May 15 2012 By Louise Jordan
In pursuit of free entertainment, and to counteract all the cake at bedtime, my husband and I took advantage of the brief return of the sun at the weekend to resume exploration of our new locale.
We cycled from West Drayton into Iver, and decided to try the return journey along the canal. The Great Union Canal is our new favourite thing about living in Hillingdon, as it provides a direct off-road walking route to the pub we have chosen as our local. While I was busy negotiating muddy puddles, I heard my husband shout “tortoise!” and slam on the brakes. He pointed out a greyish lump sitting near the far bank.
“It can’t be a tortoise in the water” I said sensibly. “Maybe a turtle?”
A cyclist coming from the other direction slowed down to see what we were looking at.
“Ah, that’s one of the terrapins. I fish here, and I recently caught a carp. When I pulled it out of the water, a terrapin was clamped onto its tail by its beak. I poked it with a stick to prise it off, but it just chomped straight through it. There’s an even bigger one in there somewhere”.
Lawks, a dangerous beast indeed. According to my research, these terrapins have been causing problems in the Grand Union Canal for some time. An article from This Is London from 2005 reported:
“Killer terrapins as large as dinner plates have been spotted in Tottenham's tranquil Lea Navigation.
The aquatic creatures, which have a nasty bite, feast on birds' eggs and small animals such as baby ducks..
The invasion has been linked to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon during the early 1990s, which prompted many people to buy the animals as pets.”
The same article reports that in 2001, children were distraught to see ducks being pulled under water at Sheepwash Pond in Mill Hill. And it seems that these ninja turtles have now migrated downstream to West Drayton.
Whatever next? Well, since Harry Potter is currently the most popular children’s character in the world, nay the universe, ever, will we soon be seeing an influx into the wild of hastily-bought and soon regretted pet owls?
Perhaps parents should be guided gently towards the advice on the Festival of Owls website, which has an article called “Why Owls Don’t Make Good Pets”
It seems that as well as ‘killing’ anything stuffed (like pillows and stuffed toys), hooting all night, and scratching the furniture, any would-be owl owner also has to deal with some serious … ahem … cleaning issues. The website warns:
“In addition to "regular" poop (like most birds), owls also empty out the ceca at the end of their intestines about once a day. This discharge is the consistency of chocolate pudding, but smells as bad as the nastiest thing you can imagine.”
That should do it. I feel duty-bound to do my bit, and try to protect our local wildlife. After all, what with the terrapin problem, life’s already stressful enough, and I fear for the gorgeous coot chicks (cootlings?) we saw as we walked to the pub on Friday night. No wonder their mother looked so anxious. Also, the chocolate pudding description may just have cured me of the cake habit for good.
Louise Jordan is a journalist currently not quite 'sofa-surfing' at her mother in law's in West Drayton while between jobs.