Who am I?

My photo
An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to the see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!

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Saturday, 31 May 2014

We've met before!

An early start at Long Shaw Farm is 07.00 hrs (that's the rules!) so I was well within my comfort zone as I drove across to Canterbury in the superb light of the morning. My timing was spot-on and I was in the car park, unloading the car, bang on seven. I had decided to fish two rods with bottom baits, yet had brought along some cubed crusts and cat biscuits, as well as my Tring Tench rod and a choice of centre-pins, as a back up, should my Plan A fail.
Being on my own; I asked the guy in the next swim if he would be so kind as to grab a few shots.
It's my own fault that I didn't establish whether, or not, the guy knew how to use my EOS 400d.
The resulting images are not as I'd have liked - but they'll have to do.
If only Benno had been with me I would have been instructed
to lift the tail and he would have ensured that my head was also in the frame.
Fail it did - spectacularly! A snotty little Bream and a missed "screamer" being the sum of my return for this effort. Plan B, quickly into play, ensured a scattering of cat biscuits were deposited on the surface and a size 10 Korda wide-gape attached to 7 lbs b.s. line and loaded with a cube of Kingsmill awaited events. With the breeze in my face, the carp were quickly on the scene and happily munching on the freebies. I was throwing them out into open water and letting the wind push them under the overhanging bushes that bordered my swim. It became obvious, rather quickly, that there was a very large, dark old Common Carp showing a great deal of interest - slurping down great mouthfuls of cat biscuits yet steadfastly refusing the bread. It was doing a fairly regular patrol route which involved it passing directly below me and taking odd baits from the surface scum (willow/sallow debris) that had developed as the wind continued to blow into my swim. A long wait was eventually rewarded with the bite I'd planned, the fish taking the bread with complete confidence as it was heavily discoloured by the floating scum. A fantastic scrap on my very light tackle resulted in this old warrior gracing my landing net and being reduced to a statistic - 18 lbs 2 oz; the largest carp I've caught since 1984!

Almost a year, to the day, Benno had taken this same fish (off the top with a zig-bug)
It weighed in at 18 lbs 4 oz  on that occasion.

I thought I recognised it as soon as it was on the bank - arriving back home allowed me to confirm this with a photo check of the fish that Benno had taken on 26th May 2013 at 18 lbs 4 oz

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Carp puddle action and distractions

Benno, Will and I spent a few hours on Bank Holiday Monday morning fishing at Long Shaw Farm. I had a successful session finishing with eight carp - no doubles! Six off the top and a couple on the bottom, which was all very enjoyable. Benno took this quest for fun a step further by using a fly rod and a "zig bug". He might just as well have used a stick of licorice, because that was about as powerful as his fly rod - the fish hooping it right over and doing pretty much as they liked. My rods were far more suited, by comparison, being a Tring Tench rod (1 lb 2 oz T/C) and a Specialist Barbel rod (1 lb 12 oz T/C) - the carp giving a very good account of themselves, as expected.

I've used this image previously but it does set the scene for any session at Long Shaw 
Two boxes of cat biscuits and some cubed sliced bread crusts was all it needed to tempt the fish from the surface whilst the bottom bait was nothing more special than a section of Spicy Peperami -"glugged" in Crafty Catcher Tutti and Shrimp. It was a very unexpected surprise to be visited by two Environment Agency guys - checking for rod licences - the first time in four years that I've encountered them; good to know that my money hasn't been wasted. Long Shaw is a great venue to spend a few hours bending a rod, it requires very little skill - the most basic of techniques will reap rewards. It is certainly not a place to take too seriously - simply enjoy it for what it is, a carp puddle. The owners are very friendly as you'd hope and are always willing to offer advice if required.

Another old photo - a typical lean common carp taken on some vintage gear.
I used an ABU Cardinal  55 on Monday  - the reel in this image is a Cardinal 44X
The surroundings are very picturesque, and the natural history sharing the venue is always capable of throwing up a surprise. A singing Firecrest was present in the main hedgerow, two Common Terns were fishing the two bigger lakes and a family of Kingfishers were along the stream that flows on the southern boundary. The most striking sighting for me was the micro moth (Alabonia geoffrella) which occurred in good numbers before the wind picked up. I grabbed a few images, but the fishing kept getting in the way of my getting the shot that I'd really have liked. Back home for the afternoon, I netted another micro, which I'd disturbed from the shrubs in the back garden. It turned out to be a Firethorn Leaf Miner (Phyllonorycter leucographella) - a recent colonist which was first discovered in Essex in 1989.

