Friday, December 24, 2010

May the Peace of the Season bring peace to each and all! (If I had taken this picture before today, I would use it for my holiday card. Maybe for next year. This is taken in my front yard. The snow is pretty! Just very hard to walk through!)

Happy Holidays 2010

Two years ago I decided to make my own holiday cards with my own pictures. I liked the idea so much I've started to make it a 'tradition' of mine. Below are the best of the pictures I took for this year's card. The top two are the ones I went with. Anyone that got a card from me that also check in here have already seen these pictures. At one of the farms I was invited to hawk at on the first major snow day I took the above picture of a rustic out building, flanked by a lot of burdock. I don't particularly like burdock, but the picture was really nice. There was another patch of weeds further up the hill which may have made a very nice closeup image, but after having already been up the hill once, and found nothing for the hawk to hunt, I didn't really want to slog up the hill again. So, that image 'got away'. There are many fruit trees on the farm, and the guys have built a grape arbor which has several varieties of hardy grapes growing. The apple tree is next to the arbor, and some of the grapes wound up into the tree. No one harvested the grapes this year, so some were left on the vine, as well as a few apples up high that didn't fall off on their own. After the first winter storm, which left everything coated in a layer of ice, I scaled a ladder to capture this apple and grape pair. I don't think the image catches quite the sparkle on everything . . . but it still turned out to be one of my favorites. The rest of these pictures are images I saw and photographed, but just didn't choose for my card. They are still nice, so I'll share them here. It snowed again outside! I need to get moving and go out and scrape off my car and make an errand up town. I also will have to catch a nap, for I get to work tonight . . . doing the overnight shift . . . working when Santa works. Hey Santa . . . how about some more bunnies! Or maybe, some courage for my hawk to go after the squirrels I keep showing him, but which he still has no interest in. How about an early melt so there is not so much snow to slog through. I'm feeling very disappointed in this hawking season.
Happy Holidays Everyone!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Visual Demonstration

How much snow do you have?
This much! This is the average depth. In some places it is deeper . . . see the snow up to bottom of my jacket? In a few places it has blown off, so is not so deep. But this is the normal depth. All I see of rabbits is some tracks, and maybe a few turds. Bunnies are tucked in safe and hard to find. I had an enjoyable IM chat with my former sponsor yesterday. I deeply admire this man, and feel very honored that he was the person who mentored me into the world of falconry. He is also having difficulties with finding rabbits, so that at least gives comfort that it's not just my imagination, or lack of effort. The difference is that he has a nice sized female RT, and the skill to get her on squirrels. I'm not even seeing the tree rats now. If nothing else, this season is making me form a to-do list. 1. Possibly consider getting a hawking dog and train up over the summer. 2. Build a bow net set-up, to expand the possibilities of trapping more birds, to make a better selection (i.e. A BIG female for next year). 3. Build another mews, a warmer mews, and consider another species of raptor. A kestrel for all the sparrow around here? A merlin? Can I figure out how to trap one? I don't think I'm crazy enough yet to take on a Coopers or a Sharpie, but they could certainly go for all the sparrow . . . . and I'm pretty sure I could find some more farmers around here who would not mind me knocking those down for them. Falconry is not an easy sport! It is an obsession! Sometimes I get discouraged, but I keep coming back, keep coming back. I read of the successes of others, and remember my own successes in the past. I'm frustrated that the area I'm living in is not proving to be a good hawking area. Will I ever live in one?

Monday, December 20, 2010

ENOUGH already!!

It's snowing outside, again! Probably about an additional 6 to 8 inches, on top of the approximately 19 or more we already have now. It's pretty! It's hard as hell to walk through! It's almost impossible to find anything to flush for the hawk. Despite all this, Richard and I did go out to at least get him some exercise . . . and us too. Surprisingly, he did manage to find a vole today. Nothing else was flushed, despite bunny sign, bunny tracks in the snow. I've dropped Bailey's weight, due to his poor performance the last time we went out. Today he was 800 grams . . . a very big drop, but he seemed a heck of a lot more attentive to what was going on around him. I believe 800 is too low, and will return him to the mid 850s. Mostly today, he was hunting me. Above he found me while I was moving through a thick grove a pine trees, perching like a parrot instead of the hawk he is. When I tossed him off toward a tree, instead he landed on Richard. We are getting very nice snow pictures of the hawk, but that's about all we have to show for our trips out into the deep white stuff. I have hawking envy for all those folks in the blogs that I have bookmarked on my page here . . . for all their success. Game is hard to find, and my weapon to catch it is not performing like he should. I hope this gets better before the season is over.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deep Snow

