Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to 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!


Monday 30 January 2017

A Newlands Greenfinch!

I find it almost unbelievable that I am writing about seeing a Greenfinch, but that's what I'm doing. I took a walk across to Maxims Pet Shop, Newington, to get seed for the aviary and garden birds. The area of fallow ground is still intact, although the rest of the farmland has been ploughed and awaits the next crop, whatever that may be? Maize, potatoes or Spring barley, perhaps? Cauliflowers will surely follow later, as night follows day!

I'd seen a decent flock of finches, through my binoculars whilst standing at the kitchen door, and thought it about time I made an effort to walk the patch. So my pet shop foray was just the job. The finch flock was a nice mix of approx. 120 Linnet, 20 Chaffinch, 12 Greenfinch and a couple of Reed Bunting - bloody wonderful. Why are none of these birds visiting my garden feeders, just a few hundred metres away? Good numbers of Pied Wagtails present along the farm track with the odd Meadow Pipit flushed from the field margins. It was good to be back out there again just looking. Discovering a group of Greenfinches made my day - how sad is that? My year list has now reached the grand total of 78 species - that's even sadder?

Sunday 29 January 2017

Most satisfactory (and a gripe!)

If Carlsberg made weekends, then the one I have just experienced would be right up there in the mix for the title? Yesterday, it was fishing, today has been a mixture of social time with Bev and birding. It started with a male Sparrowhawk making a prolonged attempt at finding a way to get Java Sparrow on the menu. I had fun with my long lens, through the conservatory glass, getting a series of images before we went out for breakfast in Deal then spent time just wandering around the town centre. I added Red Kite, no. 70, to my year list as we drove back to Thanet, as one soared above the Sandwich by-pass. Getting back home, the fire was lit (we have an open fire in our living room) and Bev settled down in front of the t/v. I had a quick check of the weather then announced that I was going to Stodmarsh to add a few more ticks to my lowly year list.

A rather murky image of the male Sparrowhawk, taken through the
glass of our conservatory. It spent over ten minutes attempting to find
a way into the aviary.  The padlock above its'  head is on the flight door, but
not much use if you don't have the key!
I parked up at the Grove Ferry end of the reserve and spent the next two and a half hours doing the complete circuit. Potentially this magnificent reserve could provide another twenty species to my pathetic effort, however, with many of the sheltered areas of water still frozen, there were limits to what I could expect. It had always been my plan to watch the harrier roost, thus getting Hen Harrier - a bird that I missed last year. Goldcrest and Bullfinch were added, as I walked along the river bank, a Kingfisher and a Sparrowhawk adding to my enjoyment. Arriving at The Lampern Wall, it was obvious that there were good numbers of Teal present on the main lake, their calls providing a nice soundscape, intermixed with"chacking" Fieldfares and tinkling ice, wind blown in the margins. I got myself in position, to survey the reed bed and settled to my task. All of a sudden there was a commotion behind me and a huge number of Greylag Geese were swirling around over Trenley Lake. The majority, including an all white individual, went down on that lake, however a good number made it to Stodmarsh and, glory be, I managed to pick out a single European White-front in their midst. It was developing into rather a good session.

My primitive camera gear will never be able to capture anything more than record shots under these
low light conditions. One, of thirteen, Marsh Harriers I watched coming into roost this evening.
As the light started to fail, and with the constant threat of rain, so the Marsh Harriers began to arrive. I had counted thirteen before, at 16.00 hrs, I had to give up - my car being parked at the other end of the reserve. I made my way past the Nature Trail wood, where a Firecrest was calling then headed off towards the Marsh Hide, Bearded Tits calling out in the reed bed as I passed by. I had just reached the Marsh Hide  when, over to my right a bird was drifting over the reeds. Result! A ring-tailed Hen Harrier; the cherry on the top of an absolutely brilliant weekend spent in, and around, East Kent.
So what's to moan about? In all my time around this jewel of a reserve I only encountered five other sets of optics. That's not a big deal, there were lots of families out. enjoying these magnificent surroundings without the need to look at the wildlife. Their choice entirely. Nope, my problem was with an odious bunch of sub-adults who used the facility to parade their fashion statement pooches, whilst dressed in designer labelled "Country Attire" yet felt it was below their "elevated status" to clean up after their dogs. Phil Milton often refers to Pegwell Bay as a dog toilet; surely Stodmarsh deserves better?

