Children's nature walks -May part four

The story is taken from the book  Country Walks of a Naturalist {with his children} By the Rev.W.Houghton  { not in copyright} and Courtesy of the Gutenberg project. Rev Houghton was based in Shropshire {England}. The book was published in the 1800's and only updates of species names and other information is added by me.. This story includes animals such as the trout and other water creatures and flora.

Our story begins-----

Today we will go to Shawbury {Shropshire} and try our luck with the trout.If the fish will not rise there will be plenty to observe., and I have no doubt we will enjoy the day thoroughly; the wind is in the south west and the day is cloudy; The May-fly is well out, and I think we have every chance of good sport. Let us look at our fishing tackle and drive off at once to the river. How delightful it is to stroll by the riverside and here the rippling of the water;delightful,too, is the sensation of feeling at the end of your line  the tugs and jumps of a lively trout. I can not resist quoting some lines from the 'Anglers Song', which I think you will say is very pretty,----

Merry in the greenwood  is the note of horn and hound,

And dull must be the heart of him that leaps not to their sound;

Merry from the stubble whirrs the partridge on her wing,

And doth the hare fro her shady cover spring;

But merrier than the horn and hound, or stubble's rapid pride,

Is the sport that we court by the gentle riverside.


Our art can tell the insect tribe that every month may bring,

And with a curious wile we know to mock its gauzy wing;

We know what breeze will bid the trout  through  the curling water's leap,

And we can surely win him from shallow or from deep;

For every cunning fish can we a cunning bait provide;

In the sport that we court by the gentle riverside.


Where may we find the music like the music of the stream?

What diamond like the glances of its ever changing gleam?

What couch so soft as a mossy banks,where through the noontide hours

Our dreamy heads are pillowed on a hundred simple flowers?

While through the crystal stream beneath we mark the fishes glide,

To the sport that we court by the gentle riverside.


For as the lark with upland voice the early sun doth greet,

And the nightingale from shadowy boughs her vesper hymn repeat;

For as the pattering shower on the meadow doth descend,

And as far as the flitting clouds with the sudden sunbeams blend;

All beauty ,joy and harmony, from noon to evening tide,

Bless the sport that we court by the gentle riverside.


Well here we are once more at the charming little village of Shawbury. How often, both as boy and man, have I wandered  by the banks of the river Roden? What changes have taken place since my early rambles! long familiar forms,companions in my fishing expeditions,have vanished; the mind fondly cherishes their memory, and recalls past hours of cheerful talk. We will put up the horse and carriage at the Elephant and Castle Inn and stroll away to the river.

Ah! here is a capital place.Now Master Willy, there is no tree to interfere with your throw,so cast in just near that spot,quietly,carefully,anxiously;if there is a fish there ,he cannot resist your green drake. I recommend him the artificial fly rather than the fat natural fly. There,hold fast, Willy, for that's a good one. bring him carefully to the side, hold your rod erect,play him a little,for he his full of vigour. There! well done I have got him in the landing net,is he not a beauty ? A pound weight, I'll be bound; and what condition! His flesh will be almost as pink as that of the Salmon.

Further down the stream I managed to catch a fish in very different condition! I took him where the river was rather muddy, and flowed very slowly. Just look at him,with a body lean and dark coloured an an enormous head for so slender a body. " Oh !, but papa," said Willy, " What are these curious creatures crawling all over him?  Do look". Ah! I know them well. Anglers call them trout lice. I will scrape off a specimen, and put him in a bottle. Now look at him. The body is nearly round, and almost transparent; colour rather green; it has four pairs of swimming feet,each pair beset my a fringe of hairs; a pair of foot jaws,a small  half-cleft tail; and a pair of fleshy circular suckers just in front of the foot jaws; by means of which the little creature is able to attach itself,as a parasite,upon various fish. It is a graceful little creature, and as you see, can swim with great activity in the water,now it swims in a straight line, now it suddenly turns around and turns over and over. It is known to naturalists as Argulus foliaceus. I do not think it has an English name. It is found on many kinds of fish, and generally in greater abundance upon individual fish in an unhealthy state; though these parasites often attach themselves to fish in a good condition. The mouth is furnishes with a long, sharp,sucking -tube; by means of which the animal can pierce the skin of the fish it lives upon, and suck up the juices. We will take a few home, and I will show you the different parts of the creature under the microscope.


Trout lice, Argulus foliaceaus  the small one is natural size the large one magnified

Brown trout

 Public domain courtesy of timothy Knepp USFWS.

