Scolopax rusticula – An autumn visitor, doubtless also a resident in limited numbers.
Although we have no instance of a Woodcock’s nest having been found in the county, it must certainly breed occasionally, if not regularly, in some of the large covers.
We had always formed to ourselves large expectations of the sport to be had in Pembrokeshire in Woodcock shooting, and it was chiefly on this account that we were led to fix for a time our residence in the county. But we were greatly disappointed. The days of large bags seem to have passed away; and, although old sportsmen had great things to tell of doings at some of the famous covers in by-gone years, in our own experience Pembrokeshire seemed to rank far behind Devonshire as a Woodcock county.
Through the kindness of our old friend Colonel John Owen, of Rosebush, who for many years rented the Trecwn shooting, we had many days with him in those beautiful covers where rhododendrons and alders combine to make attractive lodgings for the Cocks, and on several occasions found them plentiful; one day we must have had over a hundred flushes. In beating the Trecwn covers we generally began by trying the wooded hill-sides in order to drive the Cocks down into the large alder-beds in the valley, where we would finish in the afternoon. Here the Cocks would be sometimes plentiful, and almost every step forward flushes would ensue. Watching the ground carefully between the alder stools we would occasionally detect a Cock, or a couple of Cocks, squatting upon the ground; others moved elsewhere would fly towards us, and settle at our feet. As the birds were flushed again they often disappointed us of a shot by darting off through the bushes, only a foot or two above the ground, when we dared not fire for fear of hitting a beater, or one of the other guns, for in such a cover it was next to impossible to keep in line. We were careful not to shoot unless the Cocks topped the alders, or crossed us above them. Woodcock shooting with a party in large alder covers is dangerous work, and a rash shot might speedily afford employment for the doctors.
We have enjoyed good sport in the covers of Sealyham, Cuffern, Tregwynt, in the woods near the Tufton Arms, &c, &c, and in our own small covers at Stone Hall there would frequently be a good show of Cocks, when a passing flight would drop in, and we have flushed as many as 50 of a morning. We often had Cocks in the kitchen garden, and among the rhododendrons and laurels on the lawn. The covers at Slebech are noted for Woodcocks, and in former years 60 would be bagged there in a day’s shoot.
In mild and wet weather the Cocks resort to the high furze on hill-sides, and in such places we have found them in considerable numbers. In snows, and in hard black frosts, they leave the covers for the coast. In the severe winter of 1880 great numbers were shot at St. David’s. A friend tells us that he then found one of the hotels there full of Woodcocks, and sportsmen would go out and return in a couple of hours with their pockets full.
All the little furzy combes running down towards the sea were thronged with them, and there was one little spot close to the stream which runs at the back of the old Cathedral where directly a Cock was shot another came and took its place, and this went on throughout the day. In the beautiful covers at Tregwynt which face the sea over 40 Cocks have been killed in a day during a deep snow. We have flushed numbers of Cocks some seasons up to the end of March, when we have been fishing the Cleddy, and working our way through covers bordering the stream, and as the Woodcock nests early in the year we felt convinced that some of these late birds must remain in the county to breed. We have seen a very pretty variety that was shot in the south of the county, that had its back and shoulders thickly mottled with small patches of white.
Sir Hugh Owen has told us that he has shot ” small dark Cocks of only 7 ozs.” Many sportsmen look upon these extra small birds as a distinct species, asserting that when they are flushed they dart off at once, like a Snipe ; but Cocks vary much in size and weight, and we believe these very small-sized birds to be merely the young birds of the year, and the offspring, probably, of small birds.
We invariably found the labourers, and farm people in general, when we were out shooting, eager to give us information respecting any “cyffylog” or Woodcock, they had seen ; it was evidently in their opinion, the sportsman’s bird, and in comparison they attached but small importance to the “petrusen,” the Partridges, or to the “faysants; ” next to the Woodcock a hare, doubtless because of its extreme rarity, the “ysgyfarnog” was considered worthy of being reported.
As is well known, Woodcocks gladly avail themselves of any holly bushes in the covers, because of the dry and warm shelter afforded by their thick leaves. If, as a holly bush is approached, the ground beneath it is carefully scrutinised, the bird may sometimes be seen squatting, and we have frequently succeeded in espying one. We remember being present at a shoot at which, at the end of the day, four Cocks were found to be included in the bag, all four having been potted on the ground beneath the shelter of holly-bushes.