Wild Time, Precious Time

I’m of an age now when sitting behind a leaf-net, as I did this morning, sometimes feels like wasting precious time. The purpose of the exercise today was woodpigeon control and it was effective. It usually is. Of late, the absence of my old cookpot mainstay (the rabbit) means that the woodpigeon has become a very welcome source of fresh, wild and versatile meat. But this piece isn’t really about the woodpigeon. It’s about that perceived waste of precious time.

There are some shenanigans involved in successfully setting a hide-net. Having trekked half a mile from my motor with the necessary gear on one of the hottest mornings of the year, I dumped it all in the shade and sat on a log to get my breath. Was I in the right position? I’d shot this spot before so I was quietly confident. Within ten minutes, the camo leaf scrim net was up and functional. I had set up around the log, enjoying the convenience of the natural seat. I enhanced that comfort with a bean-bag cushion. I walked out to the ploughed set aside and cast out half a dozen pigeon shell decoys. Back at my seat, three cartridges were packed into the semi-auto and I settled back to waste precious time. Precious? Because I have a day off work and want something to show for it. Precious? Because I’m trying to wrap up my next book and could be doing that instead of this. Therein lies the rub. Time is a currency we can only exchange for experience, be it good or bad. Today, I was determined to make it good.

Behind the net, if you allow it to, time stops. You become a hidden creature in a secret place. A wildlife voyeur. You let your heart rate slow and your breathing reduce to just shallow inhalation and expiration. Your senses, in response, accentuate. Your hearing sharpens, your eyes pick up more peripheral movement, your nostrils flare. As I let the wood settle around me, having ensured I had a 270opanorama, I took some time to study every square metre of my new environment. A combination of deciduous and coniferous trees. Spruce, pine, ash, alder and beech. Above me, a pigeon flashed into the canopy. I ignored it. I was more interested now in the pair of treecreepers circling a slender spruce, hoovering up bark-hugging insects as they ascended. When you consider it, almost every bird is a predator. The beetle, the weevil, the fly, the spider, the caterpillar, the leatherjacket … all meat to the bill and the beak.

The drift of wide wings outside the wood, above my decoys, brought me alert. Not pigeon or crow, though. The barrel came up and went down. Not one, but two buzzards making feint attacks at my pigeon shells. At each pass, they floated down, talons outstretched yet backed away when they sensed no movement from their prey. I watched with the feeling of privilege I always have when studying raptors. They teach the hunter much. Observation, patience and timing being the most important. When a raptor (be it hawk, harrier, falcon or owl) decides to strike, it rarely misses.

At ground level, I was entertained too. Solitary bees closing up their nurseries. The hyperactive scuffle of a wood mouse caught my eye. It was gone in a blink. As the pigeons fluttered in above, I resisted the traverse of a grey squirrel across the leaf mulch. It sat up on a stump. I was sat on my stump. All seemed fair in love and war. I sat and tried to identify as many different bird sounds as I could, from memory. Some are indisputably memorable. Chiffchaff, yellowhammer, green woodpecker, skylark, jackdaw, jay, robin and several others. It’s when we get down to the warblers and finches that I start to lose my way. A warble is a warble is a warble. Sitting there today I luxuriated in the undercurrent, the ‘white noise’, of the invertebrates. The orchestral hum of a warm spring morning. The punctuated hover of the sawflies. The helicopter attacks of demoiselles and hawkers.

I was in a gentle, peaceful place when I suddenly realised that the soporific murmuring above me registered the presence of a dozen woodpigeons. The shot, when it came, would be true. The gratitude for manna from above would be genuine. Even more so for the bird and its kin drawing me here to enjoy the glory of a Norfolk wood.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2019

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