GRADUALLY plans for the new season shooting programme are firming up. Days for this autumn and early next year marked off on the calendar.

A note on a cheque book stub, figure not written in I note in case I flipped, just scrawled with “birds”. Referring, I deduce, to the feathered variety. But not all of the transactions can be kept completely hidden from me, which was why I was included on a trip to a local game farm to buy some mallards.

A cacophony of quacks greeted our ears as John backed the Land Rover and trailer into a shed housing several hundred ducks. We were there to pick up some ex layers to release onto our pond.

Since the otter raids last winter scared off most of the resident duck population, and decimated the fish stocks, the pond has not seen the range of wildlife it normally enjoys.

Gradually, however, a few moorhens and mallards have returned, and once more a pair of geese raised a small gaggle of goslings.

In the shed the ducks were herded into a run then carefully transferred into the crates in our trailer. We had left our order a little too late to buy young ducks, so these ex layers had struck lucky, and after a season of egg production, were now being granted the freedom of a pond.

On being released, however, one or two of them did not appreciate that their lifestyle was about to change, and immediately flew off. The rest tumbled out of their crates and took to the water with a series of gratified and gratifying quacks. And, in fact, I noticed that the escapees, after landing in a grass field next to the pond, then all walked, or waddled, back to the water and their friends.

Before any of the ducks were given their freedom though, John had spread a line of corn out for them on a shallow bank. Most of the pond is surrounded by yellow flag iris.

The plants provide excellent cover for the moorhens and ducks to nest, but also for predators to hide in too. A small bank, however, clear of any growth, makes for an excellent feeding station and also an exit and entry spot to the water where these predators cannot ambush the ducks. After a few laps of the pond, our birds soon spotted the grain and waddled out of the water to feed. Once John had seen that they had found the feeding area he relaxed and after finishing off the grain the ducks all took to the water again, contentedly quacking and up tail and dabbling in the shallows. Let’s hope they stick around till the autumn.