The Upper Midwest was hammered with snow on the weekend of December 10th and 11th. I decided to try my one close-by field that we've been successful at catching the only rabbit that has gone into the bag with this bird. The snow was beyond belief in how deep and difficult it was to work the field. Most of the time I was up to my knees, but occasionally you'd find yourself up to your thighs or hips, as this field is an old tree nursery, so there are holes where trees previously were growing. With the snow, you don't see the holes, until you are in them, but at least the deep snow cushions the fall. It is now an abandoned field, perfect for bunnies to inhabit . . . and inhabit they do! There was sign of rabbits all over, and a few were spotted . . . but it was incredibly hard work to flush them. Richard took a picture of Bailey perched atop one of the many pine trees still growing in the field. I should have taken a picture of the snow-covered trees, but didn't realize a camera was along. Upon returning home and talking with one of my hawking friends who frequently travels to Alaska for work, she indicated the falconers there utilize snow shoes. This prompted an Internet search, and I think very soon I will purchase a pair. I might not be able to stomp brush as well in them, but at least, hopefully, I'll be able to walk the field with a lot less effort. With the snow dumping has also come some sub-zero temperatures. I have been allowing Bailey's weight to maintain a little higher. I think I'm guilty of allowing my sentiment for the animal to cloud my falconry wisdom . . . as he tells me he's starving, but field performance proves otherwise. At the end of our time in this field I had herded a rabbit towards the front of the field. I was just about to give up and go home, when I exited the tree line, having already tossed Bailey towards the large tree at the end of the field, to notice the bunny I had been chasing was sitting in very short cover between myself and the hawk. It was a perfect set-up, for any other bird. I gave the game call, and Bailey whipped his attention towards me, as I ran towards the hiding rabbit to flush it. It did flush, and ran out into the open field towards the trees . . . and my bird just sat in his tree and ignored it!! This is sure indication that the 890 grams I've been allowing him is just too fat for true response. I had determined his flight weight earlier in the year to be 865, and 865 or below is where he needs to be. Since that time, I have been managing his weight a little closer, and hope on Monday the 19th to try again, somewhere. My long work weekends just really cut into my hawking!! Above is a wild Coopers hawk spotted sunning itself in one of the trees in our yard. I spotted it outside my window where our computers are set up. We watched as it watched the world around it, to include several juncos foraging for food around the base of the tree where it was sitting. If you look closely, you can see this bird already has a crop on it (bulge at the neck) so was not interested in hunting . . . only interested in catching some rays. It is the unseen Coops that is the dangerous one. Those sitting out in the open usually are not hungry or hunting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Hawking

The first major snow of the season arrived last week, and it was a decent amount. About 9 inches fell, and blanketed everything. The hawking just got easier, and harder. Easier, because now you can see if there is any bunny activity in the field you want to fly your bird in. Harder, because you have to tromp through it all. I don't have a dog . . . I should really, seriously start thinking about getting one. It would be nice to let a young, agile dog sniff out and kick out the rabbits. Instead it's me, and sometimes I have the pleasure of Richard's company, to tromp through the areas and try to find the rabbits. Yesterday we hit a couple places in La Crosse. We didn't flush as many rabbits as there were sign of their presence. My hawk is also, still, not very good at catching them!! As of yesterday he has now 'furred' about four rabbits. He really needs to learn to grab them by the head, as by the but they just rip away . . . their fur and skin being very loose. It is one of their defense mechanisms. The heavy snow has now made finding mice almost impossible. It is now that the inexperienced birds start to starve. Bailey is just lucky he has a safety net, in me. I just hope he starts getting wiser on how to catch what I work so hard to flush for him. At this point . . . I'm not planning to keep him for another season. He'd better wise up, or fly South when I let him go in the spring.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meeting Another Falconer

Today I spent a wonderful day in Rochester meeting another falconer who I've exchanged e-mails with for some time. We spent the day chasing bunnies and hawks, and generally talking each other's ears off. He is, by his own admission, in 'falconry purgatory', as he is birdless right now. He and his wife moved to Rochester this year into a house which, as he says, will be wonderful for kids (which is good as his wife is pregnant with their first child) but not so great for setting up a mews. So falconry is on hold for him right now as life is happening. Today I helped him get a falconry fix. We met up early in the morning and proceeded to check out a couple spots that he thought might be good for hawking. He's really not sure what to look for here in the upper Midwest as he has hawked in Idaho and Arizona. I made a point of introducing him to burdock . . . one of my 'favorite' plants. Eventually we went West to Byron, to the spot I've found which does have rabbits. We worked down and up the patch next to the rail road, flushing lots of bunnies, and Bailey did stoop on several, and on one did catch it, enough for the bunny to wail for quite awhile, but as I was making my way over to help him, he lost his grip and it got away . . . again. He really needs to learn to grab them things by the head! He was a bit high in his weight, and as the day wore on, and the tidbits added up, and it got warmer (and windier) my field control over him was straining . . . so we called it quits and called him down to the lure. We met up with his wife for lunch, and continued to talk hawk the whole time. She was very patient and didn't mind. After lunch, with him not needing to come home for any 'honey-do's' he went out with me again to 'hawk stalk'. We never did spot any juvenile hawks, only seeing one bird which at first we both thought was a juvie, and we even dropped a trap. However, once we got a chance to really take a good look at 'her' (appeared to be a pretty large bird) she was an adult, which we call a haggard. She was quite a light colored bird, having more of a rosy tail, not dark brick red, and her head was more grayish than redish. She was BEAUTIFUL!! Too bad she was an adult! The above sign makes no sense at all . . . . since the area behind it is a public park! We had a very good day, and I look forward to many more hunts searching for bunny spots in the area. Thanks Paul!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Caledonia

