Absolutely Quackers

The large fat raindrops fell in torrents from the dark grey sky, bouncing off the green leaves of trees and bushes and creating puddles in the gravel track that was sandwiched between wood and fields. The rain thundered down on the hoods, jackets and wellies of a small group of people standing at the end of the track. To the left the horizon was clearing, a brilliant setting sun breaking through the clouds and illuminating the fields in beautiful golden light. To the right a wonderful rainbow arched over a small pool set in an open field surrounded by the dark still dripping trees. The sky through which the rainbow arched was still dark slate bluish grey. In the gathering dusk and as the rain eased the group set a series of nets covering the dark, muddy pool and then retreated to the cover of the surrounding wood.

The small pool ready and waiting

With the sun set darkness crept over the pool, nets and people, the light and colour slowly draining away and shadows replacing the greens and browns of water and vegetation. Above, the clouds continues to clear, glinting stars filling the now inky blue black sky. The sounds of night fill the air; the loud raucous alarm of a group of pheasants, the kwick of a tawny owl whose silhouette then crosses the darkening sky, the low rumbling roar of a rutting red deer, echoing from some unseen place. Then in the sky above the low rapid flutter of wing beats as a number of small ducks come swooping over the trees aiming for the pool.

A ‘spring’ of teal

There is a swish and a splash as the ducks land on the water, with some landing in the awaiting nets. A dark, shadowed figure emerges from the deeper black of the trees, walking quickly to the waters edge and then wading into the shallow pool. ‘Kersplosh, Kersplosh’ the figure wades over to the net and carefully removes the duck, retreating with the bird to the cover of the trees and placing it safely in a bag and then a quiet box. As the evening draws on this process is repeated. With the increasing darkness there is no need to retreat to the woods and the figures simply crouch low at the waters edge, shrouded now by darkness.

For every duck removed from a net, many more simply flap their wings and escape. Still more, even in the darkness, see the nets and divert with an acceleration of wing beats, up and away. Finally the number of birds coming in dwindles to nothing, a bright silvery moon appears from behind the trees and the group calls it a night. The nets are taken down and the group retreats to the warmth and light of a nearby barn in order to process the catch. It may be small, with just five birds out of all those that came swooping into the pool, but these gorgeous little ducks more than make up for that. They are teal. Delicate, small, and at this time of year seemingly brown with none of the glorious chestnut and green in the head of the males, no bright yellow patch on the tail or brilliant white streak across a silvery grey flank. But up close there is a bright green and blue iridescent flash across the wing, and beautiful mottled, soft brownish grey feathers across the body and back. The birds are ringed and processed before being returned to a small pond behind the barn. From the hand the birds barely touch the water’s surface before head straight up and away into the moonlit night.

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