Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving in Ft Worth

After getting off work on Friday morning, I headed over to Ft Worth for the holiday with my sister and her family, and my dad. The meal was great, and I didn't have to prepare any of it, even though I was a bit late arriving, and got teased a bit about it. On Saturday morning I decided I'd find someplace to fly Cimarron. My dad came with me, and I headed over to an industrial park I had seen while hunting to trap a hawk. As we drove into the area, I noticed a car parked on the side of the road, and in the field, another falconer. I honked, I stopped and yelled, and eventually blew my whistle, and finally caught his attention. He signaled for me to hold back, and then released his prairie falcon. Over the hill was a pond with ducks, which shortly were in the air. The falcon stooped, but didn't make contact. As I waited for him to return, another falconer drove up. What followed was a meet and greet, and showing of birds. The new fella flies a gyr/peregrine hybrid. I didn't write down any names, and my memory is poor in such areas, so I don't remember who the two gentlemen were. They gave me some directions to a bunny field, after revealing the spot I was at was bunny-poor. I left to find the place they indicated, but didn't find that either! I drove around and eventually did find a small brushy area behind a remote industrial park. Cimarron flew well, followed pretty good, and I did flush two bunnies that he made a go for, contacting with neither . . . . but confirming he will try for them if I can produce them. At the end of the hunt I pulled the lure, and again he tried to snatch and fly off . . . . which was successful because I lost my balance enough that the rope came from out from underneath my boot. I then spent about 5 minutes pulling him out of a tree. Not good! I need to create a leash for the lure to attach to myself. It was a nice weekend, and I finally got a picture of the two of us. He's such a pretty bird! When I got home I also had an e-mail from a falconer in Ft Worth who flies multiple Harris Hawks, so hopefully soon I'll get to learn more about the husbandry of this hunting hawk.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show Me The Bunnies!

Today was a pretty good hawking day . . . . with one exception. I am still finding NO game in Texas, or at least in Abilene. I worked last night, but it was a good night, and I had all my tasks and my charting done and was able to leave at just a little after 6:30. So I got home in very good time and decided to take Cimarron out for a hunt. There is a field down the Winter's Freeway that looked very promising, and a Sunday early morning seemed to me a good time to go explore it. Cimarron did everything right. He followed me. He came to the fist when I called. He even went after "something" at least twice, but I think it was either a mouse, or possibly a small bird. There were many in the field. The field I picked, to my eye, should have been just loaded with bunnies. However, I only saw one, and it far away from me, and I don't think my bird saw it at all. At the end of the hunt, knowing his little trick, I stood on the lure, and prevented my little tiercel Harris Hawk from grabbing and flying off with his prize. He tried!! However, after a couple minutes when he realized he was not going to be able to carry, he settled down and ate the chick on the lure. In the meantime, I had slipped his jess back on, and secured him with a leash to prevent him from getting away. So, it was a nice walk on a Sunday morning. Disappointing hunting wise, but a good walk with my new bird, who is doing very well, despite my lame attempts at flushing game for him. I will have to continue to search for fields and farms where I can fly. Surely, Texas has bunnies . . . . . somewhere!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flying Free . . . . and Lessons Learned

Yesterday, at 560/555 grams, I flew Cimarron free, and he did very good. We walked around the perimeter of the park where I've been doing training exercises. I almost walked into a thicker grassy area behind the back of the ballpark, but seeing some more of the huge spiders I've observed prevented me from doing so. It was a very windy day, and he kited around me and the area, coming back quickly to me if I called him to the fist. At the end of the walk he came to the lure and was easily picked up and put back into his giant hood. Today started out very well. He was a bit heavier than the weight yesterday, and I know better, but I'm about to go into my long work weekend, and this was the last day for several days for me to get out in the morning for a good training/hunting flight. I tried a new field that I found yesterday, which turned out to be very disappointing. I have yet to find any bunnies in Texas, other than smushed ones on the road. It had lots of grassy areas. It had lots of cactus. It had a small mostly dried up pond with lots of cattails. It had a large field full of tumbleweeds, which should have been full of bunnies . . . . but I have not flushed a single one. Cimarron followed very well, and came to me whenever I'd do a tidbit call. All went well until it was time to leave. I made my way back to my truck, and pulled the lure. He flew in, landed very nearby, then jumped in and snatched the lure, and flew off with it. PANIC! I've never had a hawk do this before. It's called 'carrying' . . . . and it can be a very bad habit, especially if he catches game in the future that is light enough for him to fly off with. He flew a short distance, and as I moved to close that distance, he picked up the lure and flew off a lot further, and over a fence, into an eclosure that had cows. OK, time to very quickly cross the fence and get him out of there. I found a place in the fenceline just high enough at the bottom to allow me to scoot underneath. I then moved towards where I'd last seen my bird. This is where the bells come in handy. His bells allerted me to his exact location. By the time I got near him, he had finished his chick off the lure, so was no longer interested in taking off with it. I also had a good sized piece of meat on my glove, to which he responded. WHEW!! I had flown him without jesses, so quickly slipped those on while he was busy with the large tidbit that he was unable to eat quickly, or fly off with. Lessons Learned today: * Fly him at the weight you've discovered his best response, and not any higher at this point. With time, as he becomes more reliable, that weight can go up. But not yet. * Use the line on the lure and restrict his ability to grab it and fly off with it. I really need to find some fields that have game in them. I've checked out a few spots near and in town, but found nothing promising yet. It now is time to start exploring the properties several persons have offered up when they found out I was a falconer. It's important that I produce game under this little hawk, and soon, so he knows what my value in the field is. On that note, I also took a very long drive yesterday to acquire three bob white quail. At the right time, during a training hunt, I'll release them, one at a time, and see if he'll make a go at them. Hopefully he will. But I'd also like to flush some bunnies under him . . . .soon!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Are You??

