One of the countrysports magazines I subscribe too (I can’t remember which) mentioned that readers were reporting strange behaviour by brown hares this season. I was to witness the same myself this weekend. More on that later.
Driving onto the estate I slowed up to watch a pair of magpies perched on a fence that bordered an empty cottage. I stopped the SUV to study them. They immediately saw this as a threat and flashed up into the trees. I moved on, parked near the farmyard, gathered my kit and decided to head back in that direction. The birds demeanour had me worried and I had skylarks in mind; they nest in the grassy borders near the cottage. As I set off, I realised it was going to be one of my ‘bad-hip’ days. While I’m still mobile I’m reluctant to draw on the NHS, who have more important things to deal with. I’ve taken my own initiatives to deal with my arthritis and was carrying one of these in my game bag.
With the magpies in mind, I took a route through the copse that brought me to the rear of the empty cottage. There were no birds on the fence so I walked quietly into the nearby plantation. As I entered, a flash of black and white descended from the oak alongside me and disappeared from view. I knew immediately where the magpie had gone. This was typical behaviour – back and forth to their own young with songbird egg or chick until a nest is depleted. I crept slowly back up the track until I had a view of the fence again. The bird was on the fence, concentrating on the grassy margin. The standing shot was true and the bandit tumbled from the rail.
Returning to the plantation I waited a while to see if the magpies mate would come down to search for it. A glance into the meadow next to the wood revealed a solo hare squatting in the grass. Camera time. As I focussed on the hare, a second exploded from its form and chased the first. In the ensuing face-off, they collided. One leapt into the air and, on landing, dashed away. The other followed and I lost them in the long grass of the meadow. Mad March hares … in June!
Back to my circuit and it was good morning on the squirrels. Control with a .22LR is pretty ‘matter of fact’ if you put in the shooting practise and know your quarry intimately. I have always preached the “Bruce Lee” method when it comes to guns. He once said he feared not the man who had practised 10,000 kicks. He feared more the man who had practised one kick, 10,000 times. It’s all about mastery. Choose one rifle and stick with until you’ve mastered it. The sortie wasn’t just about killing squirrels either. Every walk out with the gun is a wildlife safari. The sighting of a magnificent bracket fungi (Hen-of-the-woods); the buzzard following me waiting for carrion; the cleavers stuck to my bootlaces (that gangly weed that clings to everything); even the rich nettle beds that house the caterpillars that feed the songbirds.
When my hips started to nag too much I pulled my helper from the game-bag. It’s a telescopic stool. This excellent device flat-packs to a 2” x 12” disc. Simply twist, pull and it stretches into a two foot high seat. I sat for an hour at the edge of the wood just wild-life watching. A pair of muntjac out in the barren field; another muntie crossing a ride; a diminutive treecreeper hopping up a beech trunk, foraging for mites. Another grey squirrel ventured too close to my throne and paid the price.
Back at the car the peacock and peahens graced me with their presence. Though the males may look stunning, it’s the females that rule the muster. Which reminded me, it was time to head home!
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2022