Sunday, 28 November 2010

Fred and the Eagles.

When the "Fear Dubh" was around, and he had been around for some time now, no young animal, bird or fowl was safe from him. His territory stretched from New Shawbost in the north through Dalbeg and Dalmore, to Upper Carloway and Garenin in the south. The "Black One" in question, was a large black male mink, a long-term escapee, and these were his" killing fields". He was the sole ground predator in the area, and didn't always kill for food. Killing was often sport for the mink. Normally the mink will kill and eat fish from the river, nesting birds and their chicks and very often hens, cooped up in the hen house. It is in this latter situation that you see the mink at its deadliest and most ruthless. Within a few minutes the mink will dispatch up to twenty hens in a gratuitous orgy of killing. It will feed only on the viscera of perhaps three birds, eschewing totally the flesh. In such circumstances, the large part of his kill is "for sport". In a short time, he might be a long way off, indulging his sport in some other killing field. With an ongoing supply of food, the mink can range far and wide, and is almost impossible to locate, never mind eliminate. For the most part it travels unseen, and often strikes under the cover of darkness. The bloody carnage it leaves in its train is unmistakably the mark of the mink. So, people and animals in Dalmore were alert to the dangers posed by this escaped mink, and took whatever measures they could to trap or kill the "Black One". This could be very difficult, and even fatal for a small animal to attempt.
One morning, a week into the alert, So-Sally and Rupie took a walk down to the "traigh" (the shore), for nothing more than a stroll along the golden strand, caressed by the waves of the Atlantic and overlooked by the oldest rocks on earth. On the way back past the Allt, they noticed that Mrs Tunnag and her family of ducklings were not swimming in the river, as was their wont. Climbing down the sandy "bruach", they followed the river's course, well into Lot a' Bhoer (the Boer's croft), and it was only after a thorough search, that they discovered Mother Duck and her off-spring hiding under a bank of peat, well away from the river. Soho approached the ducks, and could see that Mrs Tunnag was in a distressed state. Her ducklings were hidden from view beneath her. Her beautiful black beak was streaked with tears, and her voice was just a whimper. She told how the previous day she was leading her little ducklings along the river bank, when out of nowhere and in an flash, a large mink attacked and killed two of her offspring. She asked that Soho and Rupie search along the river and bury her beautiful "tunnagean" by the allt where they were reared. The Shoudie cats tried as best they could to comfort Mrs Tunnag and her three remaining ducklings, but in any case, they led them to the safety of the barn at Taigh a' Bhoer.
The animals in Dalmore and Dalbeg convened a parliament the following morning, on the "Creagan" behind Taigh Glass to discuss all matters relating to the "Fear Dubh", the black mink, which in a short time, had brought fear and death to the "Dailean". People might lose a few hens which would cost them some money, but for the animals, this was something else altogether, a seriously frightening situation which would not be easily resolved.

Stowlia : I spoke to 'An 'Houdie about this grave situation, and asked him to alert Shonnie, Murchadh a' Bhoer and Iain Beag na Cnamhan, the three men in the village with shotguns, but the real problem is locating the mink, before a shot is fired.

Rupie : I can't see any of us cats, even So-sally, being a match for an adult male mink. This one, the Fear Dubh, is a particularly "bad stick". We will of course do all in our power to help, but I fear that it falls to the dogs to take the major role in this business.

Jura : Such fine prose, Rupie. I can see the influence of James Shaw-Grant in the Stornoway Gazette. The Sunday Times of London rated the "Casette" very highly indeed.

Fancy : Shonnie has a wee white ferret with red eyes, which he uses to catch rabbits, but it would be useless against this natural born killer. I fear that we must devise a master plan to trap and kill our foe, and one which minimises the risk to us all. There is no time to waste, so thinking caps on, everyone.

Victoria : As experienced and as tough as Tom Warrener and Kenny Iceland are, our hillbilly friends are still cats, and this mink is bigger, faster and extremely vicious. However, they could play an important part in our plan, if and when we devise one. Fancy is right in saying that we have no time to waste. We owe it to those ducklings and hens, to rid our villages of this unnatural predator. He's an American, for goodness sake !

It began to sound like the deliberations of The Famous Five on one of their picnics, with lashings of ginger beer.

