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Posts Tagged ‘starling’


I believe that our ability to observe is more than just a skill which can be learned; and that for some it is truly natural; being able to process what we see differently and sometimes seeing what others around us can not.

Our sight combined with our other senses can enhance our hunts and give us the advantage we need in being able to harvest.

I am always trying to find ways to improve my observation so that it becomes almost instinctive. I really enjoy taking friends along on a hunt and quite often they simply come out for the pure enjoyment of nature and its wonders, from the deciduous forests in the valley to the wetlands along the Ottawa.

When we are out, I often point out a dark shadow or some movement in the swamp and almost always there is a grouse or a duck hidden away and sometimes it is quite a distance away. Being observant can really add some great flavor to the time spent in the wilderness.

Movement or shadows which are out-of-place help in being able to observe and identify game but also knowing patterns and habits. Just a few days ago a group of European starling flew in and landed right on my lawn then started working away at the worms and ants.

There is one particular red ant hill near the front of my property which is quite large and six of the starling bounced over right onto the ant hill and started to do a very strange wing flicking dance.

They took turns jumping inches off the ground like their feet were in hot water and then plucking down into the dirt with an ant in their bill. They then turned their heads into their wings as if to break the ant before eating it.

Now this is the first time I have observed this, I could not tell if they were preventing ants from coming up their wings or if it was some ritualistic dance to kill the ants before consuming them. It was fascinating to observe.

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A flock of Red-winged blackbirds and a few European starlings were chanting and flying around from tree top to tree top, through the pine and cedar woods to the north. Then following a strong breeze that blew in from the west, they would fly over to the nearest barn, as if they were being scooped up by the wind. You could hear their claws gripping the aluminum sheets on the roof as they slipped down its side. And then down they went to the lower brush to the east changing direction in flight with incredible agility allowing them to land directly where there was grain spread out on the muddy ground.

It was a beautiful day out in the country and the temperature was at about sixteen degrees Celsius with a strong breeze coming in from the west bringing along with it some dark grey clouds, that would momentarily hide the sun. Once the clouds had passed you could feel the heat on your face again, the sky then had a light blue color to it. The change of colors in the fields as the clouds cleared was stunning with the sun breaking through and this is a very important time to try and spot game.

On the drive in to the farm, I had noticed quite a few groundhogs all along the highway on the earth mounds on each side of the road and in and around the barns scattered over the countryside. I knew that the “Siffleuse” were active. In Quebec groundhogs are also known as the “Marmotte Siffleuse” because it stomps its feet and whistles if you get too close or when danger lurks.

After having spent the most part of an hour talking to the farmer about the local news over a nice hot cup of coffee, I decided to sight in my rifle scope taking a few shots into a safe shooting pit using a target that I built using Styrofoam. Using a modified sighting technique similar to that which Stephen Archer demonstrates on his Internet instructional video. Now that my grouping was nice and tight, I was ready for the days hunt. The fact that there was no varmint activity beside the cluster of barns to the east, made me change my plan and move toward the larger field to the west staying close to the northern tree line.

The farm consisted of a total of six barns and the network of holes all around them including the very large rock pile to the east had seen no groundhog activity for the past few weeks.

So I set off and was still-hunting for about thirty minutes to the west, until I came up to the wired fence, so I unloaded my rifle, jumped over the small creek and then got down on one knee and lifted the wire with my left hand and pushed my unloaded rifle under the fence and then using my right hand I pushed myself underneath the wire to the other side making myself as low as could.

On the other side of the fence there was dark mixed forest vegetation in the shape of an island between the east and west fields. Immediately to my front was one of the largest hay fields split in two by a ravine and at its top there were clusters of rocks with a network of groundhog holes where I had harvested some varmint last summer.

I also remember seeing some groundhogs hidden on the tree line on the other side of the field toward the south. So, once I made it past the wired fence and stood up in a standing position, I started to still-hunt across the field, loaded my rifle and placed it on safe. About half way across the field I noticed the groundhog sun-bathing on one of the largest rocks on the south side of the tree line.

He was looking right at me and had a great field of view to the north. So, I crouched down and moved across the field in the low ground. At this point I was almost kneeling and it was hard work making it across the field without my head and shoulders going over the crest. I was studying the trees to see which one had the widest trunk, so that I could use it to close in. I found a tree just wide enough to conceal me from the groundhog and I was able to close the gap between us. I would stop quite frequently get down and move slightly to my right towards the west as I was now heading south and I could still see the varmint sun-bathing on the large boulder just inside the tree line.

Once I reached part of the distance for my shot and was just meters from the cluster of rocks, I placed my left hand on the damp ground and moved forward some more than placed the rifle stock using my right hand onto the ground ensuring my movement was stealthy. I then moved into the prone position and started inching forward using the leopard crawl, placing myself in the perfect shooting position.

My heart was racing for several minutes now and I was practically out of breath from all the movement across the field, meanwhile the whole time I was also watching out for the cattle herd and its large bull just over the crest of the ravine.

Now in position behind the rocks on the edge of the forest only twenty-one yards out with my T-Bolt stock and barrel facing the large boulder in the south. Even though I was in position, it did not feel quite right and I had to reposition myself without setting off the groundhog into a whistling alarm causing him to retreat into his den.

