|Article from a national sporting newspaper of 1876
BY ” WILDFOWLER.”
SEAHAM HARBOUR AND BAY.
|A couple of months ago I was interceding with a military acquaintance for leave for his son to accompany me on one of my trips, but my gallant friend was obdurate. “Not until he has passed his exam.,” he said decisively, these are serious times for him, and I should not like him to be disturbed, do you see? “I understand your argument,” I re-remarked, “but allow me to observe that Frank has been very hard at work of late, and that a little change would do him good. He will get silly at last. Not that an army exam, is a very hard thing to pass, but still, cramming one’s head with all’sorts of things makes a fellow rather dull in the end.” He admitted that there was some truth in what I was arguing, but was nervous as to the result, and so we came to a compromise, in which the result of the examination was largely concerned. ” If you get on well,” he said to Frank,”we will all go to my brother’s, and then you can have your trip on the sea,” Frank, accordingly, ” wired ” into his books more than ever, and passed with flying colours. In consequence thereof the other morning all three of us were in the train for the north, and a very dull journey we had of it, too. Frank’s uncle lives in the neighbourhood of Seaham, and the only way of getting there was by dismounting at a certain station, whose name now escapes me, and thence driving through Houghton-le Spring to Seaham.This part of the journey was no joke for the mare, as the roads were hard frozen and very slippery. However, the coachman had got her “roughed” at the blacksmith’s, and we got on tolerably well, reaching the house of our entertainer at about half-past 6 p.m. The country from the station to Seaham is not particularly pretty, and the district being a coaly one the dust settles a little everywhere, and a good deal ‘n the neighbourhood of the pits. After dinner we discussed our plans of action for the morrow. We agreed to make it a shooting day along the sea shore, there being, according to the keeper’s account, lots of curlews about, in the cliffs and over the rocks, at low tide. Meanwhile, whilst Frank and I undertook that part of the affair, his father would get a boat ready for us for the following day, so as to have some sea fishing also. At daybreak the keeper woke us up; the weather was fine and bitterly cold; all the better for the success of our undertaking. Filled, then, with enthusiasm, Frank and your humble servant drove with the keeper to the shore, where we no sooner arrived than we heard many curlews calling almost on all sides. Seaham was not quite awake yet; but already its gunners were out, or at least some of them, for whilst we were putting our best feet foremost to reach the sands, we heard several shots fired consecutively, and saw a bird or two being knocked over. The fact of the matter was simply this:—Owing to the frost the fields and meadows were all hard, and the only place where the birds could find something to feed on was in the cliffs, where little threads of water always run and keep the ground moist, and on the sea-shore proper, when the receding tide left the sands soft and easily investigated by the hungry birds. We saw thousands of larks in the course of the day, and the sea-fowl—at least shore birds—were also very numerous. The keeper, with his double duck gun, walked at the top of the cliffs, whilst we two divided the shore between us. Frank walked near the land, and I kept near the sea. Between us three and the keeper’s strong retrieving spaniel some birds were bound to come into the bag, and some did.
The keeper opened the ball by firing both barrels towards the fields. Of coarse we could not see what he had been shooting at; but as he disappeared, and we heard him calling to the dog, “Fetch ’em, lad!” we conjectured rightly that be had brought some to grass. They turned out to be lapwings, and he had sbot three with his two barrels. I was looking at him and waiting until be was ready, when I heard the frou-frou of many wings, on my right side. I turned hastily, instinctively shouldering the gun as I did so, and let drive right and left into a flock of sandpipers. The keeper sent Sam, the dog, down, and he no sooner spied the wounded birds fluttering in the sea than he went at them, in spite of the breakers, and brought them up one after the other very sensibly. There were seven of them. I fastened their heads together with a bit of string, so as to make a lump of the lot, and gave them to the dog. He did not know what to do with them, and when his master whistled him he went, but without the birds. However, the keeper no sooner had him by his side than he sent him back with the order to “ Fetch ’em, lad,” and he came down at a gallop, took op the lot, and went up with them like a shot.
