Monday, May 22, 2017

Storm front ducks

Summer in the region was in general, crappy. At the time we generally lamented that the 3 days of sunshine we got among the constant rain fronts, were quite nice. There was no sign of drought at all, and in general gave us probably the most perfect duck breeding conditions you could wish for. Roll on to the here and now and a series of floods and king tides events have given the low lying and swamp areas constant fresh water, and this in turn has given ducks vast areas to loaf and to a certain extent feed on seeds and bugs in relative peace.

Dad has been hunting regularly, and getting good bags on a regular basis which is really neat because its been quite hard work in the last few years, and so hopefully some of the belt tightening in terms of season length is now paying dividends with the aid of weather conditions. As they say, "One swallow does not a summer make", but I'm happy to see the increased number of birds in the region and hope that the trend continues.

The boys were down for our annual swamp hunt and the early forecast looked promising with a south west front and rain coming in late in the morning on Saturday. I mentally prepared a plan after a quick discussion with Tony where we'd decided to split our forces rather than stack a single pond, partly because a 4 hunter/4 dog combo made management an issue but also because we needed to get dad and his dog into the plan. So the plan was Matt, Tony and dad to go down to Watson's which ought to be protected from the wind and allow the ducks a refuge and the ability to land with wind in their faces, while Chewie ("The Mangrove Yeti") and I would hunt Bollocks. This would put as much distance between the groups as possible so we wouldn't compete for available birds. We met up at my place with Chewie having made a dash from the airport, while Tony had detoured to collect Chewie's gear. We convoyed to the put in point and got what seemed a mountain of gear to the hut in 2 trips. Dad had the fire roaring and the hut warm and the water had dropped from the highs of the previous week. Still, the amazing amount of water that had flowed through was mind blowing. With gear stowed we headed out to set up the dekes for the morning hunt. The night was cold and clear, foreshadowing the cold front arriving the next day.

The boys were up, the fire lit and the show on the road at 5am, right on time. Coffee, bacon and eggs were consumed, warm gear and waders donned, then off to the ponds we headed. There was almost no wind at this stage, so Chewie got to work with the jerk string to create ripples on the pond. As the sun rose we began to be visited by ducks and soon had a few birds down. We got into our teamwork pretty quickly and the old Yeti was on fire, taking his shots really well. I wasn't on fire, missing what should've been mildly easy birds, but we had enough opportunities to keep us both on our toes. My mate got his first ever double on Shoveler and I missed a fantastic photo opportunity as Layla retrieved the lovely drake bird. The weather began to cut up, with drizzly rain coming through in waves - the perfect conditions for water fowling. Birds were moving in numbers now, not all answering our calls but enough that our pile grew. At 11.30 I had to pull the pin to prepare lunch, which would involve heating up some pies in the oven. I got the fire cranking, and washed the morning's dishes while the pies warmed. It wasn't until 12.15 that I emerged from the hut with the lunch, running into dad and Matt who were returning. The cold had got to dad and he needed to warm his core and Matt needed some bits and pieces. I'd stripped off my merino layer which had got damp with sweat while I was out working the dog on retrieves, and I quickly began to feel the chill. I told Chewie that I'd head back to the hut for a thermal layer and was out getting the punt ready when the sky was filled with swirling groups of vocal ducks. It was a sight to behold as small mobs circled us in every direction. This was reminiscent of  'the old days' when mobs of ducks would work in unison on their flight paths. It wasn't until we'd had several such instances that I was able to return to the pond, warmly clad. At that stage we had 12 birds in the bag and then suddenly a flight of 3 Shoveler zoomed in, curved tightly and shot back in front. I fired on instinct and dropped 2 but the third also appeared to be hit as it had flown in tight formation. It zoomed downwards. With a daily limit of 2 per person of these birds apiece, an addition to the bag would be an unfortunate consequence of hunting. Layla retrieved 2 beautiful drakes from the pond.

Chewie then took Layla out to see if he could find the third bird and while he was gone a sudden flurry of bird activity happened - first a brace of mallards came in which I took and then 3 more came in on cupped wings and I took the first 2 easily and then swung on the highest bird and dropped her. She came down with wings set and seemed to level out of her fall at the last second. As I waded across to direct Layla I saw her lying 50m away on the water, stone dead. Chewie was completing his circuit (sans any Shoveler) so picked her up. When he got back we agreed that we'd had a great shoot with 19 birds in hand and one missing in the woods and that he'd go and grab the other guys because for whatever reason the birds were avoiding their spot, pulling out of the 'final' pass at the last second.

Matt came into the maimai while Tony went back to the hut to grab some stuff - the first birds appeared immediately and after some circling Matt took a nice shot on a mallard drake. As he went out to look for his bird, Tony and dad arrived so Chewie and I decided to pack up and leave as this maimai is too small for 3 people, let alone 5. Matt came back with a dead grey duck - our missing bird and we left the guys to it. With 20 of our own birds plus 8 the other guys had shot there was a good pile of birds to be cleaned; we put aside some nice roasters for plucking and breasted out the rest.

Saturday's bag
After a cup of tea we decided to go and move the decoys from Watson's where the other boys had hunted in the morning, to Mclennan's which was also sheltered from the cold sw wind. With that done we stood in the maimai to watch the evening flight and what we saw was unbelievable. At 17.20 the sky began to fill with hundreds and hundreds of chattering ducks, headed inland in a SE direction. Mob after mob filled the sky and it continued until the sky became too dark and we packed up and headed back to base. Dad seemed unsurprised when we reported what we'd seen and mentioned that he'd witnessed it on pretty much a daily basis.

That evening Chewie prepared cheesy duck burritos and we ate like frenzied Labradors. personally I was stuffed so had a little nanna nap which became a full on night of sleep with Layla curled up beside me. Poor little thing was shattered and suffered some cramps. She'd burned off a couple of kilos since the start of the season despite getting extra food and has worked hard all day every day in the field.

We got on the road a bit later on Sunday morning and arrived at the pond right on shooting time. The wind had dropped and it was cool so I was glad for a down filled jacket but my toes were telling me a story. We didn't expect too much but in 3 hours managed 8 birds under bluebird conditions, a decent return on more of a fishing than hunting day.

The Swamp Yeti

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