Tuesday, 11 July 2017

PASSPORT TO PARADISE


Travelling the world to film wildlife is a privilege but for ultimate fulfilment there’s no place like home when you are a wildlife friendly gardener.

My wife Sue and I are the grateful guardians of two acres of what was once largely derelict grass and dense woodland but when we first viewed it we could see the potential to create our own haven for wildlife. The cottage is 18th century cob and on arrival thirty-six years ago we noticed two ditches around the property that had running water in them.

the main pond is 'puddled' with clay Capability Brown style
spade work to create frog and newt habitat - it jumps with them in spring
Within weeks we had thinned excess trees and diverted the water to create a stream that flowed through the
five ponds we dug with spades and a JCB. Each year we have created more wetland habitat and can’t stress enough how magical it is to add water to your garden. It doesn’t have to be big, just wet.

what a lovely surprise it is when little egrets drop in to fish
Only the other day I’d cleared a small marshy area and within hours two little egrets arrived, no doubt looking for our numerous frogs, newts and tadpoles. As all wildlife enthusiasts know, create habitat and the animals will soon take advantage.

With this in mind we decided to start a wild flower meadow and so the lawn in front of the cottage was left uncut one spring. An amazing transformation took place as within weeks a host of flowers emerged from the grass, including three southern-marsh orchids.

no mowing - no seed - just a miracle of nature
We haven’t sprinkled seed but the variety of flowers keep on coming and the orchid head count is now in the hundreds, including pyramid and a few spotted. The bees, butterflies and grasshoppers love it and for us, it’s simple colourful summer joy.

pretty as a picture
brimstone beauty

lots of flowers are good for all insects, not least the colourful peacock butterfly

commas are a common treat on our patch and lichens a big bonus
the impressively sized silver-washed fritillaries visit every year
Sue has planted masses of insect friendly flowers, our woodland too, so the place hums with butterflies and bees. She’s a great fan of hover flies and solitary bees so we have a couple of insect homes for them, along with bird and bat boxes and old wood stacks to create beetle and bug banks.
one of several beetle-banks - very good interest rates too

frequent and exotic visitors - mandarin ducks - and our pheasant is called 'Prince Wilhelm The Second' - don't ask why
We feed the birds too of course and have some ‘interesting’ visitors at times, mandarin are regulars with three broods of mallard ducklings most years, the garden resembling Slimbridge.
two of these ducklings survived the hazards of foxes this year to become free flying

we usually have up to three pairs producing big broods
just some of the male escorts - ain't wetlands wonderful
We’ve left ‘no go’ areas with lots of scrubby bits and so every summer we revel in the song of blackcaps along with chiffchaff, song thrush and the beautiful warbling of the blackbird, serenading me as I write.

the great tit is one of our commonest residents
The latest bird count in and above the garden is one hundred and seven species so we know it’s a privilege to share this patch with so much wildlife. Water is the key, particularly as I love fish, for they are wildlife too.
rudd and golden orfe - all scoffed by the 'playful' otter last autumn

What’s more, fish provide food for herons and our ultimate garden visitor, otters. We receive a raiding party most years and though it’s a real treat to see them, it’s distressing when they eat our wildlife in the middle of the night. We used to have breeding moorhens but not since the otters discovered us. They are killers so are a mixed blessing.
our 'friendly' otter enjoying a midnight feast

minnows breed so well in the streams that we always have plenty of survivors
kingfishers are a frequent summer visitor - what a privilege
The streams provide a place for our minnows to spawn, food for kingfishers, magpies and even blackbirds. Yes, they do eat fish! Running water is great for bird-washing, stock doves, grey wagtails, buzzards and sparrow hawks being some of the more exciting bathers.

stock doves are a delight and several pairs nest close by
emperor dragonflies find our ponds ideal for egg-laying
The ponds are alive with dragons and damsels and on one memorable day last summer we were sat admiring a golden-ringed dragonfly close to our tea drinking spot when a hobby swooped down and snatched it with a loud crack. Simply amazing!

this golden-ringed dragon provided supper for a hobby
As if our own patch isn’t enough, the Dorset Wildlife Trust became our nearest neighbour when they bought the surrounding woodland as part of the exciting Great Heath Project. In our view that took us one step closer to heaven and being part of the growing army of keen gardeners who create so much for wildlife is the ultimate reward.

you can never have too many wisterias - the bees love 'em
In order to encourage everyone to create wildlife friendly gardens, the DWT give advice and award plaques to those who fulfil specific criteria and we wanted to become a part of this crusade. We were even encouraged to enter their wildlife friendly competition and Sue was surprised but delighted when we won the award for large gardens. Seeing all those happy, smiling folk at the Gardening Awards Ceremony last year just proved to us how much good that hard digging does for us all. So if you’ve ever wondered where paradise is, simply step outside into your wildlife friendly garden and get digging ... and planting.

