Hugh Creasy's Column September 2020
- Richie Cosgrove
There had been a fresh fall of snow on the tops, and the water was cold. A pair of mallards escorted their little ones away from danger – not from any human presence, but from a cruising harrier that made attack runs at the family, trying to break them up. Harriers are not courageous predators. They much prefer a ready-made meal – road kill or small rodents that do not have the benefit of protective parents of considerable size. The duck and drake were doing a pretty good job getting their young to the river, where they scuttled into the water, one by one, though a tardy youngster unaware of its potentially fatal hesitation, stopped to nibble a leaf of mint. The harrier dipped in flight, ready to stoop, drawing a sharp quack from the mother duck and the youngster plopped into the water.
The harrier had young of its own, safe in a nest in a patch of riverside raupo. They were a well-fed pair, thinly feathered over a coat of grey down. It would be a few weeks before the oldest fledged and the harrier parents kept a steady supply of insects and small animals coming to the nest. It would seem to be a waste of energy to pursue a resistant prey, when the road a few hundred metres away, was continually scattered with dead animals, and the nearby paddocks were scattered with lambs. In any flock of sheep there were bound to be victims of chill winds. Mammalian births are fraught with danger and the corpse of a cast ewe provides a long-term feast for carrion eaters, so why chase a little bundle of down that would give up a tiny shred of protein if taken to the nest?
Perhaps the riverside surroundings had produced so much food that the harrier had leisure time to spare.
Its own young consisted of an heir and a spare. The spare, would gradually lose condition as the larger of the two feasted and grew, until the day of its first flight, when the younger was either dead of starvation, or took on an unsteady flight that bode badly for its survival.
Prince Harry is not alone in the cut-throat game of sibling rivalry.
Ducks rely on fecundity for survival. A mallard duck can lay up to 10 eggs in a nest. The duck must be decidedly uncomfortable in the spring, carrying all that weight, and oh, the relief when the nest is full and the uterus is empty. Survival rates are low, because ducks are stupid. Ducks are stupid because they spend very little time protected in a nest and there is not enough room in their heads for a decent-sized brain. The only way to overcome stupidity is to produce enormous numbers of young, which ducks do very well.
These were the musings of a frustrated angler, who arrived at the river only to find it discoloured with snow melt and unfishable. Observations of wildlife from a position of ignorance can come up with some peculiar ideas. For instance, we know that ducks, once they have finished bringing up their young, begin to moult, and to do so retire to sheltered places in swamps and woodland because they are too embarrassed to be seen in public. Forests full of bald ducks boggles the mind and it would be most unsporting to shoot these blighted birds when they are in a state of undress, which is why the duck-shooting season is so short.
Trout have their periods of disadvantage when the desire to procreate befuddles their already limited intelligence, and anglers must resist the temptation to drag them out of the water. They taste terrible because their passions cause them to lose weight. They neglect their food in favour of baser appetites and it’s only sporting to leave them in the water until they recover. They will taste much better after rest and recreation.
In the near future the sun will once again shine, the river will clear and there may be a period between spring and summer when the river’s bottom will be free of slime, giving good grip and inspiring confidence. The intrepid angler will ply his or her rod in sparkling, clear water and tempt fit and fat trout to come to the fly.
Trying to fish fast, dirty water is a dangerous business, unless you can do it from the bank. However, it may be that a spinner cast into pocket water behind boulders will pull a fish from an otherwise hopeless position. The angler although fishing blind, has an advantage in that neither can the fish see the angler.
The odds are even, and if there’s trout in the river the trip may not be wasted.