A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hooptedoodle #218 – The Pheasants' Wars

It hasn’t been a severe winter here – it’s been long and dark and wet (for the first time ever, our front door expanded with the damp until it wouldn’t open), but not particularly cold or stormy, yet it is still wonderful to see some sunny weather as the year starts to roll along.

As ever, the bird-feeders are busy all day, and the perching customers, who are clumsy eaters, spill enough to maintain a steady crowd of ground-feeding chaffinches, blackbirds and other fellows who prefer not to eat while hanging onto something precarious.

Which brings us to the pheasants. The Rite of Spring is here, and no mistake. Deer were fighting in our neighbour’s garden this morning (it only looked like a rehearsal, to be honest), and the pheasants have now turned our garden into something very like Jurassic Park.

Algernon - Are you looking at me...?
We’ve always had pheasants here – they have featured in this blog from time to time – they are great characters, some of them, and we usually have the odd one wandering about, but their domestic and nuptial arrangements have always been carried on in private, in the woods behind our house. This year is different – we now have a family who actually live in our garden – in fact a more accurate expression would be “own our garden”. They have taken over. I have previously introduced Algernon, who is normally here anyway (he is the fellow who surprised us by surviving last December’s shooting parties – he returned after I had written him out of the saga). Algernon and his immediate family and friends have now requisitioned our garden. They are entertaining, but they are very noisy, and they are becoming something of a nuisance.

Some things to understand about the ring-necked pheasant, at least as we know it here in the Scottish Lowlands:

(1) They were introduced, centuries ago, from China (or somewhere), they are heavily inbred, and an adult pheasant has about the same intelligence as an average peanut. Officially, the hens nest under hedges and bushes, but in reality they make a very poor job of this, and frequently forget where they have left their eggs (to the delight of hedgehogs and similar). Our resident ghillie (gamekeeper) buys in many pheasant chicks each year – without this, I’m not convinced that natural pheasant demographics would sustain the population. If they died out in this part of the world I would miss them, of course, but what would the local farmers do with all those shotguns during the Winter?

Bad mothers - we will never know who left this egg on the terrace - they
refuse to do things by the book
(2) An adult cock pheasant can grow to something a little short of 2Kg, though they look much more substantial than that. They are aggressive, raucous, and have the aerodynamic properties and natural grace of a Christmas pudding. To put it bluntly, they are very poor flyers.

Note the fight damage on Algy's neck

(3) Mathematics. Algernon has acquired no less than five wives. The truth of the matter is that there are not enough females to go round. At 5:1, there is a desperate fight for mates. Algernon has a dreadful time trying to keep interlopers away from his hens – mostly unsuccessfully. There is a constant, and very noisy, French farce taking place behind our house.

Algernon is starting to look very ragged, and it’s hardly surprising. When his ladies are feeding, all together, he stands guard – often on one leg – glaring about for threats, real or imagined. This frenzy reaches its peak in the early evening. Two days ago, after tea, my son and I were outside doing some work on one of the bicycles when suddenly all hell broke loose. Algernon chased a rogue male right across the garden, and they both crashed head-on into the timber fence between our garden and Zebe’s, next door. If we had had a pond it would have had ripples on it from the shockwave. Then the fight spilled over into the woods – the fugitive escaped, but The Bold Algy collided with a tree trunk, and staggered back to his garden in rather bewildered triumph. The females were running about the place, shrieking, throughout.

This is not the sort of incident you can choose to ignore as you sip a relaxed glass of wine on the terrace – it’s really pretty alarming. No doubt things will calm down quite soon. Algy’s hormones, or his memory, will lose interest, or maybe he will injure himself seriously, and life will return to something a bit more normal.

On a gentler note, we have seen some more old friends in the garden. We haven’t had Blackcaps here for years – well they’re back; the Contesse has yet to get a decent picture of the female (who is similar to the male, but has a rusty-brown cap).  We think the Siskins have moved on now, but I thought I should put up some nice photos of them. Blackcaps are a variety of warbler, I understand - we don't get any other warblers here, so they are special visitors.

Mr Blackcap

Mrs Blackcap is a little more shy - she's just visible inside the fat-ball cage, with
a performing Bluetit trying to attract attention at top left

And some more Siskin shots...

Oh, how lovely, they all murmured.

Elsewhere, I saw about half a dozen Avocets flying over the farm fields - they are not really supposed to be around here - certainly I've never seen them before.

Avocet - library picture

1 comment:

  1. Avocets' eh? Very impressive. Never seen one of those.

    I have to endorse your comments on the intelligence and aerodynamics of the pheasant. There isn't a car in our village doesn't have a pheasant-shaped dent somewhere, owing to the daft creatures' habit of panicking out of hiding and into the path of oncoming vehicles, rather than away from them.