Sunday 1 October 2017

UK birding #2

Setting the Scene

I'm in England helping Dad move to a smaller house, at 91 he's having a little trouble with the stairs. In between packing and cooking I've had a few hours to wander up and down the country lanes that meander around Brockweir, a village I moved to at eight years of age.


Looking upstream from Brockweir Bridge.
Nikon P900
I spent countless hours fishing the River Wye at Brockweir. I caught eels, chub, dace and the odd trout. I vividly remember catching elvers (see below) in large hand held nets. I would go down in the evening with a large torch and wait for the ebb tide to turn (the river is tidal at Brockweir) when strong river currents forced the still transparent young eels to the edge of the riverbank where they could be scooped up. We only ate them a few times, fried elvers and bacon wasn't my favourite dish.

plural noun: elvers
  1. a young eel, especially when undergoing mass migration upriver from the sea.

These days the fishery is gone or regulated after years of over fishing. The eel larvae are carried all the way from South America's Sargasso Sea, carried northward by the North Atlantic Drift. The baby eels or elvers remain in rivers and ponds for seven years and then return to South America lay their eggs deep in the ocean and the resulting larvae would float to the surface making their way to North America and Europe. The life-cycle of the eel (Anguilla anguillawas a complete mystery until very recently.

A 16th century malt house in the village.
Bucolic is a word often used to describe the scenery and way of life found here. It was a great place to grow up and a hard place to leave but looking back Canada had been the right choice for me when I emigrated in 1978.

                                                               More About Brockweir

...and there are birds too. All except the Robin are difficult to approach so quite a bit of stealth is required. The Robin is the most common bird in the hedgerows and very territorial. The Robin is a curious bird often coming out to greet the imposter be it car or hiker. I must have counted 15 on my last walk and that might be conservative as it has many types of calls that can confusing to the birder not familiar the 'tick-ick-ick' or the single 'tick'.

(European) Robin
Nikon P900

In the distance perhaps 12 miles away I can see the Severn Bridge suspension bridge and in the Valley below is Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abby
The abbey roof is still missing from the time when Henry the VIII sent his henchmen and the Dissolution to the Monasteriess (1547-1551) decimated the abbey. It's eerie walking around the village, walking in the footsteps of so many generations. Sometimes one can almost feel the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives. William Wordsworth, Lord Nelson, Bertram Russell, the fishermen and farmers too.

Ancient Hedgerows

Comma Butterfly

In the hedgerow was a Chiffchaff, a common warbler and the first of its kind to arrive in the UK in the spring and one of the last to depart for Africa as autumn deepens. Some hedgerows here are almost a thousand years old.
The older hedges make great habitat for birds as they may contain fruit and nut bearing plants that are safe from the farmer's plough and harvester.
The oak trees are laden with acorns, each tree has a family of grey squirrels busily collecting the nuts for their winter larder. Wood pigeons are also in the trees fattening up for the winter.

Wood Pigeon.
In the past farmers would shoot them for food, later generations of birds are still fearful of men and are very difficult to get close to even with my 24mm-2000mm P900 super zoom. I haven't seen a native red squirrel since I walked the lanes as a ten year old. I hope that same fate won't happen in Canada where the same grey squirrel is also a pest.

Nikon P900.

My First Fish

There's a small bridge barely wide enough for a small car or horse and buggy and a babbling brook where as an eight year old I caught my first trout. 
I leant over this wall to catch my first fish in 1961.
 The brook hasn't changed at all, these days it's much cleaner after the farm upstream was made to clean up their act. I can still remember walking home with the smelly catch. Almost six decades have passed since that day, just one of a lifetime of memories!
In those days I would be outdoors all day when school was out, the moniker 'Helicopter Parents'  hadn't been coined then. When school was out I would leave in the morning and return for supper. I would spend the day on the riverbank learning how to 'read' the river, learning where the fish might hang out, very similar in a way that birders learn how to find birds.

Pecking Order

Common Buzzard
Nikon P900
Walking along the lane on my way to the village store I noticed a Common Buzzard feeding on roadkill. What appears to be a domestic pheasant had lost its battle with a vehicle. There are thousands of pheasants in the fields, released in the spring and left to fatten up themselves for the autumn shooting season. The scrawny looking pheasants are not at all like the wild pheasants which have bred in the UK since the Middle Ages. They're hapless, soon to be victims of the gentry who will paying huge amounts of money for the "Privilege"
Foxes love the banquet too as do the raptors, unfortunately farmers are not averse to shooting or poisoning birds of prey. There are even egg collectors who raid nests.

On my return from my walk a few hours later I notice the road kill is pretty well picked clean and now being squabbled over by a pair of Magpies, such is the pecking order in the UK countryside.

One day I walked to 
My grandparents lived out their lives there. I often drank too much at the pub and walked home rather than risk driving the narrow lanes. Those were the days. In the church yard I found this Song Thrush feeding on the red berries of an ancient Yew tree.

Song Thrush

From the castle grounds I watch around forty Jackdaws plying the thermals off the steep escarpment. They glide and dive over the village, their raucous calls more playful than anything. Jackdaws pair for life and are very tolerant of humans although I'm not too sure if that's reciprocated, especially around gardens at harvest time. The Jackdaw is a social bird, interacting with humans and often using chimneys to nest and raise their young. I stopped to talk to one villager, she told me they were a noisy pest.

Jackdaw or Chimney-Sweep bird on the roff of the local pub.
Nikon P900 at 2000mm handheld
There was a few hours of daylight left and the weather was perfect for walking. I decided to take a quick drive down the River Severn to Lydney Docks before it got dark. Along the canal towpath I found Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher.

Getting late in the day so the shutter speed is too slow but I would have go this shot unless I had the P900 at 2000mm

Next day off is a trip to permitting!

John Gordon
BC Canada

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