Waterman's Travels

Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Waterman's Travels

July 2000 Canal du Centre, France



Well it's been a bit of a nature week. When there is a two year old with a very inquiring mind on board the boat you tend to see different things. The bird life is mixed at this time of year. There are some brave ducks that have already hatched their second brood with up to ten fluffy chicks in tow who, with survival utmost in their minds, paddle fiercely against our wash as we pass them by. The older babies, born earlier in the year have more adolescent tendencies and seem to like the buffeting of our waves, riding the surf as they go. The herons continue their lazy repetitive circles and fly off to land a hundred yards ahead awaiting the appearance of fish frightened by the pull of water from our propeller. On hot days they sometimes do not even move as we pass by, confident in their camouflage. The fields on either side of the canal are full of the hay "loo rolls" drying in the sun after the bailing machine has passed by and laid them in a disorganised fashion on the landscape. The herons like to sit on them. Perhaps it's a good source of insects. The swallows have been flying low with the inclement weather and have suffered losses as it is about this time that young ones are having aerobatic lessons. You can still see the baby fluff round their jowls as they swoop around the boat. The skill of drinking from the water's surface whilst in flight is not totally instinctive and with the buffeting winds and rains some of the young ones have ended up in the water and drown. We rescued one in a landing net and had high hopes of a recovery as the bird had only just fallen in the water. It was, however, too chilled and shocked by it's experience and died in our intensive care, cotton wool lined, shoe box during the night. The kingfishers are regularly seen around here. Their distinctive cry is the first thing that makes you aware of their presence. Then there is a quick flash of turquoise as they fly low and fast down the banks of the waterway. There are nuthatches in the trees. Again it is sound that gives them away as they tap the bark of the trees with their beaks to encourage insects to appear. Their strange habit of doing this whilst facing down the tree trunk with their heads pointed to the ground is also a give away. Some terns are passing through on their endless migration. I suppose they are heading South at this time of year. Green woodpeckers are common around here and can be seen on the banks ferreting out insects. They share the ground cover with a few hoopoes who venture this far North in the summer. Golden orioles are summer time visitors too. They nest in the trees opposite our house and call to each other from afar. Up by the aqueduct over the Allier a colony of night herons arrive in early summer for mating before moving on to more hidden areas to nest. They sit almost motionless in amongst the rocks of the weir run and you have to look very carefully for them from the towpath of the aqueduct above. In flight, their distinctive white head plume gives away their identity. Some of the more predatory birds are about too. The multi coloured jays and magpies criss cross the canal. The buzzards are out hunting baby rooks and crows and the parents, sometimes solo, take on this much bigger bird to try and scare it away from the nest sites. The cooler weather has meant that my grand daughter and I could do some towpath studies of mayflies and dragonflies that are resting up in the bushes. We've worked out how to distinguish between mayfly and dragon fly but further detailed identification will have to wait till she is a little older. Whilst moored up for lunch, I was walking Baron when we came across a young coypu on the bank busy feeding off bankside vegetation. They are very partial to iris leaves we have noticed. We rushed back to the boat for Bailey and were lucky enough to still find him feeding on our return. He seemed unconcerned at our presence and after about five minutes wandered of into the undergrowth. The fishing has been very poor this year. Talking with the locals, they all seem to say the same, that the catches are well below normal, borne out by the weights measured at competitions. We came across one the other night near where we were to moor. Wall to wall fishermen every ten metres for about one kilomtere. They come equipped with everything and have these huge rods that allow them to drop the float of the end of the rod about one metre from the far bank. I've never understood why they don't just walk round and use a short rod! As we heave into view these rods are raised in salute as we pass by. Reaction to our presence varies across the spectrum from scowls through total indifference to cheery waves. All you can do in the confined waters is steer a steady course at a reasonable speed.

Categories: Travel stories

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