Dawn Flight

Wigeon cock heading home after a night on the mud.

Despite the mild weather over the last month, the wigeon have come to my parents’ farm in quantities. I headed out on Friday morning to try a flight, long before the sun had risen and on an ebbing tide. No matter how early you arrive on the ditch, the wigeon are always there before you. Teal bleeped and mallard creeped in the gloom, but piercing whistles were the order of the morning, and they rang out under the stars as I set up a hide.

The object of shooting on that strange, muddy network of ditches and sea drains is to intercept birds returning from the coastline after a night of feeding. They follow the winding course of one of the main drains, providing momentary opportunities for some great shooting. When the tide is dead low, the birds sweep in from below your feet and you find yourself shooting at ducks with the same motion as you might use to tumble over a running rabbit. When the water is up, they descend from all angles to make the morning exciting, frantic and totally unpredictable.

Within ten minutes of setting up, a wigeon hen was in the bag. Despite there being plenty of movement amongst the local ducks, for some reason they just weren’t playing ball. Small groups came tantalisingly close, but I like to make a good job when I fire at a duck,  minimising the risk of wounding anything in that retreiver’s nightmare of mud haggs and ditches. Close at hand, you kill a duck outright or miss it entirely, so the majority of birds passed by unmolested.

Shortly before sunrise, an otter slid down the opposite bank of the ditch two hundred yards downstream and began to swim up towards my hide. Surfacing every few seconds, the beast came closer and closer until it was bobbing in the water just twenty feet away. I sucked the back of my hand, making the same sound I use to call in fox cubs, and the otter turned its head and looked straight at me with a piercing expression. He clearly knew what the sound was meant to imitate, and judging by the fact that he had slid into the water from the direction of a well established rabbit warren, it reinforced the fact that otters are as confortable hunting in water as on land.

By nine o’clock, the flow of birds had dropped off altogether as the chaotic regrouping after the return journey from the seaside began to subside. I packed up my hide and walked back to the car just as a skein of several hundred pink foots passed overhead, tremendously high and going like the clappers. It’s always worth a morning down at the duck, but it could be that a little cold weather will improve the bag.

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