Saturday 28 January 2017

Very pleasing

Out of the bungalow, just after 06.00 hrs, two baits cast out into the drain little over an hour later. It was great to be back fishing and I was just happy to be at the waterside again although, as ever, a fish would be nice!
I went through the routine of leap frogging the rods along the bank; I'd probably covered 600 m before, at 10.00 hrs, my bite alarm registered a confident take on a bluey tail section. Picking up the landing net, I was on the rod very quickly and enjoyed a brief, but spirited, battle with a small jack - 5 lbs at best! I had planned to use my two split canes, but on getting home after work yesterday evening, I couldn't be bothered to set them up. Two Duncan Kay's, fitted with Matt Hayes' centre-pins were already kitted out, so that was what I was using. I recast both rods, baiting with Sardines (dyed yellow) and had made the decision that these would be my final casts of the session. At 10 . 30 hrs Bev called me. She asked how I was getting on and what time was I planning to get home? I replied that I was hoping to pack up around eleven, home by noon. I'd caught my fish, the first of 2017, and was happy to leave it there. Twenty minutes later; I was already thinking of packing up when my left hand rod, sardine section, was away. A very slow and confident run which resulted in a my first double of 2017 - all 10 lbs 2 oz of her. I was made up and going through the routine of getting my weigh sling sorted and resting the fish in my landing net when my other rod had a take. This time it was a right tear up, bloody hell! No landing net - there was nothing else for it than to walk the fish along the bank and land it in the net with the other fish in it. Luckily it worked a treat and my second double of the session (year) joined its' mate in the folds of my landing net. It was absolute chaos as I went about getting the second fish unhooked and setting up the camera gear for a few selfies.

It all turned out OK in the end, that second fish weighing in at 11 lbs 12 oz, so a nice brace to start the new year. Surprisingly, I didn't add anything to my year list. I was sure that Merlin or Stonechat would make an appearance whilst I was out on the marsh. Stunning views of a male Marsh Harrier, as it drifted over the adjacent marsh, plus Common Buzzard, Little Egret, 58 Cormorants in a spectacular "V" formation heading out to sea, at first light, and an adult Fox ensured I had something to keep me occupied whilst awaiting a bite. I love it out there.

Friday 27 January 2017

Prep work

It looks like the split cane Mk IV's will be getting an outing this weekend? I took a drive out onto The Levels this morning and checked out a couple of drains that might provide the chance of a pike, or two? One, that I particularly favoured, is frozen solid but, a second venue is not. Given the forecast for East Kent, I am confident of getting a bait in the water tomorrow.

I had a cracking morning, out on the marsh, getting several more year ticks as I strolled about the area. My year list has reached the grand total of 69 species - all self found; and that's rather important to me. I'd taken my camera, because I felt sure that Stonechat would be a good bet. I didn't find one yet still had plenty of other subjects to point the long lens at. All in all, a very productive morning.

Gadwall, Reed Bunting and Raven were all new for the year.

Thursday 26 January 2017

A part of the puzzle, but surely not the complete answer?

Greenfinches have disappeared from my Newlands' Farm patch - fact! Last year there were at least five nesting pairs (territories), although I am unable to accurately report on how successful the breeding efforts were. These smart little finches, with their wheezing calls and aerial display flights, have been part and parcel of my patch since moving here in 2000. To suddenly discover that they've gone missing is a bit of a shock! That initial outbreak of trichomonosis was reported in 2006 and the devastating impact that this avian "myxomatosis" had upon the Greenfinch population is well documented. It seemed, however, that Newlands had bucked the trend?

28.03.2016 - a female Greenfinch at the plastic bird bath. Closer inspection reveals the tell tale signs of
Trichomonosis - a build up of food debris at the tip of the beak. 
Not so; I've been looking back through my photos and have discovered an image, from March 2016, which might shed some light on the Newlands population collapse?  "Trichomonosis" is a disease which affects the ability of the victims to swallow and digest the food and drink that they attempt to consume.  A bit of internet searching, via Google, and it soon became clear that this condition in our wild bird populations is not helped by garden feeding stations and a lack of hygiene. Victims of kindness?

A very healthy - looking male Greenfinch on the sunflower heart feeder (24.05.2015)
I have to admit that this aspect of garden bird etiquette is something I'd never previously thought about. Wild birds deal with wild situations - and then the penny dropped. Garden feeding stations are not wild situations, they are man made, as artificial as anything else in suburbia. I've had all my feeders in the sink, cleaned from top to bottom and am now happy to repeat this process on a monthly basis. Some of the advice I discovered on the internet revolved around moving the feeding station to different positions. OK if you have a big garden, rather pointless when the only safe cover is provided by our "Christmas Tree". The water in the bird baths is always changed regularly, as I also have the water in the aviary to maintain and it is simply a matter of flushing with a watering can.
Greenfinches have never been numerous around the feeders, a bit like Goldfinches, Siskin, Brambling and Chaffinch, they use the facility when they're in the vicinity. I am hopeful that the breeding birds left the area, for warmer climes, and will return in the Spring. Only then will I have a clearer picture of what has occurred locally?

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Garden bits and a puzzle?

It's certainly been a few years since Thanet experienced a sustained period of cold weather (heavy frosts) like we are at present. The garden feeding station is host to good numbers of House Sparrows, Starlings, four/five Dunnock. two Blackbird, a Robin and occasional Rose-ringed Parakeet. Other birds, making fleeting visits, include a pair of Great Tits, a Wren and an unknown number of Blue Tits - never more than one at a time, but several individuals involved. Best of all was the appearance of a Pied Wagtail, on the patio, right outside the kitchen door. The first time I've actually recorded one in, as opposed to over, the garden.

