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Monday, April 25, 2016

A Lovely Slice of Nature Near Coventry

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing." ~ Camille Pissarro, Danish-French Impressionist painter, 1830-1903

   After fetching up for a few days of chilling out and catching up with on board chores (laundry, varnishing bits and bobs, etc.), we set off from Clifton-Upon-Dunmsore near the golf course and headed for Rugby to top up the water, dump the rubbish, and refresh our larder at the nearby Tesco store. As we pulled in to moor up who should we see but Dave and Beryl Bradshaw on NB Sokai! We stopped to chat briefly, catching up with one another before we walked to the grocery store--about two minutes from the moorings. 
   Back on board after lunch on the bow, we soaked up the dazzling sunshine and 70 F. weather, deciding to take advantage of it and cruise on northward to All Oaks Wood--a favorite spot of mine. I like walking the country road into the village of Brinklow for a Saturday paper.  
  We stopped just before 4:30 p.m. and I got out the binoculars and my battered old camera. Directly across from our mooring was a low nest in the grasses. In it a duck with her fuzzy ducklings were bedded down for an afternoon nap in the sun. 

Eleven babies perfectly camouflaged, with mom!
A drake spotted her tucked up on the bank and thought he would call around for some action. Mom had other ideas and lit into the male with a chorus of squawks and beating wings, chasing him off down the cut. 
"Well He-LLO there!" (Imagine Barry White's sultry voice.)
"Just thought I'd drop by for some Afternoon Dee-light! Hey baby-you game???"
Drake: "Damn Gina! I guess that means no!" Duck: "Damn straight. No means not now-not ever while I have babies in my nest!"
  Returning to her patch, momma duck checked out her babies and then they took to the water. No point in trying to get all eleven of them bedded down after that rude awakening!
Ducklings spill out of the nest, bobbing like fuzzy corks...
...until everyone is out on the water. Time to promenade with mom.
1960's Noisemakers
   We spent one night here, falling asleep in the undisturbed dark, waking to the early morning bird song filling the air. The raucous calls of pheasants hidden in the tall grasses reminded me of a children's noisemaker we used to get in our Christmas stockings. Made of metal with a small handle, one spun them around-and-around to make a thoroughly nerve grating sound designed to drive a parent crazy.
    While Les rolled over and went back to sleep I sat out on the bow with my coffee. Blackbirds sang sweetly, resting in between back-and-forth flights gathering twigs for nests. Tiny Wrens appeared and disappeared, flashing amongst the shrubbery, and Pied Wagtails sipped from freshly opened blackthorn flowers.   
   Too soon the sun was up again in earnest, heating the metal bow and thousands of nasty black houseflies appeared out of nowhere pouring in the doors and windows. A nearby farmer had just covered his field in slurry (cow shite and water, left to steep for months before being pumped over the land as fertilizer). Pee-yew!! Time to move!
   While I went on a fly killing rampage, Les got us moving toward sweeter pastures--literally. We sat together on the stern, sipping our noontime cuppa', enjoying the different scenery. Yes, we had cruised this way before, back in 2012, but after three years some things are bound to have changed. We cruised through Ansty--a village with a poor reputation for mooring spaces.
   Eventually we pulled in across from a narrow bank of green with hilly shrubs that blocked the view beyond of farm fields, electric pylons, and houses in the distance. The motorway nearby provides a continuous thrum of vehicles, growing louder in the morning and evening rush hours, dying back to a low growl the rest of the time. It is good enough to spend a couple of days here before going on to Hawkesbury Junction and the Coventry Canal. 
   I sat out on the bow again with my camera and binoculars and suddenly a small, brown furry animal broke the surface of the water, crawled up on the grass and began eating with its back turned to me. I dashed back inside for my Nature Watcher's Field Guide to the Brtish Isles. Yes!! It was, as I suspected, a Water Vole! 
See that dark blob of fur on the bank?
I watched for hours as Nature's vignette unfolded before me in this unlikely sliver of paradise...

