Who am I?

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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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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Barbel basics

I hate to admit it, but I have wasted the best part of the last fourteen months, as I've pursued the barbel of the River Stour. Fred Crouch would have wondered if anything he had ever taught had been understood?
My wake up call came on Friday, when my confidence was shattered by the missing of a savage, un-missable, bite. How could it happen? What had I done wrong?
All day, on Saturday, it played on my mind and I kept reliving the moment - a waking nightmare! Then it all clicked into place! What a complete cock I'd been. My angling has not been about catching barbel but, instead, avoiding eels. The rig, and the size of my bait, was designed to deter the unwanted attention of these good for nothing, slimy pests and my effort and thought processes have been geared up like this since June 2013. It wasn't a "eureka!" moment, more like a cold shower when you need to remain awake. The shock was pretty much the same - how could I have forgotten so much of what Fred had instilled into me during those magical sessions on The Royalty and King's Weir. Yes, it is true that many aspects of barbel angling have changed in the intervening years, but it remains a basic fact that barbel are the same species as they've always been and will behave in similar manner as they've always done. I needed to get back to the basics; those which Fred had so generously taught me over thirty years ago.
Back then, maggots were "the bait" - we introduced them into our swims in huge quantities. To use six - eight pints during a session was a regular occurrence. To get them to where we wanted, we used swim feeders as part of our terminal tackle yet, the bulk of the bait was introduced to a specified area by the use of a bait-dropper (plastic and rather prone to breaking as I seem to recall). The whole purpose of this approach was to produce a diamond-shaped bed of feed, which trailed off downstream, that the fish would follow to the hookbait. Accuracy was the key, if this was to be done to maximum effect, the fish were cautious, when they first come into contact with the freebies, but gained in confidence as they moved up into the diamond before they became totally preoccupied and a baited hook was not an issue. What also helped was the fact that, at that time, both The Hampshire Avon and The Lea held massive populations of barbel and feeding competition between individual fish also aided our cause. In those days we were about catching barbel, any barbel, multiple captures were normal and size wasn't a consideration - a four/five pound barbel in King's Weir would try to pull you out of the punt (anchored to the chain that ran across the head of the pool) - happy days! 
 
A metal bait-dropper, complete with my own mods; I can change the weights, if required,
to suit the river conditions. Simple, yet highly effective piece of angling kit!
We got six, for £18, off the Internet.

How does this fit in with the situation on the R. Stour? This is a river with a very small population of barbel, as far as we know, therefore it is unlikely that the tactics of the 1980's would prove to be of much worth; however, the basic thought process about baiting strategy and fish confidence will still hold true? All day on Saturday, and for most of Sunday, I was thinking through my plan. Maggots were replaced with a particle mix (I'm not about to tell you what - but you can find it in a pet shop if you look) which I spiced up with the addition of some flavour. I also liquidised a small amount of the mix, so as to give off a flavour trail when it was introduced to the swim. The amount I introduce is directly proportional to the number of fish I'm expecting to be present which, until I know different, means that I'm introducing around half a kilo per session. (That's still an awful lot of individual particles)

A rather poor attempt to show my chosen swim.
The positioning of the hookbait, within the diamond, is critical - it must be
between the apex and the widest point, to be most effective. This is where any feeding fish will
be at their most confident, having encountered so many free offerings without
coming into contact with any form of terminal tackle.

I had already decided on the swim where I would put these ideas into practice, it being an area where all the ingredients, which I understand to be barbel features, were present - although I'd not fished there before and had never seen a barbel anywhere in the vicinity.  Well; the rest, as they say, "is history!"  Only time will tell if this capture was a fluke or good angling?
 

The net was made for me by a guy I met at a Catfish CG meeting in 1990? The frame was purchased
from Dragoncarp (complete with net) and proved to be the most unsuitable piece of kit
I've ever spent money on - you'd be better off using a tennis racket!
The two work well as a combination.

As I spend an awful lot of my time fishing alone, work commitments not lack of mates, it is essential that my gear is user friendly. To this end, my landing net pole is a 3m carbon fibre Boss Weightlifter and my landing net a large mesh 24" pan net fitted to a "Barbus" oval frame. This combination ensures that I'm not leaning over, or uncomfortable, when attempting to get a fish ready for landing.
Two other items which are proving to be invaluable are a small unhooking mat (it rolls up inside my ruck-sac) and my chest waders. The waders not only assist in getting the fish back into the water and fully recovered, but also provide a physical barrier to the bloody mosquitoes which are such a problem along the river! - Tight Lines

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Skill? No; I've got a lucky shirt!

This post is just because I can, a silly piece of indulgence, nothing more! - I've got a folder, on the external hard drive, which contains photos of all the barbel that I've witnessed from the River Stour (so not many!) Whilst looking through them, for signs of repeat captures, it suddenly dawned on me that I have a "lucky" shirt - three out of four, of my doubles have been captured when I've been wearing it. Obviously there is an alternative theory - I'm so poor as to only own one shirt, so it's a no-brainer that I'll be wearing it whenever I go fishing? Luck? Skill? There's a very fine divide between these elements, however, luck cannot be learnt; skills can be developed. As Gary Player once said "The more I practice, the luckier I get!"


My first "double" 11lbs 9 oz - August 2013


My current PB - 13 lbs 14 oz - 21.08.2013
The state of my hair is due to wearing a head torch, not a visit to some fancy parlour!

