Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Almost a Three Squirrel Day and Bunny in the Tube

I have been able to enjoy a block of almost perfect falconry hunting days, weather wise. It has been in the high 20s and low 30s, with minimal wind. I have been off of work, and the birds are for the most part ready to go. Sassy has continued to be tough to manage weight wise, as I'm keeping her and Flint in a warm mew. Sassy holds onto her weight, whereas Flint burns right through his. Even high, she will hunt, but not with gusto. I think she had a bit of an appetite on our hunt at the farm as she did go after and catch her first squirrel for the year, but unfortunately she didn't hang onto her catch, as you can see in the video.

She was up the tree for a long enough amount of time that Rich could take a picture. She had the tree rat, but it only counts if they bring it to the bag. She would go on to chase another squirrel, but didn't seem to be trying too hard, so I called her down and let CC have a chance.
CC busted out with a vengeance. On her first few minutes in flight she brought her first squirrel to the ground in fine fashion. I would trade her off and continue to fly her, but she didn't try as hard after her initial success. It has been slow going with her health and then the weather, but Cha Ching is now starting to pay off her debt.
After the hunt she wanted more of her catch, even though I had given her a pretty good reward for her efforts. She brought in a fresh squirrel, and Rich did too, having hit one with his van on the way to the farm. If Sassy had held onto her, it would have been a Three Squirrel Day. Later Greg texted me in response to our success, and asked if I cropped Rich up on his kill. I said I just traded him off with a kiss. He's not too fond of raw squirrel.
The next day we went hunting again in a different Rochester area that I've not visited this year. The field would prove to be absolutely infested with mice. Sassy flew first, and she caught three of them very quickly. I removed them, or tried to, but she still ate chunks, which softened her resolve for bunnies. This was too bad, for I was able to observe and now demonstrate here in video a new tool I have heard about in the field. You carry a metal tape measure, and use it to spook out bunnies out of pipes in the field. Many of the places I hunt have just such junk that hide bunnies. It worked most handily at popping this bunny out. Fortunately for the bunny, Sassy just wasn't in a rabbit-chasing mode. After not trying on this slip, and completely ignoring a previous one, we put her away and got CC out.

CC was all business, and smacked her bunny no questions asked. This was #5 for bunnies for CC, and six total for the year. Sassy is at eight. It's not a great year, but it is picking up speed. We have one more month of hunting in Minnesota, and I may explore getting the permit to hunt the month of March in neighboring Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Meet is in just a little more than a week. I plan to go, but I don't think I'll bring a bird. It can still be fun to go visit friends and see them fly their birds.

This is Falconry, for those who want a peek

One of my other activities, other than holding down a full-time job and hawking, is participating with Couchsurfing. This is an online share community where you can seek out a place to stay for the night, to borrow someone's couch or guest room, in locations away from your home. It is a way to travel cheap and experience a place better than just as a tourist, and especially meeting interesting people. The local people can give you a more authentic experience of the destination. I have surfed in the homes of others, and I have hosted a few people. There is a give and take relationship, a building of references, that allows both the surfer and the host to know they are safe. It is a recipe for far more interesting travel!

On my own profile I clearly indicate I'm a falconer, and guests are welcome to come and get an understanding of what falconry is all about. Unfortunately, the sport suffers from a misunderstanding on the part of those who have no other frame of reference that what we do is easy. A good falconer makes it look easy, but those of us who are falconers know better.

A recent Couchsurfing guest, Tammy, was interested in learning about Falconry. I think I was able to give her a pretty good experience. She stayed in my home for three nights. She was able to see the daily care of the raptors, and their facilities and furniture. I was able to arrange a hawking day with Justin, my former apprentice, and Greg, my current. Greg's bird has become flaming hot lately, taking down squirrels right and left. She caught the one above right above my guest, and came down with her prize almost on top of Tammy's head. That's Greg's son Brady securing the catch. 
We went on to fly Justin's Red Tail Chomps, who has continued on with her stunning record of last year, filling the freezer with hawk food. Chomps had already caught prey that morning prior to Justin joining us, so she wasn't too motivated. At the cars Justin pulled out his Goshawk, Olivia. She too had already flown that morning so just made an appearance to be looked at and admired. Thank you guys for coming out and letting Tammy have a good opportunity to see some hawk action.
Tammy and I would go on to fly my birds in the Rochester area. I checked out an area Justin had told me about, which proved to have many squirrels and at least one rabbit. It was rather a smart rabbit too! We chased it under a pallet, and when I poked inside to pop it out, it wouldn't budge. It knew there was a hawk outside that was more danger to it than getting poked by a stick. It was at the far end of my reach so no real danger to the bunny. When we relocated to another hunting spot, we were stumbled upon by a falconry couple that live in Rochester. I would fly CC, but we didn't kick anything up, and I was more interested in taking a break for some coffee.
On our way home, and after coffee, Sassy added Bunny #8 to her total for the year, quite easily snagging it in a new field I have found.

