Friday, 31 July 2020

Welcome to my bird world

I am beginning to think the bird kingdom might be in some sort of avian lockdown centred around The Mill; I have never known anything like it. From the near constant circling of the Red Kite to the incessant pursuit chatter of the Kingfishers we seem to be living in some sort of fowl sanctuary.


Take the ducks: as the old music hall joke goes, please do! Though that said someone seems to have done it in part. We have a permanent population of discontented adolescents whose sole purpose in life, beyond bickering with each other, is waiting for fish feeding time. I’m pretty certain they have some sort of social media alert; the moment I appear two dozen or more gather from far and wide to the lake. As for the ducklings they are very much the disappeared. I’d estimate we’ve seen at least a hundred cute, yellow little fluffy feather balls since the spring, sometimes in family groups as large as fifteen. But the attrition is fast: 10, 6, 2 then none. Or any countdown numbers you care to pick. In the space of a week every paddle is reduced to zero. As to the assassin, I have no idea.



And then there were three ....


A similar fate was to befall the pair of Canada Geese. Actually, these are relatively unusual stayovers, though that is most likely because we have no swans who have chosen to corral themselves for the past two years on our downstream neighbour’s ornamental lake. They usually do for any colonial interlopers; swan/geese wars are always short and vicious and always have the same outcome. Rather bizarrely these particular geese chose to nest amongst the young wheat shoots high in the field that looks down on the Brook; all we could see for some weeks were a pair of heads turning like periscopes above the corn.


Then one morning Mum and Dad appeared at the lake with three newly hatched goslings who they inculcated in the ways of water. But for two of them they might just as well not bothered for the following day there was just one. What of the other two? Again, I have no definitive explanation. It seems unlikely it would be a double natural death and geese are highly protective of their offspring, so no great likelihood of the patricide exhibited by ducks. My bet is on Mr Fox, but he has been unable to account for the third who has grown from a grey, downy bundle to a 2/3rd facsimile of his (or could be her) parents in short order. Apparently geese, though they don’t reach sexual maturity until 2 or 3 years of age, reach full adult size faster than any other bird in the world. Quite what evolutionary quirk has determined this I can’t imagine as geese seem to be an unlikely candidate for such a global distinction.


After the death of our long-time resident heron, shot by some unknown hand, we went a while without a grey stalker but we now have two who compete fiercely for the best spot on the lake, barking like dogs and squawking at each other whilst under the dismissive gaze of the white egret who has made the uppermost branch of the ash tree on the island his regular perch. Such is the scale of the competition between the three I worry less for my fish now as to when there was just the one.


Talking of turf wars, the kingfishers are forever at it. We have one resident pair but I’m guessing there must be another somewhere close by because, quite suddenly at random times of day, two Exocets of blue will jink and weave, one pursuing the other above the water accompanied by a fierce high-pitched chatter, the noise and sight disappearing as fast as it appears.


As so it goes on, moorhens. Coots. Red kites. Buzzards. Crows. Swifts. Swallows. And don’t get me started on wood pigeons who treat us as the local drinking haunt and shagging palace having gorged on the peas in the field adjacent to the wheat.


The only birds we really miss out on are our native songbirds but maybe they have headed elsewhere for a quieter life. I wouldn’t entirely blame them.



Freedom to fish


Sea angling has always been the most free-wheeling of the angling disciplines – no cost to the fishing. No licence required. Barely any regulations to speak of. But this is under threat by virtue of unintended consequences.



We all know how endangered fish stocks have become in the coastal waters around Britain. The reasons? Well, overfishing, pollution and coastal development. The government recognises this so recently commissioned the Benyon Review that reported in June recommending the creation of Highly Protected Marina Areas (HPMA) identifying 46 sites around England, five of which would be selected for a pilot scheme that would lead to a blanket ban on all sea fishing, including recreational angling.


You may or may not be surprised to hear that angling had no seat at the table for this review so we got lumped in with the detrimental e.g. commercial trawling whilst being excluded from the apparently beneficial e.g. recreational powerboating or scuba diving.


It is hard to criticise the concept of the HPMAs; the ending of dredging, drilling, mineral extraction and commercial fishing makes eminent sense. But recreational angling? Chichester and Langstone harbour, one of the best locations in the UK for sea bass and mullet on the fly, is on the list. Does anyone really think the demise of Hampshire’s sea fish stock can be laid at the door of those who fish for fun?


The ban is clearly arrant nonsense so hopefully the reasoned response made by the Angling Trust and others to the Environment Secretary will allow a bit of common sense to prevail as least as far as us anglers are concerned. That said the Benyon Review has run into a tidal wave of opposition from the fishing industry. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Associations said on Wednesday that it “has been driven by politically well-connected, socially privileged, environmental zealots, with an agenda that bulldozes aside the fears and legitimate concerns of those who depend on fishing for their livelihood.” No holding back there …….


If you want to have your say there is still time as the decision will not be made until the run up to World Ocean Day on 8th June 2021 which tells you this is as much about perception as practicality.





In the news


If you happen to be flicking through back issues of Country Life in a doctors surgery or some such keep an eye out for the March 29th 2020 edition which features Shawford Park on the River Itchen, one of our most beautiful fishing locations. 



Shawford Park, Hampshire


More recently Wherwell Priory was on the cover of the August edition of Trout & Salmon with a great feature Don Stazicker with photographer Richard Faulks which really captured the best of the Test.



Trout & Salmon, August 2020



Frankel is out (well, almost ....)


After a couple of false starts my latest book Frankel: The Greatest Racehorse of All Time and the Sport That Made Him is published this coming Thursday, August 6th.


It will be available in all bookshops, via Amazon in Hardcover, Kindle Edition or Audiobook. For a signed copy visit the Fishing Breaks web site.




Grayling having sex


I’ll take no credit for finding this clip. It was sent to me with the simple tag: ‘grayling having sex’. In the field of fish procreation the expression of one of the participants would be worthy of winning an Oscar at the annual Adult Video News awards.


Watch it here You'll have to get almost to the end of the 92 seconds but it is worth seeing Jack Perks doing his stuff in anticipation.





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 is the largest UK native bird measured by wingspan?


2)     What is the smallest UK native bird measured by weight?


3)     Who was the jockey that rode Frankel in all his races?



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     White-tailed sea eagle at 2.5m

2)     Goldcrest at 6g

3)     Tom Queally

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