Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Winter River, An Eight-Mile Run & A Kingfisher Comes

Heron
Mistle Thrush


Heron



Male Kingfisher

Male Bullfinch

Hail!

Hail Stones

9 Siskins

Male siskin

male siskin










The river and I are old friends. Normally, I don't see him through the winter. My connection with him has always been through the water voles who live on his edges and as they sleep through the cold months there was little call to walk his banks through winter. But last week I had an email from the estate's bird recorder sending me last year's records and it prodded me to see whether the river might be free for a visit. 
Sure, said Neil, who cares for it, next week it's pretty much free beyond some carp fishermen on the main beat. So, at 4 o'clock yesterday I drove down, parked up, entered the code in the gate and wandered down to see what I could find. I wasn't expecting much, the birds would be going to bed, but the river has never let me down and sure enough I'd not been there a minute before I saw a Mistle Thrush, upright and important-looking. He was sharing the field with six or seven red wing. I watched, photographed and marvelled, before, quite suddenly and with no warning, all the birds in the field took off and fled into the trees. Quite why they had executed a mass exodus became apparent a few seconds later when a bird of prey cut through the sky above me. Sparrowhawk, I thought, then had a moments doubt. Peregrine? They nest not far from here. Either way, the birds knew it meant danger and had sensed it long before I became aware. The hawk flew off over the trees, disturbing the rooks and jackdaws who set up a right old racket. 

I wandered on down the river, well wrapped against the chill. A big bird was swooping through the sky. A heron. He came in to land and stood at the far end of the field, watching me. Further on, four mallards and two moorhen and a pair of wrens, scolding. The light was beginning to fade by the time I turned for home and the raw east wind was tightening the skin on my face. I'd seen seventeen species of bird and a roe deer. Not bad for an hour's walk by the river.

Earlier this week I was getting ready to go out when movement by the lake's edge caught my eye. I knew it wasn't a regular bird, and as I turned to look properly, a male Kingfisher appeared among the tangle of branches. I watched him watching the water, before diving in and coming up with a fish, which he whacked against a branch for a good 10-15 minutes before flipping it, head first and swallowing it whole. Then he dived back into the water, as if for a wash, went back to his perch, had a preen and flew off back into the branches. I think the fish was a stickleback- they have to whack them for ages before the spines on the fish's back relax sufficiently for them to eat them. Needless to say, I was late for my appointment.

This morning, Pop and I have been out for an 8.7 mile run along the lanes. I strapped my knee and it coped really well. The only time it ached was running downhill, so that was good feedback. As I was running along, I remembered finding a dead badger on the side of the lane about this time last year. There is a sett not far from here, but I knew it hadn't come from there and it hadn't been killed on the road either: it had been killed elsewhere and dumped here. No sooner had the thought run through my head than I saw a dead badger. It had been left in the middle of the road where a car had hit it, but it hadn't been killed by the car. Badgers are creatures of habit and there are no badger paths either side of this road. I know, because I've looked for them. It had been killed somewhere else and dumped here just like the one last year. It was in almost the exact same spot. I felt a surge of upset and anger. I ran on, and barely a hundred metres ahead, there was another dead badger, also dumped in the middle of the road to make it appear it had been killed by a car. This time my upset turned to fury. Why do people think it's OK to treat badgers this way? The science around the badger cull and bovine TB is not conclusive, but long before that, badgers were singled out for hatred and baiting and killing. I don't get it? I ran on, feeling angry and sad and hoping I wouldn't see any more of these wonderful creatures, dumped dead on the road.

I wasn't tired at the end of the run, just cold and pleasingly hungry. Poppy was brilliant, she kept going all the way round and we had a small bit of pate at home to celebrate (Teddy had some too, of course, for guarding the house so well while we were out). Pop also had a bath, which she was less chuffed about, but when you're tiny wee all the water and mud on the road tends to attach itself to your underbelly and later gets dropped off all round the house. It gets to a point where a bath is the only option. I'd run out of dog shampoo so she had mine instead. She submitted to being rubbed dry with the towel afterwards for all of ten seconds before she managed to slip out of my grasp, eel-like. I heard her scoot along the landing and thunder down the stairs, taking the last five at a great flying leap as she always does. Ted, watching with a broad grin on his face, ducked his head as she jumped over him and disappeared into the kitchen. He wagged his tail when I came downstairs with armfuls of muddy towel. Poppy was underneath the table where she knew I couldn't easily get her. She was watching me warily, making certain I wasn't going to try anything. Ted's paw is much better, although he's still on indoor duty. He doesn't seem to mind- it's been cold and wet here this week and it's hailed too, so he's been content to lie on his bed beneath the radiator and snooze.

So that's us for now. L has a hair appointment this afternoon. Half term is like MOT week for children, isn't it? We've had an eye test, got a hair cut and are finishing the week off with a bank account opening. It's been nice not to have the normal college routine this week, although I seem to have managed to book work in every day. Oh well.

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)


32 comments:

  1. In the days when we would travel down to the West Country several times a year the children and I used to count the number of dead badgers we’d see by the side of the road. Sometimes it would be around 40 but of course there are no badger setts by the side of the A30 or A303 so I started to conclude that some of these badgers had been killed elsewhere and dumped to look like roadkill - and we stopped counting because it was so upsetting. We were at Mottisfont and Winchester last week - we lucked out on that beautiful day - Wednesday I think it was, It was extraordinarily muddy everywhere and I really don’t know how you manage to stay upright on your runs. We raced each other up the wooden steps to the top of St Catherine’s Hill where we chanced upon a young violinist recording a tune for posterity. In the past we’ve seen a kingfisher along the river walk to St Cross, but not this time even though we kept our eyes peeled. Your Teddy and Poppy are just perfect dogs I think.

