Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Prickly Pear and an Afternoon with a Falcon

Today was a day off for me. I began it with an appointment at the ophthalmologist, and have received the diagnosis that I now would benefit from glasses all the time. The order is placed, the credit card debited, and next week I'll begin my life as a permanent glasses wearer. Joy! On the way home I stopped by the vet office of the only other falconer in the Abilene area. He indicated he would be taking his falcon out at the end of his work day, and said it was OK for me to come along. I've not seen a true falcon flight on wild quarry. Sure, I've seen flights on bagged quarry, but not witnessed the highest form of falconry. What I practice is often called "dirt hawking" . . . . and definitely what I've been doing lately would qualify. Until the later afternoon, I had several hours, so I took my own bird out to stir up the dirt. I found a nice thick patch of wild Texas inside the city. Cimarron and I had a nice outing, punctuated with many attempts on rat middens, and many prickly pear cactus spines in my flesh. I really need to find some new hunting clothes. The chaps I'm using work great for burdock so common up north . . . . but do almost nothing against cactus spines. I had to work a little harder today to kick up a rat. There were many nests, but I think most were inactive, and old. I'm coming to learn to observe the kinds of materials piled onto the middens. Active nests have fresh materials, and often the cactus is being actively eaten. However, I'll still try the older ones. Sometimes mice move in afterwards . . . . and they are just as good food for the hawk. On about the 10th attempt, I kicked out a rat, and my bird handily caught #5. The scale later revealed a 300 gram rat, just a little more than 1/2 the weight of my bird. I decided to trade him off onto an older chunk of rat in my pocket. As he ate, I had time to lean back on my stick, and look around. I was in the middle of the city, but except for sound, you wouldn't know. Nearby was the sound of carpenters working on a house, and a nearby school's bells rang from time to time, but there was also the singing of a song sparrow, and central Texas vegetation all around. It's not quite the same as being in the woods up north . . . . but there is the satisfaction of getting out of the house, taking a stimulating walk, and offering your bird good exercise, and hunting success. He must be considering me a part of his "family", as these birds organize themselves in the wild, for now I am actively assisting his hunting in a successful fashion. It's good to finally be having hunting success! I only wish I had someone to share the experience with. My favorite "dog" (non falconer who helps in the hunt) is far away, and I miss him. I sometimes wish for a hawking companion, perhaps one day an apprentice. Later that afternoon I joined the other falconer to fly his bird. We drove south out of the city to one of the locations with a pond that he has permission to enter onto. His bird is a Gryfalcon / Peregrine hybrid. He has not named it. Flying a falcon is different than flying a hawk. Far from the pond he released his bird, who is supposed to "ring up" . . . . or gain altitude in preparation for the flushing of game, and then go into a "stoop" or dive to strike the quarry from the sky. His bird proceeded to disappear over the horizon. There are other ponds up the hill on land that he does not have permission to enter, and that's where his bird flew up to, to check out the prospects. As he worked to get her to return back overhead, we made our way to the pond. However, once she did come overhead, and we got to the pond, the ducks that had been there had taken off. Her dallying up the hill spoiled her chances at a fresh meal. It was all over very quickly . . . . and being late in the day, was also getting dark. I thanked him for the opportunity, and have a re-invite for next week. Unfortunately, duck season ends in a couple weeks, so my window of opportunity to see a falcon flight is closing quickly this year. I intend to continue to dirt hawk for a while longer. I don't think anyone cares about rats, so there is no season on them. Like rabbits and squirrels, they can be hunted year round. I'll continue to work to put as many of them into the freezer as I can, until either the spiders return to weave their traps in my path, or my bird starts to moult. It's supposed to be rainy for the next few days, so there may not be any hunts for awhile. I spent about an hour today pulling cactus spines out of myself, my chaps, and my gloves. I'm certainly paying the price to get at these rats. Their choice of home does offer them some measure of protection. However, like my hawk, I'm persistent, and willing to put up with some discomfort for the satisfaction of my sometimes crazy hobby. It's not for everyone . . . . but I find great pleasure in participating in this most basic behavior of a raptor, and getting a front row seat to see the action . . . even if there is no one to share that experience, for now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I saw this link on another blog that I follow. It's cool and quick, and shows the Harris Hawk hunting what I'm hunting . . . . so I guess the choice of prey species is absolutely correct! No wonder we are successful now!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Weekend Trip with Dad

