NOTES FROM IRELAND: Unusual activity on a small flash pond
Rupert spots an enticing and unusual sporting opportunity on a nearby farmer’s field, and after a bit of bartering he manages to strike a deal that ends up working for them both
Not long ago, while planting some trees for a local farmer, I spied a small flash pond in the corner of one of his fields. Being a nosy bugger of long standing I decided, instead of having my morning cup of coffee, that I would take a wander down and investigate further.
I was 100 yards or more away when I realised that there was a bunch of ducks feeding merrily at one side. My anticipation heightened dramatically on realising that the ducks in question were none other than a flock of shoveler. As you and I know, meeting a shoveler at any time is a rare occurrence, let alone a flock some 40 strong. Now the only problem I had was to convince the farmer that I was a suitable candidate to be let loose on his non-shooting farm.
He came down at dinnertime to check my progress, which I must admit was extremely brisk given my intent to please. As the conversation rolled back and forth, covering every topic known to man, I waited for an opportunity to drop in my unlikely request. Suddenly, out of the blue, he asked me what type of ducks were down in the bottom paddock, for he had never come across their like before, all the while wearing a knowing smile that was threatening to burst into a grin at any second.
The stalker had become the stalked. He must have spotted me when I hurried down earlier. I had to hold my hands up while proceeding to wax lyrical about my favourite type of duck.
“I suppose you’ll be wanting to go down there some evening for a shot,” he spouted before I had a chance to finish.
“Only if that is ok with you,” I offered with baited breath.
“Ah, I suppose this one time I might make an exception,” he said after what seemed an eternity. I knew that he was in bartering mode now and it didn’t take long before he asked, if I had time, whether I might cut down a few boughs that were overhanging one of his sheds. That smile was back again, but I knew who was getting the better end of the bargain.
Every morning for the following three days I fed my little splash, hoping that the resident shoveler would stay put, or might even bring some more of their pals along for a feast. I wasn’t to be disappointed. On the day in question, I travelled down to rise whatever was in residence from the night before, and to my utter delight some 60 shoveler, together with smaller flocks of mallard and teal, departed rapidly. As I went about my chores that eventful day my mind kept casting back to the wonderful sights that I had experienced that very morning. As the evening drew closer my anticipation heightened, so much so that I couldn’t concentrate properly on anything meaningful.
Eventually, flight time arrived and I whizzed off down the road at a rate of knots, hoping to be early in case some of my feathered friends arrived before they were due. With decoys out, I positioned myself and Fibi in some nearby rushes to await the impending flight. We were far too early, mainly due to my excitement, but there’s something magical about waiting when you know
While the UK is home to 20% of Europe’s shoveler population, most are to be found in the south and east, particularly around the Ouse washes and Kent marshes.
fowl will be in the offering. On occasions such as this, one’s senses go into overdrive, with every movement and every noise keenly scrutinised before one can relax once again. As snipe in the paddock next door started to move to their nightly feeding grounds I knew that flight time was almost here. From many previous experiences I know that snipe, in the majority of cases, will move about 10 minutes before their larger feathered friends.
Just as the first shadows of dusk started to descend I heard movement somewhere above. Without warning, five shapes whooshed in from my right, before screeching away for the heavens as they spied my movement. I was just in time to loosen a hurried barrel before they disappeared back into the surrounding gloom. Fibi was already gone, a trait that some will frown on, but one that I like in circumstances such as this. Before I had time to reload she was back with a fat mallard drake on board. I shot another mallard, together with two teal over the course of the next five minutes, but still no shoveler.
Just as I was starting to doubt if they would put in an appearance I heard the patter of wings high above. Round and round they went, their wingbeats getting louder with every turn, and my anticipation started to go into overdrive. Fibi’s teeth started to chatter nearby, not from the cold but from excitement. When she was a pup, I used to think that she was frozen when her teeth started to chatter, but now know that her excitement is as keen as mine.
They were close now, and just as I released my safety they came to land all around. Because there were so many I made the mistake of moving from one to another before choosing my target, resulting in my first barrel being totally wayward. I connected with the second before they all disappeared back into the gloom. Minutes later Fibi returned with a drake shoveler in full plumage, as handsome a duck as you’re ever likely to encounter. I was hoping that they would come in smaller groups but they obviously knew that there’s safety in numbers. I popped into the farmer’s house to give him the spoils before making my way home.
From that day to this I’ve not seen as much as a teal on this little splash, even though I check it regularly, always hoping these multi-coloured birds might once again be in residence.
‘Just as I was starting to doubt if they would put in an appearance I heard the patter of wings high above and Fibi’s teeth began to chatter’
Rupert waits for flight time by his little pond with high hopes and a loaded gun
Rupert feeds the splash for three days to persuade the flock of shoveler to stay put
The slightly more common-place mallard help to pad out Rupert’s bag