Through the double-glazed backdoor. It was very close, pecking at scraps on the patio.
The Java Sparrows in my aviary are coping very well with this cold snap. My only extra duty is to ensure they have access to unfrozen water. It has entailed me using a hammer to smash the ice in their bird bath, before adding some fresh (hot) water to enable them to get a drink/bath. I have been equally attentive to the feeding station and the two water sources there. The main, concrete, bird bath has frozen solid for several nights on the trot. My remedy is the same as with the aviary -  smash the ice with a club hammer, remove as much as is possible with a scraper, before topping the concrete dish up with hot (not boiling) water.  The plastic fountain doesn't fare so well - if I were to attempt to use a hammer it would be game over. The plastic being far too brittle to take that type of treatment. The best I'm able to offer is a boiling kettle, poured directly onto the ice. It provides a few hours of drinking opportunity, during the day, before the temperatures take another dive overnight.

Dunnock on the garden fence. On closer inspection, take a look at the
infection/swelling on the right foot. I am aware of a similar
affliction being prevalent in Greenfinches, a few years back. Is this a precursor
to another common species taking a massive dive in numbers?

So to my puzzle! Fairly straight forward; where are my Greenfinches? I haven't got Greenfinch on my yearlist, as yet. They should be around Newlands' - somewhere! But they're not. There was a Song Thrush singing from over by the main farm compound, the garden Dunnocks are getting a little frisky and singing regularly. Something is not right

Monday 23 January 2017

Fated moment

We'd run out of teabags so, before the day could get properly started, I had to take a stroll up to the shop to put the situation right. It was another clear, crisp morning and the frost indicated a very cold night had just passed. Mission accomplished, I made my return walk to be stopped dead in my tracks by the unmistakable, high pitched, trills of Waxwings. A quick search revealed a flock of nineteen birds perched high in the crown of a small group of Sycamores at the junction of West Dumpton Lane and Vine Close - result! Not only a year tick, but a patch year tick to boot!
I was already thinking about rushing home for the camera when another flock of a dozen or so flew over and the perched birds immediately rose and joined their buddies as they headed off low, skimming the rooftops of Prestege Ave.

Sadly not obtained this morning - so just for effect
I got home and made the tea before informing Bev that I was going out to see if I could relocate the flock. I had an idea that the Rowan berries around The Broadstairs Cricket Ground vicinity might just be the place? I gave it ten minutes, but no sign, so decided to have a quick drive over to the harbour for another bash at getting a photo of that Black Redstart of yesterday's outing. I parked up by Government Acre and walked down the steps to the port entrance then proceeded to make my way towards the harbour. Bingo, the bird was in exactly the same spot as I'd seen it on Sunday. It ranged between the concrete wall, below Churchill's Bar and the concrete arches, quite happy to feed at low levels behind the protection of the wire fence. A dark-bellied Brent Goose, another year tick, was floating about just off the Western Undercliff - home within the hour. Nice!

I'd called it as a 1st winter male - in much better light I'm now not so sure?

Sunday 22 January 2017

Rods redundant - went birding

It has been the most prolonged period of freezing weather that has been experienced here, on Thanet, for five, or six, years. The local drains have a solid surface, as does the Royal Military Canal, away to the south (although there was a match at Twiss Road today) - Bev and I have spent quite a while around the Hythe area, this afternoon, and the majority of sections appeared un-fishable. I had already made plans to spend the morning walking along the coastal path to Ramsgate Harbour and the Port beyond. There are a number of gaps on my year list which could easily be filled if I could be bothered to make the effort.
The car display registered -3C as I drove the short distance to Winterstoke. Thankfully there was little wind and the physical exertion of walking was enough to keep me warm; plus the fact that I was kitted out in my finest cold weather fishing kit. It was rather enjoyable walking this very familiar route. Birds, however, were conspicuous by their absence.  A few pairs of Fulmar have already taken up territory in the chalk cliffs above the Main Beach car park and I spent a while just watching them flying around these nesting ledges, high above my position.

Not a typical background for a flight shot of these, tube-nosed, ocean wanderers - the concrete arches of the
Ramsgate cliffs.

On reaching the harbour, I got my first list addition in the shape of a Turnstone, quickly followed by a Sanderling - happy days. A Rock Pipit was next, then it was the turn of a winter plumage Guillemot to provide the entertainment. I walked out along the Western Arm in order to grab a series of images of this irregular harbour visitor - it was very cooperative.

I continued on my way, although the early morning sunshine was clearly under threat of being obscured by an ever thickening veil of fog. I found a, 1st winter male, Black Redstart, along the under-cliff by the wind farm buildings - job done! The gloom descended and engulfed the whole coastline in a heavy, damp, chill. I retraced my steps and headed off home, happy with my efforts - five more boxes ticked!

Friday 20 January 2017

A Newlands armchair tick - get a life!

