Ducks on the Downs

Tower-bird re­calls evenings spent duck flight­ing on high ground, where the glo­ri­ous views are a not un­wel­come dis­trac­tion from the task at hand

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

The evening be­fore, the sea mist had come rolling over the high downs to blot out the scene and spoil our flight­ing of duck com­ing into bar­ley stub­ble. So the next evening, we ar­rived half an hour be­fore the first duck. We were thus bet­ter able to sur­vey the ground and to form some kind of con­ceal­ment. My own hide was com­prised of rea­son­ably high walls of col­lected bar­ley-rak­ings — but my near­est neigh­bour, a dog­less man, was con­tent with more Spar­tan ac­com­mo­da­tion. Merely scratch­ing out a “form” in a line of rak­ings, he set­tled down ap­par­ently to sleep, draw­ing an ei­der­down of straw over his per­son.

It was a beau­ti­ful evening of just suf­fi­cient wind to force the ducks to land into it. Presently a sin­gle mal­lard fled over five gun­shots high, to be fol­lowed within min­utes by a cou­ple more scouts that, fly­ing lower, were nev­er­the­less well out of range. They flew al­most out of sight, cir­cled the wide sweep of stub­bles to­wards the sea then re­turned, just wide of us, the way they had come — pre­sum­ably to sig­nal to their fel­lows that all was well.

Four miles away, as the duck flies, was the sea and sev­eral small ships were plainly vis­i­ble be­tween shore and hori­zon. Some miles to the right I could dis­cern my coastal fowl­ing grounds. As I sat there, on the high­est point of the downs com­mand­ing a view of many miles in ev­ery di­rec­tion, the sky to sea­ward be­came full of the ex­tend­ing lines, skeins and bunches of flight­ing mal­lard, all seem­ingly com­ing up from the sea and mak­ing in my di­rec­tion, though par­al­lel with the coast.

Great lines and skeins

Chanc­ing to glance be­hind me, a sim­i­lar scene was un­fold­ing. Well out across the broad val­ley be­tween the ridges of the North and South Downs were more great lines and skeins, fly­ing par­al­lel to those nearer the coast. For a short time the sky in both di­rec­tions was etched with th­ese for­ma­tions; an ap­prox­i­mate count of birds, not in­clud­ing the bunches and small skeins in our own vicin­ity, lay at be­tween 1,500 and 2,000.

I did not see the fi­nal van­ish­ing of the two great ex­tended bat­tal­ions 50 • SHOOT­ING TIMES & COUN­TRY MAG­A­ZINE for by now ducks were com­ing on to our own lit­tle bar­ley field from ev­ery di­rec­tion, and a half-moon was bright­en­ing in the sky. On nearly ev­ery evening that week we went to the same place but I never caught sight of the bat­tal­ions again; though a few hun­dred mal­lard came our way, or dropped down to feed on neigh­bour­ing ground, where the sound of shoot­ing caused them again and again to rise in haste and cir­cle our ter­ri­tory.

One evening I took, as an ex­per­i­ment, my sil­hou­ette curlew de­coys, set­ting them out on the stub­ble 50 yards from my hide. Curlew are sel­dom seen here, ex­cept birds pass­ing high over. Once, dur­ing a lull in the shoot­ing, some 20 to 30 mal­lard, af­ter cir­cling high, came drop­ping in round the de­coys. Watch­ing them feed­ing

“I had a view of many miles in ev­ery di­rec­tion — four miles away, as the duck flies, was the sea”

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