This project has, over the years, allowed us a privileged connection with nature and we have experienced all kinds of amazing things, some of which are funnelled into slightly more noticeable and observable concentrations by us and through the attraction of our spawning boards and this year has been no exception.
Aside from the usual roachy stuff we are constantly reminded of natures’ extraordinary knack of filling a void, grabbing a moment or place and taking advantage of any opportunity. We have had Lime Hawk Moth caterpillars pupating in the spawning board stack, Peacock Butterflies hibernating in them too, rabbit runs under the tanks, and all under the watchful eye of the newborn foals at the bottom of the garden, often born on the same day our roach begin to hatch..... More of this stuff in the ‘pictures round’ at the end of this blog...
Just when we began to think there can’t be much we haven’t seen, or that might surprise us, Mother Nature opened her bag of ‘Googly Curveballs’ and began bowling them at us – full pelt.
As we mentioned in our previous blog post we were comfortably ahead of ourselves and ready for the coming spawning.
We placed the spawning boards in the river in the first week of April, as we usually do, just in case – although the predicted spawning date, subject to floods or freeze, is always 25th April. We then visit them every two days to inspect, but mainly to clean as they collect an enormous amount of silt despite what appears a very clear river.
The tanks were all sorted with a nice green algal bloom and had all been seeded with daphnia in anticipation of the coming spawning and hatching. The daphnia would thrive in the green water and squirt out live young every week or so - perfect for our young roach when they hatch.
First, though, the roach needed to spawn in the river.
The first part of the month looked very promising with increasing water temperatures and day length, then the ‘Arctic Blast’ set in giving us bone chilling temperatures of minus goodness knows what.
The ‘Pause’ button was hit for spring, and the 25th came and went roachless. Even the weed in the river was weeks behind in terms of expected growth at this time of year. The swallows hadn’t arrived, the cuckoos, chiffchaffs, brimstones, grass snakes all mysteriously absent.
We just had to sit it out and wait – and pace up and down and argue and eat cake and pies and argue.
Then the cold snap ended suddenly and was replaced, almost overnight, by gloriously warm conditions. The skies filled with swallows, the air with the sound of chiffchaffs and cuckoos and the roach gathered at our spawning boards on the 4th May.
We were once again delighted at the number of roach attending our boards and again absolutely dumbfounded at the size of some of them, proving that the Avon is still doing what the Avon has always done, growing monster roach.
The first day sees a lot of chasing about mainly by the males who seem to arrive ahead of the females and establish territories, all ‘frosted’ with spawning tubercles which are used to rub against the females to induce egg release (we think our netting on the spawning boards may do the same, but we’ll never know as we can’t ask them). The females then arrive, but the first few are usually terrorised and frightened off by the over amorous males until greater numbers join in then it all goes off, splashing and chasing and writhing all over the spawning boards.
We are very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and have the time and now knowledge to be able to predict behaviour and get some really extraordinary photographs. However, as we have said somewhere else, we take over six hundred pictures for perhaps a few dozen good ones, so maybe there is some room for improvement... Perhaps we should apply a little more effort...
This year not only were we within a few feet of some of the huge individuals from the remnant population of roach, but more importantly we were in the presence of more wild Avon Roach of all sizes than have been seen for decades at some of the sites..... As good a sight as we could ever have hoped for...
As the project has evolved we have developed and capitalise on a wide range of roachy tricks each year and one is that we place spawning boards in a couple of Avon fed ponds and lagoons containing roach, but which have never been stocked meaning they have arrived from the river naturally in some way – possibly larval drift.
What we do is have them spawn on our boards then simply move them back to carefully chosen spots in the main river to let the eggs hatch where the parents were originally from – good trick eh?
This spring, however, through the rapid rise in temperature which ordinarily happens over a far greater length of time, Mother Nature bowled us one of her finest Googly Curveballs straight at our middle stump.
