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Memories of an old Spalding Wildfowler the late Ken Burton.

Ken Burton
Ken Burton

Wildfowlers have a great love of nature and observe it with interest both within and outside their shooting activities. Ken Burton, one of the founding members of Spalding Wildfowlers Association illustrates this in two different articles that he wrote for the club newsletter:

“ Woodpigeons and Ducks

The last two or three weeks quite a lot of us have had some good shooting over at the woods, and I have taken quite a lot of interest in the difference of the crops. I have shot pigeons at Deeping, Bourne Fen, Aslackby and also at Crowland, and each lot have been different. The pigeons at Deeping are real big heavy birds, quite dark fleshed and the contents of their crops consist of clover, potatoes and some barley. The Crowland pigeons are very much the same. A lot of these birds could be local as I have two birds which had been rung by Tony Cook at Newborough.

The Bourne Fen birds are quite different, the flesh is not so dark, more of a pinky colour and the crops consist of chickweed, seeds, potatoes and quite a lot of broad beans. Now the birds at the woods are much leaner and also darker fleshed and darker plumage. These birds I think could be quite a big percentage of migrated birds. The contents of their crops varies quite a lot, for a start it was mainly clover and pieces of sugar beet but now it consists mostly of clover, buttercup leaves and some potatoes.

The little bit of information I can give you about ducks is that on March 5th I found a mallards nest on Cowbit Wash with 3 eggs in it, also, two or three species in my collection have mated up. I also have been watching a swan at Market Deeping mill, she has completed her nest and is now sitting tight.”

Ken Burton March 1967.

In July 1967 Ken wrote this:

“ This week I am going to write about the very high mortality rate of birds and animals on the roads. On my job I travel early and far. This particular journey that I made, a count was made between Spalding to Stoke via Nottingham and Matlock, total miles were 402. I started about 5a.m. It was quite a nice morning. The first victims were two moor hens and one blackbird, that was in the first 10 miles. The first animal was a sow badger near Threekingham cross-roads, then two hedgehogs, as I got out of Lincolnshire into Derbyshire the trend seemed to change a little, more sparrows, one skylark, a brown linnet and of course blackbirds. Blackbirds and moor hens always seem to fly into a moving vehicle instead of away from it.

I would not have enough space to mention all the victims so I will give you the count I made in 402 miles: 4 Moorhens, 1 dog, 9 blackbirds, 1 Skylark, 3 tame pigeons, 2 woodpigeons, 2 cats, 2 badgers, 1 brown linnet, 5 pheasants, 11 sparrows, 3 hedgehogs.”

Ken Burton July 1967.

In 2008 I made a similar note of road kill with no hedgehogs, of notable increase were badgers, roe deer and muntjac with blackbirds and woodpigeons also dominant victims. Nowadays people can report roadkill onto a central database via Twitter, providing a wider record for the future.

Anyone visiting Ken’s house would turn into a driveway made up of stone and broken clay pigeons that had been picked up from the many shoots he run for charity to an area of ponds and mud inhabited by various wildfowl that he bred. He was a keen countryman that went everywhere in a large Volvo estate car. He once rolled the car onto its side driving off road, only to get it pushed upright and continue on his way. It is with much amusement he told me once that he had been deer stalking in Scotland when the gamekeeper he was with encountered an injured deer stood before him. The gamekeeper got out his vehicle grabbed the deer by the antlers and wrestled it to the ground before despatching it. A while late Ken was by himself when he encountered a similar wounded deer by the side of the road. He therefore ventured to do the same, unfortunately not accounting for the fact he was both shorter and lighter than the Scottish gamekeeper the deer stood up with Ken holding the antlers lifting him off the ground before starting to run off with Ken hanging on for dear life! Sadly Ken passed away whilst driving in 2009. The following gives an insight into his observations of ducks made in 1967:

“This month I would like to give you my observation of the duck breeding and rearing in this area.

The first lot of ducks that hatched started off fairly well but were soon reduced in numbers by two weeks of stormy weather, with gales and quite a lot of heavy rain. As I went round the Postland and Cowbit Wash area I found quite a lot of baby ducklings dead in the dykes. Bourne and the marsh area seemed to have faired a lot better with fours and sixes, but you will always get the odd exception.

Now the ducks that bred later or had second clutches came off quite well with eights and even elevens to a brood. With lots of hot weather which brought out the flies and the water weed the little ducks had everything in their favour. This week, 12th August I have seen a brood of eight ducklings I would say about two days old. I have also seen quite a number of tufted with large broods.

I am pleased to say that the duck releasing project by the Gleed School and the club on the river Welland has been very successful. There are 34 ducks now on the river and it is nice to see what a great interest they have caused. I don’t think they will bother to fly away because the majority of people in the district are spoiling them. Everyday there are people down there feeding them with bread. They are so tame that they will fee out of your hand.”

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