After two weeks, I now have only one grey partridge chick. The bacterial infection killed the second chick on Tuesday, so now I’m stuck with a single chick from the first batch. It’s being brooded with some quail, so it’s not on it’s own but it’s still pretty disappointing.
The progress from last week is quite pronounced, with obvious wing feathers and a serious burst of growth. It’s also got some lungs, and despite the fact that it’s being brooded across the landing from my bedroom in the spare room, I can still hear it squeaking first thing in the morning. I may have been premature in my dismissal of the other grey partridge eggs, and it could be that some others will hatch next month, so this lone chick hopefully won’t be on his own for long. Despite these early setbacks, there is a great deal of light at the end of the tunnel…
Inevitably, the first batch of chicks to come off under the first broody of the year did so during one of the wildest and wettest weekends I can remember. The rain was thrashing down yesterday morning when it was revealed that the mixed clutch of pekins and silver sebrights had begun to hatch. For reasons best known to herself, the black rock mongrel mother rejected one of the sebright chicks, and when we found it lying on its own, pressed up against the door of the broody house, it looked like it was dead. When we picked it up, it made some tiny movements, and we rushed it off under a heat bulb. Within a couple of hours, it had staged a complete recovery.
The next problem was how to get the chick back under its mother. This is something that I’m going to have to learn over the next few years of rearing partridges and black grouse, and, with the greatest respect to my girlfriend’s beloved but totally useless sebrights, I was quite glad that I was learning on something less important than a gamebird.
I opened the coop and placed the fluffy chick infront of its mother this morning. Immediately, she began to peck hell’s bells out of it. It was not going to be as straightforward as I had thought. Retreiving the chick, I held it in the palm of my hand and curled my fingers around it. I then turned my hand upside down and reached down towards the broody. She pecked me quite dramatically, but stood up just long enough for me to drop the chick in amongst its siblings. She was so angry with my hand that she hadn’t seen the transaction, and the chick had used me as a human shield on its way back into the nest.
When I went back to see them this afternoon, I couldn’t see which one it was. There were no obvious casualties, so it seems like the re-adoption was a success.
All this poultry business is quite fun, but I can’t help reminding myself that it’s just training for next year when I’ll do it properly with gamebirds. Even the little I’ve done so far gives me a whole new respect for the old keepers, who must have known an astonishing amount about the birds they worked with.
Worth mentioning that my insanely frustrating game of cat and mouse with the local fox cubs continues. They appear frequently enough for me to be at constant red alert, but infrequently enough for me to have lost my concentration when they do appear. Despite the fact that I am always carrying a shotgun at the moment, I still seem to find myself unarmed just at the crucial point when that dark smear in the moss resolves into a face with blue eyes and pointed ears.
In the meantime, the only thing I have been able to accurately point is my camera – I hope that this picture (above) will serve as a permanent reminder to me that, while photographs are all very well, a shotgun cartridge is better.
I must admit that, as soon as I had taken this picture and the cub had vanished into the rushes, I swore heartily.
Twenty three days after the game crop was drilled, there has been some serious progress. The field is now covered with rapidly expanding little plants, and despite the fact that I still can’t tell a turnip from a radish, it’s very exciting indeed.
It’s interesting that the local wildlife has shown such little interest in the field. Touching wood as I type, I haven’t seen any pigeons or crows on the field ever since I put Mr. Lightbody the scarecrow up. I know he’s great, but he’s not so good as to have put all the birds off altogether for three weeks. I suppose it says a great deal about the poor quality of habitat on the hill until now. It seems like the Chayne is in such a sorry state that it can’t even support much in the way of vermin, let alone gamebirds.
Asking the local game farmer for some advice on the mystery madness which has knocked my grey partridge chick off its feet, I discovered some interesting information. I was also generously given several trays of damaged, misshapen and unusual pheasant eggs which failed the entry assessment to the incubator.
Two hours later, I now have over one hundred and fifty pickled pheasant eggs. I love pickled eggs, and a big part of me is starting to think that, given my consistent bad luck with hatching off gamebirds this summer, I might be better suited to a life in the catering trade.
Just wanted to post this picture of the same partridge chick I photographed a week ago, when it was a day-old. I’d like to photograph the same chick every week until it gets its adult plumage, mainly because I don’t know much about grey partridges and it would be interesting to document it. He started to grow wing feathers on Thursday last week, and now has quite a respectable spread of down-tipped pins along the length of each wing.
In the meantime, this chick’s partner has contracted some kind of bacterial infection over the past 24 hours. I noticed that he was hanging his head a bit last night and wouldn’t stand up straight. This morning, the only thing he can do is tuck his head under his bum and scrabble backwards. I’ve seen something similar before, where illness seems to bring about total malcoordination and apparent madness, and I only hope that the antibiotics I put in the water system will bring him round and stop everything else going the same way.
Fingers crossed, although I must admit that I don’t have high hopes for the other partridge.
