Tag Archives: Wildlife

The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

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The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

You think you’ve seen it all and then you travel the canals of Britain into the city of London. The trip on our 60 foot narrowboat was to end at Limehouse Marina right beside the Thames in East London. We gave ourselves 2 weeks. 2 boats, ours ‘The Glad Victor’ and Eddie’s and Miriam’s “My Precious’ (our marina neighbours) travelled together down the Grand Union Canal and across and down The Paddington Arm of the Grand UnionCanal into the heart of London.

Only a couple of problems though. There was no room for us at the Limehouse Marina during the time we had chosen to travel and major work was being done on the locks at Camden Town with a total closure at the critical time when we would have been returning from Limehouse. The marina manager at Limehouse said he’d let us moor outside the marina along the 20 foot high wall, but none of us fancied climbing up ladders to get to civilisation and so that wasn’t an option. We’d play it all by ear.

Our first day out was a relative breeze. 2 other friends came with us to help with the locks and enjoy the pleasures of cruising. They are landlubbers, Sandy and Graham, friends who live in one of the apartments surrounding our marina. They helped with locks and steering and such until we reached Rickmansworth. Then we all partied on the back of the boats, went to dinner and said goodbye to our landlubber neighbours.

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At Rickmansworth. The first night with (from left) Sandy, Miriam, Eddie and Graham.

The next morning we set off. We were in uncharted waters for us. Eddie had been this way before and led the way. The amazing thing about The Grand Union Canal, even down into the city, is the diversity along the way and mostly feeling like you’ve never left the countryside. The banks are lined with trees and other greenery, reeds and the like. It has been well-preserved, even to the point of overgrowth. Positively bosky. There were sections where I thought I was on The African Queen, my best friend taking the place of Kate Hepburn.

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Vegetation along the Cut in the city.

We cruised through Copper Mill Lock N0. 84 and south to Black Jack’s Lock No. 85. With a name like that I was expecting a story of nefarious goings on, maybe a smugglers’ or thieves’ den or some fellow named Jack who murdered people. No….it was an old flour mill and no one knows who Jack was. Which is a mystery in and of itself. But never mind. Out of the lock we went, under Black Jack’s bridge. And there it lay.

I almost lost my tiller. Over on the left bank sat a crocodile. A great bigger than life reptile. There is precedent here. Some people photographed a croc somewhere down along the Thames a while a go. Real or not? No one can say. And you hear tales of crocs in the sewers from time to time. I stared at this one, but it didn’t move. No one on Eddie’s boat seemed concerned, so I assumed it was a fake….a damned good one too.

When we got to the next lock, Eddie told me the croc wasn’t even a stuffed real one, just a plastic thing. Could’a fooled me. Eddie said it had been there for years. But last time he passed by here in another boat, the croc’s mouth was open with a baby inside….not a real one of course. I guess the years since then have politically corrected such attempts at humour. I’d have put an effigy of Tony Blair in its mouth. Not going there though.

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Looks real doesn’t it?

On we went, along to Uxbridge, with no harrowing incidents when suddenly, up ahead, hanging from a steel beam on the skeleton of an old cement factory, I thought I saw King Kong. It wasn’t. Someone years ago put the monkey up there and not a soul would dare remove it. We are nothing as human beings if not superstitious. It brings all who pass under it good luck. We needed it, we were heading toward Southall.

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King Kong of the Cut

We were making our way to the Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal. You’d think it was the best kept secret on the Cut. Here you are, chugging along, straight ahead because the canal doesn’t deviate at this point and suddenly, with no warning, an old, white, stone bridge appears to the left. If there is a sign pointing out that under this small bridge begins The Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal, I didn’t see it. Not even when I discovered what the bridge led to and looked for a sign.

