Fishy tale heralds American invasion of France

I’M starting with a request — well, really it’s a heartfelt plea. I put an email address at the end of my column.

I do it because I value the feedback I get from Irish Examiner readers; all the fascinating information, observation and queries.

But I live in rural Ireland and, despite trying every conceivable technology, I can’t get an adequate broadband service. So please, please don’t email me photographs or other large files.

I was fascinated to learn that a Swainson’s thrush, also known as the olive-backed thrush, had arrived in west Cork. But the three photographs of it that a kind reader took and emailed to me monopolised my phone line for 45 minutes while they downloaded.

Swainson’s thrush spends the summer in Alaska and the Yukon and heads for South America in the autumn, so the one that turned up near Galley Head was very navigationally challenged. This sort of thing happens regularly enough, particularly in the autumn, usually because the vagrant bird has been blown off course in a storm.

There is so much bird migration going on at present. I noticed this earlier in the month when I escaped for a week to south-western France. A small party of us were cruising on the Canal du Midi and I arrived on deck one morning in lovely autumn sunshine. The view beyond the plane trees that line the canal was of rolling hills covered in vineyards to the horizon.

Funny little combines were harvesting the last of the grapes and loading them into high-sided trailers. And above them another harvest was going on — dozens of swallows were weaving back and forth catching flying insects.

The last swallows had left Ireland some weeks before but now, thanks to Ryanair, I had caught up with them. The Mediterranean was less than 50km to the south and a bit beyond that was the Sahara. The birds were taking a break to fuel up for the journey ahead.

In the afternoon I decided to do some fishing. I was on holiday and this was not an exercise in catching fish. It was an excuse to sit in a comfortable chair on the stern deck with a glass of wine.

I had brought a little telescopic rod, a tiny reel, a few floats, hooks and some weights. For bait I took the soft white bit from the inside of a baguette and mixed it to a paste with ripe brie cheese. I set it to fish near the bottom in just over two metres of water and relaxed.

But, to my surprise, within minutes the float was shooting across the canal and I was connected to a substantial fish. Well, actually it only weighed about 600g but my tackle was light.

It was probably the ugliest fish I have ever seen in my life. It was dirty yellow and brown with a large, flat head, intelligent looking eyes, an enormous mouth and long, fleshy whiskers that it was lashing around in a menacing fashion. I tried to take the hook out of its lip and it bit me. I cut the line and returned it to the water — studies have shown that fish remove hooks very quickly and efficiently themselves.

In total I hooked six and landed four. I thought I knew what they were but I took photographs so I could confirm it when I got home. I was right — the American catfish or black bullhead has been introduced into parts of the south of France.



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