I observed this evening an interesting behavior which I have noticed in at least one of my previous hawks. After a shower, I wrap my hair up in a towel. Sometimes when not in a hurry I'll wear the towel for awhile, before combing out my hair. I was doing that this evening, when I decided to put the hawk to bed in his giant hood, here inside the house. He's been on his inside perch for a couple hours. As I approached him to untie his leash, his entire attitude was one of fear and a lack of recognition. I'm beginning to be able to approach him, to touch him, without this reaction. The only difference this evening was the towel on my head. It's interesting to see this reaction. This just re-enforces the fact that hawks rely almost entirely on their vision. They recognize specific details of my face, and changes to that face. I wonder if male falconers have noticed any kind of difference if they trained a bird sporting a beard, and then cut it off.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Indoor Perch

How do you help a "social" hawk bond to you quicker?? You bring him indoors and hang out together a lot. But you can't always hold him on the fist. So, make him a safe perch inside. With a little cement, a piece of PVC pipe and a cheap bucket from the hardware store, some scrap carpet from the carpet store, and the top of my high perch which I already had, quickly I have a nice, safe place for Cimarron to perch indoors. He's still spooky sometimes, but getting better!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My own little "I Can Has Cheezburger" LOL

And now for a little humor!! Ya gotta wonder, living socially as they do . . . what the heck my new little hawk's parents are thinking about their son who has disappeared. Young birds are allowed, almost expected to stick around and help take care of their siblings for the next year. Hey, you seen Jr anywhere? moar funny pictures

Monday, November 2, 2009

Meet the New Bird!