Turn the boat 90 degrees, under the bridge and onto The Paddington Arm….I hope. but Eddie, at least, knew the way. We passed a marina and some parks and homes. This section of the Cut seemed more urban and easy to ignore. Up ahead swam a mess of swans. I’d never seen so many in one place on the canal. At last, something ordinary. Swans. Beyond the swans we moored up for the night, as far away from people as possible except for other boaters. Out came the Prosecco and the barbecue.

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Swans on the Paddington Arm.

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Moored near Southall.

The next day we headed toward Alperton and were scheduled to moor alongside one of Eddie’s friend’s boat and the boat of someone else mooring there. It was a relatively short journey, but the rubbish people throw into the canals was beginning to build up. You could hear it trying to interfere with the boat’s propeller. You wouldn’t believe what people throw or drive into the canals. But more on that another time.

For now, we were about to be entertained by a magician who also happens to be a comedian. A real comedian, not just a funny guy. But more about him in the next Blog. This has been enough excitement for two days. Read on and be amazed, bedazzled and certainly bemused.

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Homes along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

Duckingham Palace

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This is not a ploy to get you to come to London for the sightseeing. Although if you do, you might want to take a train from Euston station to our marina in Apsley (Hemel Hempstead) to see what I am about to unleash. You’d be quackers not to. It just might become another wonder of the world. I speak of Duckingham Palace. Not that touristy pile of stone down the Mall off Trafalgar Square, where her Maj lives….sometimes. This is a palace built with love and care for special Royalty and 2 very wonderful ladies.

I’ve written about characters of the cut (canals) elsewhere. Some are rude men and women. Some are great volunteers and helpers. Some are crazy. Many are talented and creative. Some just are and want to be left alone. This Blog is about two characters right here in my marina. I know them as the duck lady and Mum duck.One lady is a duck mother of sorts, the other has feathers and has become quite a phenomenon around here. She has no name, but does have distinguishing marks.

The duck lady has one mission in the Spring….making sure any duckings hatched in the marina have a fighting chance for survival. Not an easy task. When they hatch, the ducklings are so tiny and vulnerable. And there are many predators. Foxes, cats, fish (Pike), herons, seagulls, swans and geese, though the latter 3 tend to kill ducklings for the sake of it. Every day for weeks, morning to night, the duck lady patrolled the area, feeding them nutritious duck food instead of the ubiquitous stale bread which is the favourite of the uninitiated.

Mother duck (a Mallard) had 12 ducklings. A clutch of eggs can be anywhere between 8-13 that incubate for nearly a month. If a clutch is destroyed either by predators or the elements, a female duck can start all over again. It happens frequently. Some mums will try over and over until they get it right. Others just give up after the first failure. Ducks have personalities too. It’s not all just by instinct. Typically, dads bugger off after copulating, searching for other eager females. Some things never change no matter the species.

There was mum, with her fluffy little brood, tootling around the marina in search of sustenance. An adult duck followed by what looked like a big ball of fluff. As the days went on, the ducklings grew in stature and independence, exploring places further from the brood….but never too far. The mother duck is quite unique according to duck lady. She has been clever in how she guards the little ones. Always present and aware. She also knows that duck lady is a friend. For the first few weeks, mum duck never left the marina.

The duck house that was there when the ducklings hatched had been in place for a few years, courtesy of the duck lady, naturally. She commissioned it and it was so. Straw filled and sitting on its own platform, floating on our side of the marina at the end of one of the long piers, it had seen better days. Duck Lady lives over the other side of the marina. We residents call it the dark side. We don’t get over there much. Strange types have boats on the dark side we were told when we first moved in. Some may think duck lady is strange. She is anything but. Just shows you how uninformed we permanent dwellers can be. My best friend and I had not spoken to duck lady until one day when she was out on duck patrol. We were enchanted by her knowledge and dedication toward these water foul.

Those of you who bothered watching that video will have discovered that during the dazzling commentary (and between gusts of wind) the commentator mentioned only 10 ducklings had survived to this point. You may also have noticed that the little fuzz balls had grown some. Alas, 1 of their number had been snatched by a Pike over in one corner of the marina. Mother duck had not been as vigilant as she needed to be and allowed her young ones to venture into dangerous waters. maybe that is part of the test for self-preservation. And the other was snatched from the water by a seagull and dropped, drowning the poor little thing. Nasty seagull.

