I saw her long before she saw me. I had just climbed the gate into the wood and was retrieving the rifle, safely disarmed and passed over to one end before crossing. She scampered down the track, disturbed by my intrusion. Later, I saw her again. I was tucked under an ivy canopy on a bank looking along the rain-filled dyke. The woodies would be in soon for their late morning break, crops full of plundered peas. The rifle was lying leisurely across my lap, armed but with the safety catch engaged. Next to me lay my gun-bag and poised on top was a DSLR camera … just in case. My hunting eyes were tuned for any unusual movement and I first noticed her when she hopped up on top of a mossy fallen branch. Her rufus back and snow white front in total contrast to the emerald moss. She was forty yards away, slipping and snaking under twigs and over bough-fall and coming nearer. She paused, thirty yards away, between the netting of the empty poult pen and the embankment. Her whiskers twitched frantically and her black little beads of eyes scoured hither and thither. My mind dithered between rifle and camera. As she slipped under a rotting branch, I laid the gun aside and went gently for the camera. Too late. For in that wink of an eye she had emerged on a stump just ten yards off and saw my fingers wrap around the camera. Her tawny form slithered out of sight in a flash. I drew my fox squeaker from my pocket and tried to tempt her back with a few squeals, though in vain. She was gone.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve met … that little weasel and I. I’ve watched her several times since I found this small vermin crossroad at the edge of the coverts. That’s why I call it ‘Weasel Corner’. In her honour. How do I know the weasels sex? In truth, I don’t … but she is so camera shy, that I have likened her to a svelte, little supermodel avoiding a ‘paparazzi’ photographer … which is, of course, me.
I went back to my vigil. The pigeon were proving elusive too. I poured a coffee from my flask and listened to the bird song. Suddenly, the song turned to panic. The angry chit of the wren, the tick of the robin and the pip of the blackbird. I supped at the coffee, amused that a single little weasel could cause such a commotion. Then, as I stared at the scolding robin a grey stone plummeted from the ivy above and swept him from his perch, carrying him fluttering through the shrubbery and out of sight. The blackbird reacted first, sweeping from the bushes and almost hitting my face as it flashed out into the meadow beyond, screaming blue murder as it passed. Somewhere in the cover beyond I could hear the sparrowhawk plucking out its kill. The ripping and tearing didn’t take long, for a robin is a meagre morsel.
Above me, the mewling of the buzzard and the call of rooks told me that another drama was being played out. The buzzards were nesting near here and their presence dismays the corvids. Peering through the canopy above I watched the grand old bird soaring and ignoring the feints and dives of its black tormentors. I was impressed that he had two mates this year … and two nests. When I moved to Norfolk 16 years ago there were few buzzards to be seen in the East of the county. Now they’re almost as common as herons. Reckon I might need to throw him a few rabbits and squirrels to feed his polygamous habit this year. Providing for two families can’t be easy.
Out on the water meadow I could see a heron hunting. Few folk realise this is Britains largest avian predator. I’ve watched them take pheasant poults yet haven’t been able to raise the rifle … they are protected. Today, though, Old Frank was just spiking frogs in the wet ditches. He seemed to be doing well. Better than me … I hadn’t taken a shot in anger so far. Even the wren was doing better than me … appearing regularly with flies dangling from its beak. Somewhere near, I heard the weasel scolding again. She had probably smelt my coffee and took deference to it. From the corner of my eye I noted the flick of a bottle brush tail so I laid down the plastic flask lid and it tipped over, the last of my rich brew spilling across the floor. I raised the rifle to my shoulder and trained the scope in the direction of the tail. It was flickering angrily, the squirrel hissing yet its body unseen. I took my eye from the scope to look below the branch where it sat. There on the leaf mulch was the weasel with a vole in her jaws. She skipped forward. The grey squirrel followed, above, then jumped down to the floor. The pellet that toppled the squirrel chased off the weasel once again. She paused and looked back, an athletic act with that vole … half her size.. gripped in her jaws. It was a look that almost said ‘thankyou, sir’.
Overhead, a clatter and crash signified ‘incoming’. I pulled up my snood, covering my chin and nose. Another came in. Then another. One woodpigeon landed with its back to me and just twenty yards off on a low bough. The pellet, between the shoulder blades, struck true and the others swept away as the bird hit the ground.
The sudden deep trundling of a diesel engine bumbled down the edge of the covert. I peered through the ivy. A large cherry-picker appeared, making the ground vibrate. I caught a flash of white scut as a rabbit I hadn’t even noticed disappeared below ground nearby. I stayed in cover to watch what was happening. It soon became obvious. The trees were encroaching on the power lines nearby and the team started up their chain-saws. I packed up and slid away towards the Jeep, unseen, as the racket started. Was that a flash of rufus fur I saw again as I passed the pens? I started to wonder who was following who?
She would be safe from my gun, forever. For what would Weasel Corner be … without a weasel?
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2015