27.07.2014 - Same shirt, same necklace, same Rolex (?) watch - if only barbel fishing was this simple.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Effort equals success

It was exactly a year ago, today (27.07.2013), that I managed to capture my first barbel from the Kentish Stour. I'd been out on Friday; Benno, Tom and Luke (a bit part on this occasion) also present. Benno took a Bream of 5lbs 2oz, Tom blanked and I got destroyed by a bite which I missed completely. I would love to say eels (as Simon and Benno suggested) but my gut feeling was that I'd screwed up the first chance of the year?
So, when it became clear that another window of opportunity might be available, I did all I could to be ready. I changed my bait, rig and hook size - altered the particle mix with the addition of a spicy additive and was on the river by 19.30 hrs - swim baited up within 30 minutes and a hook bait in the water some 45 minutes later - just as the light started to fade. Bev had offered the ritual "tight lines" as I departed, but cautioned against reading too much into it - "you'll catch nothing again - as usual!" Such confidence in her husbands' ability.
I knew different - I could feel it. The omens were all in my favour; surely tonight was the one where it all fell into place. Darkness descended and I contented myself watching the Daubenton's Bats as they skimmed across the surface of the water, occasionally catching the line causing a bleep on the alarm and a flicker of the rod-tip. Just after 22.00 hrs it happened. The rod tip wrenched round, the alarm screamed into life and my Matt Hayes centre-pin span wildly as a fish bolted off with my bait. A fantastic scrap ensued before I was able to slide the net under the first barbel of 2014. All 12 lbs 10 oz of it - never has a fish been more welcome.

If anyone knows the swim from this background - they will probably be on first name terms with
this barbel?
However, unlike last season, I know exactly why I caught this fish and, in as much, am able to derive a great deal of pleasure from the event. If my confidence is justified then I feel sure it won't be long before I am adding to my tally of barbel from this superb river
 
Never easy getting that "perfect" self-take shot.
Hands all over the flanks and too much glare - how I wish Benno had been there


As with all of our fish - I made the effort to record both flanks, so to aid id of individual specimens as the project moves forward.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Urban myths, mountains and molehills

I have heard, on numerous occasions, from those good folk with whom I work; the dramatic effects of the appearance of a hornet, at a BBQ or similar event, and the chaotic scenes that follow as "every man for himself" panic ensues. The general story is of a loud buzzing, followed by "it was massive!" - my reply doesn't usually go down too well. "It wasn't a hornet, it was a hoverfly - Volucella zonaria" Hornets, on Thanet, are as rare as hen's teeth - I've seen one in fourteen years, and I've been looking.
It would seem that the general reaction to the sighting of a large black and yellow striped insect is to immediately start flailing arms and shouting nonsense - hardly conducive composure for the positive identification of any living creature? So why have I made mention of this today? Well, there have been up to six individual V. zonaria feeding on the buddlieas and, this morning, I decided to grab some images.

Volucella zonaria, a beast of a hoverfly - aka The Thanet Hornet!
The weather was superb, bright sunshine, a slight northerly breeze and clear blue skies; simply good to be outdoors weather. I recorded my first Migrant Hawker (dragonfly) of the year along with being privvy to a spectacular display by two, juvenile and an adult, peregrines high over Newland's Farm. Swallows were moving north, in dribs and drabs and there was plenty of butterfly activity to keep me amused - some pristine Painted Ladies being the highlight.

My first Migrant Hawker, of 2014, perched in the garden buddliea
The second part of this rambling drivel concerns the disquiet in the tranquil world of local birding; to be more specific, the state of the reserve at Stodmarsh/Grove Ferry. It is a designated NNR (National Nature Reserve) and is, therefore, funded by the, tax paying, members of the UK populous. Natural England are the custodians - any employee being a "civil servant" in this respect, so open to criticism by the public if there is a perception of failure?
Looking at some of my fellow blogland inhabitants postings - all is not well in the "jewel of the Kent countryside". Oh no; much vocal, and blogland, criticism of the general state of the reseve. Poor Becky Plunkett (the reserve manager) and her staff, have taken some fierce flack for the lack of viewing facilities offered by the site. By all means feel free to call me thick, but is not the purpose of a nature reserve to provide habitat in which nature can thrive? In this case we are talking about the inhabitants of reedbeds - Bitterns, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits and, dare I say, Spotted Crakes? There will, of course, be a whole ecosystem full of supporting plants, invertebrates, amphibians, mammals, etc. which all benefit from the conditions provided by this habitat. What it ain't is a zoo! The very conditions which provide optimum environments for the natural history does not automatically mean that it will be a good place to see them!
However, as it is an area which is payed for by the public, surely there must be some compromise? I've read Becky's rather defencive comment on "Chiddy's" blog - such a shame that things have been allowed to degenerate to this level? I was at that very first meeting, in The Reedbed Hide, when Becky outlined her vision and urged caution over time scale due to financial constraints - I can't see that she hasn't been honest, or the reserve fallen into disrepair.
May 2004 - looking from the ramp towards Stodmarsh. No reed shields, no Harrison's Drove Hide and still masses
of open water amidst the newly emerged reedbeds.
What is of paramount importance is the fact that this area remains managed for the wildlife of East Kent? Thus, if for no other reason than to provide the continuing support, surely the tax paying public should be able to enjoy a reasonable chance of encountering the inhabitants of the reserve as they walk the various footpaths between the vast expanses of maturing reedbeds.

24th September 2003 - A Pectoral Sandpiper  (it's in front of the Pochard!) on the main pool  - as viewed from the ramp
When I first visited Grove, it was a series of fields where turf was cultivated - Natural England (previously known as English Nature) have done a fantastic job in developing this facility for the benefit of many rare breeding birds. Wouldn't it be better if everyone could enter into constructive debate rather than this latest episode of  "muck throwing" - that's me being polite!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Minestrone or a Box of Chocolates?

