Second Session, Rat Triplets....Having had a taste of success with our first rat last weekend I decided a visit to the farm with Degsy and Belle may prove fruitful. Having worked Bill through the rain last Sunday it was great to see blue sky and sun as we set out to meet at the yard. Having had the coldest night of the Autumn so far it was also good to feel the warmth of that sun as we got out of the car. There was not a breeze in the air and that warmth, for September, meant no need for a jacket while we worked.
As we got the dogs out and let them do their business and re introduce themselves the farmer arrived. He was happy as well having had some success with a snare in the chicken fence that had been set for some weeks now after a number of his birds had been taken. After reaching a point this week whereby he was about to remove the snare, he awoke this morning to find a half grown vixen caught in it. That one together with the other two that had been shot recently had made the farmer a fairly happy man. While he was telling us this tale Bilbo had headed over to the concrete cover and Belle had moved further away to a small wooden shed panel, that had been left in the field at the rear of one of the chicken sheds. Himalayan balsam had grown up through the board and along the back of the shed.
Belle was marking through the top of the board and her scratching and whining drew our attention as well as Bilbo's. We arrived, having said goodbye to the farmer, and Bilbo had also started to mark around the edges of the planking. It was only a small sheet and with one of us at each end we took hold of the thicker struts and lifted our end of the sheet. As soon as we did the dogs shot underneath. As we forced the sheet through the balsam, avoiding the exploding seed pods, we began to be able to see flashes of grey running through what little vegetation had fallen under the planks. Both dogs were chasing and eventually Bilbo caught a young rat. He was followed closely by Belle. There was no noise whatsoever from either rats as they were dispatched and as both dogs strutted around with their prize in their mouths we saw one more grey shape flee from under the board into the grass and vegetation that lay along its edge.
It was good to see that after a couple of calls both dogs released their mouthful and headed over to scent around the last sighting of this lone rat. As the dogs worked along this thick edging of greenery from one end to the other the rat shot out, crossed the space below where the board had laid and up to the wooden boards. Both dogs noticed this movement and as they shot over to the rat it managed to squeeze itself through a small hole in the wood and out the other side. At this point we thought the dogs had lost it as as they made their way around the board the rat ran through and into the mass of balsam that was growing along the rear of the sheds. This side of the sheds usually has a few holes under it and plenty of places for it to seek sanctuary. As we watched though it became apparent that this rat was lost and confused. As the dogs followed it around the area we caught occasional glimpses of it as it stopped at the base of some growth and hid itself, remaining frozen until one or other of the dogs had passed. This seemed to go on for minutes but it was more likely to be seconds, eventually Belle exited from the area with the rats in her mouth.
It was good to see that Bilbo and Bell, although not having had much contact over the summer, could still work happily together. Bilbo does sometimes take exception to some dogs, he ran up to Belle he had a sniff of her rat and left her to dispose of it, showing no interest in the dead body. He carried on scenting the area and eventually he headed over to the concrete cover, and the grass covered bank to continue his search for rats. We called him off from the drain, and decided to head to the sheds and come back later with the smoker.
We had a good walk around the sheds and although nothing came to light, other than a couple of newly emptied nests from under other boards, we used the time to cut back large patches of scrub and growth from around any likely holding places ready for our next visit.
We returned to the first sheds within an hour or so and had another look around. Nothing showed from inside the most productive shed, the second shed had recently been moved and showed no signs of any rodent inhabitants. Outside though was a different matter, both dogs marked enthusiastically under and around the large roller. We lifted the handle and underneath was plenty of rat signs and a small nest. I bought the smoker over and fired it up, it fired after the first few attempts which I considered good as it hadn't been used for a number of months. As I started to fill the chamber underneath with smoke both dogs started to move around the roller. At one point Bilbo shot through the long grass up onto the bank above, he began to work the bank, trying to find the trail of what I believed had been a fleeing rat. After a couple of minutes I silenced the engine as both dogs had started to work further away and were showing little interest in the roller. The sheer mass of vegetation meant that everything was in the favour of the rodents at the moment, luck would certainly play a large part in any catch.
As Biblo was working the bank Belle started to mark over some old rotten wooden pieces that had been left at the rear of the sheds, Bilbo joined her as we started to try to uncover and move some of the wood. Both dogs followed as we moved pieces, revealing a network of tunnels underneath. Both dogs followed a tunnel each, scenting and digging as the made their way generally towards the nearby shed. Bilbo gave up his interest and returned to the banking but Belle stuck with hers and eventually Degsy got the shovel out and began digging down to meet her from inside the shed. When nothing appeared on our side she decided to go inside to try from there too. Nothing was forthcoming but the sheer number of tunnels meant an easy task to avoid our interest.
As we decided to call it a day both dogs began marking around the cover, with the smoker out I began setting it up and as I did a large adult rat flew out of the cover and towards the bank. Both dogs saw and reacted to it. At one point it froze half concealed by the thick grass, Degsy trying to get in on the act managed to pin it to the banking with his boots but as both dogs realised, and struck, it manager to bury further in. A quick check revealed a good tunnel network behind the five inch thick grass shield. Both dogs were going mad trying to find where this large rat had vanished to but we realised we had been beaten this time by the environment. Soon the first frosts would remedy that I hope.
Three rats caught and a one big one missed, but all in all a good second outing. Hopefully this season would bring bigger and better things!