Today I celebrated my first major holiday with my new family, as a member of the family. I've actually attended an Easter while I was still dating Rich. Above, we both came to the feast wearing our Norwegian sweaters, which are very warm. Appropriately, we posed next to his brother-in-law's stuffed turkey. The weather has changed, and we are experiencing the first true cold snap. A cold, icy rain fell last night coating everything, and making walking and driving treacherous. I don't think the temperature rose above the 20s today. Our chickens were moved inside the calf house, where they will spend the rest of the winter. My hawk got to spend last night in his box inside the house, but only because it was already icy when I got home yesterday, so didn't want to fuss with it. He's in his mews now, having gotten a pretty good feast of his own today, as I won't be able to fly him for a couple days. We went to Wisconsin yesterday, and I purchased my out-of-state small-game license, then visited one of my old favorite spots which always had bunnies. We had about 3 flushes, though it is possible the first and third were the same rabbit. He made a really spectacular stoop at the final rabbit, furring it, and garnering a squeak, but yet again he didn't have a good grip, and lost his prize. At this time we were also getting cold and wet, what with the freezing rain that had started, as mentioned above, so called it quits on that last lost slip. I'll continue to visit my old spots and check them out. I figure, they have not been hawked for about 2 years, unless someone else has been visiting some of them since I last left the area. I'm arranging for a falconry outting this weekend in Rochester. I hope for better weather. Cold is OK. Wind is NOT! Snow is OK. Ice is definitely NOT!! It was an enjoyable day. I am thankful myself for being a part, being welcomed into, a wonderful family, and having such a good companion in my life. Thanks Rich!! I Love You!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Drive By Trapping

Here's my guy holding a recently trapped passage red-tailed hawk, which he is about to let go. A few days ago I was driving through the Yucatan Valley in Minnesota, and saw a fairly dark juvenile hawk. I didn't have any trap bait with me (live mice or rats) even though I did have the traps. I then went into my work weekend, so thought it unlikely the bird would still be in the area three days later, but I'd try it anyway. I had a meeting on Monday at work, so left an hour early to scan the valley in the daylight (I'm now currently driving to work and back in the dark). I drove through the valley, then doubled back on a parallel road, and re-drove half of the valley . . . and that is when I spotted this dark bird. So far this season, I am not having a great falconry experience. That is, I did trap a really nice bird, and he trained quickly, and I have really good field control over him . . . but I am just not finding enough game for him. He refuses to chase squirrels, which we do have, will go after rabbits, which I am not finding enough of, and usually takes mice. Whooopee! I have also been out trapping several times and caught nothing. I was surprised that within 10 minutes of spotting this bird, he was in hand. Taking him home and checking him over, he turned out to be a small (though well fed) male. Rich came with me back to where he was trapped and the bird was released. My license has room for another bird. If I happened to trap a really good sized (and preferably dark) female, I'd consider keeping her. It's ironic but on the same day I saw two other birds which were set up great for trapping. I think one turned out to be a Rough Leg Hawk, a species we don't use in falconry, so I didn't set a trap out. The other I did try for, and may have caught with time, but it was late in the day and darkness ended my further attempts. I'll keep searching for those bunny hot spots . . . . they seem to be a rare thing!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Soooo . . . what color nail polish would you like?? Blood Red!! OK then!
As we went through the training process, and the bating process, and my NOT having any outdoor carpet down while that was happening, my bird lost his needles at the ends of his talons. Reading up on it, you are supposed to soak the feet for the scales to slough off, and for the needles to return. On top of everything else, my bird also seems to have sustained a wound to the side of one of his toes . . . how he did that I don't know as he's not caught anything any more vicious than a rabbit. Besides antibiotics prescribed by an avian vet, treatment includes twice daily soaking in warm water. So, morning and night, he is placed into a lick tub (BIG plastic container) with about an inch of warm water, to which I'm adding epsom salt. He stands in this, hooded, for about 10 minutes. His feet are coming out nice and clean, and hopefully it is helping the wound to resolve, which is a closed scab, and which I have not noticed too much difference yet. Anyhow . . . . this is also helping to soften the scales on the talons. Today as I was fussing with his feet after a soak, and changing out anklets, I decided to take the emery board and scale off myself some of the loose stuff that you can see as a soft white layer on the talons. I was seen doing this, and captured in photograph. It does look funny! As far as the soaking process . . . I think the jury is still out. I've read to let the hawk soak overnight. I've also read to wrap a perch with a wet towel, and let them stand on that overnight. I may still consider this at some point. I've also read to massage in some bag balm onto the nails, which I may still consider getting. In combination with all this, I have changed out all the perching surfaces for him, adding a nice rough branch in his mews which he prefers to perch on. This should help with the stropping process. Either way, his toes are getting more pointy! I'm also very impressed that he is allowing me to fuss with his feet without any protest.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

United Nations Declare Ancient Hunting as Global Cultural Heritage

The North American Falconers' Association in coordination with the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF) released the following statement today.


Nairobi, Kenya - Today the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage added Falconry, a traditional hunting method, to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity.

For over 4000 years, falconry as a hunting method has retained an unbroken thread of tradition. For nearly 200 generations in an unbroken chain of intangible heritage, falconers worldwide have passed along their knowledge and skills bringing this art to us in the 21st century. Today's modern lifestyle and rapid urbanization have restricted opportunities to practice falconry. This has lead to a dangerous decline in many countries. UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage lists ensure signatory governments protect traditions such as: traditional skills, knowledge and rituals, handicrafts, song, dance, art and poetry or practices related to nature. "Traditional falconry is exceptional in that it fulfills all of these." said Frank Bond, President of the International Association for Falconry.

