Sunday 27 May 2018

Several Things

Several things then, starting with birds.

May 15th, and it's the second day of the now-annual Red Kite convention in the west country. En route to darkest Cornwall the delegates meander wherever the weather dictates, and at least seven of them pass over chez NQS. This is unprecedented, and if I'd been looking skywards more often (or even spent the whole day at home) I'm sure the count would have been twice that, or more. I managed a couple of dire photos, so here's one...

Now that I've managed to photograph (however poorly) a Red Kite or two from the garden, I doubt I'll bother again. I'm satisfied with a record shot. I do understand the desire for the Ultimate Capture but, not having the gear for such an image, there is no point me trying. However, I do struggle to understand what drives photographers to visit Colin the Cuckoo at Thursley Common. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but published pics of the situation there appear to depict a set-up which is basically staged, with 'nice' mossy perches carefully positioned so that Colin is 'pleasingly' lit and has a complimentary background. Ooh, I've just had a thought. Is he tempted in with bait too? Please tell me he's not. Anyway, whatever, the whole scenario stinks. Photos of the gallery of snappers in attendance I find quite depressing. Maybe there's something wrong with me and I am missing the point, but to me wildlife should basically be just that. Wild. Difficult. Challenging. Dare I say that photos taken in such circumstances are slightly fraudulent? That's my opinion of course, and I suppose I ought to acknowledge that other viewpoints are equally valid. Well, maybe not equally...

Please feel free to argue the toss; this blog is not an echo chamber.

So. Back in December or thereabouts, I entered a proper race, the Egdon Easy 10k. This somewhat reckless move was precipitated by my happy discovery last summer that I could still run. The race was not until May 26th, so there would be plenty of time to sharpen up speed and endurance before the fateful day. That was the plan, at least. Then I got a niggling groin injury and my progressive running routine went out the window. In the last couple of weeks I'd begun to get out regularly once again, but approached last night's race under no illusions. The course was billed as flat and fast - a couple of laps of RSPB Lodmoor in fact - and I set myself a target of under 53 minutes, which would equate to 8:30 min/mile or less. My secret desire was to go sub-8:00 min/mile (ie. under 50 minutes) but I thought that highly unlikely, and subdued such inappropriate lusting.

This was the scene about 20 minutes before the start. Runners gathering in little clubby clusters. I was feeling pre-race nerves at this point, a weird sensation that I hadn't experienced for a very long time indeed.
Trying to listen to the completely inaudible 'safety briefing'. I hoped I hadn't missed any good advice, like "mind the bollards right in the middle of the path" and suchlike. Notice I am well away from the front. Wisely...

And then we were off! Deliberately I tried not to get carried away in the excitement and set off too fast. It worked, and after a few minutes I could tell that the breathing was still easy, and settled into a steady rhythm. My Garmin kept telling me that I was trotting along at roughly 8-minute mile pace, and after three or four kilometres I realised that sub-8s might be on the cards after all. Very gradually it got harder and harder to maintain the pace, a feeling I remembered from those many races of years ago. A nice feeling though. Satisfying in fact, knowing that pace-wise I had got it spot-on, and in the final few hundred metres was even able to wind it up a bit for a final sprint to the line. Okay, 'sprint' might be a bit strong, but definitely 'very quick shuffle'...

Totally oblivious of Mrs NQS capturing this historic moment, I hammer past in a speedy blur...

Strava has all the numbers. Look at that epic pacing!

So, 10k in 49:41 or 7:57 min/mile. I can honestly say I was delighted with that. Much better than expected. I felt fine afterwards too, and today there are no aches or pains. Onwards and upwards then...

I came 77th out of 302 finishers, and 10th out of 37 in my age class (m50). Next year I will be a brand new m60, but to win that category I will need to beat some bloke who did 43:20 yesterday! Bit of a tall order I think. Actually it's very sobering to consider how age affects athletic performance. At the peak of my powers, aged 33, I would potentially have finished in, or very close to, the top 10 of this race. So I'm very pleased that my friend Ric told me about something called 'age-graded performance' where your times are seen in the context of your age group. Old people are slower, and that's that. "Live with it" said Mrs NQS, sympathetically...

Friday 11 May 2018

Skua Fix

When it comes to skuas I am quite easily pleased. It could never be said that Lyme Bay is crawling with them, so the odd one or two here and there generally does the trick for me. Despite an almost 100% birding hiatus so far in 2018 I have been keeping an eye on the weather with a view to getting a seawatch in at some stage this spring. I had an abortive go back in April, but the rain and lack of visibility saw me scuttling home after about twenty minutes. This morning, however, looked very promising I thought...

