Thursday, 30 March 2017

The River Calls and Shows Me Things


I am very fortunate to have access to what must be one of the most beautiful rivers in the whole world: our Very Own Chalk Stream, the Test. More so because, thanks to the River Keeper on the Mottisfont Estate, I am allowed access to the private fishing beats where there are no public footpaths.

Fly Fishing doesn't start till the beginning of May, so between now and then I am able to wander at will and soak this wonderful place up. After May 1st I can still go but it takes a wee bit more planning, so as not to disturb the fisherfellows  A huge amount of work goes in to caring for the river, and the habitat is fantastic, as evidenced by the huge range of species I recorded during an hour this morning.

Twenty-six species of birds; 3 species of Butterly; 3 Bee Flies; a Rabbit; Roe Deer slots; Buff-Tailed Queen Bumbles AND fresh Otter Spraint which must have been left in the night.

Have you ever sniffed otter poo? No? I wonder why :o) It is actually not unpleasant. It doesn't smell of poo at all; it smells of the river. If you enlarge the photo you might be able to see the fish scales which make up a fair amount of otter leavings and, together with the smell and where it's found, identify it as otter. I always get ridiculously excited whenever I find it and I'm afraid I always pick it up and sniff it :o) Were you glad you weren't with me? I take photos too....



Perhaps you'll like these ones more... 

A male Holly Blue. He's the chap in the first photo too. You can tell he's a male because the dark line along the edge of his wing (see first photo- it's clearer in that). In the female it's a lot fatter. I saw two of these beautiful flutters on the river this morning. A sure sign of summer coming.



There were two Comma Butterflies as well, basking on the warm micro-climate of some bare earth on the bank, neatly demonstrating how they get their name...



Cowslips are out, which means it won't be too long before it's time to go hunting for the elusive Duke of Burgundy fritillary. This flutter is teetering on the brink of extinction. There are two sites locally where you can see it, if you're in the know and are lucky. One memorable spring I had a Duchess sit on my finger at one of them for ages. They are unusual in that the male only has four functioning legs- the other two have shrunk so much as to be unusable.


And last but not least, a Greylag Goose.


Most Unexpected. We do have a small GB breeding population of Greylags here in the UK, but their numbers are swelled over winter by birds arriving from colder climes so it's hard to know which this is. They're just about heading back to colder places now, so this could be one about to head off. I am intrigued and have asked Alan, my Bird Expert, for his thoughts.

No Cettis Warblers yet, but it won't be long. It also won't be long before the Whitethroats and Reed Warblers return to the banks and hedges. Cuckoos too. I'm keeping an eye on the BTO Cuckoo cam which shows were five satellite-tagged cuckoos are on their journey back to Britain. I'm watching one of the Cuckoos in particular: Selborne is a New Forest Cuckoo (named for naturalist Gilbert White's home village) and as such it's not beyond the realms of possibility that I might see him, the forest being a stone's throw from here. Click here to see his journey. He's currently in Northern Spain, so it won't be long before he's back. Isn't technology amazing?

The valley where the Test runs is a known stop-over place for Osprey on their flight back to Scotland, which is just about now. Last Spring, one was seen perched in a tree on one of the other beats. I confess I indulged in a secret reverie of coming round the corner and finding one taking a trout from the river today, but alas it wasn't to be. What I did find though which is as exciting, was five fresh water vole latrines, which means the breeding females are up and active and marking the edges of their territories. We didn't see so many last year so this really is Good News. No actual voles of course, but The River and I have played this particular game many times before- I know full well she'll only let me see them when she's good and ready. I am content to wait, respectfully, of course.

It feels like life is really getting going now, Wild Life. I'm heading out to the other beats over the next few days, it would be a treat to see Water Voles, or Kingfishers or maybe even an Osprey. Or one of the Goshawks who have moved in to one of the local woods and will be displaying above them in the next few weeks. Or possibly a Peregrine or two who are also nesting not too far from here. If I'm Very Good, and patient, Mother Nature might just oblige.....

