Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The "Come Back Kid"

It is a common practice in falconry to release the bird you have been hunting with all winter in the Spring, to allow it to return to the wild. At some point I do want to keep a bird for a few seasons, but not this bird.  We had a rocky start, due to her health issues, which may have contributed to her being a rather mellow bird, on the fist. Some people may think this would be a good thing, but to my mind, CC was not as aggressive in the field as I would like. She missed many easy slips.  Add to this the fact that I don't have enough food in the freezer to feed three birds. Also, I hope to have a new, large mew built this summer. It would just be easier all around to give her freedom back, and let her look after herself. After all, she was doing good when she was trapped this past fall. The snow is gone now, hopefully for good, so she should be able to find mice in the many fields around my home, and we also have lots of squirrels, which she did prove to me she was capable of hunting.

I released her on Tuesday, the last day of March. I had been giving her good meals to build up a little reserve, and finished with a crop-full on the day of release.  After seeing her fly off, I went into the house to do other things. That evening, I found that she had simply flown behind the house and into the trees in the field in my pasture. The following morning while I was walking the dog prior to work, I did not see her anywhere near where she had been the previous evening. The day after that, Thursday, I did a lure call just to see if she was in the area. I got no response. I expected that she was now truly gone.

On Wednesday afternoon of this week, a full eight days after release, I spotted a large brown bird in the distance, down the road, flying away, with a little bird in pursuit. It was too far to know, but probably a starling or grackle or more likely a red-winged blackbird, which recently have arrived for the spring.  It's what they do!  Chase and harass hawks, especially young ones. The hawk looked rather brownish overall, with no red tail. I looked like a juvie!  I wondered if it might be CC.

I quickly got my guntlet and whistle and lure. I didn't want to drag any food along, in case it wasn't her. Also, I felt this was rather a long-shot, as I've never had any of my birds that I have released stick around, or be seen again. But it was worth a try. I walked up the road to a high spot, whistled and swung the lure. Off to my left I noticed movement. Upon turning and looking up in the tree, she was there. She did not respond right away, and did not come down, but she did look at me. I turned and walked back home. Like all our hunting trips, she followed along.

Back home, I ran inside my Hawk Shack and plucked out a fat live mouse from the breeding tank. Back out in the lawn, I tried to call her to the fist, but again, she was having none of that. However, as soon as I dropped the mouse and backed off, she came in and made a quick meal out of my gift. As she ate, she let me get close to her, and after eating, hopped up to the fist.

She looks like she is doing OK. Her weight felt good on my fist, although I did not reach up and pinch her keel. as she was not restrained in any way, and I also did not think to get my scale to see what her weight looked like. She seemed calm, and not crazy hungry. After a couple quick pictures by my husband, I tossed her back to the trees. I then went and cut her a larger bit of food from what I was thawing for my other two birds.  Below is the video of that food gift.

Again, she is not coming to the fist, but if the food is on the ground and I step back, she will come in to take what is offered. After the second meal, she again jumped to the fist. Her feet looked good, possibly a bit cleaner than when I let her go. It has been raining a lot lately, so she's been getting Nature's Bath. She left my fist to land on my grape arbor, and after some feaking, flew up into the trees. I did see her again a little later sitting in the clump of trees in the cemetery across the street from me.

It is possible she may stay in the area. I have not seen any resident hawks this year. In the last two years I did find one bird down the street that appeared to be dead from electrocution (found under a very nasty looking power pole), and another bird I came across while walking in one of the fields, just dead . . . unsure of why, but had some runny mutes.  I left both birds where found to decompose naturally. It is possible there are no residents here at this time, so she is not getting chased out. It is a good area, and would make a good territory. There are quite a few grassy fields which surely have lots of mice, and many trees with confirmed squirrels. We hunted one of those fields this previous winter, so it should be a little familiar to her. Perhaps she will stick around.  I'll keep an eye out for her.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Season Wrap-up

The days move ever on, and slowly spring makes its way into the Upper Midwest.  But not as fast as I might prefer. Recently, we've had many warm days, but this previous evening were visited with a Spring Clipper, which brought about five inches of snow where I live, and more or less depending on if you are North or South of the path of the storm.  It is a damper, as this previous weekend, especially Saturday, was bright and warmish (for Spring).  Because of the storm, I've taken the time to sit down and finish up blogging for the season.  I didn't have to go out anywhere today, so it is a good activity when the roads look unsafe to drive on.
One more trip to see Brandon produced one bunny for each of my girls.  Both bunnies were male, so I didn't hurt this next season's crop, if any of the female rabbits out there are even pregnant yet.  Brandon has some good hunting ground, but it is very infested with raspberry vine (which bunnies like), and which goes right through my 'Firehose' duds. My legs got all scratched up.

Thank you again Brandon! I'll be seeing you next season, and I'll be sure to invite you to go trapping with me.
This end of the season we did a little meet and greet on two separate occasions. A lady found me on the Internet and invited us to come fly on her and her husband's property.  Thank you Cordia and Chuck! I'm glad you enjoyed seeing the girls fly. I'm sorry you didn't see them chase anything, as we didn't find any game. I will certainly contact you next season for a second and hopefully better chance.

