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skilful fashion from one feeding ground to another. The guns then take their places under the high cliffs of sand facing the stubbles and dunes, while two men, sent round very carefully, drive the curlew towards them. If this is gently and quietly done, the birds come in small companies and even singly, giving splendid shooting ; so that it is quite conceivable that the most favoured gun may fire twenty or even more shots. We never had much success when trying to drive curlew up-wind ; but with a gale behind them, which bore them forward and blew away the noise of the shooting in front, the sport was splendid. A few blue-rock pigeons often came over, as well as plover, both green and golden. The quickness with which the curlew turned on seeing the guns was remarkable. If one managed to shoot before the curlew discovered the presence of danger, the result was generally satisfactory ; but when the flock broke and scattered, the dip made by the birds in that act was as quick as the twist of a snipe.
Curlew cannot be driven often, for no birds sooner abandon a line of flight upon which they meet with persecution. Drive them the same way twice in one week, and the third time the bag will be exceedingly small; it will probably consist of a single old bird which, as it were of contrariness, fies along a different line from his fellows.
Wild as curlew are, they occasionally give easy chances, and very occasionally they may be shot rising like snipe. Such opportunities occur when the gunner comes suddenly over the brow of a hill or rock ; but this reference specially applies to birds rising from tussocks, and more particularly from among potatoes. A rising curlew is rather a clumsy, flurried bird, and always exceedingly vociferous.
In the breeding season the curlew, then birds of the moors and the mountains, find a courage as remarkable as is their timidity at other seasons. Let the human intruder wander near the nests and the outraged parents will fy screaming about him, so near that their expostulation is deafening; in this demonstration both sexes take part, for the cock is an excellent husband and bears his full share of domestic toil.
When curlew are feeding in a flock, they do not appear to make one of their number act as sentinel, as do wild geese, though sometimes a bird seems to sustain the part voluntarily ; but, on the other hand, a dozen curlew may often be seen all feeding at the same time--a state of things that would never be permitted among geese
or widgeon. Still, the curlew are so quick of sight and hearing, and so watchful by nature, that every member of the flock may be said to be a sentinel.
As far as my own experience goes, other birds dislike the neighbourhood of curlew. This does not refer to small waders, but rather to duck, geese and widgeon. Cormorants and curlew seem to be good friends, at least to the extent of frequenting the same rocks. Large flocks of curlew and green and golden plover feed close together, but do not actually mix to any great extent.
The curlew spends a good deal of his time during the autumn in the cornfields, where great sport may be had. Half a dozen painted wooden decoys and a secure and well-concealed hidingplace among the stooks are necessities, while the services of a ghillie who may be told to keep the birds moving in any distant haunt they are known to frequent, will always add to the number of shots obtained.
One summer evening I was watching for curlew with a couple of painted wooden decoys set up, when an old bird flew noiselessly up and settled within a yard or two of the decoys. It was some moments before he discovered that there was something wrong, but when he did he made off in a terrible state, continuing the shrillness of his clamour until he was out of hearing.
Curlew are birds of very regular habits, flying here and there at certain stages of the tide, and to a less extent at nightfall and dawn. It is when their favourite sea-feeding and resting grounds are uncovered about sunset that the full opportunity of the fowler
If he can hide himself behind some rock in their line of flight, he may shoot till his barrels are hot. Such a spot is to be found by a northern estuary where a sandbank is the nightly resort of thousands. This sandbank is uncovered within half an hour of the beginning of the ebb, and as it is some three parts of a mile out in the water the birds on it are not, after dusk, much disturbed even by the continued banging of a gun on the shore. The curlew flocks, moreover, fly down a long string of marshes bounded by dunes, so that the main flight is of necessity concentrated. Evening after evening I have there awaited the coming of the curlew. On the first occasion they arrived quite early, flying comparatively high, perhaps fifty or more feet above ground; on the second evening but few birds put in an appearance, but chancing to go out at a later hour I heard them calling on the sandbank. Therefore on the following night I remained longer. It was bright starlight, but the birds did not begin to appear till half-past eight; but then for half an hour they were coming all the time, flying so low that it was impossible to see them against the dark background of rock and marsh. „By changing my position and lying some yards down the side of the ridge I was able to get a momentary glimpse as they topped the sky-line ahead, and never have I enjoyed shooting more. A good many plover came with the curlew, and the bag which fell to a great deal of powder and shot was fourteen head. It might have been much more, but it was necessary to send the dog at once whenever I thought that a bird was down, and as the dog was as black as the shadows and the night, the low-flying curlew could not be shot till he returned.
But of all sport that has ever fallen to my lot with curlew, far and away the best (because the conditions presented difficulties that seemed at first sight insuperable) was on the great stretch of sand in St. Ouen's Bay, Jersey. Here were plenty of curlew, a bay some miles in length, a beautiful strand, and actually not a particle of cover. The tide recedes to a good distance, and lying with a glass among the dunes, the watcher may count large flocks feeding on the sand-hoppers and running on the edge of the water. A few efforts made at high tide, when stalking was possible from behind the dunes, were not altogether unproductive of result; but the absolute immunity which the curlew enjoyed upon the open expanses at other times gave birth to a strong desire to outwit them there.
