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

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH RU­PERT BUT­LER

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

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