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Fishy Goings On

1st of April 2010

The first day of spring (2 March, in case you missed it!), warm sunshine, just the day to tidy up down by the wildlife pond. The grasses that grow just back from the waters edge got knocked about by the snow and leaves have gone into the water. A bit of fishing with a net is called for. At this time of year I often write about the arrival of maybe 50 or more frogs but to-day I cannot see one. The heron comes almost every day to see if they are here yet leaving his powdery grey film on the water. They make this powder in their breast feathers so that they can clean fish scales from their beaks and, as they wade out into deeper water, they leave a trail behind. Their favourite spot is just by the little waterfall between the 2 ponds and as I pick out floating leaves something red catches my eye. Just to the side of the waterfall on the gravely bank are 2 bright red claws about one and a half inches long. One still has the bottom “jaw” attached; the other is in two pieces. When I turn them over they are blue grey on the other side. They belong to signal crayfish! I have seen several TV programmes about these American invaders and the damage they do to our native crayfish. I am stunned! I look carefully at the gravel again and notice a pellet about one and a half inches long and as thick as a mans thumb. It is made up of bits of bone, maybe fur, and crayfish shells. I think the claws must have come from one end of it which is a bit broken up. A heron pellet I guess. What a find, how our son would have loved to find it when he was a lad. It made my day!
Lots of birds bring up pellets of indigestible food. Owls are the best known, but hawks and kingfishers and many others do too, but we rarely get to see them. I still have this one intact, it pongs a bit. Part of me wants to break it up to see what the heron had been eating, but I think it’s quite a rare find so I am keeping it for now.
I do not think the signal crayfish came from our pond, I think the heron got it from somewhere else and just left me the bits. The signals escaped from fish farms in the 70s and are vicious beasts eating everything they can and they carry a disease that kills our own native crayfish. They are, apparently, very tasty and there are several recipes and cooking instructions on the internet but I don’t think they will be on my menu just yet!
Wendy Bathurst

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