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A WILD GOOSE CHASE.

On the north-west coast of England there is a piece of country, measuring some three miles from north to south and from west to east, which is known locally as “the Island.' On three of its

. four sides it is bounded by the sea-to the north by the Solway Firth, across which can be seen, on a clear day, a splendid panorama of the south coast of Scotland, with Criffel mountain raising itself sentinel-like to the north-west. Westwards there is a vast expanse of sea or sand, according as the tide is in or out. To the south the river Wampool, broadening into the Wampool Estuary and thence into Morecambe Bay, thus forms a deep, wide inlet, serving to cut off the Island from the surrounding country. Beyond, across the saltmarshes and the intervening country, Skiddaw and the Pennines loom up on the horizon. To the east the marshes stretching between the Wampool and the Eden were in pre-draining days so extensive as to complete the severance from the adjoining country.

Situated thus it is small wonder that this part of the country should be favoured by the visits of countless flocks of wild-fowl. There are acres and acres of salt-marsh on which flourishes the succulent spire grass, that curious herbage which grows greener as the winter advances, the favourite food of the gray-lag and barnacle geese, who here pay little attention to the stubble fields inland, so good is the natural herbage. Out to the west there are thousands of acres of sand-flats, whither they can retire during the daytime to rest and hold their interminable conversaziones without fear of molestation by the wandering wild-fowler or punt-gunner. The sands are washed by the tide flat as a man's hand, and there are no sand-dunes, so approach to one of the wariest birds on earth is impossible, so long as he seeks sanctuary here. As the tide comes up our gunner wandering on the salt-marshes hears the honkhonk' of the gray-lag or the more guttural sound of the barnacle, as they wing their way inland, maintaining their formation with military-like precision. Sometimes they fly in line full interval, sometimes wing towing-I had almost said knee to knee-so strong, as seen from the front, is the resemblance to a line of cavalry bearing down. Then, apparently at the order of the squadron commander, line is changed to the V formation, that unmistakable evolution which, even when seen in the far distance, assures the gunner of the

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identity of the birds. Down he drops into the nearest drain, hoping against hope that if the geese have not seen him some good stroke of fortune may cause them to alight in his neighbourhood, for here all around the turf has been close cropped by the birds at some previous visit, and the ground is littered with their feathers and droppings. Alas, too often is he disappointed, and the squadron, flying mountains high, never comes his way at all, or passes serenely overhead, secure at the height they are flying even from an 8-bore loaded with S.G's. But there comes a day when it is blowing a gale. Then, if our friend is lucky enough to be in the line of flight, he may chance on the quarry laboriously beating up wind, perhaps not more than twenty feet from the ground. That is the time to serve it up to them hot and let them have it in the head. If a brace fall to the two barrels, then may the sportsman well feel repaid for days and nights of watching and waiting without a kill ; for, by a knowledge of their habits, aided of course by the necessary modicum of luck, he has been able to outwit the wariest creature that flies-yes, and the hardest to bag even when within range, a fact any wild-fowler will corroborate. Under the thick feathers of their breasts there is a close growth of down, and no one who has not had the opportunity of examining a bird that has been brought to bag would credit the extraordinary manner in which the shot can be rolled up in this armour-like chest-protector. Assuredly then the shooting of a wild goose constitutes the blue riband of the ambitions of the wild-fowler, and sets the seal of fame upon his achievement. To the foreshore sportsman a very special significance attaches to the phrase 'A Wild Goose Chase.'

Arriving on a Saturday early in November at a small village on the Island—we were to share the snug thick-walled clay cottage of a professional wild-fowler and punt-gunner--we set forth on Sunday morning to reconnoitre the enemy's position. The tide is far out. As we leave the road, which runs like a boundary fence round the outermost confines of the Island, and strike off along the north side of the estuary, a vast expanse of sand-flats is opened to our view—the silence of this great waste broken only by the shrill screech of the redshank and the plaintive call of the curlew, that most restless of sea-fowl. During our fortnight's stay in this neighbourhood we had excellent opportunities of observing its habits, for curlew are remarkably numerous in this locality. From the stubble or turnip fields, which here march with the rough common ground that separates the sand-flats from the agricultural land,

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either in flocks or singly, they seemed for ever to be making excursions to the water's edge. No sooner settled there than, with a discontented cry, they rise and fly inland. A few minutes in the fields and they are up and off again elsewhere. What gadily of Io drives them, or are they dispossessed spirits—their eerie wall certainly lends colour to such a supposition-doomed to eternal restlessness ? To get a shot you must mark their feeding-grounds and lines of flight, and conceal yourself very carefully; for, distraught as he may seem, friend curlew has a very alert eye for danger, and often, when you think he is coming over you, he will ink at the critical moment and be off out of shot. But to return to our reconnaissance. Our cicerone enlivens the way by reminiscences of the sport he has had during the thirty odd years he has pursued the calling of a wild-fowler. In this drain, on the banks of which the gorse, growing rank, serves as convenient cover, he once at high tide crawled up to within forty yards of a big flock of barnacles grouped in a solid phalanx. Nine birds fell to the two barrels of his 12-bore—a great achievement this, and one which brings the glitter of triumph to his clear blue eye even now. Those shots served to make his reckoning level with the barnacles for quite a little time to come. A little further on is a wideish inlet, where the sea at high tide encroaches on the grass-land—a great place this for duck in a hard frost. “Man,' he says, “I've seen thousands on 'em there'; then, reflectively, “thousands and thousands, and shot a many on 'em too. As we approach a big flock of oystercatchers, locally called sea pyots, rise well out of range and seek more neutral territory on the sand-flats. In some rushy ground, intersected by channels up which at full tides the water flows, we flush a jack snipe. We make a note of his lair and account for him one day later. Farther on, as we are examining the nets where our guide catches plaice and flounders, or flukes as he calls them, his fishing mate, whom we have just met, informs us of the presence of a woodcock in some tussocky grass close at hand. We round the promontory, which here constitutes the extreme south-west point of the Island, and there, away on the sands, is a great company of barnacles. They have taken up their position on a gravelly strand of the shore, and are engaged in assisting the process of digestion by a gravel diet. Every now and then the head of one goes up, and then up go the heads of all the others, like a battalion of infantry being called to 'Attention. There is a protracted colloquy in which all seem to speak at once, and then, reassured by