Alabonia geoffrella - a striking little insect

Firethorn Leaf Miner (Phyllonorycter leucographella)
Taken using my 28mm extension tube with a Canon 18 - 55 mm lens (ISO 400 - 1/400th sec)





Friday, 23 May 2014

Newland's stock take

After Wednesday night's deluge, Rob Hunter describing it "as of Biblical proportions", I expected something to have happened. A couple of sightings of Hobby in the past couple of days suggest that the local nest site might be occupied - I'll take a look over the weekend. A check of the farm, this morning, revealed that two of the male Whitethroats have moved on, the Swallows only "might" be using the barn, but there are now several Yellow Wagtails out in the potatoes, although the bird I photographed earlier isn't displaying from the same area.
Close to the fence of Ellington Girl's School
The first Swifts arrived a couple of weeks ago, being seen over St. Luke's, but not venturing into Newland's airspace until yesterday. There was a small influx late yesterday afternoon and this morning a flurry of birds flew south over the bungalow - so I grabbed a few shots.
One day I might just get an image that does this species justice - until then this'll have to do!
A male Blackcap is singing from the main farm garden (out of bounds for me) and a Chiffchaff remains in gardens along the eastern boundary footpath.
The most spectacular sighting, however, occurred as I prepared to leave for work yesterday! I'd just finished feeding the birds in my aviary and became aware of the local gulls being somewhat agitated without the spiraling panic that I associate with an overflying raptor. As I walked up to the bungalow a huge falcon skimmed over the roof - less than 20 feet up. Clearly trailing jesses from it's legs, it appeared to be a Saker? As quick as it came it was gone, over the hedge, and lost from view. No camera and work beckoning, I left home to walk across the footpath; the gulls still not happy. About half way to the "Scaffolder's Yard" the bird reappeared and I was able to call it (I whistled and held my arm up - something I'd seen a falconer do out on Worth Marshes a couple of years ago!) and the bird came straight towards me. No glove and no lure, the falcon passed within 10 feet, eyeing me intently, before banking and making another pass. It was an awesome experience - how I wish I'd had my camera, the bird was magnificent. Yes, I am well aware of how plastic the sighting is - doesn't detract one bit from the sheer enjoyment of those few moments. Two crows and a host of Herring Gulls continued to give the falcon grief and I last saw it as it flew south over the farm towards St. Luke's - magic stuff!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The job's not finished - yet!

It was inevitable that, whilst we were away, plans for the coming season would be discussed; Barbel, once again, featured prominently. Benno and I have some unfinished business with the fish of the Kentish Stour. Simon is "spoilt for choice" - living, as he does, within a relatively short drive to the Ivel, Ouse, Lodden, Kennet and Thames (St. Patrick's Stream), whilst Luke still has to catch one - so he will also be trying his luck with the fish of the R. Stour.

05.07.2013 - Benno with the fish that got us off the mark.
11 lbs 6 oz of Kentish Stour barbel from a swim where we never got another bite!
I have to admit that my enthusiasm for the river returned, as we talked tackle and tactics, yet I know that it will not be any easier than last season. I ended that campaign completely numb; nothing I had done, when I'd been successful, differed from those occasions (all too many) when I failed. I felt that I learnt very little from the lessons I had been given. However, I wouldn't change anything - those fish which graced my net were hard earned and beyond my wildest expectations - during August 2013 I beat my PB three times with both 13 lbs + fish being captured using centre-pins; barbel fishing enjoyment can get no better!

An absolute brute of a fish, at 13 lbs 5 oz it remained my PB for just five days!
My plan for the coming season is also to try for a PB chub. I've landed a couple of fives from the river, but have seen two fish which would have easily been six, if not seven, pounds in a rather snaggy section. The acquisition of chest waders means that I am no longer restricted to bank fishing and a new long - trotting approach has been opened up to me - again the use of a centre-pin will simply add to the enjoyment of any fish captured. I think that what I learnt from last season, if anything? is too concentrate my efforts when conditions are best suited and not simply go because I felt I had to. Benno and I have ideas about a couple of other sections of the river - one where we have no idea if barbel are even present, proper Marco Polo stuff, although not as silly as it might first appear. We are well aware of how the species has spread out along the Rivers Severn and Trent, so there is no obvious reason why they shouldn't have done the same in the Stour? A leap of faith and only time will tell - we certainly aren't expecting too much competition for swims.
June 16th will soon be here and already I am getting those twangs of excitement that I recall at the approach of a new Tench season, on Wilstone Reservoir, some 30-odd years previous.

