Friday, 17 July 2020

Jaffa the Cat



It took me years to work out why Jaffa just so loved the company of anyone fishing around the lake. For the past seventeen years or so he’d spend each day patiently patrolling the fringes, sitting beside each angler in turn. I’m pretty sure in his own mind he became a pretty deft fly fisher; his expression certainly seemed to critique the best and worst of casting.


As he watched the fishing action his ears were doing something entirely different, listening out for the tiniest of rustles from the grassy bank. At which point he’d dismiss all further thoughts of fishing as he stalked his prey, often as not pouncing headlong into the undergrowth to emerge victim in mouth. Little shrews were the most common fatalities; these were consumed in three crunching bites. Head. Body. Tail end. Those less versed in the ways of felines were often horrified by the speed, sound and brutality of the operation. Start to stop less than a minute, Jaffa returning to his previous posture with the addition of some contented licking of lips, plus alpha male grooming.



In his life he killed a lot. We haven’t seen a rabbit in years. Grey squirrels give us a wide berth. That said most birds were safe; the ducks and Jaffa were equally disdainful of each other. He did once capture a kingfisher, which he brought into The Mill still very much alive. It escaped his jaws and then proceeded to fly around, chased by Jaffa until it finally stunned itself flying into a large glass pane. I gathered the bleeding bird up in a tea towel but as I did my emergency vet bit (very amateur) it came to and pecked me on the hand. Kingfisher bills are, as you might expect, sharp. I still have the scar.


Jaffa never really came to terms with the otters; frankly, I think he was scared witless of them. The best he would do was to perch on a windowsill staring out into the dark on the night as the eeking echoed around the lake. But mostly he’d curl up indoors, not venturing outside until the otters vacated his kingdom at dawn.


For The Mill was Jaffa’s kingdom. He has been part of the weft and weave of life here since almost the very day I arrived. He’d join me each morning as I went around clearing the sluices, adjusting the hatches and feeding the fish, his reward two or three fish pellets. He absolutely loved fish pellets. As he did the water from the Wallop Brook water; he’d hang from the bank to drink, his little pink tongue lapping it up. When we had the office in the house, he’d sleep between two monitors and above the gentle up draught of the server for warmth. I think he knew every word of my books as I muttered and typed away, the two of us together but alone to our thoughts.


For the most part Jaffa liked having people around, though he took an incomprehensible dislike to some from time to time, I’m sorry to say greeting those who unwisely got too close, mostly men, with a bite or scratch. Generally, however he’d saunter out to join new arrivals with peaceful thoughts, unhurriedly watching the day unfold. Because, as I finally worked out, we were his hunting enablers. The presence of people discombobulated the rodent population; as they broke for cover, disturbed by us humans, Jaffa pounced.


It was a never fail symbiosis of which he never tired. Until, at least, just recently. Age caught up with Jaffa. A degenerating spine condition limiting his forays until the sad day when he could barely walk any longer. That day was Monday, when beside the Brook he had made his own for nearly two decades, we had him peacefully put to sleep in the warmth of the morning sun.


I’m going to miss you, buddy.



More city otters


Hot on the heels of the Salisbury window shopper this photo comes my way from ex-pat Evan Landy who lives in Singapore. He is currently writing a book about smooth-coated otters that range across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.



They are not so different in size to our native otters, but they do have a very different lifestyle living, as they do, in intergenerational family groups of up to a dozen. Evan takes up the story:


“The smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) of Singapore are famous for having adapted to city life in one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Around one hundred otters and five and a half million people share this small island, which is around the same size as Anglesey (with a population of seventy thousand people). Outside of the city there are a few remnant patches of mangroves and this family (two adults, two sub-adults and two pups) have made themselves at home in this rich ecosystem.


They patrol around 10km of coastline each week and so one has to rely on an element of luck, as well as getting to know their habits, to find them. As there are around fifty thousand people for every otter in Singapore, it is unsurprising to find otters outnumbered by the fishing community. For the most part, anglers and otters live side by side peacefully enough but the otters do seem to be very aware of the difference between those who fish and those who do not. Whilst they allowed Evan a close approach on this occasion, their behaviour changed as soon as a fisherman appeared. They became instantly alert and soon slipped back into the water and moved on. Some fishermen will deter the presence of otters through making loud noises and occasionally throwing objects into the water to frighten them, but the vast majority just reel in their line and wait for them to pass.


It is fascinating to witness how they have adapted to live in one of the world's busiest cities. Lastly, they are proving to be a valuable flagship species for local wildlife as they were named the 51st icon of Singapore in 2016 after a vote run by one of the national newspapers.”




Don't bother to match the hatch


I can’t believe that it was just four months ago that I was driving beside Idaho’s famous Silver Creek, just a week ahead of the UK lockdown. Both it, and the world, looked a lot different back then.


Today the snow has gone but the famous Idaho Brown drake hatch made its annual appearance bang on time. It is the Midwest equivalent of our Mayfly though I’m told it is slightly frustrating for the angler. There is no pause to the hatching Ephemera simulans who rocket from the water to take flight; none of this gentle bobbing on the surface to dry your wings like our danica.


Many an angler has spent many an hour flogging away with a surface imitation for zero reward. The trick is to either nymph whilst the hatch is on or wait for the spinner fall. Watch the (very) brief video here



Silver Creek, Idaho



Photo of the week


This photo popped up on Twitter. A 25lb Koi carp caught of a Hares Ear Booby on Grafham Water. There was bit of a debate as to whether it should have been released - it was. The official word from the Institute of Fisheries Management was:


It is illegal to release ornamental fish into the wild but obviously very difficult to police. Carp and variants are not classed as Invasive Non-Native Species so there is no requirement to maintain and remove. Not great from a biosecurity point of view, but it is a bit late once they're in the water.





A newsletter topic theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.


1)     What food crop is Idaho most famous for?


2)     In what year did Singapore cease to be a British colony?


3)  Today should have been the second day of which international sporting event in Kent?



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     Potatoes

2)     1946

3)     The 149th Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s


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