Monday, October 13, 2014

A New Hawk . . . Maybe . . . and a Mystery

On Saturday morning, October 4th, I went out trapping with my apprentice Greg. The previous couple days had been high winds out of the North West, so in the wise opinion of my own former sponsor, Dave, good days to try and find hawks as they tend to move in front of these kinds of storms. Hopefully a few passage birds had been blown our way from further up north. This was our hope, but not the reality we were occupying. Greg and I drove around for several hours but still did not spot any passage birds. Calling it a day in the afternoon I returned to my home from Greg's home.

As I turned off one of the back roads near my electric co-op, there on a power pole was the object of our quest for the day. She was also very well positioned to lay down a trap. I pulled over and got my rats back into the bal chatri. I then drove into an empty parking lot, placing my car between the hawk on the pole and a grassy spot, where I planned to set the trap. Just as I was about to toss the BC I looked around, for the bird was now no longer where she had been. A quick search found she had moved but not far away. I repositioned my car again between a grassy place and the bird, then tossed the trap out into the grass and left the area quickly. I drove down the road then made a big loop to a place I could see the hawk if she made a move for the trap. I had hardly arrived and didn't even get my binoculars out when I saw her launch herself and fly in the direction of my trap. I slowly made my way back to where the trap lay, giving her time to check out my rats, and carefully coming around the corner saw she was caught. A few minutes later I had her jessed up in the field, and in my giant hood for the ride home.
She is a fairly good sized, average but nicely colored passage red tailed hawk. Trap weight was 1370 grams / 48.33 ounces.  That's just a tiny hair over 3 lbs!  She's a Big Girl . . .
. . . with BIG HOOKS, as we like to say!

Because I have been hearing an awful lot of stories and speculations and high incidents of what is believed to be Asper (Aspergillosis ~ a usually fatal fungal infection of the lungs and air sacks) I was open to trying a therapy that is all the buzz out in the falconry community right now. A Google search may find you the information, and more specifically if you search on some of the falconry networks you can read up about using fresh pine in the giant hood and mew, replaced often, to prevent or treat Asper. It is attributed to a fairly famous falconer, but I will not mention his name here as I don't really want his theories linked to this page. Each individual needs to make their own decisions. It sounds good, it has the ring of truth, but I would go on to find that it is not well regarded by those in the veterinary medical community, specifically those who treat hawks. However, I did give it a good initial try. On Monday morning I contacted the Raptor Center and arranged to have an appointment so I may have my hawk started on Western Medicine to prevent Asper, just in case. We were seen on Tuesday, and the new bird was checked over and found to be in good condition. She did have a tiny expiratory wheeze, but the doc didn't think this was important. I received a goodly supply of Itraconazole and took her home to continue her training. She had accepted food from me the second day off the trap, so everything looked to be going well. This was before the journey down the proverbial rabbit hole began.
On Wednesday she began to show signs of respiratory distress. Even the slightest exertion, a single bate, brought on gasping. She continued to accept food from me twice a day, but the breathing had me worried. I lost my second falconry hawk back in 2004 to Asper. This appeared the same. I contacted my doc at the Raptor Center on Thursday morning, and they kindly allowed me to get in to see them that afternoon.

My husband appropriately coined what follows as the "House" part of this situation. As of this writing the events continue to unfold, and I have not yet received resolution of the situation. I would like to document here where we have been, and where we are currently going. To those who are familiar I'll state the obvious, and for those who may not know, I'll explain. We have a medical drama show that has been on TV for many years now. The theme is always the same . . . a patient presents with a mysterious illness, and the protagonist of the series, Dr. Gregory House, an incredibly brilliant diagnostician but classic misanthrope, eventually figures out what is going on, usually based on some vague clue. Currently, my bird has the doctors at the Raptor Center stumped as to what is going on with her, and they are intrigued by the challenge. Like the show, I hope they eventually figure it out, and my bird gets better and can return to my home for continued training as a falconry bird.
On Thursday, during her second visit to the Raptor Center in a week, but this time showing signs of sickness, she was anesthetized, X-Rays taken, blood work drawn, and physically examined. A culture was also swabbed from her trachea and started to test for Asper, which would take a few days incubation. Her white cell count was normal, so she was not fighting an infection. Her other levels all seemed to be somewhat normal. She did show a higher than normal Eosinophil level, which is an immunity cell sometimes associated in humans with an allergic reaction or the body's way to address inflammation, but I was cautioned not necessarily so with raptors. Her blood did appear to be darker than normal, which could be a sign of low oxygenation . . . a condition which is called hypoxia. Her doc decided to try her on a conservative therapy for the weekend, and I was to report back on Sunday evening. I was to continue the Itraconazole twice a day, but also had added Diphenhydramine and Meloxicam, to treat the inflammation. I was strongly encourage to stop using the pine needle therapy as in their opinion it has not been proven to do anything, and could possibly be contributing to her breathing difficulties. They also wanted me to try and get her to take casting material (fur in her food) so she could cast some small bones that were in her stomach. We returned home to begin her treatment. That evening she began refusing food, making treating her difficult. I had to start force feeding her.