A 7 lbs + male tench from Wilstone Reservoir - circa 1987
During that era there was no other fishery in the UK capable of offering
tench fishing of such a high quality. To have been part of that is a very special period of my life.
The expectancy, at the season approached, fired by the desire to catch fish like this.
My choice of post title is not so much in the hope that I will beat my PB but, instead, that I start to understand the barbel of the R.Stour and feel that I am getting an insight into their feeding patterns and behavior. Only at that point will I feel that I deserve the success that I have been extraordinarily privileged to experience, thus far.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Newland's update and other stuff

I've been very lax, since returning from Scotland, and - if I'm honest my heart hasn't been in it! - so the "blogging" has suffered. It's not that I haven't been out; just I've been unable to summons the enthusiasm to actually sit at the keyboard and put anything, worthy, together. Now, a week later, I find that I've masses of stuff to report, although nothing of major importance away from my patch.

I first noticed this bird on Wednesday morning, as I made my way to work at 05.35 hrs. It has chosen
quite a small patch of potatoes, close to the main footpath. They haven't been planted long and
if he can quickly attract a mate there is a chance that they might just get a brood away before harvesting?
Summer migrants remain scarce, although three male Common Whitethroats are holding territory, a pair (?) of Swallows are back at the farm (there were none in 2013) and, at least, two male Yellow Wagtails are proclaiming their presence from the potato fields, yet I fear this will end in failure as harvesting will be very soon - it's the Kent new potato crop; big bucks if harvested early - something which requires a huge manual effort to ensure the bulk of the yield is collected and sent to market. A Yellow Wagtail nest will stand no chance in the face of such an onslaught.

A fly sp. - in the garden. 14mm extension tubes with the 18 - 55 mm Canon lens.

A weevil - that's my best guess!
I've discovered several similar insects, but have been unable to get any worthwhile images.
The majority of my other sightings have been of un-id'd invertebrates. I'm finding myself drawn, ever deeper,  into this world of intrigue and absurdity - my camera skills being found wanting as I seek to get closer (more detail) to the creatures that I encounter. There is a chance that I'm already at the limits of my ancient equipment; but somehow I can't buy that and it is operator error responsible for the failings.

An "inch-worm" caterpillar - feeding on the Ivy around our decking area

A spider sp. in the Beech hedge around the Staple Garden Centre
The garden feeding station remains the central attraction for the local bird population; two broods of Great Tits and a single family of Blue Tits are regular visitors to the sunflower heart dispenser. Starlings and House Sparrows have been spectacularly successful, locally, which is something worthy of note. Blackbirds are numerous; Song Thrushes a memory - no singing males in the dawn chorus of West Dumpton.


Scorpion Fly in my daughter's garden.

A centipede - Cryptops hortensis - found under an old piece of carpet that Emily and I have placed
on the patio. It's a great place to find "bugs". The photo was obtained after the subject had been sedated
by a short stay in the fridge!

An aphid - this is pushing my technology/knowledge of camera craft right to the very limit.
I can bemoan the losses, no Grey Partridge or Skylark, or I can enjoy the discovery of new wildlife avenues, as my searching reveals completely unexplored groups of creatures?

What is this? Beyond the answer of a fly - I'm out of it!
Unimportant? I derive great joy from the simple pleasure of looking!
My camera gear accompanies me of the vast majority of my wanderings and has been responsible for my discovery of many new families/groups of invertebrates. Fast approaching sixty and still as silly as a child; excited by turning a rock or log to view what might be present underneath. That'll do for me - if I ever get too serious then Emily will soon put me straight, she being able to provide the wonderment that this cynical old git might just overlook, once in a while!

Adult Great Tit, looking very worn, at the garden feeding station 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Scottish pike fishing trip 2014

Back home, late Friday, I've just starting to recover from this years' ordeal of wind, rain and living rough, so very typical Scottish highland ambiance - although a drive across to Gatwick to pick Bev up wasn't as straight forward as it should have been; a two hour delay meaning that we didn't get home until 03.30 hrs this morning. My body aches and I am still in need of some kip, but hey-ho, there's always work to look forward to !
Home from home - my CK "Bunka" bivvy passed the test with flying colours. In spite of torrential rain,
 in varying wind strengths, not a single drop of water made it inside.  
It was another very successful sojourn to Kilchurn Bay, Loch Awe with a total of twenty-five pike over 10 lbs (best fish weighing 19 lbs 7 oz taken by Luke) between us. Quite a few "back-up" fish in the 6 - 9 lbs class and even a few out on the lures for Benno, Luke and Simon. For some reason I haven't kept detailed notes of all the fish - probably because the weather was so horrendous that we were confined to the bivvies for long periods and we didn't get the fish recorded as it was landed, so things just got overlooked. All the "doubles" were written down, yet not the bait they fell to!

