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The fight for the fallen pheasant

Outdoor Living

RESPLENDENT IN REPOSE The magnificent colours of a cock pheasant struck down before its time.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

When I drove down the road there was nothing, but when I returned a few minutes later, overhanging the grass verge with one wing spread onto the tarmac was a rather splendid cock pheasant, all copper gold and green, and that rather regal metallic purple feathered head patched either side with blood red wattle and crown.
It was unmarked and undamaged – apart from being deceased, that is – with not a feather out of place. As I picked it up its head hung loose, as if the neck had been broken by a glancing blow from a passing car.
Now, looking back, I wonder if it had been shot, as cock pheasants often are, and had fallen from the air to land where I had found it, and even as I laid it in the boot of my car the triumphant sportsman had been battling through thick gorse and thorny growth to claim his prize. If that is so, then I apologise, and hope the time spent searching revealed other worthwhile things, like autumn wildflowers and late butterflies, and was not altogether wasted.
But what would I do with my pheasant? I would save its long, sweeping tail as an ornament, at any rate, and keep a few fibres from the cape with which to fashion salmon flies. It being roadkill, as I at the time considered, I wouldn’t eat it myself. James might ask no questions and appreciate the gesture, yet if he did enquire as to the bird’s origin I would have to tell the truth, and the value of the gift of a creature found dead at the side of the road might be viewed on its true merit.
No, I would lay it in a private place and sit some distance away in the car, and see what might come first to dine. I did this. The pheasant was placed some 20 paces from the cover of trees, and I some 30 beyond, armed with my camera and anticipating some kind of action.
A pair of sharp eyed magpies must have been looking on in silence, for no sooner had I taken my seat they arrived at the scene, yet were reluctant to come out from the thick bushes in which they skulked. I could hear them talking between themselves, chacka-chacking in low voices, and caught occasional glimpses of their splendid black and white plumage as they hopped from branch to branch. If only they weren’t so ill-mannered we would admire them greatly.
Their movements must have caught the eye of a raven, for one of these greatest of the crow family flew over on broad black wings and then flew back a bit lower, uttering heavy calls all the while and sounding like the glutton that he is, gleeful at the sight of a hearty dinner.
Like the magpie pair, he was distrustful of the car and soared again to a greater height from where he watched. If the magpies perceived no danger and finally came to feed he would quickly descend before they had their fill, of that was I was certain.
The magpies grew more excited, catching my attention as they flew higher in their tree and changed their low voices for scolding tones. Something was evidently afoot. I looked from them to the pheasant and back, and when I glanced once more to the body of the bird on the ground, why, it was gone. But where?
I emerged from the car and walked across to see, but found no clue that it had even been there, other than a stray feather or two. It must have been a fox. But how had I missed it?
My mind went immediately to little Fionn, the fox cub that had come to stay for a while back in the spring. Could she still be out there? I’d certainly like to think so.
Determined to find out, this evening was spent overlooking the same area, baited this time with chopped kippers, the scent of which I thought would carry on the breeze and attract any hungry creature out there. They certainly smelled good, so good, in fact, that before very long had passed my mind was focused more on the pair that remained in the fridge than those scattered about.
Besides, these autumn evenings are too cold for camping out in the mere hope of meeting a fox. I shall continue to bait the area though. It should make an interesting winter project.
Dawn, the following  morning; kippers are cleared away, apart from the smell, which lingers throughout the house. So, who was it that came for supper? We shall see.