When the count was down to 8, 2 more having become the victims of a heron, I chanced upon duck lady one morning as she went about her duck duties. I said to her, “I see we’re down to 8. Does that worry you?” She stared down into the water and replied, “Yes, it does. I feel each loss far too deeply. I almost feel responsible. Isn’t that silly?” I assure her it isn’t as there is little more that she could possibly do. “Not your fault at all” said I. “It’s the way of nature. Sad but true in this case.” She looked up at me (I’m much taller than she) and said, “I know. But it makes little difference. I just take it all to heart. It’s wearing me out. I think this will be the last season for me. Someone else will have to take over. The old duck house needs replacing, but it won’t be my doing. That means it probably won’t happen.”

A shame, I thought. This was definitely the person for the job. We all held our collective breath when mum took the brood out of the marina and onto the canal. We thought for sure they would come back into the marina minusĀ  one or two more. But that was not to be….at least not for the moment.

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A kind of gloom fell over the marina when we discovered the count was down to 6. Half of the little ducklings had vanished even with the best efforts of mother duck and duck lady to save them all. But duck lady was optomistic. The fact that against heavy odds the mum had kept 6 of them safe and alive was something to celebrate. We all watched anxiously every day, counting the ducklings as they swam by, to make sure there were still 6.

DSCN1251DSCN1252The next remarkable thing was to see the dad turn up to help out. He brought a buddy with him for extra security. To date, the six remain. And have grown at an astonishing rate. When I saw them, I could hardly believe my eyes.

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The 6 with dad. They have grown.

I lost touch with the ducklings for a couple of weeks. Life got busy. But over on the dark side, things were cooking. Duck lady had decided to keep on going after all, commissioning a new duck house from her boat neighbour, a carpenter. She only hoped the duck family would accept new digs. One fine day, duck lady came by my boat and knocked on the roof. The new duck house was complete and she needed long ropes to pull it across the water in the marina to take the place of the old house. I had just the rig. The house glided to its mooring and we all waited to see if the new home would be well received.

“I’m calling it Duckingham Palace” said the duck lady. She was beaming. “So, you’re back on the job?” I asked. “I can’t help myself” she said. “It’s just such a part of me. I’ll probably regret it again next Spring, but for now….” The next morning, 7 large ducks congregated around Duckingham Palace. I guessed some other ducks had moved in. I was wrong. The ducklings had grown. They were moving in….with mum. The royal family. As it should be.

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Duckingham Palace and the royal duck family.

 

 

The Kingfisher Folly

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At last! Spring has sprung on the canals of Britain. At least there is evidence here around my marina. It seemed a long time coming even though winters here in England….in the south anyway….are not as harsh as in my other adopted country, Canada. Still, it has been cold here this year and April was a washout as far as anything Springlike goes. Yes, the daffs came out early and a few Spring flowers survived, but we had to have the wood burning stove on nearly continuosly throughout April.

All that has changed. May, so far, has given us all hope of better weather to come. As I write this on the 9th of May, it is a respectable 21C at noon. Yesterday it was 27C. Signs of Spring are everywhere….leaves on trees, flower beds, bees buzzing about, tree blossoms perfuming the air and baby ducks peeping. It all seems to come out of nowhere and very quickly once the warm weather and sunshine arrive.

My neighbour Eddie poked his head in at the back of our boat last week, another glorious day, and said he was going up the cut a ways to take some photographs. For some time now he has trolled the cut to get that perfect photo of a Kingfisher. The elusive bird has evaded Eddie’s lens as if it were doing so on purpose. I believe that to be the case. Plenty of other foul to shoot (photographically speaking), just no Kingfisher.

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A coot and her baby.

