Ster­ling sil­ver bags

The old local names for birds are fast dy­ing out, but they en­hanced the per­cep­tion of some of our less rep­utable wa­ter­fowl species, says Sea-pie

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

We do not hear much about sil­ver snipe and sil­ver plover, sil­ver larks and sil­ver shanks nowa­days. That is be­cause nearly ev­ery­body knows the proper names of birds, and many good old­fash­ioned local names are fast dy­ing out. Let me give a few ex­am­ples of what I mean.

My grand­fa­ther’s coach­man, Wil­liam Crossth­waite, taught more than one gen­er­a­tion of boys to shoot snipe by the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of mak­ing his pupils count to five be­fore fir­ing at the quarry when it rose on wing. In this way, a fairly easy shot is fre­quently ob­tained. If the young­ster “snap-shot­ted” in his ea­ger­ness, with­out calling the num­bers dis­tinctly, then whether the re­sult was a hit or miss, old Wil­liam would take the gun and have the next shot.

I re­mem­ber when un­der­go­ing this in­struc­tion on a salt­marsh near Chich­ester, a small snipe-like bird rose from the edge of a brack­ish pool. Af­ter sus­tain­ing the count of five, the diminu­tive fowl was neatly dropped on the far side of the water.

“That’s all right as far as it goes,” grum­bled the stern men­tor, “but we ain’t shoot­ing sil­ver snipe.”

That was the first time I ever heard a dun­lin, or any other shore bird in its pale win­ter plumage, spo­ken of as a “sil­ver” snipe. A few years later I en­coun­tered the breed again, when my du­ties as a Lon­don bank clerk took me daily into the City, and I walked through the av­enues of Lead­en­hall mar­ket, the fa­mous poul­try, game and wild­fowl em­po­rium.

In win­ter such ram­bles were par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing, for it was a cus­tom to sus­pend from the gas brack­ets out­side the shops what were termed “fancy birds”, such as the odd bit­tern, diver, grebe, and of­ten an owl, or hawk, sent up to the mar­ket among the masses of wa­ter­fowl.

“A grey plover is quite as good a ta­ble bird as its more pop­u­lar green and golden cousins”

On the mar­ble slabs in front of each stall were laid out in rows of fowl, mostly div­ing duck, scaup, pochard, tufted, and oc­ca­sion­ally a scoter or mer­ganser; while the wigeon, teal and mal­lard were duly priced and hung up in the win­dows.

Hard fowl

Among the “hard fowl”, as the less valu­able ducks were called, were var­i­ous wad­ing birds whose plumage was of a non­de­script sil­very-grey colour. These waders mostly con­sisted of knot, with a sprin­kling of grey

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