There have been some exceptional densities of woodcock this year. The full moon on 24 November brought fresh influxes into some regions, though migration stalled slightly in others.In some areas there are more woodcock than shooters can remember for a very long time. Wales, Ireland and the West Country benefited enormously from the first wave of migration in October and early November. In Scotland, it was the days before and after the full moon that saw a significant increase in numbers. Unfortunately, migration seems to have petered out for now at least, especially in Wales.
The news I am receiving from the east coast, however, suggests that plenty of woodcock are biding their time.Since the full moon, the weather has turned milder. On woodcock shooting forays of 20 and 30 years ago, I would expect to encounter days of hoar frost and hear a crackling underfoot. These were days of dead bracken and leafless trees all growth came to a stop. This year, in late November, I came across foxgloves and honeysuckle in bloom and, in my garden, roses in flower. It is a wonder that we have woodcock migrating at all. The positive side is that it would appear that winter survival rates are much higher. A high percentage of woodcock shot have been juveniles, which consolidates the view given by Dr Yves Ferrand of a high ratio of juveniles this season.
Woodcock shooters in England should rejoice this season they appear to be having the best of it.Mike Appleby, headkeeper at Honeycombe Shoot, in Dorset, reported: Out on 19 November, horrendous weather but saw woodcock on all the drives.
In Devon, the Okehampton Woodcock Club was in the thick of it: Saw 45 woodcock, some were tired these were left. Several chances of a right-and-left went begging. Eight Guns shot six. We all agreed it was a really good day. Again on 28 November, Captain Barry Fudge, an inspirational shoot captain, reported: 16 Guns, including walking wounded made it to the Quiditch Plantation. There was not a drive without woodcock. We saw 80-plus woodcock, with 20 shot. It was a splendid day, the likes of which we have not seen for several years.
My Dorset and Devon contacts are enjoying a very good season they are also of the opinion that there are more woodcock to come, as already they are seeing far more than normal for this time of year. Mike Swan contacted me to confirm that his part of southern England was also stacked with woodcock: Had a really good fall hereabouts on the last moon. It was like a good January day on our little shoot on 24 November. I do not think they have moved on in the way the first lot seemed to.
On 18 November, counting woodcock flighting at dusk, I clocked up another first. I had seen five, when number six appeared at the top of the clearing heading straight for me not more than 15ft up. I was hiding behind a small tree and it saw me at the last moment, panicked and was treading air directly above me when it let out an alarm call. Until that moment I had never heard anything like it. I found it hard to describe in words until I spoke to Mike Appleby. He told me: Last season, I was walking along just after a drive had finished. A woodcock came along the ride and only saw us at the very last minute it made a peeping sort of noise as it veered to avoid us. I am aware that woodcock make a “frog-like” croak during the mating ritual, but have never come across any reference to an alarm call.
Around this time I was receiving daily reports of high densities of woodcock. The Camddwr shoot, in Mid-Wales, reported 35 flushed in a short day and more snipe than usual. Down in the Vale of Glamorgan, ST chef Mark Hinge was also reporting woodcock activity but of a slightly different kind: Reports of woodcock have come in from all over the vale. One was found resting on the steps of a local pub, in the hub-bub of Canton in the City of Cardiff. A common theme was thin birds. I had received earlier reports of this but the Camddwr shoot highlighted it: The birds were thin and seemed to be on the small size. In the last week of November, Roger Evans in West Wales was still enjoying the woodcock.
One stood out as very large and a golden colour. Around this time, I shot a large bird that weighed 14oz and was more ginger or cinnamon than brown. Mike Thomas Palmer, in North Cardigan, highlighted the preponderance of juveniles in the bag and that a number of birds were on the thin side.Friday 30 November was a particularly windy day in West Wales. Both Mike Sherman and I were out, but in different parts of the country. Mike saw more than 60, while I saw 19 in one and a half hours. The shooting was exciting but extremely difficult. Once the woodcock cleared the top of the cover they were whipped away by the wind at an incredible speed. By that weekend, assessment of woodcock densities was starting to change. Roger Evans, in West Wales, suggested: Numbers have reduced and they have moved on. I was expecting another influx in late November but this does not appear to have happened.
