Monday, 3 November 2008
It's that time of year!
It has started again - the sound of guns fills the air - pheasants are creeping through the hedge into the garden for refuge.
The pheasant is hardly a wild bird round here, where thousands are bred each year for the corporate shooters. Driving down our lane between June and October, when the young poults have been let out of their housing and introduced to the big, wide world, is like driving through some bizarre obstacle course fromn "Alice in Wonderland."
The young birds crowd into the lane, pecking at their new-found source of grit. Along comes a car (a fairly rare occurrence on our lane). "Could this be the Gamekeeper with corn?" they think and rush towards it. Rash, hardened drivers keep going, hoping they'll get out of the way. (is being killed by a car any worse than being shot by a gun?); others blow the horn, slow down, stop, get out and shoo them on to the grass verge, get back in the car only to find the birds are all crowding round them again. Or, worse still, they appear to be going purposefully in one direction, then just as you move off they change their mind and rush resolutely across your path.
Last year at about this time a cock pheasant adopted us on the farm. We called him "Fez" (not very original) and after a few days he would come when we called him and eat the corn at our feet. One night he ventured into the hen house and found himself shut in for the night. Next morning he was frantic to escape and we never saw him again.
One year the farmer ran over a pheasant's nest while haymaking and came into the kitchen carrying a clutch of pheasant eggs in his cap - he had killed the mother. We slipped them under a broody bantam and reared six healthy chicks. They thrived, lovingly cared for by the bemused bantam who couldn't understand why they preferred to hide in the brushwood we put in the run, rather than under her skirt.
When they outgrew the pen we made a run in the meadow for them, only shutting it up at night to be safe from foxes. Gradually they moved away, became more wild and disappeared. We were surprised to see all six, later in the year, snug in the corner of the greenhouse one frosty night.
I don't cook or eat pheasant. Seeing them about all the time and sometimes forming a relationship with one - holding that bright eye in my gaze for a split second - has crossed them off my menue. It would be like eating a friend.
Now, when we drive down the lane , after only a few days of pheasant shoots, there is not a bird to be seen on the road. If you meet one in the fields you see that it has very quickly learned the golden rule for staying alive - when startled don't take off and fly away, run along the ground to the hedgebottom - that way the guns can't fire at you and you'll live to fight another day.