It's always suggested that planting trees isn't for us but for our grand-children and it's simply not true. We planted many of the trees in this picture and look at the size of them, especially the glorious beeches across the pond, only thirty years old and BIG.
the glorious colours of autumn are always enjoyed, especially the acers
 
no, we didn't plant the ancient oaks but we did dig the marsh

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A CRUCIAN CONUNDRUM


Lovely creatures aren’t they, living their lives in the quietest corners of our countryside, unassuming and discrete in both character and nature but still able to drive us anglers mad.

It’s become something of a tradition these past few years for me to start the season trying to fill the 16th with bars of gold. They seem the perfect creature to catch on a midsummer dawn and this year was no exception, so as the light increased from a starlit sky, my friend Chris Wild and I crept into our swims full of anticipation.

Isn’t it wonderful that the same feeling of excitement and sleepless nights arises before the glorious 16th every year, even after nearly seventy years of angling adventures. There is a whole season of fishing ahead, new or familiar challenges to look forward to and a world of mystery to explore. Variety of quarry and waters is the key but there’s no harm in starting with those that are close to your heart.

I love crucians for the conundrums that they throw up. Will they be in the swim you have chosen? Will they bite and on what bait? Will you even see the bites and if so, will you be able to strike at the right moment? These and many other questions are the essence and charm of crucian fishing and solving the riddles are where the rewards are won.

Trying to win a few bites, I had raked and lightly baited the swim the evening before, so I hoped to see tell-tale bubbles when dawn started to illuminate the pool … and my hopes were fulfilled but … there were too many bubbles and they were too big. I feared the worse, king carp, otherwise known as ‘nuisance fish’. I pulled my delicate pole rig out in fear that it would be trashed but eventually I became impatient at not being able to fish for crucians and dropped in again.

I’m guessing you have already decided the outcome and the bite when it came resulted in a violent explosion of water, an instant stretching of elastic, the nearby bed of lilies smashed and a sad goodbye to my float.

Trying to calm down, I added a little more soft pellet groundbait to the now muddy swim, picked up my slightly stronger rig and dropped in again. More bubbles rose and I hoped for a tench but an hour later the chaos resumed. What I assumed was the same carp had returned for more breakfast and it proceeded to give me a tour of all the surrounding lilies, trashing the swim in the process. It was an exciting battle and I was grateful that I’d invested in a Drennan Acolyte Margin Pole, for I was able to pull like hell without fearing it would break. It’s also armed with an elastic puller so I eventually subdued the carp’s enthusiasm for war and led it to my too small crucian landing net.

It was a splendid looking mirror carp with large scales and weighed 12lbs14ozs, not quite the peaceful start that I’d imagined but an entertaining way to celebrate the season’s opening. My swim needed an hour to recover from the wreckage before I managed a first crucian of the season, so I decided to start again, rake and bait it and wait some more.

Chris was fishing in what we call the Vole Swim opposite [because that’s where they live] and had already made me jealous by catching a tench of about 3lbs – I love tench … but don’t we all … and was now busy pulling his hair out in his attempt to induce and hit the crucian bites. I had prepared his swim the night before by raking and baiting and it certainly resulted in crucians being attracted to his swim for he eventually succeeded in landing a beauty of over two pounds.

Meanwhile, my swim was recovering, bubbles rising and by the delicate lowering of soft 6mm pellets below a tiny float, I began to catch some cracking crucians. The weather warmed up and I became engrossed in seeing just how close to my feet I could attract them. After an intriguing few hours I had up to ten big crucians so close that they were alongside the bank-side vegetation in just inches of water.

