River Wissey Lovell Fuller


January 2007

A gentle tale of life on the banks of the River Wissey, courtesy of the Northwold Times.

A strong wind gusted across the river. The leaves were falling from a line of willow trees exposing their framework. The reed beds bent over like waves. The water dashed fiercely against the riverbank and it was then that I realised I had a companion on this very early morning.

A grey heron was standing in the shallows of the opposite bank. His camouflage against the reeds was perfect and it was only when the wind moved his background that I could see him standing there quite motionless. Although often described as majestic he looks rather clumsy and even out of place. However he is certainly a patron of the river Wissey and is more often seen whilst in flight. In the air the heron is perceived quite differently. He is graceful with a wide wingspan and just glides seemingly with only the need of an occasional flap. This heron always nests in the same stark tree and despite all the rough weather the nest remains intact. It is a real credit to his workmanship as we would surely be unable to build anything so stable with just sticks and twigs!

My friend has been searching for food since first light and today's conditions must hinder his spotting despite his keen eyesight. Soon he moves further downstream and uses a dead tree as a new observation post. The westerly wind increases bringing even darker clouds and a reduced visibility. However the heron is remarkably patient and continues his watch. His hunger must now be rife as he is not catching anything. A dozen or so Canadian geese, which are also residents of this stretch of the river, remonstrate loudly with each other. Eventually they take off en-mass and a welcome peace returns.

The day passes lazily until the first drops of rain can be seen on the surface of the river. (When alongside the river I always see it before I feel it!) Then the rain becomes hard. At that moment the heron decides to abandon his vigil and he takes off just skimming the treetops and disappears into the distance.

Herons feed on small fish, eels and even frogs so they must be fully alert every day to sustain themselves. Although mainly solitary they find a mate and perform their affections very early in the year. As such they choose a volatile time to bring up their young so their whole existence is rather like their appearance - extremely fragile.

Regardless of the wind and rain I have good shelter and surprisingly the fishing is exceptional. Fifteen beautiful pristine roach have seen my net thanks to just a tin of sweetcorn. I have had another really good day alongside the river. However the time of the year now dictates a change and soon I will start my seasonal pursuit of the pike.

Meanwhile an hour or so later in the village of Northwold a large ornamental pond with a fair number of golden orfe had an unexpected visitor. The heron alighted and surveyed the surrounding garden and having decided all was safe he stepped into the water. The confined fish with no means of escape provided our friend with a wonderful gourmet meal. Now completely fulfilled the heron flew back to the oblivion of the river Wissey and his tree top nest.

By Ivor Hook

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