Christmas week and a cold start followed by a warm middle and an icy blast towards the end. For two days we had the bedroom window open through the night, not because of a surfeit of seasonal sprouts but because the overnight temperature was approaching double figures; woken both mornings by a particularly randy Male Blackbird singing outside our window trying to convince any females in the area that now was the time to “get jiggy” as I believe they term it these days.
At the start of the week we had a crack at the ducks, my employer’s son and grandson along with an elderly gent from the village. Initially the signs looked promising with plenty of cloud cover and a steady wind that typically dropped just as it was getting dark. The wigeon that have been around for a few weeks didn’t put in an appearance and we only shot five birds, four Mallard and a Gadwall. A little disappointing after the numbers that have been coming onto the pond in previous weeks, but that is Wild Duck shooting for you. I declined the offer to shoot instead concentrating on picking up with Zebo and Otis. Zebo is a bit of a whiz at locating dead Ducks in the Dark and didn’t disappoint on this occasion, even picking up a roving Indian Runner that normally inhabits the lower river around my employer’s house. Twice the weight of a Mallard he bought it to me alive and intact for me to release onto the river. If it had been my stupid spaniel with jaws of steel the Duck would have been crushed in seconds. Zebo has always had a very soft mouth, when he was around one year old, and out with me feeding the fish one week, he would pop behind the fish food hut and carefully pick up a Duck who was sitting very tight on a clutch of eggs and bring her to me. Each morning of that week I would take the duck from his mouth and put her back on the nest, by Friday she had a resigned look on her face as she was carried to me each morning that screamed “Good grief here we go again!” She hatched off her eggs the following week and was spared her morning ride in a Labrador’s mouth.
The cold temperature and icy easterly wind towards the end of the week blew in a load of Snipe. The dogs putting up over half a dozen on a Boxing Day afternoon trek across Bransbury Common. On this particular stretch of the river the Snipe, if they are about, always seek out the same ditches, muddy scrapes, bends on the river that they have inhabited in previous years. I think I saw the Merlin that has turned up most winters, earlier in the week, the dogs spooking a small bird of Prey from the ground by the Flight Pond.
The river has cleared and dropped an inch this week, The Brown Trout have come through spawning very well, and on the two mild days in the middle of the week, even raise their noses to the odd fly that was on the water. The Grayling are in spanking mid season form and, as I have stated previously, are an ounce or two heavier for a given length than in previous years. The eggs in the hatchery have been hatching all week, and so far look to be a particularly good batch. For much of this week I have just left them to get on with hatching, next week they will need a good clean and the unhatched and empty egg cases removed. The fencing for the stew ponds was also delivered this week, Otter proofing the stew ponds one of the first jobs to be tackled in the New Year.
The Pheasant and Partridge are a bit thin on the ground on our morning feed around. I am feeding half as much food compared to a month ago, and much of this is being gobbled by Pigeons and Roe Deer; although walking up the road at Dusk this week I have heard quite a few birds“cocking up” as they go up to roost which suggests that they are feeding on something else somewhere else.