Blogland is awash with the news that the BOU (British Ornithological Union) has now decided to adopt the IOC (don't know or care) taxonomic species listings in an attempt at standardizing/unification. The Globalization of birding, exactly what science, not UK birders, want. World domination is the next stop? Those white coated lab rats will now be singing from the same hymn sheet - hip. hip, hooray! The implications for me are absolutely zilch - I care not a jot for any authority when it relates to"official recording" of our natural world. In my opinion, and only my opinion, it belittles everything I hold dear - the wonder, mystery and enjoyment of the creatures which co-habit the world in which I live. Humanity doesn't need to put a label on everything, yet seems hell bent on doing so. I recognize the requirement to understand our environment and the eco-systems which deliver the life supporting conditions under which Earth has evolved to where we're at now. It's a truly magical concept, way beyond our ancestors, so that's why they invented God! They didn't have DNA analysis - we now have. Evolution is, by definition, a never ending process, so what makes a race today might well constitute a species tomorrow?
How does any of this stuff manifest itself, as important in, our daily lives, the real world? We've just seen Donald Duck Trump sworn in as the President of the United States of America, humanity doesn't have much left to offer mother Earth, so what we do by way of maintaining data integrity will go to the wall as mankind continues to hit the self destruct button. Cheer up you long-haired twat! It's only birding - a game. Remember this, because it is very important, bird-watching is a recreational pastime, not a sport. The requirement for rules are null and void if watching birds is what you choose to do. If, however, competition is what you seek - (fuck off and play football) -  join in with the adrenaline junkies and take up twitching or, seek a more sedate route provided by the patch watch challenge scenario. None of this is important beyond personal satisfaction and fulfillment - every individual has that right to choose whatever course they like through life. If turning a simple hobby into a competition is where you derive maximum reward, away you go, along with many kindred spirits.

One of my patch highlights - this individual tagged along with the farmyard flock
for several weeks in early 2004

It could easily be that I'm the only one in the gang? I'm the odd man out, because I don't get it? It's not a situation that causes me any anguish - I'm very much my own man and happy in my own company. If this latest BOU decision is to be taken seriously, then Newlands Farm will have Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese on the list! My problem with all this highbrow nonsense is they already are!
My lists - I'll include whatever I like, I don't require a judge and jury (or a twat in a lab coat) to confirm that I enjoy watching birds!

I'd flushed a "Taiga" Bean Goose at Newlands as I walked to work in January 2008. It flew from
some stubble down towards St. Luke's, where Gadget was also to enjoy some time with this very
desirable patch denizen.

Birding purity!

There are a few species of bird which, although not particularly rare, are capable of lifting your spirits and making a day out just that little more special. The advent of the "Patch Watch Challenge" has seen interest in local patch birding rise to the fore. It still involves twitching mentality, numbers and league tables, but is conducted under very different circumstances. Personally, I'm not about to make a major "U - turn" and join in with this folly but have to admit, I am very much in favour of promoting the ideals of bird-watching from this angle, especially if it can be aimed at the kids?

Red - breasted Merganser in Ramsgate Harbour - the one I found, whilst pike fishing,  on The RMC
caused quite a stir amongst the local birders
So what brought me to this juncture? I've been working alone, on a manual packing bay, filling 1 litre bottles with a white ink that is worth more than gold! Plenty of time to allow my mind to wander, without compromising the quality of our operation - just in case the guvnor reads this? Once again I am keeping a year list, as I have done since the 1980's. but I'm no longer an avid lister. The birds I record will be those that cross my path, not some that I have diverted to because of third party information. It stands to reason, therefore, that my list will be a little sparse! However, just as nature has no concept of international boundaries, neither do my lists - I record what I see; wherever I see it!

Jack Snipe - a gimme on any serious "twitcher's" year list. To find one for yourself, on your local patch?
A moment to be treasured - very special.
There have been a great many occasions, when I have discovered a gem, whilst simply out walking; there have been a few more that have appeared whilst I've been sat behind the rods. The beauty of patch watching is the ability to escalate the status of any species to "rare" purely because local appearances being applied. Common birds, therefore, can become incredibly desirable when found under these circumstances. My own version is to take this mentality a step further. I simply remove the local boundaries and enjoy every birding experience that comes my way. No pagers, no social media, I see what I see - the rest? Who give's a f*ck? This has to be birding purity in its' most basic format. You see what you see whilst going about a daily routine.

This female Black Redstart was a right result along the cliff-top path at Foreness Point

I've experienced the thrills that full-on twitching are capable of providing, so there's no point in my pretending otherwise and assuming some higher moral ground. Purity birding, getting right back to the very basics of what got me started is now what ensures I am able to derive every ounce of pleasure, from whatever birding encounter I experience, in these latter years.

