Saturday, 15 June 2013

Angler! Know Your Feathers! — Round 1

The hunter gatherer wanting some form of buoyant weight for casting a small bait mounted on his hand carved deer bone hook, who then stripped a feather found laying next to the water, tied it on his horsehair line, cast it out and sat back to await events made a truly great innovation. He'd have quickly realised that not only did it work as desired but also lent the advantage of making bites from hard to catch fish very easy to see, introducing the crucial element of skill to what was always beforehand only a matter of allowing stupid fish time enough to gorge themselves.

By the simple act of employing a quill, the sport and art of angling was born...

And no doubt shortly after, the close season!

Of course we all know about quill floats. Those are the ones that only tweedy traditionalists use these days, but really, all the crystal wagglers, avons and pike pencils on tackle shop shelves are nothing more than manufactured synthetic quills because the principle of employing a tough light shell containing a large bubble of trapped air is exactly same and of course they work in the same fashion.

There's nothing new in angling!

Because I make my own floats from swan and goose quills I have to gather as many as I can for the entire season's supply at moulting time, which is right now for those birds. Along the way I find a lot of other feathers too, have quite a collection of many species and their feather types, and what I don't need I sell on to all kinds of people besides anglers and for all kinds of uses and purposes.

So, on the eve of the new season I thought I'd devise a quiz over three rounds to take your mind off the fact you can't fish till midnight (but should be prepared enough by now!) with the prize of a set of hand-made goose quill floats for you to win, use, and lose whether you want them or not!

I'll start with these four specimens from different species. They are from common birds related in their feeding habits and when fishing you'll see one usually en-route, one high in the sky, one occasionally though very briefly, but one very rarely ~

Answers are of course the species first and foremost, but extra information about which actual type of feather it is will serve as tie breakers and if anyone knows what's so very special about the properties of one of them, then we have an expert ornitho-piscator to contend with.

But anyhow. Remember where your float came from, make thanks to the long dead genius who invented the thing whenever you cast, and because of it I do hope you'll enjoy ...

Tight lines, wet nets, tomorrow!

Round 2 next weekend


  1. Gull, pigeon,buzzard???????

    Where George Burton when you need him .....


    1. Well you scored one out of four Baz, just by pot luck!

  2. Read this and thought - George Burtons got this won hands down - bring back guess the weight of the dead and rancid fish!!!!

  3. I ain't found any recently Ian, except for that silver bream thingy last week which I shoud have doen a dead stinky fish competition with but wasted on a straight blog post, so pretty fluff will have to do.

    A clue. Baz was right with buzzard, but wrong in order

  4. In the abscence of GB Buzzard. peregrine falcon,sparrow hawk, kestrel

    1. Good work! Buzzard is the feather far left and correct, kestrel and sparrowhawk are both there too but not in that order and peregrine, well I've been keeping an eye out for one dropped by a Coventry bird, but no luck yet!

  5. Judging by the softened edges, the second one if definately an owl's. A tawny, I suppose.

    So...that makes Buzzard-Tawny Owl-Kestrel-Sparrow Hawk.

    1. Good guess for the tawny and spot on with the rest and all in the right order.

      The full answers are Buzzard tail feather, Tawny owl primary wing, kestrel primary and sparrowhawk tail.

      And as you say the soft texture of the tawny owl feather is its special quality. The leading edge of the wing feathers are serrated like a comb, the trailing edge is tattered and all the bird's feathers are velvet like and that is how they fly without being heard because these adaptations break turbulence into micro turbulences. Mallard and mute swan for instance have very stiff primaries and a swan can be heard a mile off, but owls are absolutely silent in flight

      Round one to you Peter!

  6. Hurray!

    As a kid, I found exactly one of these owl feathers and for quite a while I believed it to be a buzzard's. Then I realised that those fluffy edges were quite unique compared to the other feathers in my collection. I figured it had to come from some species of owl then, because according to my bird books these birds were silent in flight because of their velvety feathers. The pellets I found onsite a little later confirmed my theory. I felt so smart. ;)

    1. I just knew the winner would be from Mainland Europe where there's a tradition of feather collecting and all the best identification sites come from, and without which I would never have ID'd any of mine. Well done Peter, you know your feathers!

      They are really something aren't they, owl feathers. They're a marvel of Natural selective engineering the like of which we humans can only marvel at and wish we could emulate!

      All feathers are incredible things...

      Just yesterday I found the wing of a swift who'd come here all the way from Africa, died in the air, probably through lack of insect feed flying in the air because of our terrible late Spring, and got eaten by a fox. Never found a single feather before but have a wing now and I'm about to send off a sample feather or two to a Swedish research establishment who can actually tell where the bird was born and raised by protein analysis of the feather telling them which insects it ate when young.

      Here in Britain birders don't get involved that close up and personal. Just tick boxes of what they've seen on their travels and compete with each other for the most boxes ticked.

      I prefer physical evidence myself...