Saturday, 22 July 2017

Pond Dramas

My garden pond is generally a haven of peace and tranquillity, with goldfish swimming lazily in and out of the sunny* and shady patches, and gliding between the water lily leaves. They appear out of the darker areas, to be lit up by the sun in brilliant orange, yellow or pink shapes, and then disappear again into the shadows. The black ones come into view when they swim over the light green mossy areas. On a warm day I sometimes sit and eat lunch on the garden bench alongside and watch their comings and goings. They are continually patrolling their* domain looking for titbits to eat, sometimes finding a fly and sometimes mooching around in the blanket weed that grows all around the shallows. Occasionally what is swallowed is spat back out as an inedible piece of floating debris.

* "sunny" Always insert vowels in "sun/sunny" & "snow/snowy"

* "patrolling their" Doubling for "their"

The calm of their world is not entirely unbroken. If there is* a sudden fright, the fish will rapidly turn tail and, as some of them* are quite large, they can produce a big noisy splash as they go. It only takes one fish to do this and the others will follow instantly, just like any bird or animal will do, react now and stay safe. Fortunately the bench is a few feet away, so lunch no longer gets spattered with pond water, resulting in the crusts having to be redirected to the sparrows and blackbirds. Sometimes they do this because one of the larger ones has come close to the edge for a pellet or bit of bread, and their tolerance for this unsafe position runs out within a few seconds, what I call grab and run. Occasionally they fail to get it, as the lunge and fast retreat are all carried out* in one movement, with no stopping to check if the food has actually been captured. Then, when the commotion has died down, a smaller fish, to whom the shallower water is not so threatening, will casually* swim up and get the piece without any fear or hurry. Other times the crumb will suddenly disappear from sight, not some mysterious exit into another dimension but eaten by one of the black fish, who are mostly invisible against the background.

* "If there is" You can double "if" to add "their/there" but "for" is not doubled

* "carried out" Halving to represent the T of "out"

Another noisy event that happens more frequently* is when one of the biggest fishes decides to nose around in the weeds at the shallow shelf end, where the marginal plants grow out over the water. It will sometimes ram itself into the weedy area, flipping its tail left and right, with the hump of its back and fin right out of the water. Sometimes it is a joint effort with two of them, and a few smaller ones, all wanting to benefit from the attack, which often sounds like someone entering a swimming pool from a water chute. Having dislodged and eaten any insects hiding there, there is then more thrashing about to reverse or turn round and get back to deeper water. There is no chance of them accidentally getting stranded on the surrounding soil edge, as there is a wire mesh fence all round. This did happen to one fish many years ago but we noticed the fish in time and it recovered from the ordeal. Now I ensure the base of the mesh is right on the edge.

* "frequently" The semicircle W sign is shown, but the outline is perfectly readable without writing it in

Sometimes there is a single plopping splash, from a fish deciding to lunge upwards after a fly either on the surface or just above. If the fish lands on the lily leaves, it then has to rapidly slither between them* and disappear out of sight but most times they just fall back straight downwards. As there are many goldfish, any insect landing on the surface stands no chance at all of surviving more than a few seconds. The ripples from its* struggles do not go unnoticed for long. The vibrations from a trapped fly also attract the attention of the pond skaters, who close in on the target with great speed. Apparently they can skate at a metre per second. They themselves do not seem to suffer predation by the goldfish, as their feet just dent the surface of the water and they glide over it with much less disturbance. When several pond skaters converge on a fly, they will fight each other for it, jumping off the water and over each other. The victor will then sit on its prize in triumphant ownership of its meal.

* Omission phrase "betwee(n) them"

* "from its" Halving to represent "it". Note this "its" here is a possessive and is not spelled with an apostrophe.

There are many other little dramas that take place*. A bee or wasp may end up inside the netting. The holes are only 15 millimetres wide, not large enough for them to get through while their wings are going. They can only escape by landing and crawling out. Occasionally I have found a dragonfly or butterfly inside and they need help, as they tend to flutter in one place, without looking for another route out. There are lots* of large gaps and spaces all round, and over the top surface, which is made up of several separate strips with open spaces between them*. There are easy escape routes everywhere so that no bird can become trapped, and these are positioned so that any visiting heron cannot use them to attack.

* "take place" Note that the phrase "taken place" omits the L hook

* "lots" Insert the vowel in this and in "masses" as they are similar in shape and meaning

* Omission phrase "betwee(n) them"

One day we found a young wood pigeon sitting inside on the edge, wondering what to do. It must have* landed on the centre of the netting, sunk down and fluttered to the plants at the side. Despite the big size of the top gaps, they are not large enough for a pigeon to fly out, but fortunately there are not long periods when no-one is at home. I had to walk up carefully* on the far side and very slowly roll back the netting, and being a young bird it stayed still and unafraid* until we gave some gentle encouragement for it to fly away. (975 words)

* Omission phrase "it mus(t) have"

* "carefully" Optional contraction

* "unafraid" It is the Fr stroke that is on the line, so it does not matter where the N stroke ends up. Note that "afraid" on its own has a left Fr plus stroke D.