Saturday 1 April 2017

All-purpose Update

First, birds. Although I saw four Sand Martins on the relatively early date of March 10th, I haven't managed much else in the way of summer migrants. To do so would involve birding effort, of which there has been none. Jolly poor show really. Just this morning my little heart was swelling appreciatively at the sight of so much green in the sunny hedgerows, with their thick froth of blackthorn bloom, a sight I always associate with the arrival of Willow Warblers. Soon their sweetly plaintive song will be everywhere. Lovely. And yet, there was no accompanying urge to hurry home, grab the optics and head off birding somewhere.

In a way it's a shame that I just cannot seem to get the birdy juices flowing right now, but I take consolation from the fact that it has happened before; the interest has merely diminished, not died. And anyway, I still pull up next to the Axe Estuary for a quick look whenever I am working nearby. One day I might even find something...

Before we leave birds... Finally (after I don't know how many attempts) I cycled past Rowden Farm, near Long Bredy, and spotted cattle in the field across the lane, along with, yes, Cattle Egrets too. At least six. I say 'at least' because I forgot my little monocular, and so they were all just white things. Six were definite Cattle White Things, but there were a few other White Thing sp. present also. Here are the 'at least' six, and one indeterminate...

Photo taken with my phone at max zoom. It didn't help.

Last summer I bought a rather nice bike frame on eBay. My intention was to build it into a Sunday-best machine over the cold and dreary winter months. Unfortunately I was rather unwell for most of the winter and failed to summon the necessary enthusiasm for such a project. The onset of spring did the trick though, and in just one week I turned a pile of bits into this:

One Canyon AL SLX with Shimano Ultegra groupset. Drives superb.

As you can see, it has already seen a bit of action down the primrose-studded Dorset lanes. There was minor disappointment when I discovered that it failed to convert a winter of sloth into magical uphill personal bests, but I nevertheless hauled it up Eggardon Hill (the least steep way!) for some pretentious phone camera-work...

Birding from the bike is much harder than I anticipated. There are so many things working against you. The wind, for example. Riding into a headwind renders you deaf to birdsong as the air rushes noisily past your ears. In fact any speed of more than about 12mph generally has the same effect. So the only way I am going to add heard-only birds to my list is when I'm grovelling uphill. Oh, but then there's all the gasping and groaning, which drowns out anything less strident than a Cetti's Warbler. Also, there's not much scanning of the fields, sky and horizon, because you mostly have to look where you're going. Mind you, that does have its compensations, like when a pair of Grey Partridges scuttled across the road in front of me several weeks ago. I'm pretty sure they're nearly as rare around here as they were in the Seaton area.

I shall just have to cycle very slowly on occasion.

Angling-wise, well, spring is here, so the pike tackle has now been stashed until late autumn at least. It is time to think about the Exeter Canal carp. Rob and I have been planning our campaign for some time, and stocking up with bait. Though I haven't managed any fishing time yet, Rob has been down twice. His first trip produced a 5lb tench. As far as we can tell there have only been about half a dozen carp caught since the beginning of the year, despite a lot of effort from the regulars. So we were both mightily chuffed when this happened on Wednesday night...

Rob with a 24lb 8oz Exeter Canal mirror

Apparently this is also the biggest out so far this year. An encouraging start. And, so I am told, not jammy at all.

Although I have caught a few hefty carp in a previous life, it was a long time ago. So I've been trying to get up-to-date with modern rigs and tactics by watching some of the frankly first-rate videos available on YouTube etc. It makes me feel positively antique. The popularity (and ubiquity) of carp fishing has produced a massive and flourishing industry, intent on selling you a vast collection of horribly expensive bits. Years ago we used to joke that if you were a carp angler you could go into a tackle shop, part with a hundred quid, and need nothing more than a small paper bag to carry your purchases home. It's even worse now. I am trying hard to glean as much useful information as possible in order to maximise my chances at minimum cost. This has been huge fun, and I can now tie all sorts of interesting, modern, effective-looking rigs, with zippy names that I had never even heard of a few months ago. I look forward to chucking some of them into the canal soon.

A few things haven't changed though. What anglers call 'watercraft' is one. Like 'fieldcraft' in birding, watercraft cannot be bought, and its shrewd employment can give you a massive edge. Hopefully I still have some. Future blogs will reveal whether that is the case!

Incidentally, the photo above doesn't really do justice to the size of Rob's carp. Apart from the fact that this was his first attempt at a self-take with my camera (hence top of head missing) and that it was pouring with rain, Rob is quite a large chap. Here's a shot of it on the unhooking mat...

Fat as the proverbial...

I never thought I'd ever again get excited at the prospect of catching one of these gorgeous lumps, but this one has got me all fired up...


  1. Gavin, the beauty of the capture of such a superb carp is the fact that, by modern standards, no-one cares about a 24.08 fish - the "fashionistas" certainly ain't about to claim such stats. Hats off to Rob - it will be an interesting comparison between your captures and our efforts on The Royal Military. Does The Exeter Ship Canal have a history of thirty pound plus fish? From where I'm sitting Rob's 24.08 is a belting carp and every bit as good as a thirty from our canal, with it's proven track record. - Dyl

    1. Cheers Dyl. Isn't it great that such venues as this (and the RMC?) still exist! The Exeter Canal record is a whopping 42lb, caught more than 25 years ago, and we have found modern photos on the internet of a 31lb mirror and a 29lb common. However, those who fish the place do not appear to publicise it very much at all, so the potential is a bit of an unknown. Which is of course why we are drawn to it!! Six miles of deep canal, clear water, weedy. Much of it very hard to pitch a bivvy on. A proper challenge. Brilliant! A lot of learning to do...

  2. A nice read Gavin, I enjoyed it and no, birdwatching is not the end all of life, it'll always be there in the background and treats will appear along the hedgerows and fields from time to time, till then, enjoy your fishing.