A warm and sunny afternoon spent logging natural history from the Tarka Trail just out of Barnstaple ended on a high note indeed. Having stopped to admire a resplendent drake shelduck feeding alongside its smaller mate by a channel of shallow water it b

A warm and sunny afternoon spent logging natural history from the Tarka Trail just out of Barnstaple ended on a high note indeed. Having stopped to admire a resplendent drake shelduck feeding alongside its smaller mate by a channel of shallow water - it being low tide time - my attention was diverted by movement 20 metres upstream. Intermittently thrashing in barely its own depth of water was what appeared to be a conger eel. Lifting my binocular and seeing that the marine creature bore a mottled back and, to each end orange-yellow colouration, this first thought was immediately banished. Inwardly sprang the words: Lamprey, a Sea Lamprey! With camera case and binocular held aloft I carefully slid down the concrete embankment and, after a few tentative steps, blithely advanced out toward the water's edge. Even here the mud-bed remained firm. Without further ado I sploshed out to photograph the impressive specimen slowly making its way upriver to spawning grounds. Now at my very feet lay the link to the fossil Agnatha, the earliest (jawless and cartilaginous ) fishes of our oceans...Almost 50 years have elapsed since my boyhood sightings of lampreys in the wild. Those also had been in the waters of the River Taw, at Umberleigh. Summers spent wading or swimming in the cold clear waters - yet to be severely fouled - sometimes resulted in a glimpse of Lampetra fluviatilis the River Lamprey: once or twice these being seen attached to the flank of one kind of fish or another. (The well-versed "Derby Boughs" of that same period were luckier than I, noting in the River Yeo adjacent to where the Silver Leat housing estate now stands the movement upstream of salmon and sea trout and, yes, sea lampreys). But here now was the ultimate view of a petromyon marinus, a specimen the length and girth of my arm. Its colouration, the size and configuration of the two dorsal fins, the seven gill slits to each side, the large eyes and the single nostril on the upper surface of the head were effortlessly registered. Only the downward facing mouthpart, or sucker, containing row on row of teeth used in the rasping away of scaled flank and flesh remained to the greater part hidden. Uncasing the camera I fired off several frames for later scrutiny and, I hoped, a selective few good enough to grace a corner of the North Devon Gazette!One of several Henry Willliamson books in my collection is Salar The Salmon, an inspirational work I often delve into, rejoicing in its imagery. Here on the river-bed I was sharply aware of Henry's tale. Early in the story Salar encounters the lamprey Petromyzin or Stone-sucker. And Petromyzin's relation Myxine, "the glutinous hag of the Two Rivers". A group even stranger than lampreys are Hagfish...