Close encounters of the furry kind
The recent frosty spell is drawing to a close, with milder fronts moving in from the south-west. Escaping from work, I meander some tight country lanes as quickly as possible before screeching to a halt outside my front door. Once inside I fly down the corridor, disrobing as I go, for time is of the essence and the first throws of darkness are just around the corner. Moments later, with dogs, decoys, gun, cartridges, caller and lamp, together with half a dozen things normally forgotten, we’re off again. Another series of meandering lanes are safely negotiated before finally pulling up adjacent to an old rusty gate.
Jumping out, I call the dogs to heel for there is a chance an old longtail may be hiding in the cover just inside. Sure enough, the dogs dive in almost before I’m ready. Racing around the corner in front I’m just in time to see a large cock bird disappear between the trees. A rather hasty barrel is loosed in his general direction, folding him neatly, much to my surprise. Reaching my destination I place my magnum decoys along a shallow sand spit that dissects the river, before retreating to the comfort of some nearby sallies. All around is akin to a winter wonderland as the previous night’s frost still hangs from the surrounding flora. As dusk begins to creep closer so too does a bank of fog. It is now quite surreal and perhaps even a bit eerie.
Some teal can be heard pipping nearby, but just as I relax again they appear out of the fog all around. I manage to miss woefully with my first but connect with a handsome drake as they reach for the heavens. A brace of mallard is added to the bag before a large pack of wigeon flashes past. They disappear into the gloom before I can bring my gun to bear, but continue to circle, their melodious whisperings betraying their exact location high above. Much to my annoyance they whoosh in to land some 80 yards below where I wait. Whispering sweet warnings to my two dogs I sink ever lower for they are now swimming towards the decoys. Closer and closer they come, my anticipation heightening with every second. Before I am about to jump, Holly, one of my springers that is far more at home beside a roaring fire, bolts from under the sallies. Consternation ensues, which results in me releasing but a single barrel. Not sure whether or not I have connected, I send Fibi to have a look. She is old, even by Lab standards, but nevertheless dives into the icy water with youthful abandon, returning minutes later with a lovely cock wigeon.
As I sit daydreaming I notice a large ripple in the water to my left. Thinking it’s a mink, I trace its movements as it threads its way towards my decoys. Reaching the nearest drake, it tries to grab it. By now I realise it’s not a mink but a large dog otter, one that is a wee bit dim I feel, for again and again, despite my protestations, he’s determined to lunch on my plastic friend. Eventually I have to get up and go over, for the decoy is now lying on its side. My furry friend quickly dives only to resurface some 20 yards away. Once again the dogs have to be restrained, but this time I’m more forceful because I don’t fancy their chances swimming in such company.
I’m just about to shut up shop when I hear some whoopers in the distance. Out of the gloom they come, wave after wave, all to land within feet of where I wait. At one stage there must have been upwards of 200 close by. Never in my life have I been in such close proximity to these magnificent birds. A couple of older birds eventually realise my close attendance, honking warnings to the others while swimming downstream. Most of those gathered follow them, apart from a few stupid teenagers, who are still trying to engage somewhat with their plastic cousins. It takes a lot more agitated callings from the elders before they finally decide to swim away.
It is almost dark now, so I decide to pick up my decoys and leave. Just as I reach to pick one further out, an unexpected large splash close by causes me to jump. It may have been a fish but I get the feeling it could have been my friendly otter. To make matters worse, my torch wanes, only to go dead seconds later – great. The small sally plantation, which can be negotiated in minutes under normal light, now turns into something of a nightmare. After 10 minutes floundering around I end up back where I started, much to my annoyance. At my second attempt I trip over a windblown trunk, ending up in a pool of water which seeps icily through. Finally, much to my relief, I make it into the field beyond.
Twenty minutes later I reach my vehicle, and boy am I glad to see her. Saying that, I would return in a heartbeat after witnessing what I saw that night. It is sights such as these that will always drag me from a roaring fire, because some day I won’t be able. When this happens I will reminisce on memories such as this.
Rupert places his magnum decoys along a shallow sand spit