This is the largest ever nomination in the history of the UNESCO convention and was presented by eleven nations: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage took the lead in coordinating this massive submission and UNESCO officials wrote during the inscription process that "...this is an outstanding example of cooperation between nations".

From its ancient beginnings in the Middle East falconry is now practiced on all continents and has given the entire world so much. Bond pointed out, "There are a thousand falconry words in common language. For example: even the universal term 'gentleman' is derived from falconry implying a man who could fly a female peregrine, the 'falcon gentle'; falconers gave the world the first scientific book on nature 'De arte venandi cum avibus' (1248 A.D.) and wars have even been avoided by diplomatic gifts of falcons."

The UNESCO submission stated "Falconry is one of the oldest relationships between man and bird, dating back more than 4000 years. Falconry is a traditional activity using trained birds of prey to take quarry in its natural state and habitat. It is a natural activity because the falcon and her prey have evolved together over millions of years; their interaction is an age-old drama. The falcon is adapted to hunt the prey, and the prey has evolved many ways to escape from the falcon. This leads to a fascinating insight into the way nature works and poses an intellectual challenge to the falconer in his understanding of behavior. His task is to bring the actors together on nature's stage. To do this the falconer must develop a strong relationship and synergy with his bird."

Falconry is considered a low-impact activity. Falconers understand that their hawks and quarry species must be preserved and they have been practicing 'sustainable use' for centuries. Professor Tom Cade of the Peregrine Fund pointed out: "Falconers have been instrumental in the worldwide recovery of the once endangered peregrine falcon and are involved in many conservation projects."

Falconers share universal principles. The methods of training and caring for birds, the equipment used and the bonding between man and the bird are found throughout the world. It is these common shared traditions and knowledge that make falconry universal and keep it alive, even though these traditions may differ from country to country. Larry Dickerson, President of the North American Falconers Association, sums up, "While falconry is a hunting sport, compared to modern methods it is not an efficient means of hunting. It is more of an art form kept alive in the United States by a small group of ardent and dedicated practitioners. This recognition by the United Nations is a milestone for falconry". The American father of game management, Aldo Leopold, referred to falconry as "the perfect hobby" and renowned American ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson pointed out the ancient relationship between man, falcons, and falconry in his famous quote "Man has emerged from the shadows of antiquity with a Peregrine on his wrist. Its dispassionate brown eyes, more than those of any other bird, have been witness to the struggle for civilization, from the squalid tents on the steppes of Asia thousands of years ago to the marble halls of European kings in the seventeenth century."

"The North American Falconers' Association joins falconers around the globe in celebration of this historical announcement and expresses appreciation to the falconers and organizations in so many countries that were instrumental in the successful recognition of falconry as an intangible cultural heritage." Dickerson said.

Monday, November 15, 2010


So I decided to hunt my bird today. I wanted to hunt him yesterday, but he was still so over flight weight on Sunday he was not safe to fly. I used a road killed baggie squirrel on him last Thursday, and he ate so much, and it must be very rich meat, it has taken days and days for him to burn off the meal. Even today he was 25 grams higher than I usually fly him, but it has been cold, and he was acting so very hungry and motivated I decided to risk it. Rich was available to come with me today. Because my bird was not at a spectacular weight, I decided to just stay near home. We tried the park in town, as it is loaded with squirrels, and there are spots where bunnies might be found that I had not kicked up yet. When we arrived, we flushed/saw about 4 squirrels. We walked around with the bird flying about, but just never got him and them lined up that he would see them and consider chasing. Much later in the day I dug out my wrist rocket to put in my gear . . . if I had it today I could probably have gotten a tree rat to move that was plastered to the branch, out of view from the hawk. It knew we were not the thing to avoid, but that bird! So we moved off to the brushy stuff. We did eventually flush a bunny, and chased it around a bit. The hawk moved up over the hill, and we followed, only to find him on top of a power pole where a squirrel had been bumped. He saw the squirrel, and did dive for it, but missed . . . so he will try for them. I'll have to continue to encourage this. I'm also reminded today that eventually I'd like to have a hawking dog. Some of that hillside could have been much easier covered by a small, mobile dog. So after the squirrel dive, and a little more flying around, I saw the bird make a bee-line towards an open area off to the left of the field. I followed as fast as I could . . . only to find him on a snake when I got there. He had already killed the snake, but did not seem to be at all interested in eating it. I've had this happen before . . . my last RT Nina killed a garter snake too . . . but would not eat it. What a waste! So my 'fierce' little tiercel red tail has killed one bunny, about 4 mice and one snake. We'll keep working at it to get a better outcome to the hunt. BTW . . . I brought the snake home and even the barn cats were not particularly thrilled with eating it, but eventually they did. I guess no one likes snakes, alive or dead! Below is a gratuitous pic of my cute little pomeranian dog that used to belong to my mother. She's killing a chew toy. If it wasn't for the fact that she is so fluffy, I'd consider trying her as a hawking dog . . . she seems game enough for it . . . but that coat would pick up burdock worse than I would . . . and I'd be spending a lot of time teasing it out of her.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


