Friday, January 15, 2016

Before and After the COLD

Actually, it is already here!  It has been a nice, long autumn, but finally, the true cold of Winter has arrived.  During the coldest night it got down to -16, with a wind chill somewhere in the -30 range. Flying exclusively Harris Hawks as I am this year limits my time in the field.  My two females have an absolute low flying temperature somewhere in the mid 20s.  If it is colder than that, they just find a perch and sit tight, as I discovered all too well, and almost to my dread this previous weekend.  Still, before the cold and after the cold we got out and added a few head of game to the year's total.

After the cold Wyvern brought this squirrel to the bag.  It was actually her second squirrel of the day.  She scraped the first one off the tree, but lost her grip on it as she was flying to the ground.  Sassy moved in for the rebound, but raked away and didn't assist.  Wyvern would go on to catch another squirrel, which also broke away upon hitting the ground, but Wyvern stepped up her game with her own rebound.  Sassy joined her, and they both held this tree rat down.

It was clearly Wyvern's catch, as the video below proves. The picture above shows Sassy's head, but that is Wyvern's foot gripping the squirrel first.  For her efforts, Wyvern got her first really bad squirrel bite. It bled quite a bit, but with several days of terribly cold weather following this hunt day, there was time for her wound to heal up.

On the weekend of January 9 and 10, on one of the coldest mornings, this chubby little bird feeder vandal was stocking up on some breakfast.  I thought I would demonstrate for my sister and her family, who were visiting, a very quick, front yard hunt.  I got both of my girls out for a quick attempt on this squirrel.  This is where their absolute intolerance for the cold shown through.  They both refused to chase, and instead just took a perch.  I was able to convince Sassy to come back to the glove to get put away, but Wyvern ignored my efforts to call her.  Neither the lure, nor a huge piece of food attracted her.  This is where the "Oh Sh*t" factor takes over.  If I could not get her back inside, she was at great risk for frost bite to her feet and wing tips.  Harris Hawks just can't handle negative temps, and the thermometer never cleared the big Zero mark that day.  After a few minutes, and getting her to come down out of the tree and perch on the weathering yard, I was able to get close enough to catch up her jess.  Back inside to the warm mew with her. 

My hawks are lucky!  They have a warm mew!  On normal days, when it is just 20s outside, the lowest setting on the infrared heater keeps it in the 50s in the mew.  It takes a backup heater when it is colder, but then I'm able to keep it in the 30s.  It makes weight control a little tricky, but it keeps these desert birds safe.  

The day before the arctic air mass settled down over us, Sassy caught the only bunny we pushed out of a newish brush pile in a lot we have permission to hunt right across from my home.  It makes for a pretty quick hunt.  It's strange that Wyvern is catching squirrels, but has yet to catch her first bunny.  Sassy took this one, and Wyvern joined her, but released her hold and flew a little distance away when I came in to assist.  

I am having a lot of fun with these two girls.  I wish my work schedule would allow me more time to hunt them.  I also hope maybe we've seen the worst of winter now, although that is likely not a reality.  It really has been a mild winter so far, but this is Minnesota.  There has to be some bad days to offset the good ones.

And just because Rich took their picture, here are my pups.  The "puppy" is pretty big now, 60 lbs.  The two get along pretty good.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sue's Squirrels

We finally bagged one of Sue's squirrels.  There were witnesses!  It was a quick hunt, and Rich did have the GoPro along, but there was a mistake with turning it on, so the action was not caught on film.

Wyvern was aggressive in this chase, and tagged the squirrel first, bringing it to the ground, but didn't hold onto it.  It escaped up into the trees but was moving slow.  We continued to work it, and Wyvern snagged it again, raking it off the tree.  Sassy caught it on the rebound.

Sue assures me there are more where this one came from.  Her particular lot of squirrels have been dining on her bird feeder seed all summer.

Monday, December 21, 2015


With only a few short hours available to me the morning of the shortest day of the year, Rich and I got out with the two girls, "B Team" for a little Solstice Hawking. Time was limited, not for the lack of daylight hours, but because it was a work day for me, and I would have to lay down in the afternoon for a nap to reset my clock for working through the night.

We visited a location that has the occasional squirrel, and very rare rabbit.  Working the acorn-rich producing trees we kicked up several squirrels.  I am noticing that with two hawks going after the squirrels, the tree rats are showing a tendency to bail out of the trees as fast as they can and go to ground.  With a single hawk, they just push around to the other side.  Wyvern is really starting to get into squirrels with Sassy, and looking up to see them.  It is also exciting to see when they come to ground, for with two birds they tend to "hopscotch" the squirrel, each taking an attempt at catching, but when missed, the other bird is in position to try, and skipping back and forth until the squirrel either escapes or is caught.  Today I believe two squirrels may have sustained a few bruises and pricks, but the girls didn't get a good grip and hold them down. Giving them just a little credit, the squirrels did look pretty big.

We looped around the woods, which are on some rolling hills, and came around a pond to the far side, which also happens to be closer to houses.  Here, in a thick patch, one of those rare rabbits was hiding out for the day, and it got up to escape, however was not fast enough.  I don't know who made the first try for it, as I know the first dive was not successful, but the second hopscotch tackled the bunny.  It took Rich and I a minute or so to locate them, as they grabbed the bunny inside a brushy pile on a hillside, which was hard for us clumsy humans to get to.  Both birds had hold of the bunny, so it wasn't going anywhere.  I carefully extracted them from the pile and brought them down off the hill onto some flat grass, where both were rewarded for their efforts.  Fully cropped up, we went home, got everyone back into their mews, bunny packaged away into the freezer, myself cleaned up, and off to sleep.

