Well this month is definitely all about colour, migrants and memories.
The glorious colour is all around us in the trees and hedgerows, there are huge numbers of migrant birds arriving from Scandinavia delighting bird watchers from Kent to the Orkneys. These birds, many of them rare migrants have taken advantage of the easterly winds in mid October which occurred right in the middle of migration time. Also the memories of a young lad catching his very first fish, I well remember mine don’t you?
Taking advantage of those easterly winds I set off to the coastal hedgerows and spinneys to see what the wind had blown in, ( I wonder if that’s where that saying comes from?) My goodness I am not disappointed. As I approach a spinney about 500 yards from the sea bank the first thing I see are three robins battling over some morsal or branch. It must be months since I have seen a robin in here and so clearly something was happening. I sit quietly watching what else may pop its head out. I do not wait long, I hear the peeping calls of goldcrests high up in the sycamore trees also in the low hawthorn hedge right in front of me busily feeding on any tiny speck of protien they can find. They appear to be finding things about the size of an aphid, things that actually look like moth or butterfly eggs. I have in the past examined these leaves closely and I can see absolutely nothing on them. In this spinney and now showing themselves easily are more warblers than I could shake a stick at, probably in their hundreds, goodness knows how many there must be along our entire coast! They are mostly chiff chaffs but there among all these new arrivals is one real rarity, a red breasted flycatcher. It is high up in treetops about one hundred feet away, it wont come any nearer and so I get my picture and satisfy myself that at least I have seen it.
I would like you to join with me in applauding the wonderful, the absolutely amazing gold crest, smallest of the UK birds. It always stuns me to think that that tiny little body weighing just six grammes (a ten pound note weighs one gramme) has only yesterday leaped off the coast of Holland two hundred miles away or even Denmark; 350 miles away and beat its tiny wings right across the North Sea, in the middle of the night! Just think about that, isn’t that incredible? And now here they are, right in front of us replenishing the weight they have just lost in that epic journey.
Tiny; beautiful little bird, you are incredible.
Well what other birds made this same journey? Great grey shrikes, brambling, redwings, fieldfares bluethroats, black redstarts, whooper swans and robins, lots and lots of robins. Have you noticed there are more of them in your garden since mid to end of October?
I lean on a bridge looking out over the marsh. Amid the sound of quarrelling gulls a lone tractor is rotovating a field ready for sowing next years wheat. The fields are ‘goldilocks’ right now, not too dry and not too wet, the sowing will be completed by the end of the week and in a matter of days that brown field will flush green again, another season going, another arriving and winter beckons.
I hear the piping of a kingfisher. It flies low over the narrow creek towards me and settles on an old iron pipe. It is in and out of the water in a flash and lands back on the pipe with a fish. The sun is shining full on it from directly behind me, maybe that’s why it hasn’t seen me? I already had my camera and long lens on a tripod, well you never know what might show up. I only get one shot and the sound of the shutter is enough to spook her and she flees back down the creek and deals with the fish about two hundred yards away.
She caught her fish, do you remember catching your first fish? I was about nine years of age when I caught mine. I lived near a chalk stream full of trout, I used to lay on the bank and watch them rise to the surface from the dark depths, snatch a fly and power back down again. I knew nothing of artificial flies and fly rods. There was no money for such luxuries as a fishing rod in those days and so I cut a live bamboo cane, nailed some staples along its length and bent them over, passed some string through the staples and with about three feet of nylon and a hook on the ‘business end’ I attached a worm and flicked the line out. I know now I was ‘long trotting’ but long trotting without a reel, I couldn’t make one of those!
An alarming and sudden tug and vibration on the line and soon, there by my feet was my first fish, a beautiful rainbow trout. Young lads never forget such things do they.
My grandson who is about the same age as I was when I caught my first fish has just asked me if I would take him fishing. Even at this age he is more interested in exploring the real world than that artificial world in the x-box or whatever it’s called. He could never have guessed in his wildest dreams what an exciting introduction to the outside world this day was going to be.
A very good friend of mine has some private ponds and suggested I take him on the medium one which was brimming with fish of all sizes but especially the smaller ones which would be not only easier to catch but with luck he should catch quite a few. There would be nothing worse to dampen the spirit on a first trip out than to catch no fish at all. In went our bait and in less than five minutes I pulled out a small bream. Although he was excited at this I could already see competitiveness in his eye, he was not going to be outdone. His float went under and he struck so hard his line and float whipped back into the trees. Not so hard I said, strike gently like this, he understood.
As I leaned over re-baiting my own hook I was suddenly aware of a thrashing sound and a leaping lad! He had another bite, struck gently, reeled it in gently and a pike of about five pounds flung itself at the small fish on the end of his line.
I will never forget the magical look on that lads face when he discovered that some fish are big enough to swim away and to keep swimming away no matter what you do. Inevitably his line broke but what an introduction to the world outside eh?
Towards the end of October I came across 17 newly arrived whooper swans resting on a very small farm reservoir. This reservoir is stream fed from crystal clear waters straight off the Lincolnshire Wolds and there is absolutely nothing in it for the swans to feed on. However it does have the merit that it is a very quiet spot and therefore with little or no disturbance the whooper swans can rest after their long sea crossing.
These 17 clearly needed a rest, I have never seen such exhausted swans, they just about had the strength to drink and preen but that was it, they spent all afternoon asleep. They did have one 'moment' when an elderly gent walked past but he showed very little interest and although the swans were alarmed and on the brink of flight they managed to resist, the 'danger' passed and all was quiet again.
The next day I checked on them again but this time there were 14, not 17 and they were definitely not the same birds. This flock were missing two distinctly brown headed (peat stained) birds and this flock had one juvenile, the previous flock were all adults so I wonder if this little patch of water up on the Wolds is a regular stop-off. Where will they all go from here, Welney, Slimbridge?
In case you missed the "Avian Display" I mentioned last month; Nov 3rd was not too bad but hopefully more waders will arrive in mid November, meanwhile enjoy this murmuration of waders over Cleethorpes beach. Click on the arrow and turn sound down to mute the extraneous (unplanned) sound.