On the Gringo Trail
If you wander into any halfway decent bar in Buenos Aires you’ll think a supermodel convention is in town. It’s hard to generalise about the ‘Paris of the South’ because it’s so big, but the porteños are on the whole stylish, well dressed and good-looking
As the hours go by the landscape begins to change almost imperceptibly. The first dry country begins to appear — a palm here, a patch of thorny acacia there. Tarmac roads begin to dissolve into thick bush and talc-like dust, and palmetto become more and more frequent. There are birds of prey everywhere, falcons, hawks and caracaras hanging in the sky. The occasional estancia can be seen, low set with big eaves. When it rains here, it rains.
The farm breakfast the next morning is smoky pancetta, fried heuvos and coffee. We head out to scout for birds. With us is Etan, a two-year-old viszla, and we hit it off famously. He’s a great little dog — and I mean little, barely two-thirds the size of a typical show winner. He has only two interests in life, playing with me and finding perdiz.
Mystique is a much-abused word. Some actors are supposed to have it, but usually don’t get to keep it for long. When you’re 15, the girl next door has it, but alas, that too fades. Perdiz have managed to keep their faraway mystique for a long time. Like Africa, South America calls her bantam-sized game birds perdiz or ‘partridge’, but they simply aren’t: they are not related to true game birds but are more exotic and interesting than that. Technically they are tinamou, relatives of the rhea, large flightless birds similar to ostrich and emu.
Be that as it may, the locals on the estancia call them perdiz. When the first sod of the pampas was turned these birds never looked back. They thrive on seed and shoots and so the cultivated land of the settlers was a blessing to them. They hold fairly well for a pointing dog, though it’s not uncommon to follow scent for 50 or 100 m either. A sticky dog that stays locked up on point is not much use. The take-off whirr of wings is distinctive.
Perdiz are truly the last great unknown pastime for wannabe gentlemen. The country is flat and easy, ideal for a good pointing dog. The birds are numerous, and the hunting is done in the cool of winter, May through July. It’s no great shakes to pick up half a dozen or so in a few hours, enough to feed a decent table.
There are many game birds out there that are good to eat. Quail can be wonderful. Africa boasts many species of francolin that are much the same, only bigger. However, none are better than perdiz as a table bird. They are simply delicious in every way — sweet, tender >>