Tonight sees the end of the inland wildfowling season – and what a damp squib it’s been for me this year. What with the mild weather and having to move house over New Year, I hardly got down to the mud at all this year, and only had one fleeting morning at the wigeon at the beginning of December.
To commemorate the last night, I headed up to the pond on my parents farm down on the Solway this evening in more of a bid to acknowledge the end of the season than to actually bring anything home in the bag. Recalling the great evening flights I used to have on neighbouring properties just inland from the estuaries, I took a seat in a clump of nettles beside the pond just as darkness was falling. Beneath me, the Solway floundered like a vast carpet under the rising moon, while the half dozen street lights began to prickle out from the small harbour a few miles away. Besides these orange intrusions, the night was just as it has always been – with a sunset fading from hard yellow to a deep and inscrutable wash of blue. The stars appeared as a woodcock flickered overhead like a meteor.
I started to feed the pond in September, but got downhearted when I saw no signs of progress. I stopped altogether in November and forgot all about the pond, which was dug for trout and was probably too deep throughout much of its length to provide duck with any feeding anyway. The trip was more about spending an evening on the hill than actually doing any shooting, so I only had eight cartridges in my pocket when a teal plopped in from nowhere. Almost within touching distance, the tiny rascal wheezed and bleeped in a semi circle at my feet like a clockwork toy. In an instant, he was up and away again, flying against the remains of an old Roman fort which overlooks the pond and not even giving me the slightest chance of a shot. Thrilled to have seen some action, I settled in to the dead nettles and decided to give it another ten minutes before home. The stars sparkled overhead, and a glow from the distant sun gave me a good view to the west. I could almost hear the water freezing as the temperature plummeted.
Within a few moments, that sweet and thrilling rush of wings came in a brief snatch through the breeze. It vanished, then came again as two wigeon swept low overhead, set on plopping into the far end of the pond. It was a left and right, and they dunked under the surface of the water which had developed the vaguest skin of ice. Feeling pretty chuffed, I was then totally overwhelmed by the sudden shrieking apparition of thirty wigeon, growling and whistling against the fading sky. I fired twice and hit nothing, and the little silhouettes motored silently up into the air and away to safety. It was hard not to laugh out loud at the unexpected turn of events. Within five minutes, another, larger, pack of wigeon swept in, churning and turning in the air with their paddles down. The ducks purred and the drakes chirruped as I managed another left and right, sending the two shapes back over my shoulder and into the water behind me as the others turned and vanished into the sky.
Over the next half hour, more birds came slashing into the pond, but I only managed one more single wigeon. I had a great chance at pintail and missed a mallard drake as he passed between me and the moon. I left the pond with five wigeon on my back and a head full of ideas for how to get the best out of the pond for next year. The fact that it hasn’t been fed for the past three months would imply that it seems to be attracting duck entirely on the basis of the fact that it is on a good flightline. I’m thrilled to think that I can improve on what I already had and didn’t know it – More will surely follow on this blog, and roll on next season!