   Rabbits popped up every now and again, cautiously raising their heads. The farmer's Collie visited later in the evening, sniffing out a rabbit in the midst of a large clump of dried plants. Suddenly the rabbit broke cover and tore off to the left, the canine hot on its heels. The rabbit escaped and the dog came back, threw itself in the cut, turned around a couple of times, and then proceeded to execute a self satisfied half-roll in the weeds along the water's edge, drying its back apparently.
   The next morning ewes brought their babies down the well worn path to drink, the lambs bleating in excitement, hopping around, calling back and forth. Sometimes the lambs appear over the hill without mom, lured by the tiny green leaves on the shrubs and low tree limbs facing the canal. As soon as they are out of their mother's eyesight she begins to call them loudly and the lambs--naughty little children that they are--play hide and seek amongst the shrubs until mom starts bawling at the top of her lungs, and they slip away back over the hillside. 
   I was so pleased to see the Water Vole out several times, shyly eating when nothing else was about. Suddenly a Moor Hen climbed out of the water at the far end of the grass and began its strange, ridiculous stride across the green.

   For our North American readers, these strange waterfowl have huge, long jointed toes that each end in a claw. As they make their way on land Moor Hens lurch along comically like someone wearing giant clown shoes, their head bobbing forward on their neck with each step. 

Needless to say, it was not long before the Moor Hen disturbed the Water Vole and off the bank he slipped with nothing to show he had been there but a few bubbles in the water and a small wave moving out from the bank. 
   Les had walked off to a nearby local shop for a Saturday paper while I fixed a pot of Chicken soup. The weather was taking a turn for the worse later in the day with a forecast of very cold nighttime temperatures of 39F/4C. Soup was just the thing. In the meantime I was enjoying the sun while it lasted. I heard a boat engine and looked up to see NB Seyella gliding by!
Geoff just mooring up while Mags is inside getting ready to come over for a cuppa.
   It was Geoff and Mags--two boaters I had never met but whose blog we folow. After following it for over five years I felt like I knew them and here they were at last! I ran the length of NB Valerie knocking on our window. Geoff heard me and slowed as Seyella glided past. I popped out of the hatch and yelled, "NB Valerie--Jaq and Les!" Geoff and I grinned at each other like mad cats and he reversed to slow down and pull in behind us. I invited them in for tea and cake, and called Les. He was just coming down the far end of the towpath. 
   After a visit aboard our boat, we were treated to afternoon tea and luscious Lemon cake aboard NB Seyella and enjoyed several hours together. The next evening we also spent with Geoff and Mags, drinking wine and laughing over stories. The men talked old, disused canal arms while I got to know Mags better. A lovely woman, she is a natural born storyteller. I love the hint of mischief that shines from her blue eyes as she tells her tales. We slipped back home to our boat with a contented sigh. To quote dear departed boater Mo (nb Balmaha) "Aren't boaters the loveliest people?" yes indeed they are and we are so pleased to finally meet up with two of the loveliest in person.
Mags and Geoff Wade
 Post Script: This afternoon Les spotted the Water Vole again and he took pictures with his camera. Well done darling!
Water Voles look like a cross between a large hamster and a petite beaver with a skinny tail like a rat.


Geoff and Mags said...

Hi both, it was great to meet up and spend some time with you. We'll try not to leave it so long before the next time! Fantastic pictures of Ratty!

Anonymous said...

Yes we also like Brinklow what a shame you had to make a quick getaway though.
Looks like your next mooring spot was opposite the little hollow where we moor. We liked watching the lambs playing hide and seek here, up around the tree roots. What luck for you to see a watervole there and take some beautiful pics of it!
Ann and Keith nb Oakfield.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks! We really enjoyed spending with both of you and look forward to catchin gup with Seyella again sometime!
Jaq and Les

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Ann! It is amazing the lovely littel pockets tucked along the canal one finds along the way. I felt really privileged to see the Water Vole.They are generally shy creatures. Now I just want to see a live badger and Hedge Hog!
Jaq xx

Helen (Peterborough) said...

Fab photos of water vole. What a lovely treat.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Helen! We were gobsmacked to see the shy fella and we felt quite privileged to sahre a bit of canalwith him for a few days. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. It was certainly fun to write.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs