Hunt Diaries – A Day in Life of a Partridge

Brig (Retd) Azam agha, Islamabad

Tonight it was bitterly cold. The persistent wind as it blew from the north penetrated through scant cover of “Phulai” tree that my family had selected for a temporary home. We moved here three days ago when at night our last tree home was devastated by shattering gunfire and sadly my happy family was reduced to my two siblings and me. In a moment my whole family was torn away from me and with that was gone wise and experienced leadership of my parents. Three of us who survived the disaster spent remainder of that night dispersed and tensed in a nearby field of partially cut “Bajra”. It was our frantic calls for company in the morning that brought three of us together and we were at a loss as to how to continue our lives in a drastically changed world. Gone were the days when twelve of us happily scratched away in nearby fields looking for seeds and worms. Gone with it were the happy and melodious calls of my parents announcing to the whole tribe limits of our territory. With one shot the human predators had changed all that and we three found ourselves striving for survival.

The cold kept increasing as we huddled closer for warmth, the memory of that night blast still fresh in our minds every crunch or squeak kept us on edge. Mercifully for me the night suddenly started to give way to dawn. The false dawn with promise of life giving warmth of following sun rays buoyed my spirits and timeless instincts forced the morning call in a shrill tone from my throat. ” chillu chillu chillu……” Filled the air and could be heard over a long distance at the same time announcing tenuous hold of my remaining clan over the territory. Sun had now shown its face from over the close by hillock and warmer blood was pumping new life into my cold body, and with it new hope for continuation of life. As the rays of a brilliant sun cradled my tree house, remaining kernels of ” bajra” started to weave and sway in the gentle morning breeze. The nearby field thus beckoned us to breakfast and to new life.

I was famished as afternoon feeding time was cut short yesterday due to early moving in of clouds and of course clouds always forced us out of fields scampering for cover under thick bushes. Sunlight is a great gift of God as apart from its life giving warmth, it helps in detecting a Hawk attack with my super fast reactions always alerting me to the raptor’s shadow before it struck. I finally gathered courage and jumped down in a clearing before scanning the surroundings for jungle cat or a fox lurking in the nearby bushes. My ascent gave courage to the other two and soon they too joined me. Immediately we started scratching the still frozen ground and looking for fallen seed or grubs. While frolicking such we ensured that one of of us was always on guard scanning surroundings for any threat. I carefully scanned the sky and found the Hawk circling above in the far distance and looking for an unwary prey, it was disinterested and probably had not picked up the slight movement that was made by our ascent to the ground.

Then there was distant sound of people talking as they roused themselves and slowly went about their business. After some tentative steps, we started towards our “bajra” field for a much needed breakfast. A slight movement in the brush alerted us to the presence of a fox patiently awaiting our arrival in the field and in a blurr we took to the wing and reached higher slope of our hillock. We landed dispersed in knee high grass and low “kough kough” helped us locate each other as we quickly got together again. With my heart beating furiously the additional adrenaline rush helped me run up the slop and quickly reach the top. Here we stopped to catch our breath and thank our stars for the lucky escape. Green wheat fields on the other side were gently moving in the breeze and beckoning us with promise of food and safety. After carefully scanning surroundings we quickly ran downhill and reach the edge of wheat field. We nibbled at succulent young shoots and enjoyed the life giving green leaves while at the same time scratching the ground for any ungerminated seeds.

The sun rays were warm now and night cold was almost forgotten. It was a new day with newer promise of life. I heard before catching sight of a lone partridge taking tentative steps towards us from a nearby stream surrounded by “saroot” . It was alone and had probably lost whole of it’s brood and was now looking for company. As it moved forward emitting loud “chiloo chiloo” to warn us of its coming, I challenged it with my even louder “chiloo chiloo” and thus warning it of trespass that it had made into our territory. Normally I would have defended my territory and fought it away across the stream and away from my area but these are extraordinary times and loss of my clan allowed me to adopt somewhat moderate approach and sensing this it ran forward and joined us. But not before ceremonial fluffing of feathers and display of anger at the newcomer’s arrival. We are now four and addition of another pair of eyes improved our chances of survival.

After having our heart’s fill of green wheat plants we stopped for some time to wallow in loose earth and scratched a bit more. If the world was always as peaceful as this; but alas it wasn’t so and during next hour or so I had to take refuge many times in the nearby thorn brush along with my companions. Sometime hidden away from approaching cattle herders and sometimes when the hawk became too inquisitive and swooped within close range for a detailed look, my peace was frequently broken by events that I could easily manage. Before we started walking towards our “bajra” field for a bit of those lovely seeds, I spotted a few boys in company with a pointer dog walking towards our wheat field all the while chattering loudly. We immediately scattered and laid low among thick wheat stalks, only I kept a close eye on the movement of this new threat by ever slowly swivelling my head while remaining low to the ground. And to my horror I saw the party stop at our field’s edge and start to unroll a fine net, all the while egging their dog forward for picking up our scent.

Now I cursed myself for having lingered too long in this field and thus inadvertently leaving our scent marks all over the place. After running around the dog picked up the scent of one of our party and steadily progressed towards the spot where my sister lay absolutely still and flat against the ground. My heart missed a beat when the dog came to a stand still and froze into a classic point with its nose inches away from my sister and ready to pounce if she as much as moved a muscle. Spotting this the boys suddenly became quite and in whispers started to give directions to each other. While one stayed at the spot, the other two fanned out with the net loosely held between them and after approaching in an arch they arrived at the spot opposite from where the dog was pointing. While walking towards the point they had already spread the net between them and were now dragging it spread over pliant wheat stalks and as they neared the dog they quickly threw the net over the whole area even engulfing the still motionless dog within it’s confines.

Simultaneously with this movement the earlier stationary boy yelled and rushed forward towards the dog and oncoming net carriers and thus covered the area entirely. My sister safe in the knowledge till end that she had not been spotted did not stand a chance and while her attention was riveted to the vicious looking dogs salivating mouth she failed to spot the encircling movement of net bearers. She valiantly exploded into a forced flush as the boy yelled and came towards her but before she could make her escape good she was badly entangled in the fine mesh of net and all the boys pounced on their prize and she was bagged. Taking advantage of thus commotion rest if us made good our escape and after a short but speedy flight landed in the safety of a thickly vegetated ravine a short distance away. Thus within half a day I managed to evade a fox, many attempts by a hawk, gained a new member but unfortunately lost my sister.

Partly in mourning and partly due to fear I did not leave the safety of thick brush today and remained hidden throughout remainder of the day even forgoing the afternoon feeding spell. After an evening mournful call of ” chi chilu chi chilu” three of us again sought refuge in our ” phulai” tree to brave another cold night on an empty stomach. In this imaginary story, I have tried to lend voice to a partridge which can not express itself because as per an African saying, ” only hunter’s tales would be told until the lion learns to write”. In my experience spread over forty five years, I have come to identify three main contributors towards fast declining partridge population in Pakistan; first is indiscriminate use of harmful pesticide and second is night hunting by unethical butchers. The third main reason is ever increasing human population and resultant shrinking of habitat for creatures that are wild.

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