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the distance which separates us, they return to the business in hand.
In a few minutes up go their heads again. As they stand like this,
seen in the distance across the sands, they look for all the world
like a set of artillery dunimies, and one cannot refrain from a
fleeting desire to burst time shrapnel over them just to see what
the percentage of killed would be in such a formation. However,
there is an armistice to-day, and we have to content ourselves
with a prolonged scrutiny though our field-glasses. The expert
opines that there are close on two hundred of them. 'I reckon
them birds is carryin' many a stone of shot at this 'ere moment,'
he says. Doubtless he exaggerates, but for all that he has had
dealings with the enemy extending over a very considerable number
of years, and I am sure that he was convinced that they were
unwarrantably retaining on their persons enough shot to load a
very useful number of cartridges. We make our way home over
the moss-hags whence the villagers hereabouts draw their supplies
of peat. There are grouse in plenty here; a pack of thirty scud
away to our left, and other smaller companies enliven our walk
home by their hurricane exit from our path.

The next morning we are up betimes, and after a hearty break-
fast by candle-light pick our way carefully down to the estuary
and launch the punt to ferry across to the marshes opposite. Dis-
embarking on the far shore, we make our way stealthily in the
grey half-light of a November dawn to a coign of vantage farther
down the estuary, where one or two creeks, or crikes as they are
called here, afford some cover to the gunner. The director of
operations, having placed the guns, makes off in the direction of a
favourite feeding-ground of the geese. It is still too dark to see
anything, but we have not been waiting long before we hear the
quack-quack of a drake mallard as he comes to rest with a splash
in the water to our left. From time to time we hear his raucous
remarks quite close at hand and hope that he may be the advance
guard of his party. Before it is light enough to see him he is off,
evidently in search of company. He has hardly gone before we
hear the report of a gun far away across the marshes. Crouching
low we prepare for action, straining our eyes up the channel along-
side which we are entrenched. Then the welcome honk-honk'
of the barnacles sets every nerve tingling. It is just light enough
to see now, and three shadowy forms appear against the grey sky,
flying high, straight down the middle of the channel. Waiting
till they are almost over us, we spring to our feet and give them

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our four barrels. But they are too high, and with a contemptuous chuckle they make off down the water-way. We hear the strident chorus of a much larger gaggle winging their way across the estuary higher up. That finishes the morning's work as far as geese are concerned. They have now all left their night feeding-grounds and have taken up a position of observation on the open sands. We reunite our forces and indulge in a smoke, discussing meanwhile the 'cussedness' of barnacles. Then we strike off across the marshes on the chance of putting up a stray duck in the crikes, or a possible snipe in some rough ground overgrown with reeds. The snipe only favour these feeding-grounds in very hard weather, and we flush but one, which is duly brought to bag—a fine bird, in good condition. Two or three deep sunk pools, on the banks of which the gorse affords protection from the wind, are visited in the hope of finding teal, but this morning they are all untenanted. We are making back for our quarters when the hawk-eyed one gives an exclamation of surprise, and following the direction of his glance we see a party of five barnacles flying as though for dear life. With heads outstretched they appear to be riding a finish, if we may use the term, a very different gait this from their normal somewhat leisurely mode of procedure. But, look, there is a small dark form hanging on their rear. There is no mistaking the racing rig of that sloop of war. It is a peregrine falcon on the war-path. He must have brought the quarry a pretty chase from the other side of the Island, for, after our morning attack, not a goose was left on the marshes this side of the estuary. Perhaps they were a party detached from the main body, or possibly they were fresh arrivals on their way to report themselves at head-quarters. If it was a vast aerodrome we could not have a better view of this race for life. Round the marsh he takes them for all the world like a collie shepherding a flock of sheep. We can feel rather than see that he is playing with them, and fast though they fly we know that he has the little bit extra in hand for a spurt at the critical moment. As I watch I cannot help thinking of that glorious moment when the hard-ridden boar, who may have set the pace for a mile or so, begins to come back to one as one's horse gathers himself for the final rush in to close quarters. To the straining geese that cruel hooked beak and talons, armed as though with steel, are weapons as deadly as to the boar is the gleaming hog-spear poised ready to thrust. Is the peregrine at this moment revelling in that feeling of mad exultation? I am convinced that he is. May we be

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