bumper catch. We were heading for the Rossall stretch of the River Severn and barbel were our target fish. Firing our optimism was an eight barbel catch Martin had taken the previous summer with fish between three and eight and a half pounds. Mind you, before this fantastic session we had all blanked on the stretch. This had led to our barbel enthusiast group’s home-spun adage “You can catch ‘em at Atcham but it’s toss all at Rossall.”
As we journeyed down to Shropshire a steady stream of drizzle dampened not only the roads but our spirits as well. A stiff breeze had sprung up and with the deterioration in the weather conditions there was a sharp downturn in our expectations. So much so in fact, that by the time we had pulled up on the patch of grass under the oak tree that served as the Rossall car park, we had decided that if we managed to bag one fish each then that would satisfy us. Not only that but the fish didn’t have to be a barbel, a chub would do! On the plus side the rain had stopped but the breeze had increased and there was a keen edge to it.
Two fields downhill and we turned right as we reached the river. With no other cars parked we were pretty sure we would find the bush swim empty and so it proved. The bush swim was where Martin had bagged up in August and he tucked in next to the bush while I pitched my gear ten yards downstream of him, just above a spot where the bank had been eroded away to form a tiny bay some three or four feet across. A stripling willow growing just downstream added a little cover to this mini feature.
The river reflected the sullen sky gave the water the appearance of cold steel and it flowed at quite a pace considering that it wasn’t in flood. Every now and then a clump of weed would glide swiftly by in the current. My first cast was to the middle of the river and I was surprised when my two ounce lead failed to hold station and bumped rapidly downstream. I wound in the luncheon meat baited hook and lobbed my next cast just beyond the near bank ‘crease’ and left my line slack until the rig settled right in the mouth of the little bay. Propping the rod in the rest, I settled back in my chair and enjoyed a chat with Martin while waiting for that first bite. I was just pouring a cup of coffee from my flask when almost inevitably there was a small tap on the quivertip. Hastily screwing the top back on my flask, I leaned forward in my chair with my hand hovering over the rod butt. I remained in this position for a couple of minutes with no further indications on the tip.
“Must have been a drifting leaf hitting the line” I thought as I leaned back in my chair. At that instant the quiver tip trembled and then pulled steadily over. This was the classic indication of a large clump of loose weed grabbing the line as it drifted down in the current and I quickly grabbed the rod before it was dragged from the rest. I struck ‘just in case’ but only felt a sullen pressure as the line arced into the near bank, the typical sensation of snagged flotsam. As I pulled the rod upright to start the process of winding the rubbish in the ‘weed’ suddenly sprang into life, surging into the strong mid-river current bringing a squeal of protest from reel clutch which had been set quite tightly for the strong flow. It was a fish after all and by the feel of it, a decent barbel! For a while it just hung stubbornly out there putting a fearsome bend in the rod before, with a heavy thump of the tail which I felt right through my arms, he headed upstream at a good rate of knots dragging yet more line from the grudging clutch. Heavy pressure on the rod brought him shooting past me downstream followed by a protracted period of sulking on the bottom.
Neither I or the barbel gave an inch for a while before, eventually, the pressure I was exerting began to tell and slowly but surely I began to get some line back on the reel spool. It wasn’t too long before the unmistakeable bronze bar of a barbel flank flashed deep in the water close to the bank. After getting the fish to the brink of the net held by Martin the fish charged away in a flurry of spray. This is a normal part of the barbel netting procedure but soon the mesh finally enfolded a short but thick bodied fish. It went to six pounds ten ounces on the scales, at the time my second biggest barbel and my first taken in winter. Chuffed with my success, I settled to the business of catching another on.
It was a very short time before my reverie was broken by Martin’s shout of “I’m in!”. He had set up a float rod to run a stick float down the edge of his swim while waiting for a bite on his leger rig and a barbel had snapped up the single maggot offering on the hook. Martin’s rod was bent into an impressive hoop as the fish powered away. Once again the countryside reverberated to sound of a screaming reel clutch. This fish was a speedy character, charging up and down the river in response to the pressure that Martin was applying, not that he was giving it a lot of stick with only three pound line on his reel. After a protracted battle the barbel slid over the rim of the net. It was a slim fish, as is often the case when the fight is fast and furious, turning the dial of the scales to exactly four pounds.
