Back in April, the East Anglian arable landscape resembled that of late February as the crops struggle with continuing freezing temperatures. Many that were late drilled and lay waterlogged for most of the Winter did not need an additional month of frosts. Now it is dry at last but the ground resembles that of a fine chocolate cake, hard and crispy on top but a glutinous mess underneath. The arable farmers spring drilling rule book was thrown out of the window as at last there was a window to drill the horrendous wet land left as a result of the monsoon Autumn and Winter.
Long awaited traditional Spring drilling gives a good opportunity to catch up with those splinter groups of the blue hordes woodpigeon that have driven local farmers mad over Winter. Thousands of miles have been put on the farmers 4WD’s driving from field to field, to keep the pigeons from eating what little rape was left after the ravages of the prolonged winter.
Despite all that the weather has thrown at them and being pursued from dawn till dusk, the pigeons seem to have taken it all in their stride! They recognise the farmers blue vehicle coming along the main road and drift of to the next field before he can get there!
Extraordinarily by mid April, they had developed exceptional condition, and in the sporting field are as good as any grouse over the butts or pheasant over deep valleys.
I had already been lucky enough to have two fantastic days decoying over Spring drilling. These special days, bright blue skyâ€™s, warm spring sunshine and fresh Easterly wind turning the dark soil to a lighter and brighter mood. The wind on your back, sunshine lighting up the woodies likeÂ Macaws as they set their wings to circle the decoys; a picture that never seems to dull my excitement from boyhood.
Another call from a farming friend to let me know he’d drilled the last of the barley and the blue hordes had arrived was treated with excitement and dread. There was no way I could be there for another five days and the weather on the day would have to do. The luxury of reconnaissance time was something I was not going to have this time. I would resign myself, lucky to have the opportunity and privileged to go, but there would be no proper preparation for the day.
I arrived at 7.30am before the birds started to move.Â The weather had turned wet after drilling and at least one thing worked in my favour; any exposed seed was not rolled in and the ground rough for the foraging pigeon. Bright sunshine after an early frost and an easterly breeze promised.
At the top of the field, a three cornered spinney of half acre stood facing east, directly into the sun and the strengthening breeze. History had taught me any arrogant attempt to try and draw the flight line away from his spinney would fail. Cursing, I would watch as three out of four pigeons entering the area would fold their wings for the trees. However, good you thought your pattern of dead birds, flappers, magnet and bouncers were, once one bird was in the trees, it became an expensive exercise to move it every time!
Classic decoying over the open land was not going to work and shooting on the edge of the wood over decoys, sun and wind in my face was clearly going to end in tears.Â This was going to be an all day roost shoot if I was lucky, with pigeons coming in over the trees.Â I set an arc of decoys out from the wood complete with flappers and magnet.Â Most birds would have to see something though the trees as they approached into the wind. If they came in front of my decoys, they would be out of range and if they settled in the trees down wind I had failed also.Â Not much of a choice!
Only a makeshift hide was required in the shade of the big oaks and Millie sat quietly in the snow berry. Fiddling with my ear defenders, I spotted the first pigeon swinging in over the trees oblivious to my lifting gun.Â The first shot of the day and a flurry of local pigeons lifted and came to look at the only settled birds in the vicinity.Â However, taking more than a single bird from amongst the over head branches was going to be tricky. Every sprouting grain saved for my host farmer was going to count this Spring and every pigeon put in the bag would count, but unlike earlier days on open ground, most pigeons would live to tell the tale.
Morning drew on and odd pigeons continued to arrive.Â Their white bellies and pink chests shining over the trees in the Spring sunshine. Only a week or two later and their approach would be covered by the then sprouting Ash and Oak trees. As the sun moved and the breeze stiffened, pigeons came with the wind from the Eastern valley. Confidence gained and high birds were shot as they came with the wind, glancing at the decoys. Birds lifted from the down wind trees circled out in front at the shot report. Their ambivalence of the bangers over Winter had kept their crops full, but today it would cost them dearly as they glided back to check out their static friends still feeding.
This was not going to be the biggest day on the pigeons this Spring, but probably the most enjoyable. Certainly Millie was pretty impressed with an opportunity to hunt the woodland cover. With the retrieval of two long Carrion Crows (but I missed the flushed rabbit) we would have got to eighty head.
Mid May now and the countryside has made a miraculous recovery from the freezing and wet Spring. Winter wheat now stands thick and dark green and rape crops glow yellow; only the brown bare soils of the compacted headlands show the problems of six months wet and cold. We are indeed lucky to live in East Anglia, where natures ravages have been spent before they reach us from the North and West, most of the time!