So, I moved back inching myself backward using my entire body, I was practically slithering almost lifting myself off the ground using my forearms and the ball of my feet and then moving myself forward back into what I thought was the best shooting prone position.

I started to take my deep breaths and hold my breathing for a few seconds and then release and then breathing in again, this way I was controlling my chest movements. I did this three more times and on the third breath I released half of the air and steadied the Browning T-Bolt like a solid rock.

Once I reconfirmed my cross hairs were perfectly lined up with the groundhog’s vitals, I slowly released the trigger with the tip of my finger and the shot rang out “Snap” then I heard the thump and the varmint tumbled off the boulder near its den entrance.

This was the first groundhog harvest of the season, within minutes of returning to the barn to show the farmer my harvest, all the cattle started moving toward the boulders and rock formation and soon the entire herd filled the western hay-field.

I know that cattle are naturally curious animals but I have never fully understood why the cows always come over to the spot where I just harvested my groundhogs as long as there is no obstacle preventing them from doing so.

It was a great day to be a Varminter indeed!

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I was standing very still with my binoculars surveying the low ground over on the eastern field, trying to find any early signs of woodchuck presence. I set out to the farm shortly after lunch knowing that the groundhogs preferred to come out and move later in the afternoon. The wind was blowing hard in a north-easterly direction and the low dark clouds moved quickly through the sky and caused the field to change color. The spots where there was fresh dirt turned over or where a broken fence post lay played visual tricks on your eyes.

The air was chilled and the temperature was at about plus two degrees Celsius, the weather station had predicted about two centimeters of snow and this definitely was not ideal weather for the chucks. But I had seen about four others in nearby fields located at the other farms. As soon as it started to snow, the ice pellets started bouncing off the mud and the car parked on the side of the road, the sky got dark quite fast.

I had no choice but to sit and wait it out until the sky cleared. Twenty minutes had passed and the sun finally broke though. Still no sign of the woodchucks and I did not blame them especially with this weather being so un-predictable.  So, I decided to turn my focus on the Red Wing black birds and Rock Doves.

The farmer had scattered some grain for his cattle along with a few hay bales and this had drawn in a flock of Red wing black birds; this presented a fun challenge as they can be a difficult bird to harvest because they are easily alarmed and they travel in flocks so if you startle one bird they all disperse.

On the southern field and its northern side of the creek, were three old barns where I had harvested one of my first woodchucks of last summer. The first two barns were smaller and bunched together with only a few meters apart resting on the slope but the third barn was about thirty meters away and closer to the creek on leveled ground near the forest’s south-western edge.

The pigeons, red wing black birds along with robins and starlings were all gathered in the flooded field to the south of the third barn. So, I decided to descend the southern ridge and move my way along the electrical fence between the first two barns and begin a very slow and muddy stalk to the third barn towards the birds.

Earlier in the afternoon I had noticed the cattle were still feeding on the north side of the western field which was connected to the southern field with no fence separating the two. If you were to include the eastern hay field combined they would create a “U” shape around the main farming complex. As a general rule and as a question of respect, I always kept a safe distance from the cattle especially since they had several new calves this year and I was quite aware that this could change the whole dynamics of my current situation.

As I carefully stalked toward the third barn, I was constantly keeping watch for the larger bulls that were part of the drift of cattle. I made sure; I was stepping on solid ground and not sinking into the mud and always watching up the ridge to my right. The only time I did not have control over my position was between the second and third barn. So as I approached the western side of the second barn and made my way over a worn out wired fence. I positioned myself so that I could see the eastern side of the third barn to my front, the creek to my left and on my right the southern edge of the western field where the mob of cattle were feeding.

After several minutes of hard stalking I was now inching into position, and the birds were now within shooting distance lined up in my sights. Unknown to me for the first few seconds, I was also being stalked and considered a moving target. My right eye caught some movement and when I turned my head, I found myself face to face with a two thousand pound bull and he was only forty meters away.

He had seen me come down the ridge on his left and he had subsequently moved in parallel into the middle of the field were there was a slight depression and caused him to disappear momentarily; from there he could protect his drove of cattle and calves.

We were both looking right at each other and for those who thought cattle can not see very well; I just proved it they sure can. He lowered his head and was swinging it aggressively left to right letting out these incredible huffs that came from deep within the beast. He had this thick white saliva dropping out of its nose and from around its mouth and I can assure you it did not take me long to get the message. Just like in the Spanish Corrida de Torros, he dug his front legs into the fresh mud and lifted large chunks of dirt and then would lower his head into the mud and rub the saliva into the ground.

The charge was coming but I had anticipated this and only had six meters to cover back to the second barn or a fifty meter dash to the tree line to the west, so I slowly moved backward to the northern side of the barn and took cover behind the old wired fence and made my way back around the first barn and then behind the electrical fence.

Once I showed the bull, my intentions were to stay clear and move away, he just locked his eyes on me and continued to move large chucks of dirt under his hooves, letting out huffs and puffs.

I finally circled the bull from the east behind the protection of the electrical fence, and then I talked to him in a gentle voice complementing him on the way he protected his drove. He was an absolute stunning bull, pure black, the true definition of power and I will never forget his huffing and puffing, it was so deep like a fog horn and it made every bone in my body shake.

Awareness is so important during any hunt.

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