Red-throated Diver in Ramsgate Harbour

Tuesday 17 January 2017


Perception is an incredibly difficult thing because it is, by definition, an individual's concept of any given situation? "You only ever get one chance at a first impression" is something which Fujifilm SIS has been keen to flag up in order to ensure the company presents itself, in the best possible light, to any prospective customers. I am, however, a very firm believer in "Don't judge a book by the cover!" Possibly not in the same context as my employer's stance, but very important to my way of thinking - looking beyond the facade?
Work is something I do which allows me to chase my dreams. I don't mean a career ladder, it's all about pound notes in the bank. I go to work in order to enjoy my time when I'm not there - a very simple equation; earn enough to live, as opposed to survive! If the desire is to accrue more than enough then, in my opinion, it means you've lost the plot - money has become your master; a God, no longer a tool? The greed culture has drawn you in and now you're a slave to the mighty dollar? This is just an observation from a personal stand point; my perception. I have a many friends who are incredibly wealthy (as is one of my brothers - the one that doesn't go fishing!). I feel no jealousy about the situation - they've never caught a twenty pound pike, or watched their son do the same, seen a Golden Oriole, heard the dawn chorus in an East Kent woodland or spent time sitting quietly watching badgers emerging from their sett at dusk - probably never wanted to? Each to their own! Yet it is my ability to derive pleasure from the very things I see and experience which combine to make my life rich in these other aspects that no amount of money could ever replace, or purchase!
One of my most precious memories, besides the birth of my children and grand-children, and possibly best achievement, has to be finishing my first London Marathon in April 2000 (I've completed three). The feeling of elation, as I crossed the finishing line is unlike anything else I've ever experienced. Of course I didn't win it, that lap of honour would have killed me! No, four hours - thirty two minutes it took me, and I loved every second. The crowds were amazing, the vibe surreal and camaraderie unlike anything I have ever known. I have no idea what it feels like to win the lottery, but I do know that it won't be better than finishing your first marathon. I didn't win it, yet I felt like I had, such was the sense of achievement at crossing that line - I wasn't racing, I could hardly be described as a "runner" yet my self set goal had been accomplished and, as such, my perception was one of glorious success - I hadn't failed to complete my task, I hadn't let down the charities which I had been representing - man that felt good.
Once again, the spark for this post came via Steve Gale's blog. However it was not the post, but a comment, which drew my attention. A guy (?) using the pseudonym  Birdvillan had offered an observation about the futility of "twitching" before going on to suggest time would be better spent getting involved in conservation based activities. The use of the word "worthy" is really what grabbed my attention. What gives any individual the right to decree what is worthy, thus imply that something else is not? Think about it for a moment; because we are all, each and everyone of us who are capable of thought, guilty of this! We use our own, self serving, values to pass judgement upon the ways others choose to find their own version of happiness/enjoyment. We can't help it, this whole perception thing is a basic design fault that comes with being human. I delight in this facet of humanity - it is the very basis of being an individual and, without it, the world would be a much less interesting place. Sermon over - work tomorrow; I need the money!

Sunday 15 January 2017

As fun evolves(and a stupendous twist)

My previous post was a direct response to a superb piece by Steve Gale on his North Downs & Beyond blog click here That I am inspired by someone I've never met, yet think of as a mate, is a positive aspect of these cyber times. I am sat here, in my study, watching gulls passing, en route to their Ramsgate Harbour/Pegwell Bay roost sites, hurried along by a very raw NW gale. Temperatures are hovering just above freezing, yet that wind chill is a killer. From the comfort of my desk, it is very pleasant to watch these birds going about their daily routine, yet I'm bloody sure it wouldn't be as enjoyable if I were on the harbour wall? My ability to use cyber space to share my adventures, and opinions, with an unknown audience is also something from which I derive immense pleasure. That Sue Llewellyn, my "O" Level English teacher, has no idea of how grateful I am for the flagrant enthusiasm she exuded, during my school years, is a little sad. I would love to be able to repay her faith by demonstrating just how important I consider the art of the written word is to me in 2017.
The light is fading fast now. Wood Pigeons and corvids are piling into Ramsgate Cemetery to roost in the many mature trees that are contained within the walls. The skies are leaden, the wind remains "brisk" - with the odd flurry of snow; it's not going out weather, that's for sure! Or, more's the point, I am no longer enthused to endure such hardships, in the name of enjoyment and that's slightly different? During my first period of obsessional big fish chasing, I am sure that such a day would have been seen as a challenge, in itself. Facing up to the elements whilst pursuing chub or pike would have been confirmation of my commitment and a demonstration, to my peers, as to just how seriously I took myself as a speccy hunter. Latterly, I suppose that my birding credentials would have been enhanced by the fact that I'd spent time sea-watching or surveying the Stodmarsh reed beds whilst awaiting the evening harrier roost, under these very same conditions. One thing is certain, if I wasn't enjoying myself, I wouldn't have been there!

All of this just reinforces the role that the aging process has upon an individual and their perception of what is important. From that angle, I am far from unique? I have mellowed, considerably, since my crazy youth and now experience enjoyment as a different emotion or, at least, a different concept? Long gone are the days when self aggrandizement was the key driver. "when will I be famous?" During my early angling, I was, briefly - although infamous might be a better description, given the antics we got up to and the publicity we received - David Hall (RIP) had more than his monies worth out of us! "Snide Rumours & Dirty Lies" was a feature in Coarse Fishing magazine - I'd be mentioned in it more often than not, during the mid - 80's. I have to admit that we played to the crowds and deserved most of the flak we received - not too many would play drinking games with us, nor fancy a pop at Cuddles or The Michalik's - The Savay Looney Rota were just kids, playing at it, couldn't cope with Tennant's Extra! Havoc, anarchy and fun are my lasting memories of this period and yet I cringe at some of the situations I got myself into; looking back. However, as anglers we couldn't have been that bad, we caught loads of big fish and that's probably what caused most of the friction. How could such a bunch of clowns (drunks) be so successful?