Bachforelle Zeichnung.jpg

Let us now sit down and rest for an hour;and eat our lunch;the fish do not rise as freely as they did; perhaps later on they will be in the humour again. But what do I see sticking to the sides of the rail across the river? I must go and see.Well really, this is an interesting thing. An immense mass of flies, a few alive but a greater number quite dead;and look! a quantity of white eggs beneath them. Let us examine a fly. It is of a brown or tawny colour, and has rather long,diverging colourless wings,marked with irregular brown spots.

Why there must be thousands of dead flies covering these eggs . What an odd idea !. Presently up comes Mr. Collins, from the farm , near the bank of the stream. " Oh sir, I know those flies quite well, they are Oak flies Leptis scolopacea." Certainly not, I replied although they do resemble them somewhat in colour and appearance, but the farmer stoutly asserted that he was right, and I did not think it worth while discussing the matter further with him. Mr.Collins is a good fly-fisherman;and fly-fishermen,unless they are naturalists,are generally very positive. How often I have tried to teach angler's that the May-fly does not come from the caddis worm; how often I have failed ! Well, the two winged fly I have just found in such thousands,with their dead bodies brooding over this mass of eggs, is known to entomologist's by the name of Atherix ibis, the females are gregarious, and as we have seen,attach their eggs to rails, boughs or other objects overhanging the stream; each female,having laid her eggs,remains there and dies;shortly after comes another, and does the same,and so on,until immense clusters are formed. The larvae when hatched falls into the water, its future residence. It is said to have a forked tail about one third the length of its body. and to " have, the power of raising itself in the water by an incessant undulating motion in a vertical plane" I am,not however,acquainted with either larvae or pupa, but hope to become so this summer.

"It is very curious,papa" said Jack, " That the flies, after they have laid their eggs,should die there, why do they not fly away ?, do other animals do the same?" Yes, pretty much so. Some of the females in the genus called Coccus,scale insect, or mealy bug,common on the stems of various trees to which they sometimes do considerable mischief,lay their eggs then die over them and the dead bodies of the parents forming coverings for their young. See how fast the green drake is appearing.Notice how it flies with head erect for a minute or two, and then falls almost helplessly on the surface of the water.

There did you see that fish rise at him? He has escaped the hungry trout, and has reached a blade of grass,where he will probably rest for a few hours. But give me my rod,perhaps the same trout will rise to my artificial fly.There ! that throw ,was right over the spot. No; he won't have it. I'll try again and again. No! well I will tempt him again in an hour's time or so. the water is smooth here,and free from rapids;let us lie down on the grass and see the birth of Ephemera , for that is the May-flies proper name. Here comes something floating down. It is within reach of my hand,so I will secure it. What is it? As I thought it is Ephemera throwing off its swaddling clothes. See how it turns and twists itself about. Now it is free; and the strange looking worm has changed into a beautiful fly, but there is yet one other operation to go through,ere it assumes the complete form, you see at present it is an heavy flier,for the wings are scarcely dry,and the muscles as yet unequal to great exertion ,so in their present imperfect form they are constantly dropping for a second or two in the water, and are often sucked down the throat of some roach, trout or other fish on the look-out.

You should remember that the Ephemera, or May-fly,in this its sub-imago form,or imperfect winged state,represents the 'Green drake' of the Angler.  What have I here on this blade of grass? Do you see? What is that shadowy form that clings to it? It is a delicate membrane,light and thin; see I blow it away.You saw the split in the back through which the former tenant left the abode. It is the cast off skin of the green drake,now metamorphosed into a creature more active than harlequin or columbine, the male into a dark insect with gauze like wings, the female into a beautiful creature with a marbled white and brown body, and able to fly strongly,now high in the air,now sailing close to the surface of the water,ever anon dipping gently into it for the purpose of laying her eggs. The small oval eggs, sink to the bottom, and attach themselves to the weeds and stones that are found there.The flight of the male Ephemera is different. It is the males that practice together that peculiar up and down dance, with heads erect and bodies curving prettily upwards. Of course, you can understand how countless multitudes fall victim to fish and birds,for dainty morsels they are. These flies,though voracious feeders both in the larval and nymphal state, never eat at all after they have assumed their perfect form. Indeed they have no true mouth,only a rudimentary or an imperfect one, and you would never find a particle of food in their stomachs, which are always more or less full of air bubbles, which no doubt , help the insect to be buoyant, and thus save the expenditure of muscular power. I'll catch one of those dancing males, and press him quickly in the middle. There! crack he goes! for the little air bubbles have burst because of the pressure of my finger and thumb.