So there we had it, the fish each we had said we’d settle for had been caught and less than an hour had elapsed since we had started fishing. Of course now we had got them, we were no longer content with one fish apiece and we were very confident that more would follow. The fishing gods must have heard our conversation before we had started fishing however and decided to hold us to our bargain. For the rest of the day, though we fished diligently, we could not conjure another bite. It was pleasant enough on the bank despite the chill wind hustling down the river eliciting a dry rattle of protest from the dead reed stems. Above us buzzards wheeled and soared in a by now blue sky. In the meadow across the river new-born lambs gambolled while the ewes grazed unconcerned.
At the end of the day we packed up our gear and trailed back to the car. It always seemed a much further walk on the way back and we joked about the landowner having a big winch in the farmhouse which she turned to stretch the fields just to annoy the anglers. It had been a good day but we both agreed that we could have packed up after an hour!
HAHA-HA-HAHA IT’S THE WOODY WOODPECKER SONG
A look at woodpeckers and other birds that creep up (and down) trees.
Those of us old enough to remember Woody Woodpecker cartoons will recall the song that provides the title for this piece and on our Anderton waters as well as at Heesom’s pool the almost maniacal laughing call of the Green woodpecker can often be heard. In fact the bird is far more often heard than seen and when it is spotted more often than not it is while is in the characteristic undulating flight common to all our native woodpeckers. It has become much more common in Mid-Cheshire than it used to be and is much more a bird of open ground with scattered trees than either of the spotted woodpeckers. It is as likely to be seen on the ground searching for ants, one of its favourite foods, as it is up in the trees.
The commonest woodpecker by far is the Great spotted and is often seen at Heesom’s pool and around the junior cistern, often on the big willow tree near to the entrance gate. The male has a red patch on the back of the head which is absent on the female. It is about the size of a blackbird, much bigger than the lesser spotted woodpecker, from which it is further distinguished by the large white ‘shoulder’ patches on its wings. The distinctive sharp ‘tchik’ call is often the first thing that draws your attention to the bird.
The rarest of the three is the Lesser spotted woodpecker which is only about the size of a sparrow. There are only white bars on its wings, no patches and again the female lacks any red on her head. It is far more arboreal than the other woodpeckers spending much of its time on the branches in the canopy making it much harder to spot.
I have only ever seen this species once near our waters when one flew over the top cistern.
The nuthatch is a dapper little bird, often seen in the trees around Heesom’s pool. It is not a member of the woodpecker family although superficially it bears a resemblance to one. It is as comfortable moving head first down tees as it is up them. It nests in holes in trees and plasters the entrance with mud until the hole is small enough to suit it. It has a very distinctive call which sounds very like a pebble bouncing on ice and once learnt is always recognisable.
Finally we have the tree creeper, a small mouse-like bird with a down-turned bill, which often consorts with parties of tits in the winter. It searches for insects by flying to the base of a tree and spiralling up the trunk before flying to the base of the next. It nests behind loose bark on tree trunks and is likely to be seen near any of our waters where there are trees.
Froggie goes a courtin’ (if the virus doesn’t get him first)
Any time now the frogs will be arriving at our waters hell bent on breeding unless they have been wiped out. According to the Independent they are threatened by a fungal disease deriving from South Africa which is wiping out huge numbers of one of our best loved amphibians. At the same time the BBC is reporting a viral disease possibly originating from bullfrogs in the USA which is wiping out millions of frogs of different species all over the world including here in Britain. Whether or not this is two different explanations for the same disease or two separate diseases is unclear but whatever the facts, it seems that there is a distinct possibility that its days are numbered. Let’s hope that some frogs at least develop immunity for it would be a tragedy to lose them forever.
I’ve not heard of toads being affected so it is to be hoped that they will remain unscathed in this amphibian crisis. Many people dislike toads for some reason but they are a tremendous ally to any gardener eating many garden pests and I have to say I love them, warts and all!