It has been a warmish, El Nino year. What little snow we have gotten has not lasted. This so far mild winter has allowed me quite a longer time to get the two hawks flying well together. Sassy does well either way. Wyvern has been learning, and seems to be coming along great. When and if "real" winter arrives, we'll see how this Texas hawk does with snow.

Below is a rather longish video of the morning.  At around the 2:45 mark the real action on the "Big Ass Squirrel" takes place.  The bunny hunt was spliced in right after.  You can't see the catch on the bunny in the video, but it does show exactly how brushy the final catch location was.  It does not clearly reflect that it was on a hillside.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


On the coldest day so far this year, on which I went out with my birds, and which Wyvern was the highest weight so far I've flown her on, she took her first "legitimate" head of game, which makes her truly a falconry bird.  I tried out a new location which did not have any bunnies, but we did find one single squirrel.  Sassy started the chase, Wyvern got in on it.  The squirrel made a break for it and jumped to a neighboring tree, then ran down and took off across the ground.  Usually, when squirrels go to ground, Sassy almost never catches them.  Today, Wyvern was hot on the tree rat, and arrived first to take down her first head of game.  Sassy quickly joined her, and together they held it for me until I got there.  For her part, Sassy got a bite on her toe.

What followed was a bit clumsy, as I was hunting by myself today.  Once I got there and squirrel was dead, Wyvern respected Sassy's authority and jumped away from the squirrel.  I gave Sassy a small reward and traded her off the squirrel, then hooded her and tied her to a tree branch.  During this effort, Wyvern flew in and grabbed my right hand leather glove laying on the ground next to me, which she confuses with her lure, and flew off with it.  Dang it!!  I've been trying to be careful to not leave that out where she can get to it.  I had to then chase her just a little, at a distance, as she just kept carrying my glove further and further away.  Fortunately, I had a full and fluffy squirrel in my game bag.  I swung that around and whistled.  This caught her attention and she returned to me, to be rewarded and secured to my glove.  After getting to eat the tasty parts of the squirrel (heart / lungs / liver) I hooded her and returned to pick up Sassy, and get back to my car.

As for the missing glove, which Wyvern flew some distance away with . . . I need a new one anyways!  I didn't even try to go find it.

Both birds got a good foot washing when I got home.  Sassy's bite was treated.  Usually she's pretty good at controlling the squirrels.  Maybe because she wasn't the one catching it today is why she got bit.

Now I just need Wyvern to catch a bunny.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Of Chickens, One Duck, and an Incidental Rabbit

I had no particular location in mind today when I set out to find someplace to fly the teams.  I just loaded everyone up and headed out.  I had to stay around my home for the morning, for the satellite TV guy to show up, but he arrived and did what he needed to do prior to noon.  I would get out with the birds in the afternoon.

I started on the back roads with a mind to find a farm to inquire if I could beat around in the brush.  Most farms of any size have brushy areas that hide bunnies.  Just outside of Dover I saw a possible farm that fit the description.  I drove up the driveway to go knock on the door.

I was greeted by a big Swiss Mountain Dog / St. Bernard of some kind who was friendly, and then kindly went on to show me the really nice deer leg he had been given to chew on.  I was informed later that a relative of the farm family had dropped by that morning with the doggy gift.  The mom to this family was warm and welcoming and didn't have any reservations about letting me poke around the farm looking for bunnies.  However, the multiple dogs were requested to be tied up, and there was a little miscommunication about the poultry on the farm.  More on that!

Before I could even get started, and just after introductions were made, I heard most distinctly the cries of a rabbit in distress.  As a falconer, I know this sound well, but I was not responsible for this particular scream of pain, as I had not even taken any of my birds out of their boxes.  A couple of the farm dogs hurried off to see what the sound meant.  The family joined me as we walked around the fenced and brushy chicken yard. At the far end of the corner a barn cat had spooked a bunny into running away, and attempting to get through the fence. It had become stuck and could not escape.  There was a cat on one side, and a curious dog on the other.  However, unfortunately for bunny, there was a falconer that was more than happy to make that bunny part of the game bag for the day.  Bunny dispatched and placed into my bag, I proceeded to go get the girls out and ready to fly.

It was thought that most of the chickens were inside their coop.  This turned out to be a false notion.  The coop was open, and very quickly once released, I was chasing after hawks, that were chasing after chickens.  The chickens were all mostly old laying birds that were destined to be replaced in the spring, so not one of the humans was too upset.  Most exciting to me was the gusto with which Wyvern chased a hen across the yard and into the coop, and up under some nest boxes.  She chased with purpose, and caught with purpose, like a Coopers Hawk or Sharpie.  It was a shame for me to have to steal her prize away. Once chickens were gathered up and packed away and the coop closed, Sassy zeroed in on the only duck in the yard.  She stooped and caught it just about the time a certain grandchild, who the duck belonged to, arrived with her father to see the chase.  I though surely the duck was dead as Sassy had a really good death grip on its head, but once pried off it played Lazarus and came back to life and waddled off to get put into the hen house.  All the domestic poultry chasing done, we moved off into the brushy areas to chase legitimate prey.

I was joined in my brush beating by Sam and Sadie, the youngest children of the farm mom.  The two kids were helpful, and we did kick up two bunnies, but the girls were out of position and didn't bring any additional bunnies to the bag.  We looped out into the surrounding field, and hopped across a creek multiple times before coming up along the fence to the other side of the farm.  Here Sassy and Wyvern started finding mice, and as we got closer, spied a few more chickens.  Before they could give serious chase I called them down to end the day's hunt.

It was a good experience for everyone involved.  I don't exactly like to encourage chicken chasing in hawks.  For red tails, it can be a very dangerous practice, as once they return to the wild such hunting could get them killed.  But sometimes it can't be helped.  I think the kids had a good time.  After posing for a few pictures, I was invited to return in the future and try to catch those bunnies that got away.