So it came that one October day—when the sky and sea, the sun and gorse, made up the blue and gold colouring typical of the Channel Islands, and the hard sands were so white as to hurt the eye
like the glare of a North African highway-I waited until the tide was nearly ebb, and then began to dig a series of pits in the sand about 200 yards apart, and each 100 yards nearer the shore than the last. Starting in the centre of the bay, I thus had a series of hidingplaces to suit each stage of the incoming tide. The pits were rather inclined to hold more or less water, and at first the displaced sand was very obvious, but soon the sun bleached it to dry whiteness. An hour after the turn of the tide I occupied my first pit, while a companion went round and walked the beach towards me from the eastern end.
I have often thought that among the most delightful moments in the whole of one's shooting career are those when first one lies in ambush and contemplates the chances of success. Anyhow,
the memory of those moments in the shallow pit on that glorious day of blue and gold, with the autumn sun boring a hole into my back, have not passed away.
There were several flocks of curlew and the first of them rose while my companion was still a long way off, just as I had seen them rise a dozen times before my own advance. On and on they came, not ten feet above the sand, and sailed right up within range without suspicion. And then, as the two barrels went off, what a commotion, what a swerve out to sea ! The same thing happened with other flocks at some of the other pits. We drove them east and we drove them west; a great day, and one which the unusual and almost sub-tropical weather marked out in unique relief.
There is a lot of fun to be had with curlew in a country of stone walls, where the birds are on the plough or in the turnips and potatoes. If the walls are high and their building solid, the stalk is easy ; but where they are storm-blown and tumble-down the skill of a true hunter is called forth.
I remember an occasion when a curlew feeding under such a wall proved too great a temptation to a schoolboy who was supposed to be shore-shooting along the tide edge of the Firth of Forth. In those days a great Headmaster used to permit shore-shooting to chosen boys of his great School. One day I was walking on the road to Aberlady when two bare-headed boys with guns came charging out from behind a hedge. One of them held a dead curlew in his hand. They began to run at full speed along the road, checked and had an argument, one pointing one way and one the other; then they deliberately came up to me. ·
' I say, you won't give us away? 'the spokesman said, panting. 'We're going to hide behind that wall. The keeper's after us. The Head... 'He paused, thinking perhaps that he had given away too much to the casual stranger. We stayed, looking at each other.
You'd better get behind the wall quickly,' I said.
* Thanks awfully,' came from two voices : and, with almost uncanny suddenness, I was alone in the road.
I strolled on a little, and soon heard the beat of rapid footsteps behind me, as a hard-featured old keeper ran up.
Have you seen my two young gentlemen, sir ? 'he asked.
Cunning man! He wanted to give me the impression that the boys were under his charge and sent out to shoot with
him by his master. His cunning, however, made my answer the easier.
“I have not !' I said definitely--my last scruple, if ever I had one, gone.
* They run down this way. They were after my partridges, shooting into a covey from behind the dyke.'
We looked at each other, and I'll swear he reddened. * This has been a very good partridge year up here ? 'I asked.
He stared. Not good nor bad.' There was something in his eye as he said this that told me how best I could serve the young sinners who were quaking within fifty yards behind the wall.
'Do you see many pintail about here?' I asked. “I read in last week's Field that the Firth of Forth
But he thought I was delaying him on purpose.
'Good afternoon, sir, good afternoon,' he said testily, 'I must be getting on.' He walked till he was round the corner, and then I heard the plunk of his boots in the mud as he started again at the double. A few minutes later and the boys climbed over the wall.
* Thanks awfully,' they said again, and set off running in the opposite direction to that the keeper had taken.
I met them, by chance, later that evening, waiting for the same train. They greeted me shyly, but with evident friendship. I asked for news. ' It was all right. We didn't see him again. He's an awful
. liar,' one said. “We never touched his rotten partridges. It was & curlew quite close to the wall. We crept up and. . . You see, we couldn't get near to them on the shore, and ... and . It's a ripping bird, isn't it?' The boy had the bird wound
in his jersey. He produced it. ' I'm ... we're going to have it stuffed,' he ended.
I never learned the boys' names, but I have sometimes wondered if either of them was an embryo Selous, and if somewhere a battered curlew on a stand may recall an early adventure and an escape from the tempestuous and roaring wrath of one of the greatest of Headmasters.
Many people debar themselves from curlew-shooting because the curlew, they say, is no bird for the table; and it is true that, while I have eaten some good curlew, others have needed the seasoning of hunger : but all through the Western Isles, where the greater part of my curlew-shooting has been done, the native relishes curlew almost as much as duck. He likes a cormorant better than either,