As is the way with my gamekeeping experiences, just as things start to work nicely, a spanner is dropped into the works. A few of my girlfriend’s coturnix quail escaped from their pen a week ago, and three of them have since become feral in the garden. As easy as it would be to catch them up, it is quite nice to have them ghosting around through the daffodils, and they make quite a hearty living eating the nyjer seeds that the clumsy goldfinches drop from the feeder. Getting back from work this evening, I went round my partridge pens to see what there was to be seen in the way of eggs. Checking for eggs is fast becoming a favourite ritual, performed peacefully each evening with a cup of coffee. This evening, the tranquility was shattered by the discovery of a dead quail, which had been brutally killed and dragged across the lawn.
Plucking the quail’s head, I found six or seven puncture wounds which seemed to suggest that sharp, extremely tiny teeth had had their way. It was odd that there had been no attempt to eat the plump quail, and I wondered if the murderer had been disturbed on the kill during the afternoon. The body was wedged under the gate which opens onto the lambing field, and it occurred to me that whoever had been pulling it had got stuck. Having seen a stoat drag a standard silkie for several yards, I know that there is no shortage of strength in those dog-like shoulders, so I came to the possible conclusion that I was dealing with a weasel.
Plucking the quail with a theatrical flourish and spreading light coloured feathers in a crude trail, I set a Mk.4 Fenn just a few inches away from where I found the quail, stuffing the corpse at the far end of a wooden box tunnel. I have never caught any mustelid by using one of its own kills as bait, but it seemed logical to try. In my experience, once the prey animal is dead it is either consumed or totally ignored, and it is hopeless to try and draw stoats and weasels back onto a cold kill which they have abandoned. Keepers often assure me otherwise, but I’ve never seen it done myself. As a back-up, I set another Mk.4 further up the dyke towards where I found the first signs of struggling. I reason that if the killer wants to pull off the same trick again, it will have to work its way along the dyke foot using whatever cover is available. I built a tunnel out of turves and large, flat stones which were borrowed from the dyke, then left them both to work their magic.
Given that the attack took place about three feet from one of my grey partridge breeding pens, I hope it isn’t too long before the traps do their job. I’ve been catching quite a few weasels recently up on the hill, and never dreamed of having to keep an eye on my own back garden. Just when you think it’s all going your way, some fresh threat appears.