I'm certainly showing signs of living rough - a nice pike and a bit of
product placement!  Let's hope that Dragon Carp appreciate my endorsement ?
"Get one of these bivvies and you too could look like this!"
We were, once again, fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of Davie Robertson (Central Scotland Pike Anglers) and exchanged opinions on many subjects relating to the pike angling on Loch Awe and the attitude of many Scottish anglers to these magnificent fish and the surroundings that they are found in.
Our time together was cut short by a family bereavement, but there are plans to get up to Scotland in 2015 to give a talk to the guys of CSPA offering our opinions on the subject of pike handling / welfare and the task of educating the casual anglers into respecting the environment that they fortunate enough to have free access to. Litter is a massive problem around the shores of Loch Awe, as is the amount of discarded fishing line and wire traces.

Luke in action, once again, Benno waiting with the net.
We were better equipped, than ever before, to cope with the challenges of this magnificent fishery and our acquisition of a "DOMETIC" (not a mis-spelling of domestic) gas freezer proved to be a real bonus. We were able to keep our dead baits frozen for the entire period and this ensured that we caught fish steadily throughout the week. There were a few things we did, this year, that will remain untold, not because they were illegal, but we have no desire to give advice to casual anglers which could result in more pike being left trailing lines and/or stitched up by barbaric hook rigs and ridiculous methods. The lads involved with CSPA have a massive job to do if these practices are to be overcome - education is the only way and there is a huge void to be filled because of the casual approach by many anglers visiting the lochs. The mentality is based around camping at the lochside, lighting fires, drinking as much Buckfast, Scotch and beers as possible and slinging a rod or two out because there's always a chance that a pike will fall for the bait. Tales of lost rods and smashed gear are abundant, these guys having little clue as to the damage they do. We took additional hooks out of many fish during the week - the direct result of inexperienced/uncaring angling practices. The resultant debris was collected together and hung in the tree next to my bivvy (prior to being burned!) where it became known as "The haul of shame!"

Four treble hooks, from two separate sources, an assortment of leads plus two pop-up balls.
All taken from the throat and stomach, of a mid-double, as witnessed by Davie.
Where, in modern pike angling literature, do these rigs feature?

Nothing I can do, or say, will halt this but, in a rather simple way, this blog will have raised the subject of Scottish pike welfare into the consciousness of others, maybe someone out there has ideas that could bring the debate to a wider audience - or is it that there is a core of Scottish contempt for their natural heritage in keeping with the blatant persecution of birds of prey by certain sections of the population?

The Haul of Shame - all of this was removed from the pike that we
captured during the week. That coil of red mono-filament line was about 10 m
long. Careful inspection, of this image,will reveal many trebles, bait tags, buoyancy foam and
cheap swivels/links. The state of Scottish pike fishing in 2014?
Sorry for the moaning, but pike welfare it is a subject about which I have very strong opinions. I have been involved with pike fishing since the late-70's and, yes, I made mistakes and had to learn my trade. Joining the (Luton Region) Pike Angler's Club of Great Britain was the best thing I ever did. I came into contact with other, like-minded, anglers and helpful information exchanges became part of the learning process.

Magnificent sporting fish which deserve more respect by a section
of the anglers who visit the shores of this wonderful fishery.
The holiday was a fantastic experience, yet somewhat spoiled by the realization that pike angling in Scotland is still the "poor relative" of the game fishing fraternity and these superb sporting fish are subjected to barbaric methods of guys who place very little importance on fish or environmental impacts of their actions. It's not all doom and gloom; there was a Scottish boat angler who came into the bay (his boat was called "Mallard") and asked about where we were fishing and did we have any objections to him fishing further down the bay? He was a dedicated and skilful pike angler who, stayed overnight, caught a good number of fish - returning them to the loch with the minimum of fuss - it's the same old story of a minority (although not that small) spoiling it for everyone else.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Bet you'll never guess where I've been?

Just got back home after a grueling, 14 hour, drive! I'll let the pictures tell the story - there's loads more to follow.