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Starting at a Young Age
Daniel Webb recalls his first flight, aged 14

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It was a Sunday morning in early December, a hoar frost coated the grass of the seawall as my guide and I marched seawards. The morning was still and cold and the sounds of curlew and redshank feeding on the mud could be clearly heard from a great distance away. These sounds, however familiar, will always be the sounds for me associated with estuaries and the marshes of the east coast.

The tide was well out when we reached our flighting position, which was as the back of a small piece of salting intersected by a few small creeks. Behind the seawall was a piece of land that had been flooded by the club by creating a breech in the seawall, along this ran a large creek, travelling parallel to the seawall. New plants were already colonising this area, by high tide I was able to see what a wonderful wildfowl habitat this was.

My guide soon had a hide erected as well as this a few decoys had been deposited in the creeks in front of us and a pair in the large creek behind us. As dawn broke a few teal started to flit out from all directions although few provided a shot. The sight though of duck, particularly these tiny streamlined ones flighting against the dawn sky, instantly caught my imagination. As the sun rose I was able to study the entire scene properly. The muds were thronged with all sorts of waders and in huge numbers. Dunlin flew about in their teetering flocks; curlew trilled their wonderful bubbling song a sound so reminiscent of their moorland breeding grounds and oystercatchers probed for tit-bits on a far scaup bed. At length the tide began to noticeably turn and a few teal and mallard began to move about.

Once the decoys were afloat a few began to decoy although my terrible shooting prevented any reaching the inside of the gamebag. My guide soon put this right however by ‘finishing’ off a drake teal I had supposedly clipped. The beauty of this duck was quite astounding, the iridescent green speculum, the bright under tail coverts and most noticeably the striking green and rich chestnut head, a truly perfectly formed creature, handsome in every feather. A few minutes later and a hen was lying next to him for the journey back to the van.

That was the end of my first morning out ‘fowling. I don’t know what made me realise from then on that wildfowling was the sport I wanted to pursue; it may have been the sight of teal scurrying across the salmon of the eastern sky, or the musical piping of the wader bands or possibly the sheer wildness of that vast expanse of mud and water. Probably it was a combination of all these factors and more that made it an experience I wanted to experience time and time again.

So later that season my father and I managed to speak to the secretary of a local wildfowling club who very quickly obtained us day tickets and readied us for membership. It was still necessary to shoot with my father as I was only 14 at the time, unfortunately keen shooting man though he was wildfowling was not to prove to be a sport for him. Our first day was undertaken in the January of that season on a large inland marsh in the Waveney valley in Norfolk. These had a look of the Washes about them, it was a place that suited the drabness of winter, when the floods were up and a full moon was riding in the sky it becomes a truly beautiful landscape.

The marshes on this day however were relatively un-flooded with only a few small flashes about, this however I was informed was perfect for teal, wigeon and our daytime quarry, snipe. The day was relatively windy and the shooting tricky however a few snipe did find their way into the bag. Some of the flashes had a few signs of duck feeding in them so the prospects seemed exciting and the evening flight was eagerly anticipated.

The marsh chosen was extremely low lying and probably had the most even spread of water over it. This was in general two too five inches deep and just ideal for all species of dabbling duck to drop into. As the evening sky turned through its autumnal colours a lone duck appeared heading for me, this was missed rather easily. As the last of the light vanished a strange noise hit my ear through the wind, a sound like tearing paper. I glimpsed them briefly, of course they were teal, what other ducks sound quite like that. The shooting was fast but only lasted a few minutes. It was an unforgettable experience, suddenly seeing those tiny shapes against a last gash of light, the sounds of their tiny wings seeming to come from all quarters and the occasional plop as a one manages to drop into the flood water. Since then I have only been where the teal want to be once or twice but when it happens it is well worth the wait!

A week or so later my father and I were invited to join the same chap on an evening flight on one of the saltings at the mouth of the clubs main estuary. Again there was a strong wind and a real chill in the air. The estuary here is divided from the sea by a shingle bank, to the north the estuary winds its narrow course before heading west. Out to the west of us the marshes had a Dickensian feel, they were very flat, the main interspersions being an old pumping station and the prison. The salting itself ran along both sides of a large creek, on its eastern side were a pair of large mud pans where the curlew and redshank were busy feeding. This has become one of my favourite marshes for some reason. The chances of duck here were not great due to over shooting as the access was rather easy and the prison on its western horizon were hardly factors likely to enhance my enjoyment of the place but somehow it did not effect my appreciation of the place. The over shooting problem was however overcome as I hope to explain later.

Well back to the flight. The tide was quite a distance out on arrival although a few duck were moving a bout over the shingle spit on the far side of the estuary. One of these groups, a band of mallard swung over our guide who missed them handsomely with three shots. A tufted duck then swung in high over myself and was missed by myself and then my father. Evening flight was a bit of a let down although I did manage a shot at a group of teal. The important thing was though that afternoon had confirmed that I did really have the desire to become a wildfowler and that I did have a love of these wild tracts of land where the land meets the sea in the world of the shore birds and wildfowl.


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