Step by step I could feel my every move falling under the scrutiny of eyes that see clearly even in the darkest of hours. I lifted my gaze from the track to the shaded form of overhanging branches set against the night sky. My observer sat among them silently watching. As if indignant of the disturbance the shape raised to a full height, wings were outstretched and the night air carried the owl away into the darkness. The branches barely shuddered by the owls movement and the silence of a still night was utterly uninterrupted. I considered it my good fortune to be looking in the right direction at the moment of take off, otherwise I would have missed the sight completely.
I carried on with my dog pack through the trees and tracked the edge of the woodland clearing. The still cool air crackled with the sound of the dogs paws in the undergrowth and occasional snuffling as they tested the air for scents and traces of life. Of a sudden the silence was shattered by an alarm call and the rattling of wings against branch and briar. Excited the dogs jockeyed for position to take a snap at the pheasant as he rose from the undergrowth disorientated and blind with panic in the blackness. He crashed into small trees at the clearing edge before clumsily landing on a branch only a couple of feet away from me.
The huntsman would have been blessed with an easy meal if he had been in my position, the bird could have been plucked from the branch by hand. Luckily for the pheasant I had no intention of taking him for the pot and I remained still to allow the silence to return and let the dogs to settle. The bird remained unconcerned by my gentle movements and sat tight as I moved away, leaving him to face the night again. All I took with me was the lesson of a creature being caught unaware and out of his element.