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
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
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
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
1)What food crop is Idaho most famous
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?