This past couple of weeks has seen my head visit many dimensions as I've "blogged" my way through nostalgic defining moments, the, present day, frustration at my inability to master the barbel of The Kentish R.Stour, to the insane concept of recording my life's journey, in book form - and the associated shrapnel (Steve Gale's unexpected praise being the icing on the cake!) ending with the, utter relief, which comes from a medical "all clear" for Bev; some crazy places I've visited and that's for sure.
This "life story" stuff has led me down some rather extraordinary side roads - I am discovering much about the influences, and myself, as I attempt to unravel fact from fiction - such is the mess that forms my memories. I've always maintained that it was my love of natural history which shaped my being and made me who I am today? Looking back would suggest that there was an equal partner in all this - that being my choice of work! Factories are not for everyone, and that's completely understandable, but they are where I am most comfortable - my territory; where I am able to earn a living and can hold my own. It didn't matter if the business was owned by Kodak (UK) Ltd, Unilever or Fujifilm SIS - I am comfortable in these environs; shop floor banter being part and parcel. Yeah, of course I'm different, I'm a long-haired twat, wearing wooden jewellery, interested in birds, moths and fishing - no! page three isn't important - I've got Bev at home so why would I need to fantasise about a woman younger than my daughter? I couldn't give a toss for the merits of Manchester City and their spending power - I am, and always will be, a QPR supporter so that stuff doesn't come into my world.
These are places where I have spent more time than anywhere else - my experiences being of equal merit to any I've had in other arenas.
Please don't make the mistake of thinking "Well, it no surprise you're factory fodder - being a thick, un-educated goon" Oh no! I left school with a hat-full of qualifications which were soon added to by my time at college - I am, by trade, a medical laboratory technician - starting out life at The Lister Institute of  Preventative Medicine, Dagger Lane, Elstree. A fantastic, worthwhile, career but a world inhabited by deluded tossers; so not for me. If a bloke is a c*nt then tell him - can't do that in the twee environment of laboratory employment - on the factory floor it's almost a term of endearment.
I suppose this is why my blogging sometimes causes offence, where none is meant. I write this stuff as I see it (as I would say it to anyone within my work experience) and, if folk are not of this background, then it will appear a little rough/aggressive. I can't say that I'm sorry; for to do so would be that I would be sorry for being me? Perhaps there should be a warning on my blog header - "might cause offence if you're a little precious?"

Taken from a boat whilst enjoying a holiday in Turkey - one of those jet-ski and booze experiences!
I will leave you with a couple of images, of Audouin's Gull - probably the best looking gull in the western palearctic? A portrait and a simple image - I know which one, I prefer, to convey the message of wonderment at the beauty of our natural history - not every one else will agree, and in that simple fact is the definition of enjoyment. It's very much an individual thing.

 
Sat on a coastal rock, in Menorca, October 2010.
This image says everything, I want, about why I enjoy being outdoors

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The William Harvey experience

I'll start by reporting yet another eel filled session, Tuesday, 20 - 23.00 hrs, on The River Stour; so not what the doctor had ordered! Bev's ill health remains a concern and, as such, I took today off so I could be with her for the latest round of tests. She had an endoscopy, under general anaesthetic, at the William Harvey Hospital, in Ashford - just a mile, or so, up the Kennington Road from the "soup mine"
Her appointment was relayed, via a phone call, on Monday - just as well because the letter of confirmation was only delivered today (as we discovered as we got back home). Be here for 07.30 hrs, we were! My parking ticket showing 07.16 hrs as I entered the "private" hospital parking area - no one is exempt; disabled, OAP's, the terminally ill - oh no! Everyone pays, "In God we trust - everyone else pays cash!"
I am so grateful for my opportunity to waste a day's holiday - Bev finally getting into theatre some 6 1/2 hours after we'd arrive - it was over twelve hours before we made it back home. This has nothing to do with the expertise and professionalism of the doctors and nurses of this superb hospital - it is about organisation. The staff car park was full of quality street motors - so not those of the porters and cleaners, or the junior nurses and medics who were flat out attempting to keep up with a hectic schedule - no these belonged to the smug, suit and tie, brigade who masquerade as administrators. The whole system is over-run with these clowns. If they were as good, at their jobs, as the front line medical staff are at theirs, these hospitals would run better than a Rolex watch!
The good news is that there is nothing of concern the surgeon discovered, during the procedure, and our major fears are unfounded! So with so much time to waste, I should have used the chance to re-read the wondrous "Blood Knots" by Luke Jennings - attempting to pick up a few hints for my forthcoming tome - but not one bit of it! I did manage to grab a couple of 30 minutes sojourns (how I discovered the staff car parking area) and was amazed at the wealth of insect variety that was present on land adjacent to the complex so, I would assume?, awaiting further expansion of this magnificent facility.

This Red-shanked Carder Bee (on Mallow) was discovered along the R. Little Stour valley in July 2011 - my first.
I have also seen this species, since, within the Stodmarsh/|Grove Ferry NNR but, was totally unprepared
to encounter it in the grounds of an Ashford Hospital!
I had no bins or camera, but was happy enough to confirm a brood of Chiffchaff, Small and Essex Skipper, a (rather late?) Marbled White, good numbers of Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown, a few "white sp." and a healthy showing of Common Blues (no pun intended within a hospital complex)
For me, however, the discovery of several Red-shanked Carder Bees took the prize. Only the third site at which I've ever seen these insects - for every action there is a reaction - Yin & Yan? Some call it karma; I'll stick with just being there and keeping my eyes open!

Monday, 21 July 2014

This can't be right - can it ?

Firstly; I'm sat here, at my desk, listening to  Alanis Morrisette instead of Gerry Rafferty, Jimi Hendrix or Joe Satriani - something isn't quite in kilter? (Well not everything - I do have a can of Stella!)
I have a mate?, whom I have never met, that resides within "blogland" - a concept that takes some getting in to - at the age of 58 I'm in! Today has seen a post, by Steve Gale (Northdowns & Beyond), dedicated to my own ridiculously obscure views on our relationship with the natural world.
Flattered? I was completely bowled over - why me?
On Friday, I'd hurt myself whilst at work - nothing too terrible, but worth getting into the accident book - just in case! At the age of 18 I'd have run it off - forty years later it might be the start of arthritis - so it's in the records. One of our factory "safety officers"  is also reader of my blog - he had made mention, many years ago (when I was the Non-conformist") that I should write a book!
The rigmarole of getting this health and safety documentation completed ensured that he got involved and we had a chance to have a chat. "Go for it" - it seems that this project has some merit and the snowball is starting to roll down hill.
I'm completely "head-fucked" by this recent interest in my life, as much as I'm flattered - the thought that I might be able to add value to the lives of others is something I'd never previously considered.
So to Steve Gale - my heart felt thanks for the endorsement; to Richard Heffernen - I hope I'm able to deliver the story which you feel is within me!
I could post a series of photos - but why? This is about me and now - and where, the fuck, am I headed?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Who judges the judges?

