I could see the old male buzzard stood sentinel on a fence post as I rolled the X-Trail along the muddy drive towards the farm. “I’ve got you, this time, you old bugger!” I thought, my finger pushing the switch to lower the drivers side window. Before I coasted slowly by I lifted the DSLR from the passenger seat and into my lap, switching it on. Drawing alongside, I braked gently, raised the Nikon to my eye and focused on the empty fence post. Looking over the top of the camera, I watched the ancient raptor drift off into the adjacent pines. The old scoundrel fascinates me. He will let me walk up to within twenty paces in the wood … but raise a camera and he’s off! We go back nearly six years now, this buzzard and I. Our relationship is impartial and based on my charity. He, his mates and their offspring have fed richly on the squirrel, crow and rabbit carcases I have left them over the years. Yet he still won’t let me steal his soul for posterity, other than in flight, as he follows me around.
It’s mid-February now and the die-back in forest and hedgerow is at its maximum. The leaf mulch underfoot was luxurious today, broken down by frost and rain and mist. The traverse through the naked wood exposed the lurcher and I to the scrutiny of squadrons of over-flying rook and crow. The cries of ‘guuunnn, guuunnnn!’ echoed around the river valley. Pigeons whirled in and away as they spotted our march … for march it was. I was hastening towards the spruce and larch coverts before the sun got much higher. It was looking to be a bright day and mine enemy, sciurus carolinensis, would be stretching its limbs to greet the morning sun.
A movement way down to my left stood me still and I flicked a finger to stay the dog. Something skulking in the naked blackthorns at the base of the escarpment. The dog scented the morning air, uninterested at his conclusion. I watched for a while and a muntjac doe emerged. She, too, scented the air and browsed on unconcerned. I looked back to the lurcher who had fixed his gaze on a nearby tree trunk. The movement he had sensed had nothing to do with out alien interlopers. The dog was watching a tree-creeper hopping up the bark, his head tilted and ears erect as he studied the tiny bird.
Before reaching the coverts we had to climb out of the treeline onto an open hill, a mixture of grassland and stubble. My higher sightline gave me advantage over the hound and I saw the hares before him. A pair, chasing and playing. I whispered to the dog to ‘heel’. At nearly twelve years old, chasing a pair of hares would do him as much good as his master flirting with a young filly at a nightclub. The body wouldn’t be able to match the minds intent. Thankfully the lurcher must have known it was Sunday and that such sport (sadly) is now beyond the law even on a weekday. When we were nearer the hares, he stayed at heel and, like me, satisfied himself in watching their curious ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ behaviour.
Our business in the coverts was as efficient as usual and not for reporting here. We make a good team, old Dylan and I. On the return trip to the X-Trail I stopped to watch the spectacle of Canada geese gathering on the water-splashes along the River Wensum. A whirl of skein after skein, descending in a maelstrom of clamour and confusion. We hauled ourselves up the escarpment and back into the wood. As I stood, lungs heaving, at the top I saw the buzzard alight onto a low branch about a hundred yards away. I slung the rifle over my shoulder and pulled out the camera. He watched me (and the hound) approach. I guessed he was checking out the squirrel tally but as they were in the game-bag, he couldn’t see any. I raised the camera and he turned his back to me in disdain. I managed just one picture before the old bastard swept off between the boles and out of sight.
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Feb 2015