Tim Boag with the landing net - yours truly drawing yet another Claydon
catfish towards the bank. Happy days, fantastic memories - fun times! Sept '89?
Work was key! - we worked hard and tirelessly, in order to pursue our targets. No getting away from the fact that we'd be pissed for the majority of our waking hours - we still managed to remain focused on our goals and regularly landed fish which were the envy of others. We went fishing for FUN - I have no other way to express my feelings about that period of my life.
Of course this is no recommended template for anyone to follow. I would certainly have words of caution with Benno should he ever seek to chase his dreams with the irresponsibility I'd demonstrated during his early childhood. Obviously he would be perfectly within his right to challenge any advice offered - every individual needs to be free to follow their dreams in whatever manner they see fit; no matter what I, or others, think about the situation.
I've been incredibly fortunate to have been mentored by so many talented individuals, over the years, be they anglers, birders or moth-ers (the late Tony Harman was an inspirational & world class tutor)
I have to state that this is where luck has played a major part in my passage through life. To have been born, when I was, is a happy accident. I had the freedom to wander the countryside with catapult, air-gun, fishing rod; on foot or on a bicycle, it was a given. My angling has seen me come into contact with some of the most successful specimen hunters of the period and the advice I've been given has allowed me to hone my skills under their expert guidance. Similarly my birding, in Kent, has provided some of the most exciting adventures I've experienced. To have been able to exchange opinions and information with many of the counties "top birders" ensured that my own efforts were superbly rewarding in whatever guise, be it twitching, field birding or patch watching!

Uncle Ben, aged 9, with a Claydon "snotter!"
And so to where I'm at today. That I can now go fishing in the company of my son and grand-son is about as pleasurable as it can get. To watch Benno taking responsibility and assisting Bryn to get the maximum enjoyment from time on the bank is a great source of personal pride. My son has grown into a decent young man and is now using skills learnt from me, and that merry gang of mis-fits, to consistently catch decent fish for himself as well as his nephew. This situation is now a source of great enjoyment, as opposed to fun, as it is no longer about me and my successes - although I have no intention of quitting the adrenaline trips provided by a hooked "big fish". Being part of a "bigger picture" is something usually associated with work situations, but I am now happy to play a bit part role. For sure, I will continue to seek pleasure from any success I experience, yet it no longer dominates my priorities. I will gain as much satisfaction from the achievements of my son, and grand-son, as my own captures as the years pass - I'm getting old and mellow - a period of melancholy thoughtfulness?

But what of today? The news that a test tube exercise has failed to deliver a correct result. Total vindication of the birders (not twitchers) of the Dungeness Stejneger's Stonechat debacle. Dave Walker had expressed his serious doubts from the offset, I'm sure that Ray Turley is looking down with a wry smile. None of the original observers had ever made a claim beyond an aberrant Stonechat. Quite what Dr Collinson was hoping to achieve - beyond that of being a complete cu*t, is up for discussion. Compensation for the huge amounts of money spent in pursuit of this hoax? It's very much a blame culture we now live in - I wouldn't be too surprised if a legal claim doesn't arise against the news providers as well as the original laboratory worker who fucked it up! Birdguides dropped the "putative" as soon as Collinson made his proclamation - we're in uncharted territory here?

Fan-tailed Warbler - Menorca
The birding communities obsession with rarity is where my whole blogging started. I'd found a Fan-tailed Warbler along the banks of The Stour, just outside Sandwich. I said nothing. Subsequently it relocated to Pegwell Bay and the shit hit the fan. Utter chaos as "twitchers" sought to tick their boxes!
The bird hung around, unbeknownst to many, for the entire winter and was displaying over the Sampher (within the SBBOT recording area) during the following April (Phil and Francis reporting it, at Pegwell, on one date?). I then expressed my doubts about a Hume's Warbler, in Ramsgate Cemetery, January 2013 - I got ruined by self-righteous twitchers - one of whom couldn't tell a cormorant from a shag! Again, unkown to the vast majority, this bird remained in the vicinity (less than 800 m from my bungalow) for the next three months. It proved to be, as I had felt, a male Yellow - browed Warbler, unless they share the same songs and calls with their close cousins? If this is true, the text books and sound recordings need amending! (Or perhaps I should have shot it?)

A  Red-backed Shrike - Lanius collurio wrafterii 
Identity confirmed by a snot sample analysed in Superdrug - a first for the WP!

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Why do we do it?