We know our spawning board design gets used by a number of clubs and organisations around the country in still waters and have been very successful with Rudd, Bream, Tench and of course roach.
However, what we didn’t expect is the rapid rise in water temperature to trigger the carp to start spawning early and fall under the magical spell of our spawning boards.
We know from a friend who breeds Koi that to induce spawning the brood stock are placed in warmer water which triggers them, and we think this is what has happened, going from the ‘arctic blast’ of a short while ago – huskies, thermals, heating on full pelt, hail storms, blankets of snow and 24 hour frosts to the hottest early May temperatures for a million years – Speedo’s, flip-flops and sun block.
We went to inspect some of our boards only to see what looked like carp eating the roach eggs, until we noticed the things being smashed about and covered with carp spawn. The carp were going bonkers – as they do when spawning.
Usually they bash up reed beds, root systems and marginal growth. They really can trash a place.
In this particular pool there were all the things an amorous carp could want for spawning yet they were all around our two spawning boards; beating and bashing them all over the place. Good job they were tied to a fence. They were going potty.
So, the moral of the story is that our spawning boards not only have magical powers for roach, tench, rudd and bream, they now also are known to have the same appeal to carp that chose them in preference to all the other natural spawning substrate in the pool.
This was an unfortunate first for the ARP...
We are always testing for new spawning sites - the more the merrier, obviously, and are delighted to have discovered two more we can add to our list.
One, we tried last year without success due to unforeseen circumstances, but decided to try again as we know a decent number of roach live near this particular flush of water along with some great big barbel – and it takes a damned good beating to bash a hunch out of us two.
We reckon there is nothing nicer than seeing lovely roach swimming cheek by jowl with gorgeous barbel. It’s what the Avon was made for...... That was until our roach started spawning only to be interrupted by barbel from an estimated four to over thirteen pounds coming up in the water, turning up-side-down and grazing on the roach eggs (pictures below).
One of the most remarkable things is that the instinct of the roach to spawn was so strong that while the barbel grazed they simply moved aside, then when the barbel went away, they instantly resumed egg-laying on the boards.
This is undoubtedly yet another endorsement of the merits of what we are doing through our project as had we left the boards in the river the barbel may well have cleared the lot.
However, we must remember, this would happen whether we put our boards here or not. This is just a natural phenomenon that we can now interrupt by removing the eggs before total wipe-out.
The flip-side to this, of course, is that our roach will be sitting behind the gravel spawning grounds of the barbel and do exactly the same a few weeks later....... Food for thought (pardon the pun) and yet another Googly Curveball..... And another unfortunate first for the ARP.
Despite the attentions of the barbel good numbers of eggs were collected and have now hatched in the tanks.
It’s been another extremely satisfying, yet unusual spawning season, with lots more lessons learned.
The pressure of the overwhelming responsibility really does hit home at this time of year – just have a scroll through the pictures below and you’ll see why. Our little roach are no bigger than an eyelash when they hatch and we need to find a way of getting feed into them and keeping them alive through the most vulnerable hours, days and weeks; then years of their lives........ This, of course, as you know, starts with our Brine Shrimp Hatchery which is currently running at full pelt.
There are lots of amazing pictures below. We hope you enjoy.
This is one of our lengthier blog posts, so we apologise if it’s too much. It’s just that there is so much stuff to tell and pictures to show..... Just be thankful you have an ‘On / Off’ button, as face to face the only thing that would achieve silence is a cricket bat to the side of the head... or a very handsome bribe......
Seriously, and before we let the pictures below finish the story, thank you all so very much for your ongoing support and wonderful comments.
If you are young and hip like us two, you can now follow us on Facebook. Please visit the Avon Roach Project page and give it a like.
|The 4th May saw the roach gathering at the spawning boards, to our relief... You'd have thought we'd have gotten used to all this stuff by now, but the sight of the first to gather at the boards still gives us a lovely satisfying feeling.|