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My Extreme Pheasant Friend

On 21 December 2021, I was returning home after an Afternoon Wander. I had spent about an hour in the nearby ancient woodlands, saying a personal goodbye to autumn and welcoming the new season. Cooler temperatures had long settled in, but not enough to warrant glove-wearing. After spending much of my walk capturing the leftover autumnal landscape, I shifted into the Almost Home Mode.


Male pheasant runs along 1066 Country Walk at Hog Hill Windmill in Icklesham and Winchelsea, East Sussex, England
First Pheasant Photo from Top of Hill

I was unaware that my life was about to change forever.

Traveling from Windmill Lane via the 1066 Country Walk, I crested the hill next to Hog Hill Windmill. As per usual, I scanned the landscape before me. Winter Skies over the English Channel, clear path to the gate exiting into Wickham Rock Lane, and no other walkers heading my way. There was, however, a male pheasant near path's end. 2:34pm. Oooooooo a pheasant! My admiration and love for these birds has never waned over the years living in the England Countryside. I grabbed my camera, hoping to get a few pheasant photos (the alliteration is glorious!) Using my optical zoom, I got a few pics of him on the path, expecting full flight away from the Scary Human at any moment. He remained, casually wandering around to the left of the gate exit.


He did not fly away. He did not run away. He didn't even casually stroll away.


Huh. Fancy that.

Male pheasant running towards me at Hog Hill Windmill in Icklesham and Winchelsea, East Sussex, England
Pheasant Running towards Me (blurry 'action shot')

As I grew ever-closer, I was surprised and delighted of the near proximity. Still grabbing photos, I was suddenly standing parallel to him as he continued his relaxed meanderings.

I stopped walking. He stopped walking.


I stared at him. He stared back at me.



2:35pm. In an instant, he ran up to me, stopping arm's length away. I was now very confused, as pheasants ALWAYS flee from people. Always, always, ALWAYS. Not this time. Have you ever experienced a moment when something happens not only for the first time ever, but defying all Normal Rules? I experienced a sense of un-reality, my mind grappling with the impossible as it unfolded in front of me. The only comparison I can think of is how I felt during my first earthquake experience while living in the Pacific Northwest. Imagine if gravity suddenly ceased to exist, and everything started floating away. That's the feeling. Back to my pheasant friend (alliteration, yay!) 2:36pm. While my mind continued to process this extraordinary scene, I crouched down on my haunches to get Extreme Close-Ups. If I reached out, I could have grabbed this gutsy bird.


He looked at me from all angles, moving his head left, right, back, and left again. 2:40 - 3:13pm.


Then he pecked my knee.


Male pheasant just before he pecked my knee along the 1066 Country Walk at Hog Hill Windmill, Winchelsea and Icklesham, East Sussex, England
Pheasant just before First Knee-Peck

I blinked, stared, blinked, and continued taking photos. He pecked my knee a few more times, making a distinctive clucking noise which rose and fell, chant-like, as he repeated a peck-walk away a bit-walk closer-peck circuit.



I alternated between taking photos with my phone and with my digital camera (do I need to say 'digital camera' these days or is it always assumed that all cameras are digital?)

VIDEO: Pheasant Chant with repeated knee-pecking. Me saying 'OW.' once.







In a trance-like state, possibly induced by this gorgeously colourful bird chanting and dancing, I carried on taking photos.

Then he pecked the middle of my camera lens.


Hard.


Male pheasant close-up at Hog Hill Windmill in Winchelsea, East Sussex, England
Pheasant, moments before pecking my camera lens

In retrospect, I should have kept my distance after being assaulted a few times. Knowing how hard he can peck, with my knee throbbing as the multiple beak-hits continued, I should have backed away.


I did no such thing. Right. Now I was DONE.



With wounded knee and, unbeknownst to me at the time, damaged camera lens, I packed it in and headed home. Shutting the footpath gate behind me, the pheasant continued doing pheasant-things on the other side. My mind raced. I was consumed with wonder, lingering disbelief, and began parsing the situation, preparing to share this story. Thoroughly engrossed in my own thoughts, I left Mr. Pheasant behind me, settling into the unconscious, familiar pace towards home. There was absolutely zero traffic along the quiet country lane, highly unusual that time of day and time of year. Delivery trucks, utility vans, and early commuters use this lane regularly, yet no vehicles passed.


All was quiet.


Even the wind was absent, in itself highly unusual. Around the lane's sharp bend, then along a short straightaway, I carried on, somewhat oblivious to my surroundings.

3:19pm. Suddenly, without warning, Mr. Pheasant exploded from the verge-hedge to my left and attacked.



First, he pecked just above my boot a few times. I whipped out my phone, hit 'record video.' and carried on walking.



VIDEO: He LAUNCHED himself at me, clawed feet attaching to my jeans. Incredulous, I resumed video, recording him walking at my right and a couple of feet ahead. When I caught up to him, he would attack me as before, then carry on, leading forwards, always in front and to the right.