Whoa! This latest bout of nostalgia has taken me to some very scary places - people and places - times when reality was suspended in order to get the full benefit of whatever experience seemed important at the time.
Important? I think that that is key to everything which I find difficult to comprehend. I realise that there are souls, out there, who feel that the correct id of a beetle is paramount; birders who need to know the parentage of a wayward heron - so seek help from DNA analysis. Get real - the Russians have shot down a Malaysian passenger plane - proper shit; so how does anyone involved in looking at natural history think that this stuff is important?
I copped the right hump when "my" Booted Eagle was rejected; so much so that I opted out of mainstream birding (why the fuck was a paddy involved in the process? - he wasn't there and it had nothing to do with him - a judge; who chose him?)
I well remember Neville Fickling's reaction to Derrick Amies catching the, same, record pike. It was a pitiful display of jealousy and slander, as Neville sought to question the reliability of Derrick's record. Who the hell was Neville to ask the question? 
I see this same situation, whenever I look at our natural history. There are a gang of (wankers) self-important, well educated, elitists - ensuring that their little enclave is bullet proof. Ivory Towers - not here in Dumpton - we're all from this earth and that's exactly where we're headed! So what if a duff id gets through - nobody dies - the negative effect of all this crap is that it deters the casual observer from attempting to get involved - their records are not worthy of inclusion due to inexperience!
I know jack shit about so many life forms, which share my space, yet have spent endless hours enjoying their company. I'm hardly enthused to submit a record when the judges are of more importance than the sighting - all in the name of data accuracy. When I started birding there was no such thing as a Yellow-legged Gull; they are are now split - Caspers, Heuglien's, Western,  etc....
Judges - what makes one man better than another?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Is the story worth telling?

As with all things, within personal experience, my life has been one of extremes. Steve Gale recently posted a comment "There's a book in you!" It is certainly something which I've toyed with, over a number of years, it is on my "bucket list" Will it ever come to fruition?
I'm extremely flattered that anyone would think that my life was worthy of recording - I'm certainly nothing special; just an ordinary guy passing time between birth and eternity (1955 - ?) and enjoying the journey. The antics, and exploits, that have gotten me to where I am today are many and various - mostly fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol; so nothing to be proud of?
Seth Gibson, very generously, added a comment "I'd buy it!" Not sure the endorsement of a self-proclaimed "lunatic" is justification for my putting pen to paper.
I've spoken to Bev about the possibility - she not being a feature in the first forty-five years - and yet she has no objections. There will be some very sorry truths, dirty laundry, if the project ever gets further than the idea stage. I have a very basic idea for a title - (R) Evolution (ary) - one guys' journey through life! If the tale is worthy of telling? It might be better that I do it than leave it for Benno to recall?
I've changed the blog header photo - purely to keep up with this nostalgia gig. Microsoft Word Doc1.
will it ever get past the first chapter? Without any doubt I have been an extremely fortunate individual - a role model? Nothing close - I am a very lucky guy. Quite how long it takes to recall a life time of serious stupidity, I'll let you know if ever this book get written!
P.S. - just as an aside - there was a Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell (butterfly) in Booker's car park yesterday - I discovered it as I walked to work. Gutted that it was the wrong side of Pyson's Road - so not included on my patch list!

Friday, 18 July 2014

The challenge - my approach

As with any given situation, four individuals will have four differing (often very slightly) solutions to the one problem. Therefore, what I am about to write is only my personal opinion and is not representative of Benno, Luke and/or Tom. If some details appear a little hazy, that is deliberate, as I have no intention of giving away any "tweeks" that might help idle souls cash in on our hard graft.
Right from the very start of this project, locating the barbel of The "Kentish" Stour, has been a major headache. There is one, very well known and heavily pressured, swim where Benno and I have both taken a "double" each. Away from this hot-spot, fish location is extremely difficult and has more to do with watercraft and experience than actually seeing these elusive creatures. In the middle reaches, where we concentrated our efforts last season, this river is an intimate venue full of character and challenges. As I made mention, yesterday, the floods of the previous winter have changed that section of the river beyond recognition and, so, we are starting out again in another area.
 
September 1985 - this River Thames 9lbs 2oz barbel remained my (joint) PB for 28 years!
Taken on maggots, fished on a size 14 Drennan Specialist hook in conjunction
with a feeder - how tactics have changed!
 
There is masses of information generated, each year, in the angling press and on the Internet, about the "best way" to approach barbel fishing. Of course, there is no one method that will provide the all the answers in every given situation, but every snippet is worthy of reading/hearing as it might well provide an answer further down the line. To this end, I read as much as I can - jotting down odd bits that I feel might be worthy of a try, and this is true of all my angling be it for pike, perch, tench or bream.
 
The essentials - as I see it
The above image shows the kit that I am using in 2014 - I won't leave home without it.

No. 1 - An LED head torch - the pursuit of these fish is very much a nocturnal pastime and, as such, a head torch is required
No. 2 - An example of my rig - in line flat pear lead,  18" Kryston hooklink with two blobs of tungsten putty to a Korda "Wide Gape" with a hair-rigged 16mm Halibut pellet (tied knotless knot)
No. 3 - Bait dropper - complete with my own mods. Fred Crouch first demonstrated the vital role that this item of tackle plays. I've never forgotten it.
No. 4 - Hooks; of whatever pattern and size suits the occasion
No. 5 - Super Glue - only an idiot would go fishing without it?
No. 6 - Kryston "Silkworm" hooklink material. It was good enough for carp and catfish in the 1980's; it remains a quality product to this day, all of my R.Stour barbel have been taken on it.
No. 7 - A simple baiting needle for threading pellets.
No. 8 - A selection of flat pear, in line, leads from 2 - 4 oz in 1/2 oz divisions
No. 9 - Flying back lead - just to keep that extra 24" of main line pinned to the river bed
No. 10 - Insect repellent - probably the most important item in my bag?
No. 11 - Rubber beads for protecting my knots
No. 12 - Snap Lites
No. 13 - Halibut pellets; 16 mm on left and 22mm "donkey chokers" on the right
No 14 - Quick link swivels and sleeves
No 15 - Nail clippers; my teeth ain't as good as they once were!