We've had very little wind with much east in it so far, but the forecast predicted a swing from SW to SSE overnight, and a breezy SSE (more or less) for most of the day. My fairly limited seawatching experience at Burton Bradstock tells me that anything with west in it is a bit of a trial at best, while a raging SW (a potentially excellent wind at Seaton) is basically a straight-onshore nightmare. Anything from S through to E, however... yes, please. The orientation of the coast here seems to encourage almost everything to fly from right to left in such conditions as well, which is extremely helpful.

So, alarm set for 05:15; in position at 05:40...

Almost immediately it felt promising. Auks and Manxies were already passing in little groups, and a few Gannets very close in. The trickle built to a gentle flow, and I can honestly say that the next four and a half hours flew by. No boredom whatsoever. And there were skuas. The first was an immaculate dark-phase Arctic at 06:15, just 2-300 yards out and superbly lit by the low morning sun. Its chocolate-brown loveliness even made me exclaim out loud: "Oh yes, you beauty!" Bit sad, but there you go. Hopefully I will always feel that way upon reacquaintance with nice close skuas after a little break.

Next up was an equally close Bonxie at 08:00, plus another, more distant, some 15 minutes later. Lyme Bay clearly was not packed with skuas, and a couple of tweets from observers further west suggested likewise, with just a few Arctics and Bonxies reported. This helped me feel that at least I was getting my share, but didn't quite prepare me for 08:43...

Panning right I glimpsed a dark shape low among the waves. In the nanosecond before it dipped out of sight I knew it was a Pom, and sure enough, as it heaved upwards, there was a stonking light-phase Pomarine Skua in all its spooned-up glory. Superb! It was a little further out than any of the previous three skuas, and appeared to forge a path straight into the wind and gradually away from the shore. Too soon it was gone.

I packed it in at 10:10. There were no more skuas, but it's not often that I've had three species in one seawatch along the coast here. And there was plenty of variety in the chorus line. Although I didn't bother with much counting, here is a list of the rest of this morning's action...

Great Northern Diver, 4
Manx, 500+ (I actually counted to 200 before remembering how lazy I am, and stopped immediately).
Gannet, lots (200+?), many really close
auk sp, hundreds, many more than Manx.
Kittiwake, 10+
Sandwich Tern, 25+
'commic' Tern, 5
Common Tern, 2
Roseate Tern, 1
Common Scoter, 21
Sanderling, 4
Whimbrel, 5
Bar-tailed Godwit, 11
Grey Plover, 3
Gadwall, 1 female, a seawatch surprise!

Did you notice the Roseate Tern hidden away in that lot? Bit of a Lyme Bay biggie there, and only about my fifth or sixth local bird I think. I picked up a little group of Sandwich Terns coming slowly towards me from the west and quickly noticed that one of them was a bit small and had a ridiculously long tail. It was clearly as white as a Sarnie though... Er... My poor little cogs were struggling a bit, but finally the penny dropped and I eagerly awaited the close fly-past that was imminent. It didn't happen. Instead they all gradually drifted back W again and that was the last I saw of it.

There was also brief excitement when I tried hard to turn a distant single auk into a Puffin, another local rarity. It all looked okay except that I couldn't get any colour at all on the bill, and I thought I should have done at the range involved. So, safer to let it go.

Anyway, I enjoyed it so much that I might even return later. I've done this kind of thing before though, and I know exactly what 'anticlimax' means...

In other hobbies, well, I hooked and lost a single tench on Tuesday, while Rob caught one. I was rather disappointed. The area we've put a bit of effort into doesn't appear to be rewarding us to the expected degree, though Rob is happy enough with a fish or two each time. Me though, I'm greedy, and want more. Still, I certainly can't complain at the lovely surroundings...

The Exeter Canal, late evening on Bank Holiday Monday. Lovely.

Our set-ups are a bit different, and while I am mostly using a combination of fake and real maggots for bait, Rob is only using fake stuff, bits of foam and plastic designed to mimic sweetcorn and red maggots. The upside of his approach is that Rob is not pestered by small fish, which home in on my real maggots like moths to a flame. On the other hand, at least I get a few bites to keep things lively, while Rob gets very, very few! A couple of my maggot-raiders were bootlace eels, which are never welcome, but the rest have been gorgeous little rudd, and I've yet to tire of them...

