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?