Sunday 2 September 2007

Pheasants and Stoats, A Garden Drama

Late every summer the fields and woods around my house are alive with young pheasants, released from their rearing pens so they can attempt to become at least semi-wild before being shot. Used to being fed by the gamekeeper they're relatively tame and clearly not sure how to cope in the wild. They often congregate on roads and it can be quite hard not to knock them down. (As an aside I regard this breeding of pheasants in order to release them in the wild and then pretend they are wild birds and shoot them as bizarre and unpleasant). This last week some of these pheasants have taken up residence in our garden, feeding on seeds and scraps that fall from bird tables and feeders (and occasionally trying to fly onto these, usually unsuccessfully due to their size). Not yet in full plumage the young birds looks quite strange with a mixture of soft fluffy feathers and the growing bronze smoothness of the beautiful adult feathers. Many of them have rather bare heads, which look even more reptilian than usual, a hint of their dinosaur ancestry.

I was watching three of these pheasants pecking around below a feeder outside the kitchen when they suddenly froze, lowered their heads and looked away from the house, all of them taking up identical poses, a rather strange sight. Smaller birds vanished and all was quiet, usually a sign of a predator around. Suddenly a stoat erupted from the heathers immediately below the kitchen window and raced away, pursued closely by a second one. Ignoring the pheasants, which were facing in the other direction and never saw them, the two stoats ran round the side of the house and disappeared. The pheasants relaxed and started to move and look less like statues and the first small birds returned to the feeders when, just a few minutes later, a sparrowhawk flashed round the corner of the house and swooped on a coal tit that just escaped, flying off with the hawk just inches behind it. Stoats and sparrowhawk in quick succession - it was an eventful time in the garden and I was glad I'd been watching the pheasants.

The action described took place too quickly for me even to think about grabbing a camera. I later took this picture, through the kitchen window, of a young cock pheasant in the garden. Photo info: Canon EOS 350D, Canon EF 80-200mm lens at 200mm (effectively 320mm), f8 @ 1/250, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG and processed in DxO Optics Pro.

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