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

35 comments:

  1. How fantastic to see water voles! Have you ever seen red cowslips? There were beautiful banks of cowslips growing alongside the motorway when we travelled back from Birmingham last weekend. I wasn't sure if I was seeing things when I spotted it, but I guess it was maybe a planted cultivated one? I'm relieved to hear that the otter scat is not too unpleasant smelling...the otters themselves smell very fishy! Arilx

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    1. I think the red ones must be a hybrid. Haven't seen them in the wild before. X

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  2. So much wonderful wildlife. Our string of stew ponds on the ancient common have been known to feed an osprey or two on their way to Scotland. I remember one year one hung around for weeks and we used to see it in flight above the allotments. I must keep my eyes open for Holly Blues, one of my favourite butterflies to see in the garden. I have only seen sea otters on the beach at Saddell on the Mull of Kintyre. We used to go for a dusk walk to watch them play on the rocks and swim. Thanks for the reminder about cuckoo cam, another bird I've seen in the feather at the plot - although I had no idea at first what it was. What are roe deer slots? We are still being visited by a Roe doe with her twins from last year. Actually it feels like such a privilege that they are so at home. Righto - just off to steam my three spears of asparagus - so glad I stopped at the plot on the way home, although asparagus in March is hitherto unknown! Can you tell I loved reading this post - all great stuff CT, thank you.

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    1. Deer slots are the tracks they leave. How fantastic to have had an osprey so close. Your neck of the woods always sounds so amazing. The bto cuckoo tracking project is brilliant. Tiny asparagus spears here too- the plants were seeds last spring so they're doing well! X

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  3. Oh so much to enjoy and absorp in your post. Wonderful comma butterflies. I'll say nothing about the otter poo. I guess I would prefer the otter myself. You live in such a special region. I look forward to hearing about more of your wildlife exploits this year. Off to click on your cuckoo link. B x

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    1. You become very interested in poo when surveying and recording- so often it's all you see of the animal! Also it can tell you so much. Hope you enjoy the cuckoos- great stuff x

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  4. Such knowledge! I love the thought of you sniffing otter poo! How lucky you are to have such a fantastic river nearby. I've seen the odd water vole in ours over the years but, sadly, not recently. Happy sniffing! xx

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    1. It would be very interesting to survey your river for water voles- often you find the field signs (latrines, runs and feeding stations) without seeing the voles themselves. Hopefully they're still there. You could look for any prominent tree roots just out of or even in the water with lozenge- shaped brown droppings on them. If you see any get a photo and I'll check it for you x

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  5. Osprey fly over our wetland area from time to time. There was one last week I think. One of the Bewick's has a tracker on her and you can see how fast she returns to the Arctic tundra each year, it's quite amazing as you say. How lovely that you get to go down by that beautiful river, it sounds enchanting. I'm very in love with the Usk in the Brecon Beacons, that's a wonderful spot too. Isn't the Duke of Burgundy the one who likes a good fresh juicy dollop of dog poo? I learn so much when I come here, and I even remember the good stuff. CJ xx

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    1. It's the Purple Emperor who has a fondness for poo. Although I have also seen red admirals on it. Great about the osprey going over the wetlands and also the Berwick- these animals are so amazing xx

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  6. Hey CT,
    Well I'd quite happily sniff some otter poop with you. I've seen quite a few flutters - no blues, but several commas, whites, peacocks and possibly a small tort. Olly was given one of those flutter kits for his birthday. You've given your thoughts on this before, and I agree. But the thought of raising some flutters and watching the whole cycle in action, has really sparked his interest. So I'm going with it. A kestrel swooped really low and flew just above my head on Sunday, as I was sat at Priests Cove. It was thrilling. I'm sharing this with you here, cause I still can't get my blog/computer to behave. Terribly frustrating.
    Leanne xx

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    1. The butterfly kits are a great way to engage kids. The problem is really when they're released and the captive-bred flutters mix/ breed genetically with our wild ones. Keep them indoors and you won't have that problem. Great about the kestrel. How frustrating about the computer but I'm glad to see it hasn't eaten you as I'd feared :o). Knew I could rely on you with the poo- in fact, as I picked it up to have a proper look this morning I found myself grinning at the thought that of all the people I know, you would have been as excited sniffing it as I was! Xx

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  7. It would be brilliant if we could all meet up and go on a nature walk with you, CT. I'd trust your judgement where otter poo is concerned! I saw my first orange tip butterfly in the garden this afternoon and brimstones have been around for a while. The peregrines have been displaying along the cliff edge for a couple of weeks - it's absolutely thrilling and I'd love to have someone to share it with. Cassie isn't interested... I hope you see some. Sam x

