Katie And The Coal Tits

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Driving towards my shoot this morning I passed the rookery. Already it is all clamour and commotion, the older birds restoring their nests while the competition for ‘new-builds’ by the next generation is lively. I paused for a while to enjoy the industry. Dozens of the white-faced black birds soaring from bough to brash in search of twigs. Then back to the nest to weave and craft. I love rook-watching. They are an iconic British bird, their huge nest sites synonymous with successful agriculture and prosperity. It is a twisted myth that desertion of a rookery leads to poor harvest and the fall of an estate. The birds only leave when they have no plough to forage or seed crops to feed on. An estate which foresakes farming will lose its rooks … and rightly so. Show me a rookery and I will show you a good, healthy estate.

Before I did any shooting today, I needed to re-zero my rifle. Having decided that the .20 calibre was the way forward for me (it’s only taken 40 years to reach this decision!). I’d dressed my gun in a new laminate stock and topped her with my favourite set of glass, a Hawke SR6 Sidewinder 3-12 x 50 IR. Her? I always think of my rifles as female. Sleek, sexy, reliable and deadly. My current partner, and the girl I hope will be by my side for many more years, is Katie. A Weihrauch HW100KT (Karbine with Thumbhole stock). KT … ‘Katie’ … get it! I digress. The actual process of zeroing took just ten minutes. For the uninitiated, this ensures that you set the centre cross-hairs of a scope to match the output of your ammunition at a set distance. In my case today, 35 yards. Having done that you can adjust for given shooting distances at quarry. A dark art? Perhaps, but one that the efficient and experienced hunter bears with ease. As always, the A-team (Dylan the lurcher, Katie and me) had a productive morning on the greys but the walk about was much more than about shooting squirrels.

The woods and fields were alive with signs of spring today. The staccato drilling of the great spotted woodpeckers beak on the dead elm. The chasing and boxing of brown hares out on the barley knoll. The jackdaws were fussing about the split beech and willow along the drainage dykes, their own nest spots already picked. Coal tits seemed to dance a ballet between the budding chestnut fronds, like tiny sprites. Yet closer examination showed the aggression of the duelling cocks seeking to win the affections of the diminutive hens. More than once the explosion of a sitting hen pheasant, pre-determined by the dog, made my heart jump. It also gave cause to reflect on the absurdly dry, frost free winter we have had. The hens are lying in dry leaf litter, totally camouflaged.

Moving along the trails and up a short hill, I paused near the crown, even before the dog had sensed it. A sixth sense had halted me. Certainly not an unfamiliar feeling. Something or someone had sensed our approach and it’s atmosphere had bounced back at us. Only the seasoned hunter will appreciate this feeling. I knew, from experience of this sensation, that nearby was a large creature or perhaps another human. The dog baulked at my pause and at the flick of a finger, came around behind me so that I could silently breach the crest first. I had lifted out my camera. I watched him as he watched me. I took two photos but before the second click of the shutter he’d fled. A young half-shed roe buck. The lurchers nose led me to where he’d lain, out of the chill breeze, beneath a holly break. Though I searched, there was no sign of the small shed antler around here. The cackle of a pair of magpies nearby reminded me that I had much work to do here yet to safeguard those coal tits.

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2015

 

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