Abundant as May- flies are at the latter end of May and beginning of June in this country, in other countries they are sometimes more astonishingly numerous. In some parts of Holland and Switzerland and France, their great numbers are compared with to pelting snow flakes." The myriads of Ephemera  which filled the air" says Rimmer " over the current of the river and over the bank on which I stood, are neither to be expressed nor conceived. When the snow falls, with the largest flakes and with the least interval between them, the air is not so full of them as that that surround the Ephemera." The occurrence of such prodigious numbers is, I believe, unknown in the British Isles. In the perfect or imago state, the May-fly lives but a short time. The word Ephemera translates as 'living for one day', and although individuals may live longer,yet the term is fairly correct as expressing their short existence.

The May-flies have all three, long, fine hairs, at the end of the tail;some members of the same family,but belong to a different genus have only two hair-like appendages. For instance , the fly known to fishermen as the 'March Brown',belongs to the family as the May-fly, it is smaller than it,and as only two hairs at the end of its tail , but with this exception, the March Brown and the May-fly are wonderfully alike;yet it is most curious to notice what a wonderful difference there is in the larvae of these two insects. Significant facts, no doubt,lie at the bottom of such differences in the case of insects so evidently allied but those I will not speak of. Here are the two forms of larvae the one being the larvae of the common May-fly, and the other of the March brown of the genus  Baetis. 

Larvae of Baetis with breathing paddles magnified

Larvae of Ephemera,or May-fly magnified

Come we have lunched and rested, and watched the May-flies;let us try to catch a few more trout. It is very strange why sometimes the fish will not rise, though the weather is propitious and the water in first rate order. Holloa! master Willy,what game are you after now? " Oh, papa," he exclaimed " there are a lot of dace in this shallow,so I put I put the spinning hooks on,and,see,I have managed to hook a couple out,by simply throwing tackle on the other side of the fish then drawing it smartly through the water over them." Well, that looks like a bit of poaching,at all events; the fish are spawning among the water crowfoot no doubt; just hook out some weed,and i dare say we shall see some eggs. To be sure, there they are,dotted over the long thread-like  leaves of the plant,like little pearls. you have caught enough for I think it is not sportsman like conduct to take such unfair advantage of the unfortunate dace.

Put on your casting line and try under the old forge bridge. You think there is not much use? A true fly fisherman should never say so. I have taken many trout under the bridge,and I dare say you may be successful this time. There ! I told you so. keep your line tight,and Jack shall land him. he is not a large fish evidently,but very lively. Now you have him, throw him on the grass.

What is this pretty flower with globe like blossoms? How pretty it is growing in abundance in a little spot by the river! It is the globe flower,so called for the rounded shape of its corolla; it is one of the buttercup family, as you will,perhaps guess. Inits wild state I believe they are found in mountain districts,so I suspect this one has found its way here from some of the cottage gardens which are only a quarter of a mile distance. We will grub up a few roots;perhaps Mrs Charlton would like them for her wild shrubbery.When you go fishing always be prepared,if not inconvenient, with trowel and small basket,as well as a few wide mouthed bottles; they will be very useful ,if the trout do not rise.

The towel and basket you can leave at a cottager's house and the wide mouthed bottles are indispensable for the angler naturalist. What are you running after Jacko?. Oh! I see,one of the most beautiful insects found in this country. Ah! he is too quick for you. It is the brilliant steel blue dragonfly. Let us sit down for a few minutes and watch its flight. How rapidly it flies,now pursuing the course of the river, now suddenly darting back again. It is the Agrion virgo. { Now the Calopteryx virgo-which is in fact a damselfly}, even rivaling the gorgeously coloured insects of tropical countries. All the dragonfly species proceed from water larvae. strange creatures of unbecoming forms and ferocious dispositions . The mouth,or rather the lower lip of the larva are of a singular form. Two jaw-like organs are at the end of the lip its basal portion being articulated to the head;this mask, as it has been called,is folded beneath the head when in repose,but it can suddenly be shot out in front of the head as to seize any small creatures that happen to pass near it which the larva would find good to eat. 

Imagine on of your arms being joined on to your chin,bend your elbow up until your hands covers your face -this will represent the dragonfly larva with the mask in repose,now shoot your arm out in a straight line from your head,this will represent the mask unfolded and in use,your fingers may be considered to represent the jaws of the creature. When the larva wishes to turn into an insect it leaves the water and crawls up the stem of some water weed or some other object out of the water, burst its skin and start a new form of existence. If we look about us by the water side,we are sure to find some empty pupa skins. Here are two on this sedge. You see a slit on the back  from which the dragonfly has come out. The dragonflies are the largest and most active of our species. Our sport is over and we must drive home,tomorrow is another day to discover.

The Emperor dragonfly Male.

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Anax imperator qtl2.jpg

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