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A heron in the reeds

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A tern enjoying the sunshine

Evidences were everywhere….of Spring, not Kingfishers….giving everyone hope of a fresh start. Fruit blossoms, willow trees, spring flowers and all sorts greeted us along the cut with an aroma that picked up our spirits and gave colour to what had been a rather dull winter. We were full of the joys of Spring. Except Eddie. He had one focus….that damned Kingfisher. There would be no joy until one was found and filmed.

Mile after mile we walked, further than originally intended, hoping to catch even a glimpse of the wretched bird. And nowhere could the phantom creature be found. There were times we thought we heard one, but that turned out to be something else. Eddie began leaving the towpath to explore marshes and ponds. He showed me all the places where the flaming foul would frequent. Nothing. Meanwhile, the rest of us were trying to take in the flora and fauna all around us.

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England has the most beautiful Springs….usually….and none more noticeable than along the cut (the canals). This is where nature has every chance of survival and the natural habitat is left to look after itself. People whose homes back onto the canals usually maintain lovely gardens to enhance the views. And England stays green, even in the winter. The leaves may fall in the autumn, leaving trees bare, but the green remains everywhere else.

People walking and cyclists cycling fill the towpaths with human life. Most respect the flora and fauna about them. A dance ensues between walkers and cyclists, but that’s another subject entirely. When the good weather comes, everyone is out and about, especially on the towpath. We encountered walkers, talkers, joggers, babies in strollers….accompanied by mums and dads of course….bike riders, fishing folk, boaters, gongoozlers, the lot. A cacophony of sound and colour.

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Horses drinking by the canal

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Cricketers Cricketing

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Chatters chattering

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Carp near the surface

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Dog enjoying the sunshine

The most exciting news about Spring around the marina is the family of ducks taking up residence in a duck house at the end of a jetty near us. All of a sudden we had 12 little ducklings skittering behind mum, going from boat to boat looking for food. The little peepers have no fear. Not a good thing really. Their mum made up for their lack of fear. She kept the little ones close and in line. Stragglers were rounded up by mum with a sharp peck. Dad swam around the periphery making sure the coast was clear for his kids. Sometimes it seemed he couldn’t care less and swam off to do his own thing….typical male.

The second day only eleven had survived the night. Foxes are on the prowl. Herons pop in and out of the marina looking for food. Baby ducks are prime targets. The third day eleven were still on the go. The pesimist in me says it would be a miracle if half a dozen made it. Three is more likely. We’ll just have to wait and see. The more independent they become, the more they’ll start wandering further from home base and into danger. A lady across the marina has taken it upon herself to look out for the brood. But she can’t be there every waking minute. Stay tuned.

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Mum and ducklings near my boat

The walk with Eddie went on and on. The original goal was to walk to The Fishery pub by a lock in Hemel Hempstead. We would have lunch then head back to the marina. But after a nice lunch and the weather being so fine, we agreed with Eddie to go on. Winkwell was the new objective, past the lock where a boat had sunk a couple of weeks before. We were going to stop at the swing gate beside a very old pub. Three of us did….Eddie went on. I bought him a half pint of ale thinking he’d join us very soon. He didn’t.

Half an hour later Eddie showed up, quite distraught. He didn’t even notice the ale in front of him. No Kingfisher. His partner Miriam had cheekily photo-shopped a Kingfisher on a branch, telling Eddie she had seen one earlier and captured it on film. Eddie was beside himself. Gutted he was. Until he smelled a rat. He said the colours were not typical of a Nikon camera. We all laughed….most of us anyway. We had walked nearly 5 miles with no Kingfisher and 5 miles back still with no Kingfisher. A disasterous day for photographer Eddie.

The weary band hobbled back into the marina late afternoon. It had been a walk too far, but we survived. The only thing left to do was drink copious amounts of wine to dull the pain and remind ourselves what a glorious Spring day it had been. Wherever you are Kingfisher, Eddie will find you….oh yes, he will find you.

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