 
Enterprise Tackle adaptor, as endorsed by Frank Warwick

Probably the best £30 I've invested.
I got three Optonic alarms which have never missed a beat in four seasons - why spend more?
My bite indication is via the visual movement of the rod tip. To this end I use an Enterprise Tackle adaptor which allows me to fit a "snap lite" to the rod which glows in the dark. However, due to the fact that I'm very easily distracted, as a back-up I also use an Optonic bite alarm to give an audible signal should I get a bite.


My rather tired-looking Match Ariel - what a joy to own and use.
I purchased this reel from Fred Crouch, for £25, way back in the early 1980's
It has seen some action, and abuse, since then and is still a fantastic piece of kit.

One of my three Matt Hayes "Limited edition" centre-pins.
Already I have taken two 13lbs+  barbel and pike to 18lbs 9oz using these reels.
They are a bit like a Ronseal advert - they do exactly what it says in the advertising blurb!
Will they survive as long as my Match Ariel? Who knows?

To ensure that my captures are as enjoyable, as they are hard earned, it is my choice to use centre-pin reels. The modern bait-runners do a fantastic job but, in my opinion, cannot compare to the experience of playing a decent fish on a reel which "comes alive" when a fish is hooked. I still own, and very much treasure, an Allcock's Match Ariel (Fred Crouch copy) which is a delight to use, however, I have also purchased three Matt Haye's "Limited Edition" Centre-pins (No.s 54,55 & 56) which have already provided me with some fantastic fun. Not quite the build quality of the original, yet plenty good enough for the treatment I dish out and robust enough to stay the course.
Sorry if you were expecting to read about swim choice and baiting strategies - maybe another day; after I have discovered that my tactics are delivering the results I seek. Tight lines!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The challenge is on

The severe flooding of the 2013/14 winter wasn't restricted to a single county; vast sways of the UK were subjected to chaos as the crazy weather deposited huge amounts of rainfall, in very short periods, with the resultant demonstration of inadequate flood prevention measures - fancy it flooding on a "flood plain"? Planners and developers were quick to deny negligence but, as with all things money orientated, it was the ordinary working guy/gal, and their families, who paid for this folly.
I think I moaned about the fact that I couldn't go pike fishing on the RMC and had to, instead, chase some mythical perch around a day-ticket venue. Shit happens!

A new section of the river, so a new swim for me. There is a clean gravel run, about 5ft deep
immediately below my rod-tip. The swim reminds me of the famous "Aquarium Swim"
that Fred Crouch had discovered on the Royalty.
The one obvious difference being that I haven't yet seen a barbel in the vicinity.
The tackle on show is my 11' 6" Tring Tench rod (1 lb 2oz T/C) with a Matt Hayes,
Limited Edition, Centre-pin - 12lbs b.s. Diawa Sensor and an Optonic bite alarm.
I have got plans, for another post, to discuss my thought process for the coming weeks
 - watch this space!
Unbeknown to me, at that time, was the effect that this situation was having on the R. Stour and the small population of barbel which reside within. The section of the river where I had my moments, in 2013, is almost unrecognisable due to the effects of the winter flooding. Gone are many of the snags and fish holding features; washed away by the awesome power of the floodwater.
At 02.00 hrs, this morning, I was back on the river (in a new section) attempting to relocate these fish. I failed, as I have done on my four previous outings. This season looks set to be just as much of a challenge as the last; Benno and I have been joined by Luke and Tom. Surely, between us, we ought to be able to fathom out some of the answers to this latest barbel conundrum?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

An hour in Hertfordshire

Dad needed to get to Tim & Julie's place (Bourne End) so that he could travel into London, more easily, where his brother is undergoing some medical treatment. I agreed to drive him up and Simon will bring him back , or that's plan at the moment! The journey is a horrendous mix of M2/M25 for the majority of the way. Road work, traffic "incidents" and average speed cameras all doing their bit to add to the "joy of motoring".
However, we arrived safely around 11.30 hrs and, once dad was settled in, I took a stroll up onto Little Hay GC, armed with binos and camera, arranging to meet up with Tim, dad and the boys at 13.00 hrs in The Anchor for a bite to eat. It was a scorching day, the display in the car registering 28C, so I was confident that a few raptors would make an appearance.
Still a very nice bird to see in Kent, in Herts they are a "gimme" all
around the Chilterns
I'd already seen a Red Kite, as I was unpacking dad's gear, so wasn't too surprised to discover another bird soaring over some paddocks, just behind the gardens, as I started my walk. My total for the walk was seven Red Kites, three Common Buzzards, two Kestrels and a Hobby. Sadly the majority remained rather distant and my photo opportunities were always brief.
Loads of Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Essex and Small Skippers, Meadow Browns plus a couple of Gatekeepers were nectaring along the wild grassland and brambles which fringe the main footpath; an Emperor dragonfly cruised by. Goldcrests and Coal Tits were very vocal in the wooded area and I had a nice fly pass by a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The most unusual, in my opinion, encounter was that of a "barking" Muntjac. It was in some very dense hawthorn scrub, right alongside one of the fairways. I had often heard this sound when wandering around Ashridge Forest (Herts, Beds and Bucks) during the evenings when I would be watching Badgers or Tawny Owls, yet cannot recall having heard it previously in the day time. If I'd had time, then I'm sure that there would have been many more discoveries, but I had things to do, back in Kent, so I ensured that I wasn't distracted and was at The Anchor for one o'clock - job done.
 
A Common Buzzard; never has it been so easy to see this species as it is today.
Even on the motorway journey I'd seen individuals perched on
adjacent fences and lamp-posts in Kent and Essex.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Unpresidented gull movement

So far the Summer hasn't been too shabby - until yesterday that is! The wind has picked up (25 mph N-NW) and brought with it heavy cloud cover and intermittent bouts of rain; however, "every cloud", today has seen a spectacular arrival of Black-headed Gulls on, and over, Newland's Farm.
I first noticed that something was going on when Ian Rackley and I were having our first tea break. There was a steady trickle of moulting adults passing west over Pyson's Road and I commented as such; Ian being completely un-impressed - "They're bloody seagulls!"