We were then invited on a different day to meet some of their friends on the land owned by them.  Thank you Kari and Rick for letting the girls try for squirrels on your land.  Sassy at least wowed by catching a couple mice. Not the most exciting, but it was 'wild game', caught by a 'trained hunting bird'.

Most of the rest of these pictures on this page were taken by Cordia Pearson, and are posted here by her permission.
It was mostly a walk in the woods, but all who saw enjoyed the bird's flights.
CC did see and chase a ground squirrel, but it got away before she even got close to it.
The picture below was taken by Kari Schmitt, and posted here by her permission. It is in a small format, and I would really like to have this in a higher resolution. There was a rock on the top of the wood post. She struggled to balance on it. It made for a rather cute picture.
Back to pictures by Cordia.  The two hunters below look to the distant trees for game opportunities.
Kari enjoyed holding CC. She is a small human, and CC a large hawk, so the angle and perspective make CC look particularly large and intimidating.
Rick got to hold Sassy, just prior to her finding and pouncing on a mouse in the grass. No one saw the mouse . . . but Sassy did, and made it part of her lunch.

She's a very nice girl, this hawk of mine.
A little later Sassy found another mouse up the hill, and added it to the first one. Upon calling her back, she then demonstrated something Harris Hawks do sometimes . . . walk.  She walked for quite a way as we also made our way across this short grass meadow.  Eventually she picked herself up and flew to the trees.

Because no game was taken, other than the mice, I gave each girl the food I had in reserve in my pocket. Both 'bowl feed' for me, although I do hold CC's jesses when I do this, as I don't quite trust she might not dart a foot up and grab either the bowl, or me. That would not be pleasant.

Sassy is finishing up what was in the bowl, finding one last little scrap outside the bowl.
The final clip is of a particularly nice call-down that Rich caught with his GoPro. Flights from such distances are so very impressive.

With these final hunts, as well as the one on the last day of the Small Game Season in Minnesota, which was successful, Sassy finished the year up at 15.  CC took 10.  This is not a great year, but the freezer is full, and the birds are healthy, and now eventually Spring will come, and other activities now take most of my attention. The lights are already increased in Sassy's mew. Flint has already dropped 4 primary feathers as well as a deck feather (he's had long lights for a lot longer time). CC will spend just a little more time with me getting fattened up a bit, then she will be released.

The falconry season ends!  The hunting part of it at least.  Care of the birds is a year-round thing. And there is equipment to repair and maintain, as well as hopefully, a new mew to be built.  It is a labor of love, which also tends to suck up all my spare disposable cash.  But I get a great deal of satisfaction from the practice of this ancient sport.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Georgia Falconry

Rich found a couple of really good videos of some falconers in Georgia hunting squirrels with Harris Hawks.


Oh, and look . . . Red Tails too!

There are more, but I should stop watching videos and go fly my own bird while the sun is still up.


On this late Winter day the girls went with me and Rich on a trip up North of the Cities to meet an Internet fan. Sassy posed nicely for a lovely and inspiring picture.  She's such a lovely girl, and so nice to fly.  Unfortunately, Spring is right around the corner, and over the Summer she becomes a very moody thing. Today she was a joy . . . even if we didn't find anything to hunt.
CC also came along and only impressed with her beauty and size, for the winds picked up on this day and she came the closest to flying away that she has attempted. I retrieved her, after having to follow across a road and into a neighborhood, and after a little convincing her to come down from her high perch. Soon, very soon, she will be allowed to fly as far away as she pleases. I have decided to not keep her for another season, and to give her back her freedom. She has been nice to handle, and has a good temperament, but is not as aggressive in the field as I would like, and also, frankly, just misses way too many good slips. Soon, she can spend all day looking for those perfect slips, without me.

The Big Chomp

A little while ago . . . the days just sorta blur together so I don't always remember . . . it dawned a clear and not too cold day. Rich and I got out for awhile with Sassy, whose hunting days have been limited due to the very extreme cold we have been having. It has not been as snowy this winter as last year, but for the last month or more we've been having quite a few below zero days and high winds. Sassy needs at least 20s to be able to fly.
We took her to a little patch I discovered this year, and from which she got one of her first rabbits. Prospects didn't look that good, but after a bit of a walk Rich noticed a squirrel. With a little encouragement, Sassy noticed it too. When she brought this tree rat to the bag, it looks like it has been plucking fur off it's belly, so may have been getting prepared for babies. Well, instead we had it for dinner a day later. For her part, Sassy got one of the worst bites she has ever gotten while in my care. It bled rather profusely for awhile, but with pressure, and then cleaning when we got home, it has healed up. I gave her several days off after to heal . . . and besides, it was so cold I would not have been able to fly her anyway.

This was her first squirrel for the season, and #11 head of game. I don't have the haul of bodies in my freezer than some folks I know, but I am flying my girls as much as I can, and catching things.