Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The river runs low

The river is at her seasonal low, the run of dry weeks restricting the amount of water reaching her. The sluggish water sits well below the level of the bank and, in places, larger stones breach the surface. The sluice that guards a looping arm of the river, normally a roar of noise dropping into a turbulent pool, has been reduced to a trickle and the water below is dark and silent. With less water now passing through this arm of the river, the shallows have been reduced to a slither of silver that glints and chuckles through pebbles and stones. The otters that passed this way earlier in the year would now have to walk rather than swim.

A little upstream the river has more depth but even here the riverbed can be seen, a paler floor between the rippling weed that has grown dense with the season. A family party of mute swans has held court on this stretch for several weeks now, the adults displaying aggressively at any goose or duck that ventures too close to the swans’ fluffy grey chicks. This level of parental care bodes well and, despite losing one of their seven chicks very early on, the six remaining youngsters are doing well.

Here and there the yellow globes of water lily break the surface, their buttercup yellow flowers standing bright against the dark shadows cast by the riverside willows. Other gems, in the form of banded demoiselle damselflies, glint in the shafts of light that pierce the shade. The metallic emerald green of the females is particularly striking. Clouds of small flies can be seen hanging in the air above the water’s surface. In places these are picked off by the grey wagtails which, nesting nearby, use the floating vegetation as a platform from which to feed.

The summer river provides an idyllic scene, albeit one that is perhaps a little tatty around the edges. There is a sense that the river is bursting with life, crowded as it is with plant growth and supporting a wide community of creatures. I like the seasonality of the river and its changing moods. Right now it is drowsy but its character will soon change with the arrival of the rains.

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