There is nothing like patience and perseverance in such matters. A little further on the keeper signed to us to proceed steadily. I stopped, being in the open, but he and Frank kept going. Suddenly they came upon their birds, three curlews feeding on the side of the cliff at a pool The keeper fired and did not hit. Frank fired and missed with his first barrel, but his second told on an old curlew with a beak the length of my gun barrel, more or less. The said long nosed bird, though winged, had kept the use of his long stilts, and he began a rare run, both of us backing him in a breath against the dog to reach a pool first, which he did; but his exertions had told on him, and Sam nabbed him and brought him back very proudly, whilst the curlew at the very top of his voice was shouting ten thousand murders! This being the first curlew Frank had ever killed, we agreed that the proper thing for us to do under the circumstances was to celebrate the event with the usual baptism. Sawyer (the keeper) came down with the flask, and I wished Frank many happy returns of the event in a bumper of sherry. “But,” said he, “I read somewhere that killing seven curlews is all a man can do in a life time. Have you ever shot a lot of them in one single day?” “Yes I shot fourteen once in two hours, in a couple of meadows on the South Coast, during the hard winter of 1870. The frost was so hard that only one brook was running, and they would stick to it in spite of my firing.
They rose, of course, at every report, but after sitting down for a while inland they would come again to the brook, when I would stalk them again. I could have shot more, but being alone. and loaded already with my fourteen birds, I gave it up.” Thus conversing we were making way, and when we reached the belt of rocks, the tide being on the ebb and half spent, we agreed that hiding in the rocks would not be a bad plan, and at once chose holes facing the cliffs, on the top of which Sawyer squatted, and agreed to sign to us when anything should turn up. I got a very nice rock, standing about 5ft 6in from the sand on both sides of me. On the top I disposed two or three bundles of grass, through which I could keep a look-out, and having made myself comfortable, and ascertained by a glance that no birds were as yet near I called out to Frank. “Yes,” he said. “Are you all right?” All right,” be replied. And now began the watching. Soon after we had ensconced ourselves a flock of grey plovers flew our way, but they settled on sea weeds some hundred yards from our guns.
Thereupon Frank left his biding place and came towards me, taking advantage of the rocks in the way, so as not to let the birds see him. u Let us drive at them.” he said in a whisper. “No, no,” 1 said, “They will attract more birds if we let them alone.” And the words were scarcely out of my mouth when Sawyer telegraphed to us from his “exalted” position. I peeped through the grass and bobbed down again at once. “There are two curlews now,” I said to Frank. “Where?” said he, with sparkling eyes. “Near the plovers.” “Let me look: so there are!” Then he looked again, and declared that the whole let were stalking about, but coming our way. Just then, however, some one fired a shot towards Seaham and the birds got up. The plovers went out to sea and the curlews passed between us and the cliff. We fired our four barrels, and the keeper his two, but we only got one bird. Now, after all this firing, it was likely enough that a little time would elapse before any more birds would come near us so I volunteered to go over the rocks and see if I could see any shots there. When I reached the extreme edge 1 saw several birds on the sea, but quite beyond reach. There were two or three companies about, and I made a note of it for the morrow.
When I came back we sat on stones, and began our lunch, but we were kept continually on the qui vive by passing birds. Our sandwiches gone, and the bottle of sherry emptied, we stepped forward once more. Sawyer climbed back to the top, as before, and in so doing he flushed a snipe from the soft mossy ground, and being unable to steady himself, he let it go. We did not expect it either, so that when the man called out in a stentorian voice ” Mark snipe!” we did not fire at it until it was nearly a hundred yards from us. Of course, we did not get it. Sawyer no, sooner reached his post than he sent the spaniel to beat the intervening softs, but we did not see any more snipe, although plenty of other birds were flushed. We turned back at about 2 p.m., and arrived at Seaham at 4. thoroughly “done for the day.” On reaching home we heard what preparations had been made for our next day trip on the sea. A hamper of provisions was ready in the hall, and the boat would be waiting for us at 8 a.m. “What about bait?” I inquired. This it appeared, had been overlooked altogether. We then sent into the town to get some mackerel, fresh, if possible, and the man coming back, after a good search, with bait a dozen,
At last, we saw three widgeons on our starboard a quarter of a mile off. “You come over here, sir,” said one of the
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