It’s interesting to see how many woodcock are now in residence in Galloway, despite the fact that it has been so astonishingly mild throughout December.
Woodcock numbers usually build enormously after a period of cold weather in the East, but even with this slushy, half-formed excuse of a winter, there was still more than enough to keep things interesting. Although the numbers were not huge, I counted eight birds during the course of five drives yesterday while shooting near Kirkpatrick Durham, and almost all of these came out of a single wet birch wood on the edge of the open moor. When the weather is right, these eight birds could well be more like fifty, but it was a good showing given the context of the past few weeks. The wood in question was so wet that the beaters struggled to make any headway, and the dogs ran in single file along the top of a dyke to avoid vanishing into the soaking moss, which floated like a treacherous rice-pudding’s skin.
The rest of the drives were largely through brashed-bottom sitka strips where pheasants and partridges were lurking out of the wind – not the ideal kind of cover for woodcock, but in a high wind these woods produced some fantastic shooting.
It was also fascinating to see how many red kites and buzzards hung over the shooting line during the course of the day. The shoot is within a few miles of the red kite release project at Laurieston, and it is no surprise that kites should have learnt to prosper on the leftovers of game shooting. After all, they are quick to snatch anything minced or mashed during silage making, and they often hang above the forage harvesters like gulls behind a plough.
Two woodcock were shot, and it transpired that both were young birds in their first year. Amongst many New Year’s resolutions, I intend to put some more work into learning about taxidermy, and I have been keeping an eye open for a pristine woodcock to stuff during the course of this season. The two which ended up in the bag were slightly too scruffy to make the grade, and I made do with a jay instead. If I ever get time to devote to it, I will make a proper start at skinning and preserving.