I try to visit this spot twice a year, near the opener and to put a fork in the season when it’s done. But this year, duty called and I was in Illinois (or was it Nebraska?) or somewhere else for all I know, when our season launched.
A chance remark at the feed store led me to invite one of my training club friends to this special spot, which now that I think about it, is also becoming a tradition. Joel brought his French Spaniels Hank and Dottie; it would be my first chance to see this rare breed work. Weather, spectacular: azure skies with wisps of cloud to make the photos pop. Cool enough for good dog work but not bad enough for another layer of clothing.
But Mother Nature’s promise was, for our first stretch of streambed, unfulfilled. Dogs worked well (one of Joel’s, one of mine), cover was varied and challenging. But the quail hadn’t received my memo, I guess. We regrouped at the truck and headed for the next stretch.
Manny got the call from my kennel; Dottie from Joel’s. Soon, a quail burred out of the blackberries, dropping to Joel’s 28 gauge. Marked well, it was still a puzzle to both dogs, splashing back and forth in the creek and bucking the tangle of roots and willows along its banks. That’s when another pit-pitted from a cottonwood grove, falling to my instinctive shot (maybe you, too, shoot better when totally surprised). She dropped in the short grass on top and Manny skidded to a stop, grab, and retrieve to hand. He soon reinforced my admiration when I asked him to go back to the matter at hand (paw?), demonstrated a strong search and find on Joel’s bird and then we were back at it.
Watching the spaniels move so elegantly, I was reminded in turn of an English Setter’s grace, then the exuberance of a Springer (until they pointed, of course, for these spaniels stand birds just like their Brittany brethren).
Apparently, blackberries were the shelter du jour, because our first bonafide find was Manny’s, downwind of a head-high hill of the tasty fruit. From above, we watch his tail twitch into rigidity and one front leg come slowly to his chest. Birds up! Shots boomed! One tumbled into a ten-foot high tangle of alder, where I could see it, but would need a cherry picker to get it. Another shot dislodged it, and Manny slithered through the roots and branches and again presented it to my outstretched hand, where I held it while he inhaled more of the delicious scent.
On the way back, Joel dropped another quail in exactly the same spot as my first. A certain German Wirehair dashed from the streambed, ruffing toward the fluttering bird. A mouthful of feathers, race to his master, and another express delivery. Woo-hoo! I wonder if Manny realized he’d been there and done that just an hour before?