By accident I came across one of the videos produced by this French television series. I then spent a good chunk of an afternoon watching a bunch of the clips. It is quite cute, and worth sharing! Sorry . . . no hawks . . . just lots of cute and sometimes devious insects. I'll include one as an example:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fuzzy Shoes

There has not been much of excitement to report as far as my falconry activities. I've been getting Bailey out every couple days, when work doesn't interfere. On the last three trips out all we have to show at the end of the hunt . . . is a mouse in the crop. Last week Rich and I drove towards Rochester, and ended up in Byron. I found a really good stretch along a RR track that was loaded with bunnies. We had lots of flushes, and lots of stoops, and one bunny squeak, but no catches. The brush is still very thick, and my bird is inexperienced. The area around Rochester looks good for many potential hunting sites, it's just that it is a long drive away!! The last two times out we focused on places closer to home. Again, the same frustration as last year . . . finding appropriate places to hunt. By all accounts, Bailey is doing his job, following pretty good, and coming when I call . . . I just need to get better at flushing game for him. On a different note . . . . and somewhat funny as far as I'm concerned . . . I learned to never, never go out to the mews to get my bird wearing my fuzzy lambswool slippers. I stepped into his mews the other day to pick him up and bring him inside to be weighed and gotten ready to go hunting. He flew at my feet and started to attack what looked like a bunny to him. I got a few scratches on my ankle before I could grab him, and then kick off the slippers outside. It may have hurt, but I thought it was funny, giggling all the way back to the house, my ankle oozing blood. The only other items of interest . . . . Richard helped me to make a new perch inside the mews. This one is a fresh wood branch, harvested direct from a mature tree growing on a farm near here. We saw the branch, and came back to finish yanking it down. It took Rich about an hour of pulling on a rope looped over a low branch to finally break it free . . . some very tough wood . . . black walnut I think. I'm also testing out a technique to help re-sharpen talons. Bailey lost his very sharp needles in his new life, and going through the training. I'm trying to get them back. I had read soaking the feet in water helps to soften the scales that will then flake off, returning the talons to sharpness. I'll report later if it works. Above Bailey watches and is impatient with me as I re-tied my boot and snapped up my chaps. A new "firehose material" set of bibs came in the mail yesterday (Thanks Rich). I'll try those on for the next hunt.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Today my newest hunting companion proved that he has what it takes to be a successful falconry bird. This morning, about 10:15 AM in a brushy field not too far from where I am living, he caught his first rabbit while under my care. This "enters" him to rabbits. Chasing rabbits may have been something familiar to him from his previous wild life, or he may have simply been going after something that he recognizes as potential food because the opportunity presented itself. Either way, bunny #1 is in the bag today. I've been flying him mostly in the late afternoons. I was planning to do that yesterday, but late in the day while returning from doing some errands, I noticed a juvie RT sitting on a pole very close to the house. The dilemma was to either gear up, and try to find someplace to hunt with the dark coming quick, or go chase that juvie, and give my bird a little snack, and take him hunting in the morning, when I had a lot more time to find a better hunting spot. I chose to chase the juvie . . . . which turned out to be a bust, as it was gone when I returned. Of course, I saw it again this morning, but I was now busy going about the other activity. I'm in new territory, so I have to find new spots to hunt. With time, I should be able to find many places that I can rotate, so as not to place too hard an impact on the bunny population in one spot. However this does require driving around sometimes, looking. I did just that this AM. A couple towns down the major County Hwy that I live on, I found just such a spot. It is on the edges of a village, and appears to be an old tree nursery. In fact, I had to walk carefully, because there were lots of big holes left where trees had been dug up in years gone by. The trees now are all very large, and look as if they are in the spot they are in for good. It is brushy and overgrown, and appears abandoned. Some short distance behind it all there is also the remains of a greenhouse frame, but I never made it that far. As I was getting my gear on, and putting telemetry on the bird, I saw someone drive by slowly and eye me. They drove by again a short time later, eying me again. I had parked across the street in what appeared to be a fairly abandoned ball park. I was concerned while there that I might have the local law show up and question my behavior. Apparently it is also pheasant season, and there were some cars lined up along the road down the way working some open fields. The place I was at had no signs saying to keep out, looked abandoned, so as far as I'm concerned, is open for walking and 'exercising my bird'. Thankfully, no one came to challenge me. Bailey took a perch as we entered the field, and moved along with some encouragement following me as I moved. After about 5 minutes in the field I did flush a bunny, and he did react to it, but crashed down too late. Well, at least he did respond to the rabbit, which is a good sign. It was one of the unknowns about my bird . . . would he chase bunnies? Well, the answer was Yes! I worked down the field, then followed him over to a small island of trees across a harvested field. Finding nothing over there I brought him back over to the place I was before. We then moved to the other side of a line of coniferous trees. As I cleared the hedge I threw Bailey off, and he wheeled around and flew to the front of the field, landing in a very large tree. OK . . . good location! From there he could see the action. I then worked my way back to the front of the field. Just as I was about to the front I must have flushed another bunny, which I neither saw nor heard. Bailey did! He took off from his perch, pumped his wings fast to get some speed, then did a wing over and crashed into the grass. The effort was rewarded by the cries of my first bunny back up in the Midwest. I raced over as fast as my stubby legs could get me there, hoping he had a good grip and would not lose his prize. He clearly had control of the situation when I got there. This being his first bunny caught as a falconry bird, I wanted to reward his efforts. I dispatched the bunny, secured his leash to me, then opened it up and let him enjoy the fresh, warm innards. I then allowed him to consume a far greater meal than I normally would give him. As he stuffed himself I cut away and removed portions, to make the meal just that much less without his noticing. Even still, afterwards weighing him, he was 160 grams heavier. A normal healthy meal for this guy is about 90 to 100 grams, so it was a generous meal. Once I had allowed him to eat everything that I left on the ground for him . . . it being important that he not see me as a competitor for his food, and seeming to him that he ate the whole rabbit, though portions of it had been snuck into my game bag, I had him jump up to my fist for another small treat, then exited the field. He let me hood him without any problem. When I got him home I put him up his tall perch so he could settle down after the hunt, do a little preening, and digest. His tail was all jammed against the ground while he ate, so needed some re-zipping. I also sprayed his feet to get rid of the blood. Sorry, no pictures with the first bunny. Rich, my primary 'dog' and photographer is at work today, and what was left is not much to look at! Above he has his wings out, drying, though mostly I had just sprayed his feet and his tail. Even now as I watch him through the window, he is relaxing, putting over his crop, and occasionally working through some of his feathers, putting them back in order. Bunny #1 in the bag!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When it Rains . . . the Salamanders Come Out!