Fixing up the top two of my pole with an inch long broken top of a pole float, I freelined a pellet amongst them and tried to watch them take the bait. They had stirred up the silt but when I was able to see them make the pick up, all that happened was the slightest nod of the sliver of my indicator. They sat stationary with the bait and it’s no wonder they make us pull our hair out as most of the time the bait was surrounded by half a dozen crucians and absolutely nothing happened to indicate I had a bite … and most of the time I hadn’t!

No wonder we love fishing for them, so subtle are they in their feeding … but eventually I got the hang of knowing what they were doing and ended the session with sixteen crucians to a best of 2lbs5ozs and with an average weight of 2lbs1oz. … and delightfully, most of them were tricked at my feet.

I even managed two small tench so the hours flew by and were totally rewarding, especially as Chris had caught well too, in spite of being taken apart a couple of times by carp. He ended up with about ten splendid crucians so for both of us, the day certainly proved to be a glorious 16th.

Monday, 29 May 2017

CRUCIAN GOLD


There’s something undeniably beautiful about crucians, not just the way they look but the places they choose to live, even the tentative way they bite.

perfect crucian country - one of Peter Rolfe's delightful Saxon Ponds

waiting for a tiny nudge

These golden creatures provide anglers with so many rewards that it’s heartening to see all the efforts being made to save them. Many clubs are even creating new fisheries to ensure our grandchildren can enjoy crucian fishing too.



crucian catching always makes for happy anglers
a perfect crucian swim

June 1st marks the start of ‘Crucian Fishing Month’ and the Angling Trust have once again organised a crucian photography contest to raise awareness of their beauty and their plight. I’m honoured to be a judge once again and there are prizes for the winners, so enjoy some thoughtful snapping. 

Here's where to enter :
www.catchacrucian.wordpress.com

keeping up the traditions of angling



I guess when judging last years contest I was looking for photographs that captured the essence of the qualities that make crucians special and there were certainly some excellent entries … but as my school report kept saying, “must try harder”.

telling the story of a puma in the Andes Mountains



I’m no stills photographer but I did try harder and that earned me the privilege of making more than sixty wildlife films all around the world. I guess the principles of a good picture are the same whether moving or still so for what it’s worth, I’ll list a few tips that I’ve found useful.

If you are entering the ‘film category’ – new this year – then just make sure you tell a story. Try to shoot it in a way that gives your audience a sense of actually ‘being there’, sharing the excitement with the angler. That often means getting off the tripod and with a wide angle lens, moving right in amongst the action. 

elastic stretcher

You’ll also need ‘cut-aways’ such as angler reactions, the bite, splashes of fish, bent rod and spinning reel, all shot so you are telling the audience what is happening in a dynamic way. This attention to detail really does make for engaging viewing.

a dignified surrender




Remember continuity too. Decide before you even start fishing where the angler is in relation to the lake. If he or she is on the left and the water on the right then stick with it so as not to confuse your audience. In the business we call this ‘crossing the line’.



Making the decision where 'the line' is can be crucial, whether in stills or film for it dictates where the light is coming from and that is vital for good photography. Back-light [sun shining towards the camera] can be wonderfully evocative, graphic too, which makes for more dramatic images and you can always use fill in flash if the sunshine is too severe.

my attempt to do justice to a splendid creature - no, not Chris
Pay lots of attention to the background. Always avoid clutter such as ugly buildings, parked vehicles, telegraph poles and even bits of tackle. In fact, anything that spoils the illusion of being deep in the countryside and when it comes to fish portraits, all the above is vital.



Try to angle the light on the crucian so those beautiful golden scales are etched and glow. Try also to use the lake as a background so the fishes home becomes a part of the photo. Water provides a lovely soft background for the fish too. I suggested this last year but I don’t think you were paying attention!

glistening gold and big too
If you have a fancy camera you could even crank up the shutter speed so the resultant wide aperture makes for an out of focus background. This is always good as it draws more attention to the fish … and don’t forget to check round the edges of the frame so that you can leave out any irrelevant details.

happy days with friends and a first crucian for Annabelle
Do enjoy photographing your golden gems and do try harder this time so as to enhance the crucians’ reputation as one of our most beautiful fish … but above all else, never forget that fish live in water, so be quick.

This is the link to the Angling Trust's details about the Photo Contest and how to enter : www.catchacrucian.wordpress.com

Peter Rolfe's book, 'Crock of Gold' is essential reading for all crucian enthusiasts.

full of anticipation when dusk falls on June 15th