Having toyed with the idea of taxidermy over the past few years, I have enjoyed the occasional surprising success. I did a pretty good job on a greyhen which now lives on a shelf in my office, and I am very pleased with the immaculate preservation of a barn owl’s wing which lies on a rack of roe buck antlers and other assorted paraphernalia which I managed to find and forage over the summer. Determined to learn more, I carefully put aside the woodcock I shot on Saturday with every intention of immortalising him in foam and wire.
When it came to the crunch this morning, I was amazed by the level of difficulty involved in skinning such a delicate bird. There were a few holes from the shot, but even where it was intact the skin was like wet lavatory paper. Every chafe and rub ripped it open, revealing feathers and down from the other side. At the same time, the bird was as fat as a little pig, and every gram of quivering white dripping had to be carefully scraped off if the skin was going to stand any chance of being preserved. This was like trying to polish a pat of butter, and I ultimately tried to focus on the chubbiest areas around the back and rump which subsequently were the stickiest and most fragile of all. The woodcock of North Yorkshire have obviously had a pretty laid-back winter so far – I can’t ever remember having seen such a fat little bird, just when I was hoping for a leaner and more easily manageable one.
Anyway, as I had peeled and fretted at the fat, something had burst in the sinuses which meant that there was then blood all over the pale and difficult to clean feathers on the forehead and chin. In a moment of fury, I threw the whole thing in the bin.