It has been quite dry in our county for some time now . . . which the farmers have liked as it allowed the crops to dry out and to be brought in early. This morning I awoke to the sound of a gentle rain . . . and it rained most of the morning. In the early afternoon my brother-in-law Brian brought in the following critter which he found out and about in the moisture, looking for some bugs. It is a really nice and healthy looking salamander. It sat quietly in his hand, until I started to take pictures of it. Apparently it's shy of the paparazzi, so tried to get away. We let my little dog have a sniff, then took it back to where it was found, to pursue those bugs. A quick search indicates that most likely it is a Tiger Salamander, a very common species for this area.

Tall Perch

I recently put up the 'Tall Perch', which is placed upon the top of a 6' pole. It took a few tries to teach Bailey to return to the top after a bate, but he caught on after a few assists. Currently, at this writing, he is out on top of the perch in the light rain. It is raining for the first time in weeks. The moisture is good to wash his feathers, and I'd like his toes to sit in the wet for a bit, as that assists with the sluffing of scales on the talons, to bring back the needle points. He was flown yesterday in a little patch of green behind where Rich works, showing him off to the co-workers for a bit. He followed well, and we did flush a single bunny, but he was not in position so did not see it. He did make a dive at a mouse, which he missed. We then re-whacked the area, and the mouse did pop out, and even ran over his feet, but at that very moment he was looking up into the trees, and subsequently launched to return there . . . missing a nice little meal. It is times like this that I feel a bit of anxiety about the coming year. I do not know where to find the bunnies in this region. I have to search out some hunting spots. I am living in very rural areas where what game is available disburses out into the countryside, and can be hard to find, and is pursued by the coyotes and all the feral cats. City lots are a lot better . . . but I don't live by any sizable city . . . just a few small villages. I also hope Bailey is not just a mouse hawk. Well, thus far things have gone well . . . so I need to just relax, and keep going out each day searching for possibilities.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Flying Free . . . in just three weeks!

Today, Monday October 18, just three weeks out of the trap, I took Bailey out for his first real test flying free, with the hope we might flush a bunny underneath him. We went to a location which is reported to me has being 'bunny-rich' . . . but we just didn't flush any. Bailey kept near me pretty well, and was very responsive to the lure at the end of our hunt. He did crash down a couple times on what I think may have been mouse sitings, but no mouse was found after each crash, unless he gulped them down quick. It was a good first full free flight, and I returned home with my bird at the end of it all. We have been doing free flying creance flights the last two days, but those were in an open field. Today I walked among trees, and he took good high perches, as you can see above. We were followed into the field by Rich's cousin, Adam, and one of his three boys, Morgan. They enjoyed crashing through the brush with us trying to find bunnies. Where we walked today was full of burdock. I hate burdock! Usually its presence means bunnies . . . though that did not prove true today. Instead, Rich and I just got coated in them. Adam and Morgan didn't push through the burdock with us. Above is my Burdock Man! Here I am after the hunt, with my bird safely returned to me, and filled up with a good meal. I too have lots of burdock on me, but I had pulled most of the burrs prior to the picture. I look forward to good times this winter with this little guy. He's flying at 865 grams, though he was just a little heavier than that today. Now I just have to find the bunnies. I hope they are not as hard to find as they were down in Texas.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


At the end of tonight's training session Bailey jumped to the glove. It was a small jump, as the first one usually is, but it is a threshold in the training that must be overcome to continue the training. The bird is learning that the glove is a safe place to perch, and that doing so gives him a food reward. One week post trapping (today is Day 6) and he is jumping to the fist . . . albeit a hesitant first hop . . . but it is a start. We can now communicate to each other . . . the basic vocabulary is established. He says "I'm hungry" . . . and with a whistle, I'm telling him, "I know you are hungry . . . I have food for you . . . come to me and I'll give it to you!" Above is a picture in his mews, looking out the window. Hopefully soon I can get to a point that I can house him in his mews and not have to tether him to the perch. It's called 'free lofting' and is best for the bird, as long as they are not throwing themselves against the window to get out.