Ianto Hicks, in South Wales, was of the view: The arrival of the full moon brought with it some disappointment in this locality.
I am in excellent woodcock country where I shoot and numbers have not increased. By Saturday 1 December, positive reports were once more coming in. In my case, I flushed more woodcock than many people see in a season, and on the Camddwr shoot matters were back to normal: 1 December, one of our woodcock-only days. Flushed 30 for 19 shot all strong, fat, healthy birds. The majority were adults.
North of the Border, Rob Wainwright was a worried man at the beginning of November, as he was seeing few woodcock, but by 20 November matters had improved. Rob reported: Good numbers of cock now appearing. By 28 November, Rob confirmed that on the Isle of Coll: Woodcock have landed, and in numbers. We had a staggering 31 flushes today? easily the most I have ever seen here. It looks like they had a good breeding season and puts to bed any worries. On the Isle of Skye, Michael Mackenzie has experienced a pretty average start to the season: A reasonable fall on the October moon, an increase the week prior to the November moon, but I wouldn’t say we’ve had the large numbers. We have been hit by seriously wet and windy weather which has not helped. Seeing 25 to 30 a day, but conditions are tough? the woodcock are in superb condition.
At the beginning of November Cock Robin reported: Woodcock appear to have scattered to the four corners, the weather has been unseasonably mild and I feel that birds have been able to rest and feed virtually everywhere, making locating them very hard. Woodcock numbers continue to improve in Ireland. Dave Egan, in County Cork, declared: Numbers are high this season. There were lots of birds around in mid-November? flushing 30 to 40 a day. Now in early December the weather has turned wet and mild and they have moved. Simply out of interest, Dave has employed a rather unusual tactic this season: Out shooting foxes after dark on 27 November, I spotted a woodcock no more than 20 yards from me. I thought it a perfect time to try this new caller I bought. To my amazement the bird took notice and walked towards me. Then another appeared from the long grass and joined it. I was so excited I laughed out loud which caused the birds to fly off.
Further up the west coast of Ireland at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Patrick O’Flaherty had this to say: Great show of woodcock in late November. Saw 130 over two days. This week birds scattered after storms but there are still birds about in some numbers. Over in the Midlands, a very complimentary John Bourke reported: Glad to report that your earlier prognosis proved correct as the woodcock have arrived in some numbers. In the Burren region, Cock Robin confirmed large numbers of woodcock in the days leading up to the full moon: No problem to flush 40 birds in a day. Lots of birds hugging the fringes of the forestries. Lots of woodcock up in Mayo also. Confirmation of good numbers of cock in County Mayo also came from Ray Devine: The weather is mild but the woodcock shooting is very good. My lad Gary shot his first right-and-left last week and is looking forward to joining the ST Woodcock Club.
My contacts at the European Federation of Woodcock Hunting Clubs assure me that this season continues to be good. However, in north-west France, my friend Dr Jean Paul Boidot, of the French Woodcock Club (CNB), shared his concern that: After a very good start, woodcock haunts in Brittany are unoccupied. The second wave, our usual main migration, is yet to arrive. It has become very mild. I think they are stuck midway at higher altitude. Dr Yves Ferrand, of the French Game Department, reassured me: The numbers of woodcock are higher than normally the case? it will be a good hunting season
in all wintering sites in south and west Europe.
The season is progressing in a satisfactory manner. The broadcast is delivering fairly accurate predictions. There have been numerous reports of high ratios of juveniles, so it can be expected that there is a large second wave somewhere. I do not think it is stuck on the coastal belt of Norway or Sweden this year. I think there are more woodcock in the eastern regions of England and Scotland than people realise or are willing to admit. There is still time for what Colin McKelvie describes as “the big dollop” of migrating woodcock to arrive.
Keep us updated with all your news on woodcock, email firstname.lastname@example.org