Tales of the Riverbank
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine October 2017
Boxing is brutal with many more losers than winners. One might argue it saves tearaway teenagers from a life of crime, but, in a progressive society it should be banned. I would, on balance, support a ban, despite the fact that I love to watch ‘fight night’ and Mohamed Ali remains my all-time sporting hero.
Shooting for pleasure crosses that line as the object is to kill not win, otherwise shooting clay pigeons would be the chosen, humane alternative. What bothers me most is the effect it has on ‘sporting’ humans; desensitising them to killing, let alone its effect on wild animals. One can make a strong case in support as, where shooting of released game birds goes on, the land is often enhanced for other wildlife. Pheasant shoots in my locality, managing the land for gamebirds, rather than intensively farming it, has led to some of the best raptor watching in England with high densities of small mammals and passerines.
Of course, the same cannot be said for grouse moors or Scottish deer-stalking estates, where the land is managed badly for competing species whether they be predators or rivals.
Angling is hard for me to be dispassionate about as I occasionally indulge. Like many a wildfowler, I enjoy it as much for the wildlife watching as for the fishing. It is bizarre that I find it so hard to outwit an order of animals supposedly many hundreds of millions of years behind me in brain power! On my last outing, the fish won 10.5 to 2.5. I ‘missed’ ten bites, lost one fish in the weeds and caught just two (obviously gently returned to the water). I cannot justify my actions, I enjoy the ‘hunt’ aspect, just as one enjoys hunting for new birds. I dream of hooking a fish large enough to test my strength (although these days that doesn’t have to be that big!). I’d miss the possibility of fishing, but cannot, in all conscience defend it. I cannot lie to myself, fish feel pain and being hooked in the mouth must be nasty. Ironically, my last outing followed a tooth extraction so I did empathise.
That lakeside outing prompted this month’s article.
I rarely rise early to bird nowadays, just like I almost never twitch. I don’t go to reserves because there is some reported rarity, but rather I decide where I want to go and then just enjoy what’s there. In high summer this may well be insects or in spring it might be hares. However, the lake where I fish has one corner spot that I favour for its shade and tranquillity and I know it is popular, so I had to be there before 7.00am to stand a chance of occupying it.
In those few hours rooted to one place my eyes often failed to focus on my fishing float because there were so many distractions. Two pairs of reed warblers flitted from the reed stems to a bush three feet away from me. Yaffling green woodpeckers flew over. Cetti’s called and occasionally popped out from the reeds. Moorhens and ducks paraded their fluffball families for me. Twenty minutes after I set up, a year-tick kingfisher left the bankside vegetation next to me where it had sat unnoticed, streaking by a foot from my rod tip. A frog swam by kicking out his legs lazily then sinking into a weed-bed. Overhead a Marsh Harrier began her day’s hunt. As the sun strengthened Small Heath and Gatekeeper butterflies took to the wing. A common Blue Damselfly landed on my float, but was dislodged by a Black-tailed Skimmer living up to its name. Like a cretaceous monster an Emperor Dragonfly lorded it over the lake.
One might argue that a bird-hide sojourn would give one the same experience, but angling has me just quietly sitting among nature’s glory.
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