Weathering Yard

We are making slow progress with the training of Bailey. I got spoiled last year with Cimarron, my passage Harris Hawk. They are such wonderful birds . . . so trainable. Because of this I am in full support that apprentices should not be allowed to have them. Red Tails are so much more aloof . . . and have an incredible stubborn streak that you have to work around. Bailey sits my fist calmly now, even with many people standing around and looking at him, and is taking tidbits off my fist. I've also been hooding him from Day 1, and he is accepting that with no fuss. Next we need to get him to make the most important step in the training process . . . leaping to the fist. I'm very certain, based on his behavior, this is not going to happen until I strip a bit more weight off of him. Even now I am thawing the heart of the pig that we slaughtered for our Pork Roast Picnic . . . I specifically asked to have it back. I'll cut some of it up tonight into little strips and soak it to make 'washed meat' . . . which is strips of meat that the blood has been soaked out of. The bird eats it, and gets a full feeling in the crop, but gets little nutrition from it, so loses weight. This can be some of the hardest part of training . . . getting the bird's attention. This can only be done by lowering their condition . . . . that is, lowering their weight. Once I have his attention, through food, I can instill the lessons of reward for preferred behavior (operant conditioning). As you can see above, I am letting him spend time out in his weathering yard. He has accepted it very well, and learned to return to the bow perch fairly quickly. He is bating occasionally, but not continually. I'm going to let this behavior work towards my benefit, as he'll burn more calories that way during the daytime, and be ready to eat and be trained in the evening. I need to place a mat where he's mostly bating towards, to protect those needle-sharp talons. I'd like to preserve those! I've not trained a Red Tail for 5 years! My last one was Nina, and I had her for three years/three seasons. I released her to the wild in the spring of 2008, then took a year off during the second year of my education . . . when I had NO time to fly a bird. It's easy to forget some of the emotional turmoil I feel while training a difficult bird. As an animal lover, you want to feed them . . . but in order to begin the training in earnest with a hawk such as the red tail, you must lower their condition first to be effective. All this time, you must also be patient, and calm, and soothing. You are convincing the bird that you are not going to harm them. Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time in his mews, with him tethered in there, just reading a book, and occasionally picking him up and placing him back onto his perch. I'm somewhat sorry to say that I sometimes regret having let Cimarron go. He trained in two weeks, and was such a sweet bird. However, I did do what was best for him, as I did not have plans for an insulated mews here in Minnesota . . . and when I arrived here, very shortly we took a trip to Norway. Perhaps in my future I can build a much more sturdy and warm mews, and maybe make plans to go down to Texas and get an out-of-state permit, and try to trap another Harris Hawk. There are also plenty of people that breed them. Such a bird could be flown during the warmer days up here in the Upper Midwest. For now . . . I have a fairly normal, stubborn blank slate sitting out in the weathering yard, at this time currently fussing with his jesses . . . a good activity for him to occupy his time out there. He's already bit off one of his bells. He's preening too . . . also a good activity. I can watch him through the window from the desk where my laptop is positioned. It take time to get through this process, and patience. Time and Patience are hallmarks of this activity!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meet the New Bird!

Finally . . . The new Falconry Season is underway! ((Insert applause here)) From here on out, there will be hawk-related posts. On Monday, September 27, just north of Rochester, MN . . . I trapped my new hunting partner. Passage birds have been pretty hard to find up to this point. The fall migration really has not gotten underway for the larger hawks. I've set my trap down several times prior to this, with at least three birds coming to the trap, but not getting truly snagged, so escaping when I closed in to secure them. I've started to make trapping forays, and recently have focused my efforts towards Rochester. For some reason, passage birds (those first-year hawks) seem to be drawn to cities while they migrate. I don't know if this is because the country-side is "owned" territory, defended by the adult residents. Perhaps it might also be because our modern cities offer landscaped lots of broken habitat filled with mice and bunnies. Either way, cities along a migratory corridor are a good place to find passage birds. I've been on many hawk trapping adventures down around Madison when I lived in Wisconsin. This bird was sitting on a power pole on a fairly deserted road just north of Rochester. We drove by and identified it's status. Only the first year birds are trapped. We turned around and passed by the area again . . . dropping my large trap with a rat for bait. Driving down the road, turning and waiting, we saw no action on this trap. I really don't think the bird saw the bait . . . the grass was rather long. In fact, as we waited, it moved down to another pole, further away from my trap. We then drove by again, this time dropping my old trap on the other side of the road, with a mouse bait. Upon turning around down the road, this bird responded, and was snagged. I waited and gave it a very good amount of time to make sure it was good and caught . . . having been disappointed on the three previous attempts. No escaping this time!
This bird was mine!
Upon hooding and securing it's feet, and "casting" it with a stocking, I placed it on a scale. This hawk weighed 34 oz (980 grams). This places it somewhere between a good sized male, or a small female. My preference for red tailed hawks has usually been for a big female . . . however I did have a really good winter last year with a small male Harris Hawk. The smaller males are usually quicker. With passage birds being a bit scarce yet . . . I decided to keep this birds. I'm somewhat anxious to get a bird and get it trained and get the hunting season underway. It is an obsession . . . ya know! This tiercel learned to take the fist again quickly. Usually a newly jessed up hawk, upon removal of the hood, will bate off the fist (fly off) and then just hang by the leash. Their first lesson is to return back onto the fist. My Harris Hawk last year took several days to learn this lesson, though after learning this his progress was rather fast. This bird barely blinked twice . . . . and mastered that lesson. He has very nice, clean feathers, with only about two insignificant feathers with any trace marks (weaknesses in the feather due to hunger or stress when they were growing). He is a standard Eastern Red Tail, not too dark, not too light. His talons are needle sharp!! He has good sized, dirty feet, so I hope he's been hunting more than just mice. He's not made any attempt yet to grab me . . . but I'm also not offering my hands. I've been sitting with him for a short time on Monday night and Tuesday night. I did have to work a full day on Tuesday (12-hour shifts with 1 hour commute before and after), so these manning sessions have been rather short. Today, Wednesday, I'm off now for many days in a row. I've had the bird out multiple times throughout the day . . . and the house has been full of guests. By the end of the evening he is sitting rather calmly, not lifting his wings much, relaxing his tail, not reacting too much to knocks and sounds, and waving hands. Above is the Norwegian Eucher manning technique. Many Norwegian descent Americans play a card game called Eucher. My husband's family plays this game. I've tried to learn, but I'm not very good at it. It did offer a good opportunity to expose my hawk to lots of noise and people and movement. By the end of the evening he was pretty calm. I've decided to name him "Bailey". He has some nice cream colored areas on his face, and his eyes are the warm creamy yellow juvenile eyes. He reminds me of the Irish Cream which is so very good in coffee. It sounds like a really nice name . . . and upon thinking about it and saying the name several times over the last couple days, I think it fits. So, "Bailey" it is! Now I just need to build another mews and go trapping to find a big dark red tail . . . . I can call it Kahlua!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hawk Ridge, Duluth, MN