5lb 12oz of immaculate canal tench

Tuesday 1 May 2018

Tench Through the Ages

I wonder how many anglers read this blog? Few, I suspect. Very few. So fishing posts like this one are a bit self-indulgent really, a kind of online diary that I can browse at some future date, smiling at the ups and downs of this or that venture...

Tench then. Well, the campaign continues. I was too busy with work to get involved last week, but Rob managed to get off the starting blocks with two modest fish of around 4lb apiece. This was well away from where most anglers head for tench, which makes it feel like we're ploughing our own furrow; always a satisfying thing. This week I joined him though, in the same area, and yesterday evening managed a couple myself.

A pristine male fish of 4lb exactly. Just behind my right shoulder you can see the Exe Estuary. Right of shot is the canal. It is hard to imagine a more delightful spot to go fishing. Despite the beautiful evening sunshine it was very cold!
Another male, slightly bigger at 4lb 10oz. It is said that the potential size of the biggest female tench in a water is double that of the biggest male. If that is true, our hope that we might better our tench personal bests of 8lb-odd is a realistic one.

Rob managed a couple of bream yesterday, but no tench. However, this afternoon he WhatsApp'd me a few phone camera self-takes. Here's one...

The bigger of two fish Rob caught this afternoon. At 6lb 2oz this is his best of the campaign thus far.

We're up to nine tench between us now, with two six-pounders. And they've all been super-looking fish. Still early days really though, and we both feel like we've only scratched the surface in terms of getting to know the venue and how to extract its inhabitants.

Yesterday afternoon it was really windy, and many small rafts of floating (and semi-floating) weed were drifting down the canal, constantly wiping out our carefully-positioned rods. In the end we resorted to back-leads [I must include an angling glossary one day...] but before we did that I decided to take a long walk to note interesting spots for future carpy intentions. I can honestly say I covered every inch of the canal from the Double Locks to Turf and back. At least a six-mile walk, it took me four very pleasant hours. En route I photographed an Orange Tip and Comma with my phone, and must have walked (unknowingly) within fairly close proximity of a Black-winged Stilt that was frequenting Exminster Marshes for the day. Ironically I was wearing bins, but the best birds I managed were my first Swifts of the year. The only other fisherman was on the far bank at the Lime Kilns, but was gone by the time I got round there myself. Hammered, the place is not! I didn't see any birders either, but I expect they were all over on the marshes!

Comma, and (above) Orange Tip. Not bad for a phone camera. I can remember one of my work colleagues getting a mobile with a camera in it about 15 years ago. How we laughed at the stupid, primitive thing. That'll never catch on, we thought...

Finally then, the reason for the title of this post. Shuffling through my old photos the other day I realised that tench are a constant feature in angling-related pics. So here is a collage of more than 45 years-worth...

Clockwise, from top left:
  • Probably 1971 or '72. Barn Hill Pond, Wembley. I'm not sure, but this might be my first tench ever.
  • 1974-ish. Hemingford Grey pits, which used to be under LAA control (London Anglers Assoc)
  • 1978. Langham Pond, Runneymede. Now a SSSI with no fishing. Back then, the perfect place for a so-called student to idle away some pleasant hours.
  • 1979 or '80. Springwell Lake, Rickmansworth. Another ex-LAA water.
  • 1988-ish. Bury Lake, Rickmansworth. Returning a nice 6lb+ fish early in the morning. There was no fishing allowed on Bury Lake. I was poaching.
  • Early '90s. A small and incongruous tench from a tiny tributary of the River Kennet known as Fisherman's Brook. This overgrown trickle that you can easily jump across is still on the LAA ticket and very much not the place you might expect to catch a tench!
  • Late '90s. A hefty lump from North Troy gravel pit in the Colne Valley. In the late '70s/early '80s North Troy was controlled by Long Life Angling Club and was one of the best tench waters in the land, arguably second only to Wilstone Res. It was still very good when I fished there in the 1990s, and produced 8lb+ fish for both Rob and me.
  • 6lb 10oz, the Exeter Ship Canal, 2018. Bringing it up to date.
  • In the middle: what happens when both rods go off at the same time. North Troy, late '90s.

And before I go, one for Dyl...

Former British tench record-holder Tony Chester bent into a nice fish. Lester Strudwick waits with the net. This is the car park bank at Wilstone Res, early '80s. Tench Mecca. This is one of the 'hot' areas, hence the proliferation of Brolli-camps, rustic predecessor of the myriad bivvies available today. I hope everyone got on okay, because they are all pretty close to one another!