I think Tammy had a good, albeit tiring day with my team. She has come away with the conviction that Falconry is not for her, but that the birds are pretty awesome.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Long Absence

My hawking team has been absent from the field for far too long. Between frigid cold and work and other distractions, I've not been hawking in what seems like weeks. CC was flown yesterday, and again today. Yesterday she chased but just didn't contact. Today she hunted with focus and brought #4 bunny to the bag. The forecast is for it to get into the 30s this weekend, and I intend to get out there and do some more hunting. Let's go Girls . . . . we need more food in the hawk freezer before the season is over.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sub Zero

. . . and I ain't talkin about my favorite sandwich shop!

Sub Zero

It is cold enough outside to warrant some swearing . . . but I'll keep this Family-Friendly!

The Harris Hawks are doing OK in their heated converted trailer mew. It is now taking two heaters to keep it above freezing in there, but seems to be doing the job. However, yesterday I had to stretch my mind to come up with a solution for the Red Tail.

I had actually not planned on having three hawks this season, but the opportunity to acquire Flint in the fall was acted upon, and that removed my second warm mew out of consideration for the eventual Red Tail I wanted to get. So, Rich helped me to build a temporary housing situation for her. She is being kept in her weathering yard with a "jump box". It is top fenced for protection, and those are tarps blocking the wind from the North and East. It is open facing the South, for the weak sun, and West so I can see her from the house. If the temperature stays above zero, this works. Red Tails are very hardy birds that can withstand very cold temperatures, but when the thermostat drops below zero, it is completely unfair and cruel to leave a bird in a structure that does not allow them to move themselves to a warmer, more protected position.
We have a very nice pole barn that we are continually utilizing more and converting for various purposes. Rich had prepared a space which I had planned to house two of my goats. Biscotti, my young doeling from this year, and Kol, a whether (castrated male) that I recently acquired to keep Biscotti company, were going to take up residence here when I brought a buck to visit and impregnate my two adult female goats, Oreo and Macaroon. I don't want Biscotti to get pregnant yet, so planned to separate her. Rich set up some extra fencing sections we had and built a hay bunk to keep them safe and comfortable. Fortunately, he had not yet spread any bedding on the ground. Plant bedding and raptors don't go well together, as the danger of Asper is increased. I raked up some junk in the sand, placed a piece of carpet, and put a previously made tire-perch Rich made for me. Add an infrared lamp, and CC now has a very comfortable place to spend the next week, sheltered from the wind chill, and if she positions herself just right, actually quite warm from the lamp. The red glow is not as good as having sunshine, but it beats being outside where it is currently, as I check the weather website, -17, wind-chill value. We are forecast for -15 tonight, air temp. That could translate into ridiculously low wind chill value.

On a side note, I have placed Flint into the mew with the increased lighting to stimulate the start of the molt. No major feathers yet, but yesterday I did notice some body contour feathers in his mew. It may have started. It is WAAAAAAAY too cold to fly a little Harris Hawk like him. He needs at least 30 degrees or better, so we might as well do something productive during these months, and start his molt. I can pick him back up in the late Spring or Summer and see if I can reshape this little beast into a useable hunting bird . . . for he is just a screaming maniac right now.

The holidays, and the cold, and my having to work extra shifts because of our being down one employee at work has all conspired to limit my days in the field. I'm chomping at the bit to get out there, but that isn't going to happen for the next several days. Hopefully soon. The hawk food freezer is just not getting filled like it should, and my birds need to get out and stretch their wings.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It Was An Active Weekend!