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    1. My home stomping ground :o) All my favourite places. St Cats is beautiful and St Cross a lovely place to walk. Horrid about the badgers. I don't understand the persecution.

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  2. Kingfishers are so beautiful (mind you I say that about all birds) on Winterwatch people sent in some pictures of them in very strange places, the first time we have seen any was since moving here and visiting the wetlands centre.

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    1. I always feel so incredibly lucky whenever I see one. I can't quite believe it.

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  3. Lovely photo's lucky you for spotting the kingfisher.

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  4. You did well to sneak up on that kingfisher, the local one that lived by the lake in winter was extremely camera averse

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    1. I was standing at my bedroom window, Si. Never even had to step foot outside. So lucky.

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  5. Hi, I hope that you reported the dead badgers to the Wild Life Crime Unit. I have been seeing a lot of reports about badger baiting recently and it would be good if what you'd seen helped catch the perpetrators of this vile crime.

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  6. How lovely to have kingfishers on your lake, I’m not surprised you stayed to watch. Glad Ted is on the mend and keeping an amused eye on Pop's antics. I can imagine her hiding from you after the bath. The sort of thing my cats do regularly although that’s just when I’m trying to deknot their fur:). So sad about the badgers, none in Jersey, they’ve never made their way over here. Hope you enjoy the rest of half term. B x

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    1. Giggling about the cats and their fur-detangling. Pop is lovely and clean now, but will be filthy after her next walk no doubt! x

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  7. So tragic about the badgers - I didn't realise that this happened. How lovely to see the Kingfisher - I've only glimpsed one a coupe of times, and then very briefly. Teddy's ears are down again! I hope Poppy's bath cheered him up! xx

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    1. Yes, I think he's starting to feel cross about the lack of walks. Fish squares only compensate so far :o) x

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  8. Yep, haircuts here too, either tomorrow or Fri. I went down to the river early this morning with Bert. No-one else wanted to come, not even the birdwatcher. It was lovely. Curlew and all sorts of other waders (code for I don't know what they were...), a heron flying past which then landed close by. All good. I saw a male bullfinch down by the stream last week, he was gorgeous, and a rare sight around here. Very upsetting about the badgers. Ted and Pops looking very regal. Glad the bad toe is on the mend. Enjoy the rest of half term all. CJ xx

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    1. I'm not great at wader ID either, so many of them look so similar to me. It must have been lovely to have had the river all to yourself xx

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  9. Good to hear of Ted's progress...well done Pop...you evade the evil towel monster...x

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  10. So many wonderful photos, especially the two cuties with hurt paw and muddy paws.
    I am so upset over the Badgers. how cruel to kill these beautiful animals and them dump them. We have that here with a certain group of people(?) who think it is ok to abuse dogs and Javelinas. Killing and abusing animals make me so mad.

    cheers, parsnip and mandibles

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    1. I don’t understand it either. Poor badgers.

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  11. How fantastic to see a kingfisher! I remember always seeing them in France when I was little, but then I was watching winter watch the other week and they had them living in a harbour and some photos of them at bus stops and things.
    That's awful about the badgers being killed- until you mentioned it I had forgotten about the supposed links to bovine tb, and was just wondering who on earth thinks it's OK to kill them.

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    1. kingfishers are special birds, aren’t they? Always a treat to see one. As for the badgers, it’s heartbreaking.

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  12. I had no idea that people bait and kill badgers and dump them on the road to make it look like an accident. How awful! I just did a quick literature search and found a review that looks at the effects of badger culling on TB incidence in cattle in several counties in England. The review showed no or weak association between culling and TB incidence, depending on the county. Even if there was a strong link, nobody should take it upon themselves to kill the beautiful animals.

    We have quite a few kingfishers here. I was lucky to spot a breeding pair courting last year! xx

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    1. There’s evidence to suggest modern intensive farming methods, mass movement of cattle and weaker strains of cattle breeds have played significant roles in the spread and prevalence of btb. I’ve never understood the obsession to label badgers as the main culprits.

      How wonderful to watch courting kingfishers. We have a pair on the lake here but I’ve yet to see them together. X

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  13. What river is that? Great photos x

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    1. Had a feeling it was! Such a beautiful river! The section at the side of the Bush pub at Ovington near Alresford is well worth a look and wander!
      Pub is good too xx

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    2. Yes, it's a lovely river. I know the Alresford bit, gorgeous! Hope all good xx

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  14. Hello! I have just sat down for a lovely cup of tea and a long overdue catch up on your blog. I'm so pleased that your knee is holding up, onwards and upwards. And poor Ted but hopefully he will also be back outside very soon. I must admit to nearly abandoning this post about the badgers! I adore these beautiful creatures and simply cannot understand both the persecution and the vilification over the TB. Still your gorgeous photo are very cheering. 'Our' heron has taken up a new fishing spot much closer to the river path and my kids were delighted to discover how big they are! Lots of love. Shauna xx

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    1. Hello lovely Shauna. Yes, heartbreaking about the badgers. I don’t understand it either. Glorious about the heron, wonderful birds xx

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  15. I miss the kingfisher we sometimes saw at our pond in our previous garden. A parent teaching junior how to catch and eat frogs.

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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