Fishy tales from River Don at Kelham Island

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A little while back Vin Malone sent a message: ‘Hello Ian, just thought I would let you know that on Wednesday last, I went to donate a couple of items to Kelham Island Museum, and had a stunning sighting. When I was walking across the River Don bridge at the bottom of Corporation Street, a blue flash caught my eye. It was a kingfisher.’

This is one of the bird species which has benefitted from the cleaner rivers in the region, and great to see, along with grey heron and of course cormorant, along many of our urban rivers.

These are perhaps not the anglers’ favourites though!

Vin continued: ‘I tried to get a picture but it was just too quick. However, on reaching the Fat Cat public house, I looked into the river just behind it and was amazed at the number of fish in the river. I am no expert on fish but I have been told that they may be barbel. Isn’t that great?’

Vin duly sent a good photograph of his fish.

At this point, I have to admit that I am not an angler. Even though I am Honorary Chair of SPRITE, those hard-working champions of the River Don, fish are not my strong point.

However, many years ago, I did study freshwater ecology and I have been electro-fishing for research purposes.

Even I can confidently say these were not barbel, which is a big fish sporting large, sensitive barbs at the sides of the mouth. The name barbel is from the Latin ‘barba’ or beard, from these pairs of appendages, one long pair pointing forwards and a second, shorter pair at the front.

The barbel is also a species of clean waters, gravelly bottoms (which sounds like a medical complaint), and high levels of oxygen.

While the Don has cleaned up, it is not that clean.

One possibility is the common dace, another member of the carp family, or the cyprinidae, a large family of freshwater fishes.

But after lengthy consideration and a bit of internet research, I suggest Vin was looking at a shoal of young chub. Fish experts please confirm this!

The common or European chub (squalius cephalus) is a European species of freshwater fish, and, again, is a member of the carp family.

It frequents both slow and moderate rivers, as well as canals and still waters of various kinds.

Also at the rear of the Kelham Island Museum, Vin watched a coot just carrying out his day-to-day life.

n Sightings: Nuthatches seem to be very noisy in woods and parklands, and post-breeding flocks of titmice are starting to roam around woodlands, gardens and hedgerows. Stubley Hollow looks good with two spotted flycatchers, blackcap, seven chiffchaffs, three common buzzards, 10 meadow pipits, and last but not least, 46 goldfinches. Buzzards were showing high over Grindleford and at Sothall too. Thrybergh Country Park turned up common terns, with two adults and a juvenile, kestrel, sparrowhawk, common buzzards, and a little egret. An interesting record from Catcliffe flash was of two terrapins on top of a disused coot nest. Do let me know if you have seen any.

n Professor Ian D. Rotherham is a researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.