Tuesday 26th December 2000, West Yorkshire
malllards FOR YEARS my father used to set off on Boxing Day, armed with shotgun and gundog (a Labrador or a springer spaniel), to meet up with his shooting syndicate at Terrington near Castle Howard. The bag was mainly pheasant, but, on other occasions, there were grey partridge, woodcock, mallard and teal. As, during the war, my father had been part of a Bofors gun team that shot down enemy aircraft, these seemed fair game to me at the time. But I think my eye for nature, and my sympathy for it, must have come in part from the pathetic appearance and the gamey smell of these once magnificent casualties as they hung, beak down, dripping blood in our store room.

Terrington, North Yorkshire

roach One of my first attempts at a wildlife notebook was completed when I was aged about nine after we'd spent a summer's day at Terrington. The coarse fishing on Terrington dam appealed to me more than the shooting. I liked the idea that the perch and roach went back to their freedom when released from the keep net at the end of the session. The fishing was quieter and more contemplative; there were no loud bangs and no dogs dashing about, accompanied by a lot of shouting and whistling. Even then being a team player, one of the pack, never appealed to me. In fact, when I was fishing, not much happened at all. I don't remember ever having caught anything, but I have the most vivid memories of Terrington's woodland, wetland and pasture. I recall the smell of the lake and the leaves, the quality of light as we climbed the bank of the earthen dam through the shade of the trees to sunlit lakeside.

Fairburn Ings

Today my friend David and I are having our annual wildfowling trip but we're armed with binoculars and thermos cormorantflasks, so the ducks needn't worry.

In October much of the floodplain of the River Aire became one huge sheet of water, swamping the road to Allerton Bywater, which follows the course of a Roman road. Although the floods have now subsided the flashes and lagoons to the west of the RSPB Fairburn Ings reserve remain more extensive than they'd normally be.

Arrow lane flash We take a muddy lane, marked as Arrow Lane on the OS map, alongside Lin Dike, to one of the outlying hides, where I make the sketch (left).

Cormorants perch on dead trees in the distance. A large flock of Canada Geese flies in to land on the rough grass amongst the flashes. Alongside them are a few Grey Lag.

The lake in front of us isn't as busy as we've sometimes seen it. There are a large number of Teal along the far bank by the rushes. gadwallDavid points out a pair of mallard-sized ducks which are keeping to the edge of the rushes to the left of the teals . The female looks very like a mallard but the male, from this distance, looks a fairly uniform grey and brown. David tells me it's a Gadwall, a duck I see so infrequently that I tend to forget what it is the next time I see it. If we could see him close up the male has what one book describes as 'finely vermiculated grey plumage'.

Each body of water seems to attract a different species. Here it's mainly teal, while on a more sheltered flash nearer Ledston, amongst the trees and reeds, there's a gathering of Coot. Mute Swans gather around the feeding station on the main lake, where Ruddy Ducks are sitting it out in a flotilla near the main island.


wigeons On our way home we call at Anglers Lake, which is swept by a cold wind. There a large flock of Wigeon are taking what little shelter there is in the bay at the visitor centre end of the lake. I'm also pleased to see a pair of Goldeneye, one of my favourite ducks, mainly because I associate it with the small lochs of page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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