William Powell Country

Mud, Fog and Wildfowl

Rural Matters

Article written by 06 December 2012

Our part of Suffolk like most of the country is a boggy mess with frustrated farmers unable to drill Autumn crops. However, generally the harvest has been good here and we can count ourselves very lucky compared to many parts of England.

Traditional drilling is impossible because of the wet and many farmers are resigned to the fact, and are broadcasting massive amounts of seed and harrowing/rotareing it into the sodden ground. In addition, the wet cobbled clay soils where some of next year’s crop has sprouted lurks a plague of slugs. These autumnal drilling conditions not seen here since the late seventies are even more frustrating as record cereal prices are offered for next year’s harvest.  All the farmer can do is muddle next year’s investment into the sticky mess. If the weather continues to be mild the seed will grow and the surviving slugs will eat it or if it gets to cold it will not germinate and rot in the ground, so I’ve been told. But farmers never moan!

This Autumn has been an extraordinary one for pigeons and some friends and I have had some incredible sport and know of a half dozen bags of over six hundred pigeons shot in East Anglia. Now the vast blue armies are taking full advantage of the wheat lying on the surface of the puddled fields.

Driven game shooting here is now in full swing and my days out after the pheasants and partridges have limited the time I would in fact love to be out pigeon shooting. I keep telling myself- yes there may be thousands of pigeons feeding on that field, but it probably would not work! Anyway I must not disturb the pheasants and partridges! Very selfish I know but I am pleased in one way that many of the game shoots, will not allow pigeon shooting at this time of the year because of the disturbance to their game. Perhaps this preservation of the woodies will make for some spectacular roost shooting and decoying over classic Spring drilling, of which there might be plenty later on in the year!

My good friends have been devastated this Autumn by the cancellation of shooting on their trips to the North after the grouse, due to fog. I am sure many of us have walked out of the Hotel full of enthusiasm after a long and gruelling journey the day before. Then to be confronted by the shoot organiser explaining “it might be clear down here but you can’t see yer hand in front of yer face up there!” However, the forecast of fog last week brought a tremble of excitement as I packed my wildfowling gear for the Wash.

Our rather less arduous trip took one and half hours North across the sandy Brecklands of fir belts and rabbit mown grass  to the black flatlands of the Fen. We would be staying at a Pub next to our friends house, twenty minutes from the isolated car park from where  we  would start the hike out onto the marsh in the morning.

Up at 3.30 am, a short drive and we walked the one and half hours – (could even have been two plus!) out to the edge of the Green and the inlet of the North Sea, The Wash.

We had avoided most of the man traps in the fog of grass covered by five feet deep river-lets in the darkness.  We stood in the last of the vegetation browned by the Autumn frosts looking out into nothing but the rising water level at our knees.  All around us were the electrifying sounds of passing waders, flushing duck and the continuous murmuring of vast numbers of Pinks; there were literally thousands of awakening Pink footed geese out on the water right in front us hidden by the fog and darkness.

Time passed tantalisingly slow. Was it ever going to get light enough to see anything to shoot I wondered! Then suddenly some calling by Jonathan standing with my brother to the right, and a shot into the gloom got my attention. Immediately, an enormous eruption of fowl drowned by the alarm calls of geese but I still could not see a thing. What the hell had he shot at?

The water was rising slowly, creeping up almost unnoticed. We would have to back off from the saltings edge before the Geese appeared. This was the place to be if only we could hold our ground. Millie was beginning to tread water round me.

Suddenly a single duck appeared high above having come from behind. A single flukey shot sent it spiralling down with Millie in hot pursuit. Minutes later a Pintail was brought to hand. The shot lifted other fowl and a teal crossed in front to be dropped on the edge of the Green. The tips of boundary vegetation showing just above the incoming tide. Calling and a shout from behind of geese. I turned as a party of five Pinks came out of the gloom to my left , I had picked them up too late. However, one dropped planning down. After a frantic rush and long swim by Millie, it disappeared out into the never ending gloom. Minutes later a skien passed in front and a single dead bird hit the water with a solid splash.

The light was now better. The tide was ebbing but best of all the fog was holding. Another pair of duck came high from inland and both dropped dead out on the water in front.  It was a slow ebb and both birds were brought ashore without a problem. So often the elation of a fine left and right is short lived as the second bird drifts beyond sight of the returning dog, but not today.

Vast flocks of knotts came swirling though the fog to disappear before our very eyes. Curlew screeched and twisted with alarm confronted with man’s silhouette perhaps inheriting memories of their hunted past. Goddwittts rushed past and I had a quick second glimpse as the teal amongst them dived into the gloom. But serious errors from the wigeon as they whistled to each other before crossing our position. Totally exhilarating, a seconds lack of concentration would mean an opportunity missed as duck and geese flared out of shot and were gone.

Nine thirty and there were clearly several thousand Pinks still calling out on the dropping tide, nervous of the danger that could await their flight inland. Then a large skien lifted, appeared to circle in front and in a long bedraggled line came straight over us totally unphased by our now standing forms on the desolate mud flats. This last volley of shots meant our bag limit of geese had been reached and with a further twenty three duck, it was time to start the walk back.

Amazingly as ever the dogs seemed completely oblivious to their morning’s exertions, hunting the saltings as we staggered back under the weight of geese and duck like smugglers along the Cornish coast. Millie mystified as her flushed Water rail was only given the briefest of interest by her masters heavily perspiring face from our walk back. A short eared Owl quarted the sea wall and a moments lack of consternation found me sprawling one leg down a five foot gutter!

In somewhat of a daze, we arrived back at the Car park and then the drive home.

After a hot bath and drink in front of the fire, I fill in the second entry of the game book this Autumn. Fog had made for a truly amazing days sport. I will console myself with these thoughts next time we are sent home because of fog!



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