The new year is just over a week old and already many, well intended, resolutions have fallen by the wayside as life (time) trundles on regardless. One of the greatest benefits of living in the free world is the ability to make choices. As an individual I am empowered to cast my vote in elections and referendums; where I put my cross is a decision that I am allowed to make - there are no penalties should I choose a different box from you! This past Christmas holiday was brought into stark focus by a comment from a guy I work with. We were in the changing room, at shift changeover, and as he bid me farewell on his final day of the year. His parting shot was "It's a bloody lot of fuss for just another roast dinner!" Bordering on genius - he summed up everything I feel about this over-hyped festival of consumerism. Of course I enjoyed my time away from work, Bev and I actually saw in the New year for the first time in ages, but I am loathe to change simply due to the ticking of a clock. The life choices I've made, those that have gotten me to where I am presently, can't have been too bad, so why bother tweaking them on New Year's Day? I don't need a doctor to tell me I drink too much, I'm a grown man, well able to make up my own mind about this and myriad other subjects (although Bev sometimes chucks her two-penneth in for good measure)
And yet, still, we all view the start of the new year as a fresh dawn, the beginning of the rest of our lives? I have made, very public, my plans to seek three new PB's during 2017, others have also set their stalls out in a blaze of blogging enthusiasm. But do any of us really mean it? Are we really that committed to major life changes or long term plans, especially as the majority of blogs I visit, regularly, are written by folk of a very similar vintage to myself. Plans, strategies, pie charts and standard deviations all play a role in my working environment, the real world, the one in which I am free to make choices, is a totally different concept. That I, and the vast majority of the bloggers I am enthused by, use the limitless and under-explored wonders of the natural world to find escape from the mundane, is why so many of our resolutions are folly. Nature refuses to conform with our expectations, it acts independently, a slave to the vagueries of climate and constant environmental change.
I think it would have been much easier, and far closer to the truth, if we all stated that what we really want is to continue to derive pleasure (however gained) from the simple experience of being outdoors and interacting with nature.

Sunday 8 January 2017

Well Bryn enjoyed himself

We had a nice morning at Sandwich Coarse Fishery, although my contribution was zilch. A superb Short-eared Owl on a roadside fence post, beside Manston Airport, was a real bonus on my drive across to the fishery. We had the place to ourselves and Kevin (the fishery manager) had told Benno, a couple of weeks ago, that he was OK to go drop-shotting if no-one else was using the water. Luke, Ben and Bryn got down to business and took a few small perch, before Bryn got his new PB in the shape of a superb fish of 1 lb 10 oz.

A new PB for Bryn - 1 lb 10 oz
I now realize why I don't do float fishing. The glare from the water's surface giving me a piercing headache as I struggled to remain focused on the tiny red dome of my float. I was also made very aware that prawns were a bad choice of hook baits - I only had three chances, all morning, missing each and every one of them. Just to rub salt into the wound, Bryn then came to fish next to me - using maggots on a whip, and proceeded to demonstrate how it should be done. He had a really nice roach/hybrid followed by another decent perch (although I'd left by this time!) - he's learning quickly and is full of enthusiasm. It's a delight to watch him develop his angling skills and see the excitement any hooked fish generates.

Saturday 7 January 2017

It's been hard going

A week into 2017 and I'm struggling. I've not had a bite and have seen very few birds, yet work has been frantic. Four days of late shifts, to begin the year, so at least I avoided the, 04.50 hrs, alarm on Tuesday morning - that dreaded first day back! Hopefully, Benno, Luke, Bryn and I will be perch fishing, at Sandwich Coarse Fishery, over the weekend - I am sure that this venue has some potential. although a three might prove a tough challenge? Two's are relatively numerous, so a good venue to tweak a few rigs and play around with bait presentation in the hope of taking the lessons to a fishery with bigger specimens.
I'm going with "prawns" as hook bait (Benno & Luke prefer lob-worms and/or drop-shotting) and also planning to use a float for the first time since 1980! I have a, three piece, Diawa Amorphous Whisker 13' match rod which will be fitted with an ABU Cardinal 44X reel and float set-up whilst using a small cage feeder, on a Tring Tench rod, an electronic alarm and light weight indicator for my second presentation. Impossible to concentrate on two floats? Watching one, for a prolonged period, will be enough of a challenge knowing how easily I get distracted by bank side wildlife.

One of these scurrying about on the opposite bank could easily distract me from a float!
There are some excellent Youtube offerings relating to tackle and tactics for Perch and Chub, if you choose to peruse the internet? Some are very professional, others much more off the cuff and lacking the slick presentation of Nash, Fox or Korda. I am not bothered by the quality of production if an idea or decent fish is the focus of the offering - it is a great medium for anglers to share their experiences and opinions. Mark Erdwin (please click the link) is one such video blogger who uses this facility to demonstrate how enjoyable angling can be - he does his thing, his way. Can't think why I would associate myself with such behavior?
However, there is a trend which I am really concerned by. Carp angling has a massive influence within current thinking, celebrity carp anglers are setting a terrible example, to my way of thinking. Why bother sticking a hook in a fish, if you can't be bothered to weigh it? Now I accept that this statistic is purely man-made and egotistical, however, guesstimation has no place in speccy hunting. It's a mid-twenty, a thirty?  Some of these demonstrations being nothing short of embarrassing - the fish being nowhere close to the claimed weight. Then a carp angler catches a pike and everything goes pear shaped? Benno and Bryn were on the RMC when they were told about a pike of 63 lbs "it's the new record - you know?" taken from the canal. If only anglers realized how rare wild twenty pound pike are. I'd have loved to have that guy tell me of a record pike. "Do I have C**T written on my forehead?" I fully accept that weight plays no part in the enjoyment of any angling situation. However, if you wish to engage in meaningful conversation, knowing the weight of the specimens which have graced your landing net, is very beneficial, if you have no desire to make a twat of yourself? I am very fortunate to be able to include Richie Francis within the circles of my contacts - we fished together, at Wilstone, during the early 80's. He was anal, in his quest for accurate recording of the fish he caught. If Rich said it went 2 lbs 15 oz (Roach) then it went 2 lbs 15 oz - never going to be a three!

