Unfortunate blunders

Not the young khaki Campbells I bought, as they wouldn't stay still for a pic. These are some wild mallard ducklings in my garden

Not the young khaki Campbells I bought, as they wouldn’t stay still for a pic. These are some wild mallard ducklings in my garden

Not one of us has not made a mistake, sometimes suffering unfortunate consequences. My mistake last Thursday was to leave later than usual to go to Oban to collect my new ducks. For many years I have bought khaki Campbell ducks, halfway towards point of lay, from a man in Skye. He buys in the ducks – the Kortland strain of khaki Campbells, which lay about 340 eggs a year – at day old. When the ducks are about 8 weeks old he arranges for the buyers to meet him at Fort William and at Oban to receive their ducks. I have always gone to Oban.

My wife and I (and sometimes a granddaughter or two) normally set off early but our departure was delayed on Thursday. The result was that when we reached Loch Awe there had been a bad accident ahead of us and the road was blocked. We drove into the visitor centre at Cruachan to have a coffee, noting (though we could hardly miss it) the NHS air ambulance in the car park. The helicopter was till in situ when we had finished our coffee but the traffic queue had gone.  Enquiries, though, revealed that the queuing vehicles had turned about as the road would not be cleared till the afternoon. The detour to Oban via Campbelltown was at least 70 miles, but though we started off on this route, we abandoned it at Inverary as we had been held up en route by roadworks and the dreaded convoy system.

Having spent a pleasant hour at Inverary, we headed home, but I was hardly in the door when the duck vendor phoned to say he realised we were held up and had left my ducks at the market at Oban! I had no alternative but to set off again on yet another 4 hour return journey. I cursed my mistake of setting off later than usual, but couldn’t help thinking that the consequences of my mistake were minimal compared with those in the road accident.

Ducks seem my nemesis. The following day I had a tray of ducks eggs to deliver. I went to put it in the car but the car was locked, so temporarily left it on the car roof. I need say no more, but was reminded of the tray when it slid off the roof and down the back window more than a mile from my house. Strangely the first thing I thought of was that my driving must have been good for it to have remained on the roof so long. No doubt some corvids benefited from mistake number 2.

I considered then a hilarious mistake by police officers that I recounted in Wildlife Detective, in a chapter entitled Some Short Cases……

“The subject of trees brings me on to the final incident which involved a body hanging from a tree.  A friend of mine, Bert Burnett, who is a gamekeeper in Glen Prosen in Angus, was being pestered by buzzards at his pheasant release pens.  Young buzzards in particular can be a nuisance to gamekeepers as they (the buzzards) try out their skills at killing birds.  Young pheasants contained in release pens are an ideal target and though young buzzards can kill one or two, the biggest damage is probably caused by the pheasants being panicked into a corner of the pen where a number of them can be smothered by their terrified brethren.  Though Bert makes no secret of the fact that he does not like buzzards, any action he might take to minimise their effect on game birds is within the law.

Bert was surprised one day to see two police officers on the estate walking towards one of the woods.  He thought to himself, eloquently, “What the fuck do they want here.”  To elicit the answer he hot-footed it down to the wood to meet the officers.  The answer to the question was that someone had reported that a man had hung himself from a tree in the wood and that the officers were responding to that call.  The ‘man’ was a scarecrow that Bert had hung in his pheasant pen to discourage attacks on his pheasant poults by birds of prey.  He had painstakingly made the dummy from light wire that he had formed roughly into a human shape and clothed in light and brightly coloured clothing.  He then hung it from a thin, springy branch of a tree where even on the slightest puff of breeze the dummy would move and simulate a human.  His efforts had been too precise and had panicked a walker into calling the police.  Despite seeing for themselves that the ‘suicidal man’ was a scarecrow – or scarebuzzard to be more exact – the police insisted in taking the dummy away with them.  I can’t understand why but it added to Bert’s indignation, and eventually amusement, that they did so.

It was doubtful that a post mortem examination was required to establish that the man was a dummy and it was eventually returned to Bert by the police officers once they were absolutely satisfied that there was no need to report the matter to the procurator fiscal as a suicide.  Having already created an embarrassing situation they compounded it by telling Bert that, at the time they took the ‘man’ away, a person had been reported as missing and was wearing similar clothing!”

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