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    1. Thanks, Sam. I'd love to be able to meet up and go for a walk together. Fantastic that your peregrines are displaying- you're so lucky to have such access to them. They are one of my favourite birds of prey, beautiful creatures. x

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  8. Such a great spot with so much to see, it must be fantastic to know you'll definitely see something exciting. x

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    1. Every time I go there the river gives me something x

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  9. I'm reminded of that lovely opening chapter of Wind in the Willows when I read that post, just messing about on the river. Your river is as lively as that of Ratty and Mole. I was surprised to find myself excited to see what otter poo looked like! I had a lovely 4k run down by the river the other day accompanied by the kids on their bikes, great fun! :-)

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    1. Well done on the run, it sounds lovely. Yes, I often think of wind in the willows when I'm there. It's a perfect spot. I think the poo fascination is because often it's the only clue you have to the animal having been there, it's kinda magical :o) XX

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  10. I love the little blue butterflies. I'm in the midwest USA. It's still early for butterflies here. Years ago we used to have so many little blue butterflies come to visit. I'm not sure if they are the same species as the one you showed, but they were beautiful. They always seemed especially attracted to clover flowers, along with the honeybees. The last few summers there have been far fewer honey bees and very few of the little blue butterflies coming to the clover. I think too many people use pesticides and herbicides on their lawns, plus the community we live in sends trucks through the neighborhoods to spray for mosquitoes once a week. We still get a lot of Monarchs, Black, and Yellow Swallowtails, and others, but hardly any of the pretty little blue butterflies.

    I chuckled about your otter discoveries.

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    1. Yup, that mosquito spray will do it :o( Great to hear that the Monarchs and Swallowtails are still with you. We have one species of Swallowtail in one area here in the UK and I've yet to be able to get there in June to see it!

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  11. You do live in such a beautiful spot, what sort of camera do you use ? x

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    1. Believe it or not, a lot of my photos now are taken with my phone (iPhone 7, the camera is amazing). Otherwise it's a Lumix x

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  12. I'm useless with birds of prey. I can recognise a buzzard a kestrel and a kite. After that, I'm stuck.

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    1. You're doing better than most ;o). Helpful to know Peregrine's country name of Longwing, perhaps? And that Sparrowhawks are grey zigzags when seen from underneath with bright yellow eyes, should you get close enough to see that (as are Goshawks).

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    2. Three red kites used, literally, to hang about here. They'd sit on the air facing out to sea so one could stand below them and clearly see the patterns on the undersides of their wings. I got into the habit of thinking they would be around for ever and now regret not having photographed them from directly underneath while I had the chance.

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    3. The chalk valleys around Oxford are reliable places to see kites. We often see lots from the a34 around Newbury way. Not sure where you are in the country tho! Fabulous birds. I saw one this morning near the river, circling calmly over the meadows looking for carrion.

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    4. I'm on the south coast of Dorset but it's interesting what you say about Oxford. I visit there every few months or so and see kites over the fields next to the road when approaching from the south - possibly the same ones! But they are always far too high to see the pattern of their wings! Which makes me wonder why the Kites here flew so much lower . . . as well as why they stayed for about three years then went away.

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    5. The usual answer is habitat and food resources. As primarily scavengers, maybe farming practice changes or habitat alterations meant food wasn't so readily available. As for height of flight, Chalk is usually wide open spaces so you could probably afford to circle higher in the air and gain a wider view of prospective food sources.

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  13. it sounds like a beautiful spot, and your photographs do it justice. I love small rivers and streams, and the life they attract.

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    1. Me too, Si, fantastic places, those watery worlds.

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  14. there aren't really the proper words to encapsulate the marvelousness of this.

    after a week o' environmental horrors (politically speaking, across the border), this is a breath of the purest air. xoxo

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    1. Thank you, Mel. Keep faith, dear heart, keep faith x

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  15. It is so wonderful and calming to catch up with one of your nature posts, the descriptions and beautiful photos are always so lovely to see and read. Thank you for keeping us in touch with nature!

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  16. Catching up on reading, haven't posted for a fair bit, keep the stories coming - this is just lovely.....checking in....rotator problems, have not been available to post/etc for a while. Cheers

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  17. I think we had an otter visiting. In our walled garden we found leaving with bits of blue mussel shell.

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x