Black-headed Gulls passing over Newland's farm
The passage has continued for most of the day, so I can but speculate at the number of birds involved, but feel it would be in the 1,000's!  I grabbed my camera gear and headed over to the "big field", where the guys are planting the next cauliflower crop, as soon as I finished work. Several hundred Black-headed Gulls were settled on the deck, surprisingly few juveniles (a rough guess would be 12 - 1 adult/juvenile ratio) The fact that the birds were arriving from the south and east would suggest that they are from the continent and not from the colonies along the Swale, Medway and Thames river systems.
 
I guessed that juveniles were outnumbered 12:1 by the moulting adults seen today
I managed to get a few images, but had to resort to ISO 800 1/800 sec due to the dreary conditions. Closer inspection of the decked flock revealed a few Common Gulls (mainly 2nd year non-breeders) and the first newly fledged Herring Gull from the adjacent Pyson's Road colony.
 
Early July isn't when I expect to see large numbers of
these smart little gulls around Newland's; mid-August is far more typical
when they are usually accompanied by decent numbers
of Mediterranean Gulls
I'd told Bev that I'd only be out for twenty minutes yet, due to the scale of the movement, I ended up doing the complete circuit and spending an hour and a half for my trouble. I clicked away merrily, but was rather surprised to see an adult Black-headed Gull, that the approaching tractor flushed, sporting what I could only assume was a radio tracking aerial. It was only when I checked my downloaded images that I saw that I'd been incredibly fortunate to get a few "grainy" images of the individual and question my first impression.
 
 
Having had time to look at the series of images I am convinced that this individual has been
the victim of a very serious injury. The angle of the exposed projectile (far too thick to be a
modern tracking device) suggests that the bird has been involved in some kind of bizarre incident.
Natural (on a rubbish tip) or man-made? We'll never know.
Closer inspection would suggest a far more sinister explanation - I have no idea as to how such an event could occur? The only other event, worthy of note, was the capture of a rather smart micro (netted in the front garden) which I photographed this afternoon. I haven't bothered attempting to get an id - as yet.
 
A rather smart little chap


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Defining moments - well some of them!

As a "blogger" the cyber world, in which we ply our trade, exchange our thoughts and opinions, takes on a reality that, to outsiders, cannot be seen to be of any worth. Like all other forms of social media; it has a role which serves a purpose. In this respect I see "blogs and blogging" as a positive -a venue to communicate thoughts on subjects, many and various, via this amazing technology. My own opinions are of no great importance, beyond a personal level, yet the ability to instantly share them with an unknown audience is a privilege which wasn't available to previous generations - so I'll happily have a bowl full of that!
Two fellow "bloggers", of similar vintage and, scarily, parallel life stories, have been instrumental in sowing the seeds for this post. Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond) started the ball rolling with his wonderfully descriptive post entitled "Utter Bollocks" a phrase I used to summarise my thoughts on "Channel Wagtails" way back in my "Non-conformist" days.
http://northdownsandbeyond.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/utter-bollocks.html

Paul Trodd is a fellow QPR supporter, ex Dunstable SF birder (I saw my first Black-winged Stilt there way back in the mists of time) and is also now a resident of Kent. He has paid a superb tribute to the memory of P.A.D. Hollom and the contribution that a revolutionary book (Collins - A field guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe) played in his formative years as a birdwatcher.  http://ploversblog.blogspot.com/

My original 8th edition alongside a 10th edition which Bev discovered in a local charity shop

I do own a copy of the 10th edition, yet I received my first copy (the 8th edition) of this ground breaking book on my 8th birthday - 1963. Before this date, my bird identification library consisted of two Ladybird books by Brian Vessey-Fitzgerald; illustrated by Allen W. Seaby. Just like Paul describes, the Collins book was an inspirational gift which started me on a journey which I am still on; half a century later. Birds and natural history/enjoyment of being outdoors is a fundamental part of my being and there have been many experiences that have left indelible marks on my memory as I have meandered along life's pathway. It was Steve's post that attempted to describe the various phases we pass through - I'd like to attempt to give an insight into my own journey and the key moments that have gotten me to where I am today (within a natural history context)

 
An original (above) and a facsimile copy of my original bird id library


As a very young boy, growing up in the "New Town" of Hemel Hempstead I was fortunate to enjoy the sight of a Barn Owl on our garden fence (No. 27 Cole's Hill - Gadebridge) to be able to wander freely down to the River Gade (Gadebridge Park) and fish for Minnows and Bullheads. Water Voles were common, the river teemed with life and Kingfishers were exciting, yet expected, whenever we visited. My first roach was a magical gift from the angling gods - bright red fins on a silver plated work of art; 2oz of perfection. The Grand Union Canal was to provide me with some further encounters as perch, gudgeon, bream and tench fell to my rods. They were happy, carefree, times which were a period of blissful innocence. Birds were always there, in the background, by the age of nine I'd already found my first "BB" rarity - a Snowy Owl during a family holiday to the Scottish highlands. It wasn't reported, but I had mum, dad and my two brothers as witnesses - and in the wider scheme of things it's not that much of a big deal!
 
A super little male Zebra Finch - Bev and I called him "Beck's"
As I grew up the family relocated to Warners End, via Leverstock Green, and my interest in birds took  on a new guise as I started to keep foreign finches. It was well before the import legislation and wild birds were being trapped, particularly in Asia and  Africa, in their millions, to provide goods for the pet trade. I knew no better, so supported this regime by purchasing these creatures(various Waxbills, Silverbills, Cordon Bleus and Cut-throat Finches) for a few shillings each. They didn't survive for long and it was my introduction to Australian Zebra Finches which was to keep this particular hobby vibrant during my school years.
 