After four consecutive days of rain, it was nice to get the chance to head up around the hill for a leisurely walk this afternoon. There was nothing in my traps, and as I came off the inbye fields and stepped into the car, something caught my eye on the road by the shepherd’s cottage. My first reaction was that there was a ginger cat walking up and down the verge, but as soon as I had had a good look, it was clear that it was something altogether more sinister. A fox cub hopped up onto the dyke and looked away, and I ground my teeth with fury to find that all I had was a camera. I took this photo (above) before it dropped down onto the other side of the dyke and vanished into the long grass.
I haven’t been having much luck with foxes recently, and being unarmed was so frustrating that I decided to do all I could to set the record straight. My shotgun was in my cabinet; a four mile round trip in the car, but I was determined to seize this golden opportunity and see what became of it. I covered the distance in a quarter of an hour and was back with a pump action loaded with no. 4s in record time.
I left Scoop in the car, mainly because I wanted to see if I could track the cub through the grass on my own, but as soon as I stepped over the dyke, I realised that the odds were well and truly in the cub’s favour. The grass was so high, and there were countless opportunities for it to slip away without my ever seeing it. Calling in reinforcements, Scoop jumped out of the side window of the car and immediately locked on to where the cub had been. She ran lustily through the undergrowth to my right while I continued to search down the thick rushes to the side of a drainage ditch.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that she had stopped and had cocked her ears. She had found something, and as I ran towards her, the cub emerged from under a thick tussock of grass. There is no way that I would ever have found it as it sat tight in the undergrowth, and as it started to run, Scoop kept pace with it, tumbling it over like I’ve seen her do with smaller puppies. All I had to do was call her off it, then send it tumbling over with the shotgun. Contrary to all expectations, the plan had worked like clockwork. The cub was much smaller in the flesh than it had looked on the dyke – bigger than a hare but not a great deal more. I was planning to set some snares this coming week, but looking at the size of the little blighter, it’s still too small for the stops on my snares.
I scoured the area for other cubs, but it’s probable that they will all be spread out by now. Foxes don’t keep all their eggs in one basket, and as soon as the cubs are old enough to be moved, they are dropped off in different locations all across their parents’ territory. I may have found one, but there are sure to be others. Now that I’ve got a four legged accomplice, however, the task of fox control seems a great deal more achievable.
Despite having been lent a cracking “covina” fully automatic incubator, it looks like I’m set for another partridge disaster. I was sent two dozen eggs through the post on Tuesday and it was obvious that they had been very badly packaged. If you held the polystyrene packaging upside down, you could hear the eggs plopping out of their polystyrene slots. Several were cracked and there was yolk all over the inside of the top tier of eggs. I contacted the breeder and he sent another dozen eggs free of charge, but it looks like I’ve blown a large part of my budget for the year on eggs which won’t hatch.
I candled them today and found no signs of life in any of the eggs. One or two might be worth carrying on with, but having spent almost £30 on eggs which are now doomed to do little more than make a smell, I’m a bit peeved. I suppose it’s all part of the experience of buying eggs online, and while I must say that it’s been surprising just how difficult it is to get hold of grey partridge eggs, it’s part of the reason why I wanted to keep my own breeding stock so that I won’t have this problem next year. I know that it’s a long shot, but if anyone reads this and might know where I can get hold of grey partridge as d/o or poult, I’d be very pleased to hear from them.
It could be that I’ll get a good hatch from the replacement eggs (which were very well packed), but that still leaves me with, at best, around a dozen chicks. I had planned to get around thirty partridges this year, but I suppose I had planned for all sorts which never came off. I suppose there is still the master plan to get hold of black grouse poults this autumn, so that’s some salve to the problem.
In the meantime, as if to rub salt into the wound, I found these two sandpiper chicks in the garden this evening. The sandpipers don’t need an incubator with all the bells and whistles to get their chicks up, and while I wish them well, I envy them horribly.
All the warmth of May has totally vanished. When I was getting my broodies out this morning for their daily wander across the garden, I was struggling to keep my hat on as the wind rushed up the valley and drove rain down the back of my neck. I stood for a while with a cup of coffee beneath the dripping leaves of a sycamore tree as I waited for them to emerge, but they clearly had more sense than to leave the comfort of their coops.
The burns around the house have risen in height by more than three feet over last night, and I’m worried that one of my lowest rail traps up on the hill might have been washed away. I’ll go round them this afternoon and check, but my main concern is what effect this rain might be having on any game bird chicks. Despite what the Shooting Times said in last week’s edition, red grouse certainly don’t hatch out in the middle of June, and any chicks hatching now will certainly not be ready for the 12th. Having seen a red grouse chick which could already fly (to some extent) on Thursday, I know that red grouse are probably through the worst of their vulnerable period by now, but black grouse will still be very weak and downy if last year’s hatch dates are anything to go by.
I suppose all this rain is good for the game crop, which has dramatically sprung into life over the past few days. The field now has an encouraging sheen of green when you look at it from certain angles, and although most of that is grass coming up from seed, there’s no way that those little needles of grass will ever smother the rapidly expanding kale, turnip and radish plants.
There’s nothing else for me to do but make sure the partridge chicks are alright, then go to the second hand book shop in Carlisle and see if there’s anything interesting lurking around.