On the Halloween Holiday weekend I took myself for a visit to the beach, to camp, and to trap around the Corpus area. I've been watching the trees and high points around Abilene and the surrounding area, but all I have been seeing are adult (we call them haggard) red-tails. I know these birds bred this year but must have chased all their offspring out of the area already. I reasoned, any passage birds may be flying south and perhaps hit some of the cities going that direction, next to the ocean, and started to hang out there. I was right about that assertion, even though it did not result in my trapping a red-tail. Along the road to Malaquite beach are many White Tailed Hawks. They look very stunning in their smart grey feather outfits, and bright white tails, but they are not a trappable species. I read an article a few years ago in American Falconry speculating whether or not they would make a good species for falconry. Sorry that the picture is not real clear. I don't have one of those fancy Digiscopes, and the birds would not let me get too close for a picture. On the day I went out trapping, I just drove into Corpus Christi from my campsite (can't trap in the Federal park). I exited off the Interstate and just started to drive back roads. Almost immediately, to my surprise, I saw and identified Harris Hawks, sitting over a fairly busy suburban street. My heart leapt into my throat!! I circled around for another look. OK . . . . to explain the excitement for those who do not know anything about hawks or falconry birds. Only some hawks are good for falconry. Many just prefer to hunt mice, or insects, and never lend themselves to any kind of sporting possibilities. However, some birds are particularly very well suited as gamehawks. These include our workhorses of the hawk world, the red-tails, and then the more exotic and neurotic accipiters, the goshawks, coopers hawks and sharp shins. That last group are some very excellent birds, but require very precise handling and training to come to their full potential. They can also be very frustrating when not handled correctly. There are many birds throughout the world that falconers are experimenting with, but which are not available to us here in the US. This discussion will not even touch on the myriad falcons, as they are a whole other class of bird that I have no experience in, and whose training and handling is different. Then . . . . we have the Harris Hawk. Also known as the Bay Winged Hawk, it is the only hawk in the world that lives in a social unit. Unlike most hawks, the breeding adults do not chase their offspring out of the territory once they leave the nest. The offspring are allowed to stay in the territory, and hone their hunting skills by helping out the next year to raise the next batch of babies. All the birds in a family group cooperatively help in the hunt. Once the prey is caught there is a pecking order, but there is no squabbling over the food. The junior birds acquiece to the adults, then get their food when the adults are finished. It's a fairly unique set-up in the hawk world. So, some 40 years ago, give or take, someone in the falconry world decided to try out this species of hawk. They range throughout Mexico and down into South America, coming into the US only in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They turned out to be a most excellent falconry bird . . . . bonding to their falconer in a way that many of our other hawks do not. Because they live and hunt in a family unit, they can be flown with other Harris Hawks, as long as they have been introduced to each other before and have sorted out their status with each other. They can be flown at a wide range of quarry, as large as jack rabbits for a good sized female, down to quail and starlings with a quick little male. They are a very versitile gamebird much prized by many falconers. The "normal" route for most people to acquire one is to purchase from a licensed breeder. However, a few rare birds can be trapped from the wild. OK . . . . back to my story! Upon seeing the adults, and knowing about their communal living arrangement, I circled back and started looking for their offspring. Sure enough, saw one sitting on a light pole over a fairly busy suburban road. A few more turn backs and I saw a place to place my trap and back off and wait. I did not have to wait long. Once the bird saw my trap he made his approach double-time, and was snared very quickly. I hurried back to the trap site, and soon had in hand a juvenile Harris Hawk! I cast him (which is to secure the feet and bind him in such a way that he could not escape) and placed him on the scale. I got a weight of about 580 grams. I then made a phone call . . . . to my falconry friend Sharon. She has flown a Harris Hawk, and she knows many people who have them. I could think of no other person first to call, as she is also my friend. She confirmed that what I had in hand was a tiercel (a male) Harris Hawk. I jessed him up, and placed him in the box, not quite sure yet what to do. I then continued on my trapping mission, looking for red-tails and mulling over the situation. Why the uncertainty . . . . you may ask! Well, I first had to confirm if he was a bird I could keep. I had been out trapping for red-tails, which I know are a species I can trap. Some states only allow the capture of Harris Hawks based upon a lottery. I needed an answer to this question, and I needed it soon. If it turns out I needed further documents other than the ones I already had (Texas Falconry Permit, Federal Permit, Hunting License) I would release him by his family area and go on looking for that red-tail. I searched my mind and wondered who to call. I stopped and tapped into WiFi and left a message with a contact I had made with the Texas Falconers Club. Surely someone there would know, but I did not have any phone numbers. I then thought of my friend, Bill Oakes, back in Wisconsin. Bill has been a falconer for more years than probably he wants to count. He has flown Harris Hawks. And I felt surely he knew someone I could call. Sure enough . . . . he did! Thanks Bill! He got me in touch with a falconer here in Texas who flies three Harris Hawks, who confirmed that in Texas a resident does not require any further documents in order to trap and keep a Harris Hawk. So . . . . . I could keep the little guy!! How Exciting!! I continued on my trapping exploits that day, just because it is such an enjoyable activity, and just in case I trapped the monster Red-Tail of South Texas, but none of the other birds I set the trap out for came to the trap. At least I did see other juveniles now, but no takers for my rat bait. It was like my whole trapping experience this year was aimed at this little bird already in the box. I accepted that fate with a smile. As soon as I got home I started making calls to get the things I did not have. My friend Sharon put me in touch with someone who makes hoods, who sent me a loaner, and will make me a hood of my own. It arrived on Wednesday, the loaner. It fits good, though my bird does not like it. He'll have to get used to wearing it. My friend Dave, the Bell Man of Wisconsin, mailed to me an appropriate sized set of bells, as all that I have are way too big for this little guy. Hopefully, those will be in the mail this Thursday. By Monday the bird would sit my fist, and started to learn to recover from a bate. That recovery was a slow lesson. By Tuesday he accepted food from me presented with a little stick, then from the glove. On Wednesday evening, I had him jumping to the fist. I have not started any kind of weight control up to this point, as I have not been able to reliably weigh him. Now I have a hood, so I can get him to stand quiet on the scale for very accurate measurement. The weight control begins today! I have decided to call him Cimarron. It was the name of one of the cross streets nearby where I trapped him. I looked it up, and along with many of the other meanings associated with the name, one of them was "wild", or "those who live on the mountain". It is a very appropriate name!! I think he is just beautiful . . . . and I'm terribly excited to have him join my life!!