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Riff Raff Diary for April

Published on: 9 May, 2013
Updated on: 9 May, 2013

Riff Raff Cottage and Weir

Riverbank tales from our local St Catherine’s Lengthsman/Weirkeeper

by Robert Craig

The last month has been a time for catching up with the painting of my locks at St Catherine’s and Millmead, now that the weather has finally warmed up.  So that is what I have been mainly focusing on.

It’s always a tricky task; the weather conditions which make painting possible also tend to see an increased usage of the locks by boaters.

The flowers have decided to come out of hiding along the river with a really good showing this year of the beautiful Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flower.  One unusual looking plant to look out for near St. Catherine’s Lock is the Butterbur (a member of the daisy family); it has erect flowering spikes up to one foot three inches tall, which then grow on to reach up to three feet when in fruit.

Butterbur by The Wey

Butterbur by The Wey

The heart shaped leaves grow to large size and can be as much as one foot seven across by the summer. Tradition has it that the leaves were used to wrap butter in, hence the name.  I am only aware of this one clump of the plant on my length of the navigation.

April has seen the arrival of the House Martins and Swallows but I have not seen any Swifts yet or Sand Martins, which is unusual as sand martins are usually the first to arrive.  Other visitors have been the warblers such as Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and Whitethroats.

I find it remarkable that a small bird such as the Whitethroat has travelled all the way from south of the Sahara to this country and yet the birds I am seeing are in beautiful condition.  The Little Egrets are still to be seen on the Shalford Meadows, with people telling me that they have seen as many as five birds at one time.

The Common Buzzards are living up to their name and putting in a daily appearance soaring over the meadows near St. Catherine’s Lock, usually being mobbed by the crows.

Finally, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen in the trees bordering the river but not by me yet unfortunately; my last sighting has got to be at least five years ago.

See you by the river.

See also: Buzzards Spotted on Riverside Walk

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