November 1981 - my first 20lbs+ pike
Quite a personal milestone; it means nothing to the wider world
I  was still catching a few fish, carp had become the cult species, but very few venues offered a realistic chance of actually catching one. I dreamt of such encounters yet wouldn't believe that I'd ever have a chance to fulfil that  particular desire. The reservoir complex, at Tring, became very important during the mid-70's and it was here that many lessons were learnt. Marsworth, Startops End and Wilstone - venues where dreams were realised and so it was. Tring also happened to be the base for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO - Beech Grove, Tring) and this coincidence probably had a greater influence on my discovery of the enjoyment of our natural wonders than any other factor. Whilst fishing on Wilstone, I would regularly encounter the BTO staff as they took a lunch-time stroll. It was due to two of these guys allowing me to look through their scope at a Scaup that started my "twitching" phase. What appeared to be nothing better than a black dot on the water suddenly appeared as an image, like watching T/V, when viewed through the eye-piece of a scope. I was quick to pay a visit to In-Focus - Barnet High Street and became the proud owner of an Opticron HR 60 with a 20 - 60x zoom eye-piece, I was on my way, but the time scale becomes a little blurred as birding started to incur on my angling time. Quite often I would be fishing on Wilstone with my scope set up in my swim. I found the 10th Herts Avocet in this very manner. I now had two, very powerful, yet conflicting, influences in my quest for outdoor natural history enjoyment.

Madeira magic - four guys hanging over the side of "Margaretta" recuperating an
Atlantic Blue Marlin in the 800lbs class

I think that it is safe to say that fishing remained my first love, my driving passion, right through the 1980's (the carp bug taking hold, yet being sated in the 1983 - 85 period and quickly I moved on to other species) and into the early 1990's - but birding had certainly taken a hold. My 1993 trip to Madeira was pivotal - a couple of Atlantic Blue Marlin later UK fishing seemed pointless and birding took over completely. My family had relocated to Kent, Dec 1993, due to my work, and the county held such potential that my "twitching" eagerness couldn't ignore. Within six years of arriving, I'd smashed Don Taylor's  Kent Year List record by 21 species - I recorded 263 in 1999 - but I never did do things by halves; all or nothing being my only approach.
It was this particular bout of stupid, selfish, self-indulgence, that was to be the catalyst to my first marriage going down the tubes. It hurt and I know that my behaviour was 100% responsible for the situation; my salvation was finding Bev (or did she find me?) - second time around I'm a little less intense in my pursuits?

My interest in moths and mothing stemmed from the time (1994 onwards) spent around the H - block that used to be Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory (during the reign of Rab Morton). Andy Johnson and Tony Harman instrumental in my early endeavours, I'm now latterly aided by the considerable expertise of one Francis Solly - natural history freak/geek extraordinaire.
 
I've seen many more rare, and spectacular, moths than this Poplar Hawk-moth.
Yet this species remains the spark, which ignited the flame for my interest in this
group of insects. Benno was doing a school project in August 1994 when we started
to run a 125w, homemade, MV trap in our tiny Ash garden.
To discover that insects, such as this, existed was brilliant - that you could catch
such beasts in your own garden was a revelation!
Dragonflies, Bumble-bees, Grasshoppers, Spiders, Hover flies - it goes on. I am now at a stage where the pleasure is in the encounter. It's no longer the size of the fish, that drives me on, but the manner in which they are captured. In much the same way as positive identity is nice, but the experience of simply looking is what provides the excitement, the very reason for going out in the first place. I'm sure that age/experience has an awful lot to do with my current attitude. Steve, in an e-mail, had described our passion for the natural world as an absurd quest - a very astute observation which does nothing to detract from the fact that that same passion can result in a life long entertainment, of whatever intensity, as the clock marks time between birth and eternity. I read a comment on Steve's blog; not so long ago, where a guy tried to explain his own fascination in nature (and this is very approximate quote) "It is not the delight in what I do know, but the realisation of the millions of things I don't!" Natural history - the greatest show on earth. Freely available to anyone with a slightest interest and an enquiring mind. From my position, I would rather be bothered to look  at, than ignore, the wonders that evolution has produced. Ain't got the first idea what it is? If it ignites the spark; then the cyber world will provide your answers, if you know where to seek such information. My own journey has taken me a long way from The Ladybird series 536 and those innocent wanderings in the countryside around Hemel Hempstead. I sincerely hope that as long as I draw breath, my desire to look, and enjoy, will remain as important as it has always been. Having Bryn, Emily, Harry, Evelyn and ? means that this particular grandfather has more than enough excuses to set foot into the countryside in order to show this next custodian generation what they have to take care of.
 
Why limit yourself to a single county, country? There's a whole world out there
 to be discovered. Travel remains relatively cheap and easy - go have a look for yourselves.
Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - so choose carefully the fence
that you look over!





Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Newland's first and a surprise!

I have made no secret about my lack of interest in botany and all things botanical. That said, I made an effort to ensure that the plants, which grow in my garden, were chosen specifically for their ability to attract moths and butterflies; so I am aware of the role that plants play, just never been enthused enough to bother getting involved. Over the years I have been pointed in the direction of several species which, if I am honest, were interesting, some were bloody spectacular (Lizard Orchids at Sandwich Bay take some beating) - but the spark failed to ignite the flame.
The very last scrap of wild ground on my Newland's Farm patch.
I have no idea, therefore, why my recent discovery of a small colony of Pyramidal Orchids has given me such pleasure. The fact that they are on "my patch" in the small remnant of The Old Rose Garden surely has an awful lot to do with it, but I've found myself drawn to them and studying their intricate flowers. Must be getting soft - time to "man up!"
 
Six, of the seventeen, spikes of Pyramidal Orchid that I discovered in the remnants
of The Old Rose Garden

I don't care how common these plants are nationally.
On my patch they take on a whole different status.
I was so amazed at this discovery that I got in contact with Mr Burbridge, the land owner, and took him to see this display. These are the first orchids I've seen on Newland's; so I have to ask the question, of myself, have I previously overlooked them? Or, as seems more likely, did the mild, wet weather of the previous winter provide the ideal conditions for these plants to colonise? Whatever the answer, they are there now and have given me a sense of why plants are able to provide enjoyment in the same manner as birds, moths, bats or stamp collecting! No-one has to justify, to me, why they get fulfilment out of their chosen hobbies.
 
