I remain convinced that global warming is a reality and that it has and is affecting our climate. Then, along comes the weekend of 22 November and we have a good old traditional icy blast down the east coasts of England and Scotland. On that weekend snow fell as far south as Suffolk. Inevitably, woodcock in the general east coast regions of the British Isles upped their roosts and set off in a south-westerly direction heading for the relatively frost-free regions of the West Country and Pembrokeshire. I have several times in the past 10 years or so doubted whether I would ever describe such a weather shift again. Even as I write in the first week in December, the Met Office people are predicting another cold spell. This is how it used to be frequently. Normal winters with normal weather patterns of cold spells with frost, hail, snow and sleet that would drive the birds south-westwards or down from the hill tops to their traditional wintering grounds. Things are looking good already, especially in the West Country.

England

In fact, woodcock numbers in the south west of England have been quite high since around the time of the full moon on 13 November. Sport picked up for the Okehampton woodcock shooters and shoot captain Barry Fudge reported on 12 November: “A real picture of autumn… six Guns shot one each with the other two missing. We saw 38 woodcock, all birds flying fast and strong and all shot birds were in good condition.”

In early November, headkeeper Mike Appleby found time to watch woodcock flighting. By 17 November, Mike’s Honeycombe shoot in Dorset had experienced a fall of woodcock. “On 14 November we shot an area of cover and saw only three woodcock. Three days later, we did the same place and flushed 14.”

By 16 November, woodcock in the Dartmoor region were shifting around. On the Okehampton shoot, the high of the previous week was diminished somewhat: “We only saw 17 and some of these were tired and slow, so were left to go. We finished with eight woodcock and a pigeon. I was pleased with that,” said Barry.

Up in County Durham, Chris Trewhitt was on a family shoot and saw eight woodcock. He also reported that the cover was still very heavy. Over in Derbyshire, Charles Fearn was having a better time of it: “We’ve seen 27 to-date and shot four. Two were juveniles and two were second-year birds.”

By 27 November, woodcock numbers in the south west had swung back to good: “Yesterday was a good day. We saw somewhere in the region of 50 woodcock. All drives produced woodcock bar one. When the final whistle went, we had shot 10 woodcock, six pigeon, two jays and three magpies. There were two chances of a right-and-left. I’ll settle for that,” said Barry. I have in fact been a guest of the Okehampton Club and I can vouch for how enjoyable a day it is. A great group of woodcock enthusiasts who are the perfect hosts and make you feel really welcome.

However, Mike Swan is feeling rather dejected given the positive reports he has been getting from me: “Looks as though you are better off than we are in Dorset. On our shoot on 29 November, we saw no more than I would expect at this time of year. I am still to shoot my first of the season. At flight time again there was nothing exceptional.”

Wales

Woodcock numbers in Wales increased significantly in the week following the full moon on 13 November. By the weekend of 22 November it was becoming clear that sizeable falls of woodcock had taken place. Patchy numbers gave way to positive reports of woodcock in good to extremely good numbers.

Earlier in the month Oliver West from mid-Wales reported: “We saw five on 8 November and Guns shot two. On one drive, after a shout of ‘woodcock’, there were five attempts to shoot it. They all missed.”

By 22 November, a picture of increased woodcock numbers was emerging. Some shoots had the highest numbers recorded for November ever. Mike Williams in mid-Wales reported “good numbers of woodcock on 22 November. We flushed 25 and had eight in the bag. All were quite plump and flew well in strong wind.”

Out on the same day in ice-cold heavy rain, a companion and I flushed 22 woodcock for three shot. There was a lot of missing. On three occasions my fingers and thumb were so cold and numb I could not get the safety off. I had also forgotten my waterproof coat and was soaked to the skin. It was a thoroughly depressing day. The following week I was out woodcock watching on three consecutive nights. On 24 November I saw four, including a pair. I saw two on 25 November and 11 on 26 November, including three pairs, the last of which swooped down to have a closer look at me and the dogs.

In the week commencing 25 November, woodcock numbers across Wales went into overdrive. On 29 November Williams, Williams, Jones and Williams Junior, in a rush to get back to see the rugby, restricted their outing to three hours. In this time they flushed 18 for four shot. On that day I also flushed 18 and I, too, was only out for a couple of hours.

Up in mid-Wales, Mike Williams’ team had one of their best days ever: “As you would expect, large numbers of woodcock flushed on 29 November. We flushed 45. The shooting was very good with 10 Guns and we made double figures. On 5 December we will be shooting our known woodcock woods, which should be interesting.”

Scotland

On cue, my good friend Michael MacKenzie delivered his post-full-moon report: “Some woodcock came in over the full moon. Driving back from Sutherland on the night of the moon, I saw good numbers on the verges. In the week beginning 17 November, I was out five days running and saw more than 160. The weather was shocking on Monday and Tuesday. What you might call proper rain.”

After a slow start, former Scottish rugby captain Rob Wainright’s spirits were lifted on 1 December: “It was so good [on the Isle of Coll] that we did not have lunch until 4pm. We flushed 52 birds including multiples of woodcock several times. The first flush saw three birds fly past Tom Davis. He got two out of three with his semi-auto. It was a record bag for us — 13 woodcock and four snipe. It was a great afternoon with more woodcock than I have ever seen here.”

By 1 December, Michael MacKenzie was reporting from Skye. “There are good numbers here too. We’ve had stunning weather, frosty with plenty of snow on the tops. We did a couple of smallish woods and saw more than 59.”

Ireland

Woodcock numbers in Ireland have improved in the latter part of November. Earlier in the month “Quinner” reported low numbers for County Londonderry. “On 14 November, only five rose and we shot two. The weather was mild and warm but there were strong winds. The birds sat very tight and in deep cover.”

In the Republic, Tony Kiernan had been seeing migrant woodcock since late October/early November. After the mid-month full moon he reported: “We had better shooting on the weekend of 14 November. We flushed 24 on Saturday, which were all shot in good condition. So far prospects look good.”

Down in the Burren region “Cock Robin” was also positive: “There have been plenty of reports of woodcock about. On my first jaunt on the weekend of 14 November, flushed 23 in horrible conditions. The weather needs to settle before we have a really good idea of numbers.”

By 29 November, things had improved for Dave Egan on Ireland’s west coast: “I saw a lot

of birds yesterday. We flushed in the region of 30 to 40.” However, in the south west a rather more pessimistic “Cock Robin” reported: “numbers here good but not spectacular.”

Conclusion

While my Russian contacts were still finding woodcock in the St Petersburg region in mid-November, it is now clearly the case that a full-blown migration has taken place. I think it safe to suggest that woodcock in recent years have hugged the east coast of England and Scotland given the mild weather conditions, but this year were forced to jump south-westwards. Currently, we are enjoying seasonal weather and given the recent snow falls in northern Britain, us in the south-west of the British Isles and in Ireland may be in for a very special season indeed.

Keep us updated with all your news on woodcock, email stwoodcock@ipcmedia.com

  • Matt Whittaker

    I am the keeper on Chedworth Manor Shoot, Gloucestersire, we shot 1 (yes 1!!) woodcock this season. According to the shoot owner who is MANY years older than myself, who keeps very detailed records of what is shot and from which parts of the estate on each shoot day, the last time we had so few in the bag was 1977!!! We normally shoot between 10-20 per season and see many more, this year we havnt even seen them. Now the season is over we are seeing them alot more! Typical!!