Mabel caught a pheasant today. It wasn't an impressive flight. Hardly a flight at all. She merely dropped from my fist to the floor, for the pheasant was already dead; a rain-soaked gold and emerald corpse half-hidden by wet thistle-stems, his tail feathers strewn like jackstraws around him. Perhaps a day dead, no more. He was plump, cold; his rump had been gnawed away by a nameless predator or scavenger, his blue-grey spurred legs were bright and wet.
Mabel was a little perplexed, and danced around on the body for a while before jumping up to the fist for a quail. She'd flown plenty today, anyway. I hauled the pheasant up from the undergrowth and stuffed him in my waistcoat back pocket.
I am terribly sad to have found our old adversary dead. Each time we came across him, in the past few months, he so easily evaded my clueless goshawk that I suspect we caused him little more stress than the local dog-walkers.
I'm a little puzzled though: was he grabbed by a fox? Was the fox disturbed—hence the minimal damage? He was plump and seemed in fine condition, though dead. Did he die naturally? Was he pricked? Sick?
Of course, by the time we got back to the house I had remembered there'd been several recent outbreaks of H5N1 in the next county. And even though the bloody bird flu is clearly being spread by the poultry industry, a little part of my brain rang warning bells.
Now I am grumpy. There's a perfectly good pheasant out there in the garage, and I could make a nice casserole with it. But some irrational part of my media-subsceptible brain is warning me off. "No" it says. "Don't go near it! You could die!"