HALCYON DAYS FOR ANGLERS
Phil, one of my fishing holiday buddies, astonished us all on our last jaunt to the Wye by pronouncing that he had never seen a kingfisher. This was towards the end of a week when the rest of us had been treated to numerous sightings of one or sometimes a pair of this, the most brilliantly coloured of all our native birds on every day of the holiday. They would almost invariably alert us of their presence with the distinctive call which, once learnt, will always tell you that a kingfisher is around. I am happy to report that Phil did get to see one very soon after the holiday when fishing on a very frosty River Severn which hopefully brightened up his biteless day. Every angler and his brother seems to tell me about the kingfisher that perched on the end of his rod but this is a privilege I have yet too enjoy.
I am both a bird watcher and an angler but I see many more kingfishers as an fisherman than I do as an ornithologist. The thing is, when you’re fishing you sit on one spot for hours and sooner or later on a fishery well stocked with small fish and fry a kingfisher is bound to turn up sooner or later. It is a far more effective way to see these birds than walking along the bank trying to find them. An old romantic name for the kingfisher is the halcyon, hence the title of this piece.
There are approximately 6000 pairs of kingfishers in the UK currently but if the weather forecasters are right about this winter being harsh, that number could be drastically slashed. With their diet being almost exclusively fish, frozen ponds, rivers and canals spell starvation. In a bad winter in the early sixties it was estimated that 95% of the UK’s population perished. Fortunately with an ability to raise two or three broods a year and with plentiful supplies of small fish available due to the lack of competition, the numbers rise again in a comparatively few years.
The nest consists of a hole some half a metre long in a bank by a river or lake and apparently with the amount of fishy guano produced by a brood, the stench emanating from the nest hole is appalling!
I was lucky enough to capture the bird in the pictures by taking shots through my telescope as it perched on various trees on the far side of the wides on the Trent & Mersey canal near Anderton lift. It is almost certainly one of the birds that visit our nearby pools and stretch of the river. Kingfishers don’t necessarily stick close to the water when travelling from one feeding site to another, often cutting through woods and across fields. I once found a dead kingfisher that had broken its neck after smashing into a glass corridor at my former workplace probably half a mile away from the nearest productive piece of water.
So there you have it, us anglers are probably the kingfisher’s biggest audience and long may we continue to enjoy their exquisitely beautiful presence when we are out enjoying our sport.
THE SEASON OF MELLOW MISTS AND FRUITFULNESS
The poem “To Autumn” John Keats describes this time of the year as “The season of mellow mists and fruitfulness”.
Summer has slipped away almost unnoticed and October’s chill breath has prompted the searching out of the favourite but not necessarily lucky, old fishing jumper. The colour has started to drop almost imperceptively out of the water and the fish have decided to become much harder to catch although afternoon temperatures have remained unseasonably mild. Carp though seem to be the exception in the cisterns and apparently intent on putting on some fat to see them through the winter months.
Much of the colour on the bank has now gone as most of the wild flora are past their flowering period. Indeed the wild flower meadow bordering our Weaver fishery has literally been cut down and rolled up, with the aid of a tractor. In the process the seeds produced from this year’s flowers will give us next year’s glorious display. However two of our dandelion-like species are still going strong.
Cats-ear and Sow thistle both add a welcome splash of yellow to the river bank. Here and there the blue of the Meadow Cranesbill catches the eye and the pink of the Red Campion is still in evidence in places around the club’s pools.
While much of plant-life is dying back many species of fungi are very much in evidence. The striking Fly Agaric with its white spotted, bright red cap can be seen at Heesom’s pool and is a toadstool often depicted with a gnome sitting on it in fairytale books, quite often with a fishing rod. I can’t say that I’ve spotted a member of the little people utilising one myself though!
At the base of a willow tree beside the junior pool there is a beautiful little colony of toadstools that go under the name of Mycena Inclinata, each of the individual fungi looking like a delicately ribbed porcelain parasol.