VIDEO: Being corralled and herded by Mr. Pheasant for 2 and a half minutes.

When we both (pheasant + me) spied a fellow walker heading my way on the opposite side of the lane, he took off running towards her.


Both relieved and a bit disappointed. He LEFT me for someone else!


I had time to yell something like, "Look out, he might attack you!" We passed each other, Mr. Pheasant following HER now, heading the opposite way, chanting and trying to herd the newcomer. I felt relief. Guilt. Even a bit of betrayal. After walking, distinctively alone, for a few moments, I turned around to see if anything was happening.

VIDEO: Fellow walker (and fellow American!) experiences her own Pheasant Encounter, a milder version of my own. I hit video record, watched, and tried not to laugh (to no avail.)




She tried to scare it away, plainly terrified, (also to no avail.)


Not knowing what else to do, she turned around and walked toward me. It was at that moment I decided to do the right thing and help her. She was not handling it well. I told her I would take him with me. "Come on, buddy, let's go." After a moment's hesitation, he left her behind and headed my way, running along on his strong little pheasant legs.


I called to her, "You'd better go now!" while encouraging him to follow me instead.

VIDEO: Two minutes and 19 seconds of the rest of the walk home, with Mr. Pheasant continuing his lead-or-attack behaviour.




NOTE: The entire incident occurred whilst I was listening to a podcast via headphones. I was so nonplussed I forgot to turn it off during recording all video.

NOTE 2: Thus far, zero vehicles or other people (besides the woman walker) passed me. As I watched with disbelief and amazement, and to be honest, a bit glad, Mr. Pheasant turned into my driveway with me. I glanced at the house to see if my husband Andy was in his office, as his computer sits right next to a front-facing window.


He answered the call and I demanded, "LOOK OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW," then hung up.

VIDEO: I continue down the driveway as Andy looks on from his open office window. I only get my boot halfheartedly pecked, then off he ran towards Andy hanging out the window.



3:28pm. Andy grabbed a handful of peanuts that we use to feed the local birds and tossed it out the window for the pheasant. In the past, many a pheasant have gathered near our bird feeder for peanuts-a-plenty. We wondered if Mr. Pheasant was just 'hangry.' 3:36pm. Mr. Pheasant gobbled up peanuts for a bit, then stopped, making undulating movements with his head and neck. Some water in a bowl was provided in case he needed a refreshing drink to wash down all that peanuty goodness.


Ignoring the water, he carried on moving his neck as if to try and dislodge something in his gullet. Occasionally his beak would silently open and close.


Now a bit concerned, we watched. We waited. I videoed. 3:39pm. After several attempts at trying to show Andy how Mr. Pheasant behaved towards me, I walked around in the driveway with Andy looking on from the open front door.

VIDEO: Andy looks on as Mr. Pheasant attacks me. Again.


Finally, I went inside.



I must admit, having just experienced one of the most magnificent, memorable, and completely mad Nature Encounter to date, I was a bit shaken up.


Though my jeans weren't ripped, I had several scratches and small cuts on my knee and thigh inflicted by my Pheasant Friend.


All of my preconceived notions about wild pheasants were shattered into smithereens (always a joy to have an opportunity to use that word!) You know how at the end of a film you get a follow-up, usually as text on a black screen, explaining what happened to the main character or situation? That is at the very end of this tale… …but not yet.

Mr. Pheasant remained near my house for two days.


The day after my initial encounter, our regular postman, Phil (Hi Phil!) walked down our driveway, mail in hand, his Royal Mail Truck tucked along the lane. Andy spied him walking down the drive towards the house and called out a Pheasant Aggression Warning, just in case. Phil replied with understandable disbelief, delivered our post, then back, bemusedly, towards the lane. That's when Mr. Pheasant materialized out of our side garden hedgerow and went for Phil the Postman. I'm certain he experienced the same feelings I did during my own pheasant-attack as he hurried into the safety of his vehicle.

About an hour after Phil was chased off our premises by Mr. Pheasant, I went back outside in an attempt to lead this wayward bird to his next stomping ground.


Maybe he wasn't as keen on me after nearly 24 hours since our last encounter.


Maybe he would spy the open fields and adjacent woodlands on either side of our house and be lured to greener pastures.

VIDEO: "I'm going to take a walk up the driveway." After first attack, "I've got double-pants on!"





This time, so I thought, I was prepared. I figured wearing TWO pairs of jeans would avoid repeat of any more pheasant-inflicted leg damage. AUTHORS NOTE: 12:15pm 3 October 2022, as I was writing this post, Phil the Postman arrived at my front door with a mail delivery. I ran downstairs to share with him what I was in the midst of writing. Ha!

VIDEO: Pheasant repeatedly grabbing and worrying my double-trousered leg.








24 December 2021: 2pm. I did not go out again until two days later. Andy and I headed out for a neighbourhood Christmas Eve walk. The first leg (ouch... I shouldn't say leg) of our journey led towards the Hog Hill Windmill (the scene of the initial 'crime.') We left the lane to follow the 1066 Country Walk, heading back in the opposite direction.


