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The View Through A Leaf-Net

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They say the devil makes work for idle hands; so on a Bank Holiday weekend where all my domestic duties were fully discharged, I happily accepted my pass-out. When will ‘her loveliness’ ever learn that instructing a ‘clear-out’ will result in me unearthing all manner of toys and contraptions that have lain in dark corners, gathering cobwebs. All are, of course, essential to my future survival and my credibility as a country sportsman. The most stinging remark from Mrs B was “But you rarely go hide-shooting any more … your fidgety arse gets bored too quickly!” Now hang on! “I’ve been out with a pop-up hide and a net twice this Spring!” Chest pouting, eyes challenging that pretty visage. “Yes, and both times you were back at home after three hours! I used to have to ring to remind you that you had a home and wife! So how about losing a few of the hide pole sets and all those nets? Just keep what you’ll really need”. Arguing would be futile but I struck a cunning plan. “These are all in good condition. I’m not throwing them out. I’ll sell them”.

So this this morning, I loaded a rucksack seat with pigeon shell decoys, threw in a crow decoy and picked up an old favourite from the ‘hide and net’ stash. Just to make the point, I made some sandwiches and brewed up a flask of tomato soup. I hoisted the three litre air bottle into the motor under my wife gaze and commented “I might need this, it’s going to be a long day”. I ignored her sarcastic comment; “Are you taking a bivouac and sleeping bag?” Totally below the belt, I thought. As I slid into the driving seat I blew her a kiss and said “Don’t bother ringing. The mobile will be off”. Half a mile down the road, the mobile rang. I answered the call, hands-free, looking forward to the apology. “You’ve forgotten your rifle”.

By the time I parked up, my sense of purpose had returned. I’d driven slowly into the estate, all the time watching for pigeon movement. So intently, it was only the forward parking sensors on the motor that prevented an altercation with a telegraph pole. A “who put that there?” sort of moment. I decided, having judged wind direction and seen the birds flightlines, to park up and carry my ‘minimal’ kit in. I don’t like having a motor anywhere near a net set-up, for obvious reasons. Knowing these woods and fields intimately, I knew exactly where I would gain the most ‘net profit’ (sorry … had to be said). I placed my UV-sock covered decoys out onto the maize drillings, added a flocked crow for comfort and set off back into the wood to find a suitable back-drop for my leaf net. Net is probably the wrong description, as it’s a bit special. I bought this clever design some years ago. An imported American pigeon blind from Hunters Specialities. The net is fixed to the spiked telescopic poles. Today, I set it up inside two minutes. With the rucksack seat set up, it was now just a waiting game as I scanned the trees above the decoy pattern for incoming pigeons. But that’s not the point of this piece at all.

I don’t spend anywhere near as much time camped out in the wood or hedgerow as I did eight, ten years ago. Today reminded me how much I used to enjoy just sitting in the ambience of a British wood, listening and learning. I was younger and more patient then. Today, I turned back the clock. The presence of the gun was incidental to the sound and vision I was privileged to enjoy from behind the net today. Three hares scampering on the drillings in some sort of ‘menage a trois’, my decoys attracting their curiosity. The sound of rival chiffchaffs chafing on my ears. The passage of a muntjac buck, oblivious to  my presence until I sneezed. Not a comfortable experience with a head-net on, trust me.

The alarm calls of a cock blackbird chasing away a ground-based threat to its hen and nest. I caught just the merest glimpse of the hunting stoat. The jackdaw clan that saw my decoys first and raised Cain in the trees overlooking the pattern; they left one short in number. The assassination of a corvid never passes unannounced; before long my pigeon set-up had become a black-feathered flash mob. There was a flocked crow and a dead Jake to stoke up the fury but I wanted peace and tranquility. I left the net and the rioters departed as I gathered up the jackdaw. I withdrew the crow decoy too.

I wanted a pigeon or two for the pot. Not a big ask, even though it was a morning session.  A time when I target what I refer to as the ‘elevenses’. Woodpigeons feed heavily and their crops need time to metabolise the gleanings. Many birds roost twice daily. During late morning they will take a siesta, amongst the trees, to absorb the contents of the morning feeding. Before long, I had a couple of woodies in the bag, not to mention a bonus rabbit that crept within range.

The morning had proved fruitful, thanks to the leaf net. With a baseball cap, half head-net and the silent .22 BSA Ultramax, it was mission achieved. And I had some good wildlife photos too. I checked my watch. It was close to two pm. I thought about popping into the pub on the way home (to add some hours) but Mrs B isn’t daft enough not to smell ale on my breath.

“How did you get on?” The usual enquiry. “Oh, a couple of woodies and a rabbit. Lots of photos too!” I replied. “Sounds like a good result. So you don’t need that other gear then?” I was ready for this. “Well, actually … the net was a bit short. I’d have got more woodies with the higher net”.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2017

 

 

The Twilight Writer

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My favourite time of day has changed with my advancing age. As a younger man I used to favour dawn. The breaking of the day, the slow creeping rise of the sun and all that happens before the golden orb seizes the day. The time of the slinking fox, returning from nocturnal mischief. The time when deer browse boldly far from the forest edge, cloaked in the morning mist. The time when the rabbits, having finished their nightly plunder of the barley shoots, sit plump and inviting outside the warren. Dawn is the time of the crows first foray. When the magpies and the croakers trawl the leafy lanes searching for last nights road-kills. Useful work, unpaid for by the County Council … but the only beneficial thing they’ll do all day

Now, as I hit three score, my crib holds such comfort that often the dawn chorus sounds better when heard through an open bedroom window. The art of writing has destroyed the daily ritual of my middle age; early to rise and early to bed. My writing peaks, in terms of mental agility, in the evening and so twilight has become my favourite time of day. That cusp between sundown and true night. The time when the final echoes of avian evensong fade from east to west, following the descent of the sun. That daily wonder for those with an ear for birdsong; a sonic wave ebbing towards the sunset.

Twilight also brings the pipistrelle bats. They pass close to my awning, hawking the gnats and mosquitos that dance above my bench-top lantern as I write. They swoop past the coach-light on the nearby wall with deft airborne dexterity. Beyond the garden, way out in the wood, the tawny owls often bless the rural soundscape. Sometimes it’s the females “keewick”, sometimes the males “whoo, whoo”; often both. A haunting, spectral sound … yet so enchanting.

An evening under the canopy, writing al fresco, will draw thousands of words from my chaotic mind and tap my memory. Citronella has become the scent of creativity as I scribble, surrounded by candles. Occasionally the rainfall will bless me with its hypnotic patter on the waterproof canopy. As raindrops glitter in the candle light and text flows onto the page, I am at my most relaxed. If I get ‘writers block’ I simply stop and oil the cogs with a glass of cabernet. If there’s a chill in the air, a fleece and the patio heater may come into play until the writing is done. I generally write freehand, with pencil and paper. The old fashioned way. It’s so much more artisan than using a laptop or tablet and, working outdoors, none of that ‘electricity’ stuff is needed. My scrawled transcripts are transferred by me later onto the iPad or PC.

Yep! Twilight is the time for me, for sure.

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2016