Jura : The land cover in the village is a mix of heather, short grass,' machair' land and 'feannags' of corn or potatoes. He must be flushed out from hiding into the open ground. If we can't see the mink, we have no way of trapping him. But, help might yet be on its way. I had earlier asked Shonnie if we could invite my wee friend, Fred, from Renfrew up for a couple of weeks, and Shonnie said 'Yes', if Fred can make do in the weaving shed.

Stowlia : Pardon me, but who is this Fred, and how can he help us ?

Jura : Fred is a "Parson Russell Terrier". Basically, he is a Jack Russell Terrier with longer legs, and, in his case, a rough coat of white, black and tan. He has, as they say, " a nose like God knows". He is very swift, can turn on the space of a sixpence and is both fearless and tenacious. The Reverend John Russell crossed his terrier with a fox terrier to get a dog with longer legs, who could keep up with the hunt, and of course flush out the fox from its bolt hole. I am hoping he can do the same for us with the "Fear Dubh".

Fancy : For aerial reconnaissance, we have enlisted the help of our friends, the golden eagles. Gilleasbuig and his brother-in-law, the Kaiser from Harris are delighted to be part of our mink hunt. Gilleasbuig has asked that the gunmen refrain from shooting at them, as they usually do when the eagles fly high across Dalmore. They are now here to help, not harm.

The next morning, Fred the Terrier was introduced to the rest of the hunting party, and nodding in the direction of the eagles, he whispered very quietly to Jura "Big Man, who the hell are they ?" Although Fred was a dog with attitude, he and the eagles seemed to bond in no time. (a little time, perhaps) This really had to be seen to be believed. Iain Shoudie and Murdo rehearsed them thoroughly in what would be required in the hunt for the Black One. Fred and the eagles would have the leading roles, while everyone else would act as beaters, but only when directed to by Jura, overall coordinator of manoeuvres. The eagles and Fred rehearsed call signs that would be used. The shrill cry of the birds and Fred's piercing bark announced the start of the hunt. Yet they realised that they could not underestimate the guile and intelligence of this deadly animal.

Kenny Iceland and some of the "beaters" kept to the northern parts of the village and hill, familiar to Kenny. He and his party would move in a line, raising hell by barks and mewing, in order to force the Black One towards the "machair" where the grass was short. Kenny would inspect any rabbit burrows or overhangs, as the hunt progressed. Tom Warrener and party covered the other half of the village. Jura, hunt coordinator and Fred, occupied the centre ground, at all times ready for action. Gilleasbuig and the Kaiser were" the eyes in the sky", as they say, taking long slow sweeps across the glen. With these lads flying high, shotguns were now redundant, for which the boys from Beinn Bhragair were thankful. Having done one sweep of the valley, it was repeated by broadening the net.

There was no "result" on Day One, but towards the end of the second day, the eagles spotted the undulating movement of a black animal at Geodha an Uillt, near the cliffs on the north side of Dalmore Bay. Jura barked her orders that everyone, except Fred and the eagles, were to fall back. Fred was soon in place by the cliffs, waiting for instructions from Gilleasbuig, who with the Kaiser, was circling on high. At the word, Fred nosed his way from one rabbit hole to another, partly entering each, and giving a muffled bark. There was an explosion of action now as the Fear Dubh emerged from a burrow. Fred moved quickly and carefully towards the mink, who turned menacingly towards him. As Fred halted, he heard and felt this phenomenal rush of air behind him, to see Gilleasbuig carry off the Black One in his mighty talons to a high "creag", a little way off. The eagles were left with their prey, and the animals could live their idyll of life in the "Dailean". Mrs Tunnag resumed her life on the "allt" with her ducklings, the eagles went back to Beinn Bhragair, and Iain Shoudie sat on the bench outside the "taigh dubh", smoking his Golden Virginia, and holding his animal audience in thrall with tales of derring-do, "always new, and always true". Stowlia just smiled.


Allt - river/ bruach - steep bank/ tunnagean - ducklings
taigh a' Bhoer - the Boer's house /Murchadh - Murdo
Iain Beag na Cnamhan - Wee Iain "Bones"
machair - shoreline grass land/ feannags - strip fields
Geodha an Uillt - the cove or creek of the burn /creag - rock
Dailean - the Dales (Dalmore(big dale) and Dalbeg(small dale) )
taigh dubh - "black" or thatched house.

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