Fruiting trees and bushes are also much in evidence and apple trees scattered about Anderton Nature Park are laden with bounty at the moment. Berries too on Rowans, hawthorns and guelder roses decorate the trees ready to feed the flocks of winter birds but most of the elderberries have now been eaten by the avian hordes or are in the process of being turned into elderberry wine and the fruit that is left is fast withering on the bush.
Britain’s summer visiting birds have now departed to warmer climes and the winter flocks of starlings and members of the thrush family are now piling in. The hedgerows and bushes play host to busy flocks of mixed tits. Blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits are constantly on the move looking for the morsels of food they need to sustain them through the colder months. Often they are accompanied by the easily overlooked tree creeper, a small mousy bird with a curved beak that spirals up the trunk of a tree, propped by its stiff tail feathers, looking for insects hidden in the bark crevices, then flying to the base of the next to begin the process all over again.
This very mild autumn has seen the last of the dragonflies on the wing later into October than usual. The two species that are abroad are the Common darter and the Migrant hawker still looking for an opportunity to mate and lay their eggs before the first frosts kill them off. So as we move towards winter’s cold embrace, nature continues her own preparations for survival through the harsh months ahead.
SKIMMERS SUNBATHING ON THE CONCRETE STEP, BABY TOADS LEAVING HOME, ROBINS IN YOUR BAIT BOX AND WATER FIGWORT – MIDSUMMER ROUND THE POOLS
Midsummer conjures up images of baking hot and lazy days.
This summer has not always lived up to that promise but when warm rays have eased through the clouds nature has responded by rousing her diaphanous sun worshippers, the dragonflies.
The top cistern is one of the best waters to spot these fascinating insects and two of the species to have patronised its banks are the Black tailed Skimmer and the Ruddy darter. Up until very recently the Black tailed Skimmer was a rare visitor to Anderton Nature Park, but it has suddenly proliferated and in June and early July, up to six males were staking territory on the dragonfly pond. One male made it up to the top cistern which on the face of it was not a suitable habitat for it as the species prefer sparsely vegetated shoreline on which they rest and take in the sun. This particular male however, decided that the bottom concrete step leading down t the poolside was a reasonable substitute and was in residence for at least two days.
The Ruddy darter has, as its name suggests, a particularly striking red colouration and the abdomen has a distinctive narrow waist. Three or four Males have patrolling the margins of the top pool lately.
Much bigger dragonflies, the hawkers also patronise our pools. The electric blue male Emperor dragonfly has a predominantly green mate and I photographed one laying eggs in the top pool. Brown hawkers are now predominant on all our waters and I probably saved the life of the female that I photographed laying eggs when I unwittingly scared off a large frog lurking just below the insect with a wide open mouth seconds before I clicked the shutter. Shame really, it would have made a great photograph! At Heesom’s The seemingly black and green chequered Southern Hawkers hunt for an insect meal over the paths between the trees before eventually moving over the water to breed.
Female Emperor laying eggs Female Brown Hawker laying eggs
Talking of frogs, thousands of baby frogs and toads took advantage of the wet nights we’ve had to emigrate from the ponds to take up residence in the surrounding vegetation. For a while after this mass exodus you have to be careful where you put your feet for fear of crushing the tiny amphibians.
A baby toad leaving the pond
The robins at Heesom’s have successfully fledged their families and anglers are being visited by the spotted youngsters who are eager for an easy maggot meal. Because of this it is wise to remove the bait from your hook if you have to bring your tackle in when leaving your peg. Otherwise you may inadvertently hook one of these bold avian opportunists.
Finally, a brief look at a couple of examples of the flora to be seen close to our waters. When leaving your car on the middle cistern car park, you may just notice a gangly, rather dowdy looking plant growing between the parking area and the pool. Close inspection however reveals exquisite if rather small flowers deep maroon in colouration. This is Water figwort.
The rather dowdy Water Figwort..…reveals beautiful flowers when viewed closely.
The wild flower lined path fringes between the junior and top cistern have among their inhabitants, the beautiful blue flowers of chicory. At a distance they look a little like cornflowers but the foliage is much coarser and close up, the flower structure is considerably different to that of the cornflower. The roots of this wild plant can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
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