On Saturday, December 6 I got together in the morning with Sue, to make one last effort to chase a wild hawk for her, and after failing that, fly CC for awhile. Most of the juvenile hawks have moved out of the area, following their instinct to fly South to a warmer climate for the winter. A smart move which I wish I could follow sometimes, especially after the very frigid month of November we experienced. The very few juvenile birds that remain, if found, have been out on their own for awhile now, taking care of themselves. They have become more wary of people and unusual situations (traps), and even if one could be convinced to come to a trap, tend to be more stubborn and hard to train. Sue would not have an opportunity to test this, as the lovely passage bird I saw and we both re-found in Rushford was not at all interested in our trap. After giving up we moved down the road to a promising brushy spot, where we did see lots of sign of rabbits, and did flush what was most likely the same rabbit about three times. CC put in a good effort but just didn't contact. As 1 pm approached Sue had to leave to meet some friends at her home. CC and I would seek out a different location before heading home.

I re-visited a spot in Peterson that had bunny sign last year. There was not as much activity this year in the main location along a bike trail. I did flush a bunny that made a quick break for it into the houses nearby, seeking safety in a garden. Fortunately, CC just followed up to a nearby tree, and not into the yard, for shortly after I saw the bunny disappear, I saw a person standing in the yard. I don't exactly want my hawk making a kill right in front of John Q Public, especially in their yard, when they are not expecting it. Notoriously, these kinds of people profess to love their local bunnies and don't want you killing their "pets". To those people I silently hope the bunnies girdle their expensive new bushes and trees and kill them. CC returned to me and we moved down the bike trail to a new area I had not kicked through before. Here we found lots of brushy piles, from which I did kick out another bunny. It retreated after CC made a half-hearted brush crash after it. Once regaining her high perch, I flanked where bunny had gone and managed to reflush, right into CC's waiting talons. This was bunny #2 for her. I cropped her up and then headed home. Rich was at work on this weekend day, so I just snapped a quick picture on my cell phone, above.
The next day, Sunday the 7th, CC was back down to weight and willing to try again. I was joined in the hunt by Christina "Shorty" Thompson. I've not seen Christina for awhile, and was happy she could get away for awhile and come join us for a hunt. We tried out a new spot I've had my eye on. It turned out to be good, although possibly limited, as it is bordered on one side by a fairly deep creek, and on the other by a tall fence, which I did not have the opportunity to explore if there was a way around or into it just in case a bird took game on the other side of it. I didn't have to explore these hazards as CC took down bunny #3 within 10 minutes into the field, and possibly even shorter than that. For we land-bound humans, there was a lot of raspberry canes and tangling vines to navigate, but it all looked like really good bunny-tat. CC doesn't quite seem to understand that she needs to grab her dinner by the head, for she practically skinned that pants off this rabbit. Fortunately, I was able to get to her and help subdue her prize or it very likely may have gotten away. After feeding her up, and being rather glad that she had been successful quickly, Christina and I headed into Rochester for some hot soup. Afterwards she returned to my home to enjoy my hot tub, and watch a movie. I should have gotten a picture of us both, but forgot to do so.
CC after her third bunny. She makes quite a bloody mess of herself.
Previously, or maybe after . . . I don't remember right now, and I'm not near my brain (Richard) to check the date, Rich and I went to visit Janelle in her new home. She assured me that there were bunnies to be had in her yard. This turned out to be true, although CC wasn't on her game this day so didn't catch any of them. Sassy was along, and put in a better effort. After awhile, and after moving off to a far corner of the property, we managed to flush a bunny that Sassy caught. This was #6 for her.
We were then invited inside to have something to drink and some cheese, and to tour Janelle's new digs. We will probably visit again this season. I'm sure we could catch another of those bunnies given the chance.
November was a very cold month, but I did manage to put some game into the freezer. December turned out to be a lot more comfortable, weather wise. It warmed up, relatively, into the 30s, and melted away all the snow. The Minnesota Falconers had a mini-meet in Rochester on December 13. I was working that day, but did get the morning off. I took Sassy to another new spot I have had my eye on, and it turned out to be quite good. I flushed and she chased several bunnies, finally catching #7 for her for the season, and #10 overall between the two birds. After cropping her up and getting back to my car, I quickly ran into Rochester to meet up with some of the club members to say 'hello', then had to get home and get cleaned up for work. Quite a lot of the month of December has been spent working extra. One of our longstanding co-workers resigned to take a job closer to his home (Thanks David! We are going to miss you!) Our department is now waiting for the new lady to start and get trained. Until that time, there are lots of extra shifts that have to be covered. OT is nice, but TIME during this season is what I really need to fly birds . . . and the upcoming Winter Solstice only makes the days very short.