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Fishing Distractions

Some people will have been seeing this January as a month of rain and flooding. There has certainly been plenty of that and we have had some hairy moments with surface water, floods and crossing fords. Then there are those who just saw it as the month for detoxification and trying to recover from the Christmas season. It has been an odd January and an odd winter. This year for me, January has been the month of the Kingfisher. For those that know St. Albans will also know Verulamium park, the 1920s park that is the best place for a long walk on Sunday afternoons before adjourning to one of the many fine pubs the town also has as a result of being one day’s coaching ride from London. At times the park can be like a motorway of romantic couples and terrifying small children on scooters determined to take my legs off at the ankles. The ducks and swans have become used to the excessive human presence or possibly are just addicted to bread. But some of our animals are just a little more nervous, and the flash or iridescent blue and orange that is a kingfisher is something we have normally only seen a couple of times, and outside the busiest zones. But not this January as this seems to have changed albeit probably for a temporary period. If you want to see a kingfisher at close quarters come to Hertfordshire. I have been quite amazed that every time I have gone walking or running down the park, I’m seeing this kingfisher. Well a pair in fact although usually only one at a time. To add to the pleasure it is at close quarters and they are ignoring the people watching them fish. That said most people seem oblivious to one of our most beautiful birds. So why are they there suddenly, after two or three sightings in the last 10 years? The zoologist in me says enjoy it while it lasts. The river is extremely high and up and downstream it is unusually deep, fast flowing and cloudy. Next to the artificial lake however, the river Ver is slowed artificially and is still clear enough that the birds can see their prey. So for now, until the river has gone down, I predict that our azure dressed guests will hang around because this is the only place on the river they can actually fish. Which is great for me, as it provides a great excuse to (1) stop for a rest on a run to watch in fascination as the bird skips along a branch, plunges into the water and comes up with a fish, and then carefully manoeuvres the prize head first into its beak (2) I can bore anyone who also has stopped to watch because they are observant enough to notice armed with half remembered zoology twenty year old degree knowledge topped up by Chris Packham on BBC2 ‘Watch’ programmes. (Disturbingly I have noticed that while I have always felt I had modelled myself on a mixture of my childhood heroes – Tom Baker’s Doctor Who and David Attenborough, in that order. However I seem to be taking on Packhamesque mannerisms at far too rapid a rate. Just as well I do not like poodles; otherwise I would be very worried.) The demographic of my fellow kingfisher watchers also interests me. They seem to fall entirely into two groups – photographers, and older couples who actually are bothering to look around them on their romantic constitutionals. These are the kind of people the lovely wife and see and think ‘I hope we are like that when we are their age’ not realising that this milestone may be closer than we think (or might like). So I think when the weather changes (let’s assume it does, if only for those who live on flood plains) then my pretty birds (look see, I’m already getting possessive) will be back off down their country homes and again we will only see them once in a (brilliant) blue moon. Maybe our Mandarin ducks will come back to make up for it. But that’s for another week, closer to our anniversary.

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