Throughout the weekend the breathing became worse, but when quiescent, quiet and at rest, she appeared normal. She was paying attention to her surroundings, and on Sunday morning was very annoyed at her forced feeding, acting very hawk peevish. I hoped this was a good sign. However on Sunday afternoon I discovered that she had thrown her food up, which is never a good sign. On Sunday evening I carefully tried to temp her with small cut up tidbits of a freshly killed rat. She took most of the meal, only having to be force fed her meds at the very end. Overnight I hoped she would keep the meal down. She did. On Monday morning I was back in touch with the Raptor Center for guidance. They wanted me to come back for a new evaluation.

On Monday she would be evaluated by none other than the co-founder of the Raptor Center, Dr. Patrick Redig. She was being seen by one of the best avian doctors in North America, if not the world.

And I'll continue here soon . . . it is late, and has been a long day!


Monday, October 6, 2014

The Season Truly Starts

On Sunday October 5th Rich and I had a 'bonus' day together. Normally he works every weekend, but he took the 4th and 5th off. Sassy has been ready to go flying and hunting for real, not just walks with the hawk. Because it was a weekend I did not want to go to my all-time favorite hunting spot, as it's along an area where there are houses, and I prefer to fly there during the week, to decrease the possibility of attracting attention from the human residents.  Instead, we went to the place that has become my second most favorite.

The brush is still pretty thick, and Sassy showed off her skill by taking her first bunny for the season, catching directly through a thick blanket of green bramble and brush. Her first bunny was a youngster, and was caught within the first 5 minutes of our hunt, so trade her off, put the bunny in the bag, and keep going.
We worked around the area, crossing back and forth across a creek, then came out into a more open field. Sassy did catch a mouse, which was removed from her and saved for later. Then, as Rich and I were stomping a brush pile, from somewhere a bunny busted out and made it's way across the field, however didn't move fast enough to evade the death which came winging in from above. Bunny #2 was dispatched, and Sassy was allowed to enjoy her just rewards.
I do so love this bird, and I again am very grateful that she can still fly, and be what she is, a hunting hawk.

Rich took a video and spliced together the two catches. The first one occurred in deep brush so neither of us heard it, but only came onto the scene after the action. You can see the second catch pretty good.

Let's Go Sassy . . . . the 2014/2015 Season Truly Starts!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We were just chasing the game

On the first day of October Rich and I and Sassy went up to the farm to visit and get some things done. So far we've not been hitting any of the good fields I like to fly in.  Sassy is at a hunting weight, but still on the higher end of the weight spectrum, so not as motivated as she could be. Flying will make her more fit.

This was a nice fall afternoon in Spring Grove. Autumn truly is my favorite season, but it lasts all too briefly, quickly rolling into winter. As we drove into the park we were going to hunt, I counted many multiple squirrels. Sassy would go on to chase a few of them, but not being at the sharpest hunting weight, she was just mostly playing with them. She did manage to scrape one off the tree it was climbing, but it hit the ground and ran right back up the tree, leaving Sassy in the dust. We moved away from the squirrel part of the park and into the bunny part. We did eventually kick up one bunny. For whatever reason, these last few years, we only seem to kick up one bunny in this location. Sassy made several attempts to catch it, but eventually it made its way up the hill and under a garden shed in a neighboring house yard. Eventually, Sassy did catch two mice, stuffing them into her crop as fast as she could. I called her to the lure and we made our way to the car, stopping to take a picture. Everyone got exercise, including the game, as nothing greater than a couple mice was caught.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back to Falconry

I know I've been blogging about all the things in my life non-falconry, as the summer progresses, and feathers slowly are replaced. But it is now really time to get back to falconry.