The derelict Scaffolder's Yard, just beyond the wheat. I was standing within the
un-harvested strip of potatoes when I took this shot. Pyson's Road Ind. Est. providing the horizon
With the sun shining brightly I decided, this morning, that a tour of the patch would be a good idea and getting some images of these plants was number one on the priority list. I also made an effort to check the barn for signs of Swallow occupancy - a pair feeding a brood is an excellent result. Two Common Whitethroats continue to occupy territories, with a successful outcome in the Scaffolder's Yard at least. Even better news was the discovery of newly fledged Yellow Wagtails in the narrow strip of potatoes which awaits harvesting - the first proven breeding for five years!
 
Looking south, from the end of Vine Close, St. Luke's playing field and the "Kent Peg" flint barn
on the right, the tractor track, which runs directly behind our garden hedgerow,
on the left. The un-harvested potato crop in the foreground - that Yellow Wagtail family were
extremely fortunate.
And so to my surprise! Well; whilst I was happily clicking away in the East Blean woodland, I managed to secure an image of a rather special moth. Being a complete dullard, I didn't realise the significance until today, when I had chance to do a bit of research. Esperia oliviella - this is a "Quality Street" micro with a very limited UK distribution - result!
 
Esperia oliviella - a very scarce micro, within a UK context - I wish I'd done more with the photos.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The wonders of woodland

I had to be in Herne Bay for 06.00 hrs, this morning, just to drop Bev off. With the start of my shift still some eight hours away, my journey homeward incurred a detour to the delightful woodland of East Blean. Famed, quite rightly, for the population of Heath Fritillary butterflies, it has so much more to offer anyone with even the slightest interest in our natural history.


I was parked up and wandering the circuit within fifteen minutes of leaving Bev. My first surprise was a singing (if that's the right terminology?) male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - a year tick. I soon added the two other woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit and Tawny Owl; it was rather good being out at that time of day. The sun was rising steadily and various glades produced sightings of micro-moths, sawflies, hoverflies, ichneumons and umpteen other invertebrates. It was a joy just to be there! That I was armed with my bins and camera gear ensured that I was able to enhance the experience with some fantastic views, plus shoddy photos, of many of the species I encountered.
I was in the wood for nearly three hours, looking at this and that, as various subjects caught my attention. Butterflies were nicely varied and I saw my first Ringlet, Gatekeeper and, of course, Heath Fritilary of the year plus seeing a couple of damselflies - a female Variable allowing a nice series of images.
 
Female Variable damselfly - all very pleasant
As the heat intensified, so the dog walking fraternity appeared along with the surprise figure of Bill Gawler (an old Stodmarsh regular). We chatted for a while about this and that, Bill hoping to see White Admiral which, given the conditions, shouldn't have been out of the question. As I needed to get back home for some kip, food and a shower (in that order), before I started work, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. I had taken loads of images and had to change my camera battery once. With that amount of images to sort through, there was no way I could do anything with them until work was over.
 
Yet another grass-moth for me to wrestle with
Due to my fascination with macro subjects, I didn't record a single image of any of the birds I saw - my camera being fitted with 14mm extension tubes and the 18 - 55 mm lens. The 170 - 500 mm Sigma lens carried around the whole circuit without once being used, yet I'd rather be safe than sorry.
 

It was this insect which, for me, made the trip. I have absolutely no idea what family this
creature belongs to?  What is the purpose of those, hair like, "spikes" on the antennae?
I had an absolute blast wandering around this habitat, we've got nothing like it on Thanet. There was one particular insect which has caused much head scratching (not that it takes a lot and, no, it is not a flea!) A fly sp. which I, at first, took to be a hoverfly but quickly dismissed, provided the most stimulating sighting of the session. They were numerous around my route, thus I cannot think that it is anything particularly scarce. yet I have never noticed them before. Its' lack of mandibles rule out any type of wasp, the antennae have spikes, so it isn't a bee either. Quite frankly I have no idea where to start looking for an answer - they were enjoyed all the same

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

"Birdering" for an hour

I had to get out, very early this morning, to ensure a very special present got delivered. I left Bev, warm in her bed, and headed off into the dawn.With my task completed, rather than return home and disturb my good lady, I ventured forth into the countryside armed with just my eyes, ears and camera.


I'd already secured my first images, via the passenger window, when I spotted a Red-legged Partridge atop a manure heap. Off to a good start, it was a year tick! Once out of the car, I wandered through the soggy grass, aware of many singing birds. Blackcaps vied with Chiffchaffs to dominate the sound scape; a Green Woodpecker putting them firmly into second place with a piercing "yaffle". Turtle Doves were calling from several locations and I was able to watch some display flights as males took to the air after a prolonged bout of "purring".
 
One, of several, singing males around the area

Newly fledged juvenile Kestrel which, on another day, would have been paid more attention.
A juvenile Kestrel made a fly-pass, allowing a quick series of shots, but I could hear the calls of Spotted Flycatcher and was readily distracted from this smart little falcon. The flycatcher(s) seemed to be calling from a garden, just along the lane and, as I approached, one appeared on the overhead wires.
Sadly, for me, directly into the sun - so photos were a non-starter. I slowly made my way past the bird, which remained in view until I pointed the camera, when it typically darted back over the garden hedge. I didn't have to wait too long before it, or another, was again perched on the wires. I spent a very enjoyable fifteen, or so, minutes getting some nice images of the birds as they went about their daily routine. Coal Tits and Goldcrests could be heard in the adjacent trees and a Mistle Thrush gave a sharp, scolding, rattle as it flew overhead.
 

Always a pleasure to watch whenever the chance arises
In little over an hour I was back at the car and headed for home. It had been a very pleasant session, out in the early morning sunshine. Nothing particularly noteworthy, but I have to admit that I very much enjoyed the time I spent in the field simply watching, and listening to, birds!