During the week of September 13 - 15 Rich and I both had some time off, so I planned to finally go visit a spot on the map that I've wanted to visit, and passed close to several times. At the western tip of Lake Superior is Duluth, MN. The geographic features of the lake channels migrating birds through this area, making it a bird observing hot spot. Birds coming out of upper Minnesota and Canada hit the lake, and being unwilling to fly over some unknown distance of water, follow the shore. This causes a great pile-up of birds, which can be observed. In the fall trained observers take turns counting primarily raptors, but also other smaller songbirds, on Hawk Ridge, which is a hilltop overlooking the city and the lake, that has been set aside for conservation. During the fall migration there are volunteers who also answer questions, point out interesting birds in the air, and sell items to support the program. There is a trapping station that captures and bands, then releases hawks. Looking at the website, it says for a $50 membership you can go observe the trapping. I was hoping to do this . . . yet when I arrived they inform me I have to have a reservation. I didn't see that on the website . . . gonna have to look again. Disappointed, I also didn't give them $50, but I did buy a shirt, and Rich a new hat. I did get to see a few birds that were trapped. Above is a Broad-Winged Hawk, a species that is passing over Hawk Ridge right now in the thousands daily, really. It looks very much like a juvie Red-Tailed hawk, only much smaller. It was even displaying fear as they do, mouth open. If it could have spread its wings, it probably would have. Above was another species that is seen in incredible numbers early in the fall, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Look at the difference in the appearance of this little bird-killer. He (she?) seems unfazed by being held, indifferent, ready the moment he is released to get on his way, unwilling to show any fear. That's an accipiter for you! They are little murdering machines. True 'cold-blooded' serial killers. Two of the volunteers showed the difference in the shapes of the wings between a soaring hawk (Broad-Wing) and a true forest hawk (Sharp-Shin). Each bird trapped is marked with a traceable leg band which is recorded, and in future when and if the bird is either found dead, or trapped again, gives valuable information about migration patterns, lifespan, habitat usage, etc. This is one of the major functions of Hawk Ridge . . . research. Here you can see a couple of the observers watching the sky and counting. The bushes and plants on the hill are also very attractive to smaller passerines, who follow the same migration route as the hawks. It is a fabulous place for bird watchers to come and spend many enjoyable hours just watching and counting. While we were there, the observer/volunteers told us of a kettle of Broad Wings forming on the horizon. We looked with naked eyes, and binoculars, yet saw nothing. A kindly birder let us look through his scope, and then we did see a very large gathering of hawks. They form large circling flocks inside a thermal, where they gain altitude to aid in their journey. I'm not quite sure if Rich found some of the ships on the lake more interesting. We spent Tuesday on the road to the Twin Cities, where we had to hunt down a place to camp for the night. Wednesday was spent slowly working our way back home. All this time I was watching and looking for juvenile red-tailed hawks to toss a trap under. Thus far, I have seen and tossed the trap twice . . . both times the bird was caught, and both times it broke free. I guess it is just not time yet to have my next hawk. I was returning home to go into three days of work. Still . . . I'm 'chomping at the bit' to get my next bird. We didn't see very many as we travelled. I've been watching the migration numbers from Hawk Ridge, but thus far not that many Red-Tails are flying through, yet. October is their big push month. I'll continue to watch, to hawk stalk, to most likely change out some of the nooses on my trap . . . and hopefully soon I'll trap a new bird.