Michael McCarthy: Down by the river with winged wonders

Nature Notebook: the mating swarms of the mayfly are one of the great sights of the natural world in England
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The Independent Online

Butterfly time is nearly here, thank the Lord, but it's worth remembering that there are other attractive insects to look forward to whose appearance signals the coming of spring, such as the mayflies (or more precisely, the upwing flies, or Ephemeroptera ).

They spend most of their lives as wingless larvae in rivers, then emerge at the surface for a life of flight and egg-laying as ephemeral as the name of their order suggests. Trout adore them, and so do trout fishermen, who imitate them with hair and silk and bits of feathers as the basis of fly-fishing. The first one to emerge is the March brown, found in the north (it's currently Bug Of The Month on the website of Buglife, the invertebrate conservation trust), but soon there will be more, such as the iron blue, and the large dark olive, and the loveliest of all, the classic mayfly, Ephemera danica, yellow-bodied and translucent-winged, whose mating swarms on the riverbank are one of the great sights of the natural world in England.

There are many river flies just as fascinating, such as the St Mark's fly, whose legs hang down like the undercarriage of a landing jumbo, and if you want to learn more about them, a newly published book is the perfect introduction. Entitled Pocket Guide To Matching The Hatch, it is primarily aimed at anglers, showing the wide range of river flies alongside their matching artificial imitations with their curious names (Lunn's Particular, Parachute Adams) but it would also be enjoyed by anyone who takes an interest in river life.

The authors are two experts, Cyril Bennett, who has spent years trying to restore mayflies to his local river, the Wey in Surrey, and the leading angling writer Peter Lapsley, one of the people responsible for "Fly Fishing, by JR Hartley", the book of the famous TV advert of nearly 20 years ago. Remember that? Their pocket guide is published by Merlin Unwin books of Ludlow, priced at £7.99, and it is truly a pleasure to browse through: a small jewel of a book.

In a flap over victory

I have written here a couple of times about how Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC, is unique among Premier League football grounds as you can birdwatch from its terrace overlooking the Thames. My present list stands at 13 species (for the record, mallard, tufted duck, coot, black-headed gull, herring gull, Canada goose, cormorant, heron, mute swan, pied wagtail, great-crested grebe, carrion crow and ring-necked parakeet.) I was at the Cottage last week and I have to report that I was unable to add to my list, although I did encounter an unforgettable sight: the final scoreboard saying Fulham 4, Juventus 1.

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