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 Belligerent Buzzard

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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