How about we'll start off by making introductions.

This is Flint!
After I lost Wasp I had resigned myself to just flying Sassy this season, and maybe go ahead and trap a new red tailed hawk. Life sometimes gives you a surprise.

I am a member of a group on Facebook called Women Falconers. Another member posted a message a little while ago, looking to find a new home and falconer to transfer her second year captive raised Harris Hawk. She does not have a warm mew, and did not want to have him in her living room another winter. It was a perfect opportunity to use my spare warm mew. After all, what would a red tail need a warm mew for?  It would just contribute to a more difficult time trying to manage her weight.

This male Harris Hawk flies just a little heavier than Wasp. He comes with a few 'issues'. So far I've been working to win over his confidence. With food, that hasn't been too hard. However, he does not like to be hooded. Also, thus far, he thinks Rich is scary. I am also told that he will not hunt bunnies. Well, my work is cut out for me. But how could I say 'No'? He was free! I only had to go get him, arranging to transfer him in Madison, Wisconsin, and only had to pay the vet visit to get the health certificate needed to bring him into Minnesota.

He came with the name "Bam Bam". He was previously owned by another woman falconer of my acquaintance who was trained by Dave. I don't care for the name, and since hawks don't respond to a name, I could easily change it. Because I will be having to work to 'reshape' him, and also because the name Bam Bam made me think of the Flintstones, the name Flint stuck in my head. Thus, that will be his name.

Currently, I still need to zero in on his flight weight. He was doing OK for awhile, but then became erratic in the field on creance when Rich was present. I don't dare release him right now as I fear he would fly away. Eventually I'd like him to fly with Sassy. Perhaps with her leading by example, he'll learn what a male Harris Hawk is supposed to be doing. Hunting bunnies should be fairly high on that 'to do' job list.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Homing Pigeons

Earlier this Summer I decided to start a pigeon loft.  I'm not really sure why . . . at this time in my falconry life I don't plan on flying any falcons, and I would be absolutely insane to think I would take on an Accipiter . . . my work life just doesn't allow for that.  I've never kept pigeons, and it seemed like something fun to do, as an undertaking of its own.  I have an old hawk mew which I decommissioned as a hawk house when I released Hit Girl.  It has seen better days, and has some rot going on in a few places, enough that I don't want to risk a hawk in there.  After all, it has been moved four times!  Last year it was a rat house, where I kept my breeding rats that produce some of the food for the hawk freezer, and provide fresh food during the summer for the molt.  It was easy enough to move the rats into my hawk trailer mew and make the changes to the building to accommodate pigeons.
I was gifted two groups of four "squeakers" from two falconry friends that have already established lofts.  Squeakers are young pigeons that have never fledged from a loft.  Homing pigeons will orient on the location they fledge from and return to it from great distances, once they have flown around the area.  Richard converted my old hawk shack/rat shack, building out a 'pigeon porch', and making some proper perches inside.  The birds have been spending several weeks hanging out on the porch, looking around.  For the last two days I've caught them up, and shown them the 'trap', which is the door they can go back into their loft.  Each bird was individually shown the door and went back into the loft, so they see how it works.  This morning I opened up the door on the pigeon porch, so they could exit.  I stood at a distance and watched their progress.  One by one they came out, flew up on top of the pigeon porch, then on top of the coop, then on up onto the pole barn.  As of right now, seven of them are pecking around on top of the pole barn.
This last bird was the last to fledge. It took a different flight than the others, landing in the grass.  Eventually it flew back to the coop, and went back inside, so didn't seem quite ready to join the others.  I closed up the exit door, and will let this bird try again tomorrow.

Hopefully, the other seven will have a fun day out, avoid Coopers Hawks, and come back by the end of the day.

Side Note:  Later in the afternoon all 8 were inside their coop, having returned for food and water.  Their first day flying free went very well.