Modern carp angling has decreed that if it looks like a thirty - then it is one. How big was Benno's first twenty (there's a clue there!)

Monday 2 January 2017

Wish list

"Realistic and achievable" - a phrase which I introduced to the Batchelor's Ashford "factory strategy group" as a part of the thought process required in any of our target setting projects. This was during my time with Unilever, and many lessons learned, during this period, have stood me in good stead ever since. "I want" doesn't mean "I will get", there are many reasons for failure but, generally, it will be an unrealistic target which is the major factor in a doomed venture. I can easily relate to my "split cane carp campaign" as an excellent example of just this. Forty doubles, including four twenties and a thirty. I got nowhere close because of the situation with my father's deteriorating health and eventual passing - I'd not foreseen this, thus not factored in the reduced time period I had at my disposal. I caught my four twenties, although didn't beat my PB, but only five other doubles - nine is a long way short of forty. I'll have to be less cavalier with my next project; I hadn't even settled on my venues when the target was set - unrealistic, therefore unachievable!

A nineteen - one, of only nine carp, over ten pounds, during the 2016 project.
I think that this is only image, during 2016, which doesn't have me wearing that silly hat?
So what do I want for myself in 2017? Health and happiness is far more important than accruing surplus wealth, aka prosperity, although it is quite likely that the year will deliver me a substantial windfall (via my inheritance from Dad's estate). It is, therefore, my angling which will be central to my plans. Benno, Luke and myself were out this morning, failing to re-capture, that lost pike of Saturday. To be fair, we failed to capture a pike - period. We had plenty of time to discuss our hopes for the coming twelve months, the two boys have already planned to revisit the Barbel of The Stour and have made noises about "drop shotting" for Perch. I have absolutely no idea what they're talking about?

I harbour a desire to attempt to better three of my PB's over the next twelve months. Barbel, Pike, Tench and Bream are non-starters, Zander and Cats - take a funny run. The most realistic have to be Perch (PB - 2 lbs 10 oz), Chub (PB - 5 lbs 2 oz) and Carp (PB - 23 lbs 14 oz). I would need to find a very special venue where my Roach or Rudd PB's could be beaten, although neither are particularly heavy. Crucian Carp, Eel and Dace all have a statistic beside their name on my list - none of them part of my plans in the immediate future.

Carp must take centre stage - purely because of the promise I made, to my family, to catch a "thirty" on their split cane Mk IV. If, for no other reason, I want to do this for Dad. Benno and Luke are equally enthused, we have a venue where such a result is very realistic proposition, so I won't be blazing a lonely trail in my pursuit of this goal. One fish will do this; sod all the back-up captures. Those other number are irrelevant should I ever achieve this ambition. I will have statistics, written on the pages of my diaries, but not sure I want to use such data to determine success or failure in this context.

5 lbs 2 oz - between the two bridges by the Viking Mercedes Garage at Sturry.
Don't get too excited, I've not spilled the beans  - this was 2012 and it's a very different prospect today!
Chub are a species which I have neglected for far too long. I've caught loads, over the years, but can't recall any extended periods of effort in their pursuit. That PB was taken from a tiny section of The Stour, between two bridges at Sturry. I've seen two fish which would have easily put two pounds on that fish, the river holds many other specimens which could beat my present best.

2 lbs 10 oz - easily beatable?
Perch were never a realistic option during my early years, the species being decimated by some aggressive disease click here during my first period of angling. That they are now back to their, swash buckling, best is a real bonus. I have been lucky enough to have witnessed three "threes" since 2011, although I've not really made any extended plans to pursue a PB. An accidental 2 lbs 6 oz fish from The Stour being a demonstration of how widespread the species has now become. If I can find a venue, then this dream is easily able to come to fruition -  it could be a muddy puddle - I really have no idea, as yet?

And what about the other stuff? Birds have played a massive part in my enjoyment of angling, ever since I can remember. OK - I know that they became a dominant part of my life for a period, but today birding is a nice aside to my life. Ambitions?  - none whatsoever. I simply want to be able to enjoy the birds which good fortune allows to cross my path. I have a feeling that the inquiring minds of the grandchildren will mean that I spend more time looking than I have done recently.

Moths, butterflies, bugs and bumble-bees - I'll keep looking! My desire to experience the joy of discovery will not diminish just because I don't have a clue as to the identity of what I'm seeing. Then there is the serious shit! I'm at the helm of "The Good Ship Wrathall" with all the responsibilities it incurs. I didn't choose it - that's life? Grandchildren and family issues will surely impact upon my own routine as the future dictates. Setting myself, realistic and achievable, targets is one way of remaining focussed on what I hold dear.  2017 will be a journey into the unknown, exactly as all previous years, yet surely there will be more at stake, in the Global arena, than anything since the end of WWII?  I have to cling to the notion that modern politicians are capable of rational thought, due to the brain cells between their ears. Listening to some of their rhetoric I have my doubts - the future generations have to rely on a bunch of egotists not hitting the switch. Let's hope that "reasonable and achievable" can filter through to the Governments of the World before someone does something humanity regrets - forever! (I wonder just how important Stonechat DNA analysis will be then?)