All the while, we remained vigilant for any signs of Mr. Pheasant. Our garden and adjacent lane was pheasant-free.


No Pheasant Ambush from the ... well... bushes.


Even the distinct lack of pheasant-ness around the windmill, where I first encountered my gorgeous yet dangerous bird friend. Once we were off the lane and well along the first field, tension I didn't realize I was carrying dissipated. A strange brew of relief and disappointment flooded through me. 2:25pm. As we climbed over a stile into the next field, Mr. Pheasant materialized from nowhere.


He first went for Andy, who discouraged the overenthusiastic bird with a menacing growl of warning and a solid leg-shake.


(NOTE: Mr. Pheasant was not harmed in any way. He was just strongly yet safely discouraged from making Andy his next victim.)

VIDEO: Mr. Pheasant leading me (now ignoring Andy) along the footpath.

Undeterred, my feathered friend led the way, keeping me in his sight. We both climbed the next stile (see video, the stile is visible top left) continued our escorted travels along the path, when suddenly, Mr. Pheasant stopped in his tracks.

Male pheasant on Christmas Eve 2021 in Winchelsea, East Sussex, England
Pheasant Friend on Christmas Eve 2021

Why, we both wondered, did he stop? He quickly scampered away into the woods to our left.

As we discussed this unexpected Mr. Pheasant Behaviour while continuing our walk, we soon discovered why he disappeared. One of our local fellow walkers sat on the bench at the top of Lookout Field...


...with her stunningly beautiful, graceful, and gigantic German Shepard, Tao.

Tao the German Shepard sits on his lead in Winchelsea, East Sussex, England on Christmas Eve 2021
Tao the Dog on Christmas Eve

As usual, Tao was on the lead. These fields often contained a local flock of sheep. Tao sat quietly, calmly, surveying his vista with serene awareness. He did not bark. He did not move from his chosen seat.


We stopped for a friendly chat with both neighbour and dog, recounting the pheasant-related events of the past couple of days.


It was a nice, small, unexpected joy to spend time with one of the locals, telling our tale and having an enjoyable Christmas Eve Moment. As the chill settled in due to inactivity, it was time to head home.


No pheasant. No sign of pheasant at all.

Now, here is the moment I mentioned earlier, the follow-up black screen with white text:


Two days later, there was a knock at our front door. Because we live in the middle of nowhere, a knock at our door that is not the postman (Hi Phil!) or a delivery driver is extremely rare, to the point of igniting surprise with a tinge of alarm. We both answered the door, as this is An Event. It was the same local (and Tao) that we chatted with Christmas Eve. She had just walked through the same fields and discovered the lifeless body of Mr. Pheasant. He wasn't ravaged or eviscerated, thus likely not killed by a predator. His body lay intact along the footpath. As she was passing our driveway anyway, she felt that we should hear the sad news from her. I was very appreciative for her kindness and concern. After thanking her for letting us know, her and Tao headed back up the driveway, and we closed the door, both the story and the life of Mr. Pheasant concluding.

 

It has been nearly a year since my Pheasant Friend (or Pheasant Phriend as I am wont to label it) Encounter. Preparing for and writing this blog post properly required immersion in all of the photos and videos of this experience. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) I find myself very emotional as I finish this tale.


This was a post intended for creation over a month ago, but life found other things that demanded my attention. Last Friday evening, I attended the local Icklesham Town Hall Faire, accompanying Chantal from Charles Palmer Vineyards. She was kind enough to allow me some table space to display my own wares. As she predicted, I recognized many of the customers and recognized by them, a result of years walking the area. People who know me from my walks always take a moment to recognize me in 'regular clothes.' I walk in proper outdoor gear. Tao the Dog's mum was one of them, and she purchased my 'Head-On Pheasant' card, the very same Mr. Pheasant encountered last December. That prompted me to finally create my Pheasant Phriend blog post. Almost as a follow-up not from the universe, Phil the Postman (Hi again, Phil!) appeared, as mentioned, during its creation. At the beginning of this tale, I said this experience changed me for the rest of my days.


It is not often that one has such an encounter with nature as brilliant, unexpected, unusual, and, admittedly, emotional as this one. My camera lens is permanently damaged, and the area around the Mr. Pheasant-Pecked damage attracts dust and other surface artifacts, resulting in photo anomalies.


Although still usable, many photos from this camera requires artifact-removing touch-ups or are not suitable for printing. An expensive reminder yes, but I wouldn't change anything.

 

I hope you enjoyed this long, media-filled story. As I reach this tale's end, a strange sense of closure, reliving fond memories, and a slight tint of sadness, has settled over me like a warm (and feathery!) blanket.


It was as important for me to tell this tale as it is to share this experience with you.


FINAL AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have so many images and video of my Mr. Pheasant Encounter, too many to share within this blog entry, that I am considering creating a separate gallery in his honour.



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