This past weekend was my every other weekend off from work. I've been getting together with my father these last many weekend breaks, and sometimes proposing we do something other than hang out at either his apartment or mine. My last break we went to my Aunt Lois and Uncle Calvin's home, in Hobbs, NM. I took my bird, and we did chase some bunnies there, one of which he "furred" . . . . caught but didn't catch firmly enough to hang onto it. It was also interesting because our visit attracted the attention of wild Harris Hawks, a family of them. They just came in and checked us out. I even heard Cimarron make the first noise he has made since I've had him . . . . some almost submissive sounding cheeping while on my fist and observing a wild hawk not far from us in a bush. We were not successful in "entering him" on bunnies (catching one) . . . . but he demonstrated he will chase them. He was a bit too high in his weight to be truly focused . . . . my own fault. Upon my return from that trip I discovered the target species I should focus on, and which I've already blogged. Above is rat #4 caught today, if you count the first thing he caught a small rat, which I think it was. I'm still not sure on that point. Last Thursday morning I took my bird out after I got off work and we kicked up a couple of mice, I'm sure, a "two-fer". So we have had five successful hunts. I'll say the current count is 4 rats, and 2 mice. All very good hawk food! The rats are a challenge, and I have to work hard to kick them up out of their middens. My dad got to see the aftermath of the hunt today, and took the above picture of me and my bird. Getting back to my current weekend . . . . I proposed we go see my other aunt and uncle, my dad's sister Bertha and her husband George in Fredericksburg, Texas. It's a very nice, touristy town, and my Aunt and Uncle hosted us most graciously. While making the rather quick three hour journey across the Texas backroads, we drove by the county seat of two of the counties. This gives me a good opportunity to take a couple pictures of some of the historic and unique courthouses in Texas. Many of the 254 counties of Texas still have their historic stone courthouses. Certainly a photography project would be to go and take pictures of all these locations . . . . a project I will not undertake. However, it looks like someone else has already done so. Go check out this site (Texas Courthouse Trail) . . . . you can see the courthouse of all the Texas counties. Some are modern, but many are like these old buildings. Unique and historic. If I find myself nearby some of the other historic stone buildings . . . perhaps I'll catch their image to add here. Above is the courthouse in McCullogh County in the town of Brady. There is a Texas shaped stone out front indicating the Town of Brady is designated the "Heart of Texas". The stone indicates the geographic center of the state is located 20 miles North and 14.5 miles east from this location . . . . but that is apparently in the middle of nowhere. Brady is the closest town, so wins the designation. Above is the courthouse for Mason County, in the town of Mason. For my friend Jay . . . . here is an example picture of what the "Big Country" or the "Hill Country" of Texas looks like, in winter at least. Usually cloudless blue skies. Sometimes thunderclouds in the distance which may form storms that spawn tornadoes. Dry grass. Trees covered in parasitic mistletoe. Prickly Pear Cactus. Oh, and don't forget the miles and miles and miles of fence . . . with usually "No Trespassing" signs. Go ahead. Click the picture above for a closer view. I'll look for more picturesque images. Where I'm living right now is very dry. However, spring is coming, and Texas bluebonnets bloom not far from where I live . . . so I'll have to make sure to get some pictures of them. I was also asked to include a picture of my dad and myself. So . . . . here is my dad, his sister, my Aunt Bertha, with his little dog . . . . who was not allowed to come into the house this weekend due to my Aunt's terrible allergies. It just about killed this little dog magnet who was not allowed to be attached to her daddy. And above is my Aunt Bertha and Uncle George out front of their Fredericksburg home. They also have a home down in Harlingen, Texas. I will try to get down there maybe later this summer with my dad, when I can get a couple more days tacked onto a long weekend. That is a much longer journey so requires more time. On the up side . . . . they had just returned from their Harlingen home, and had harvested the oranges, tangerines and grapefruit from the trees in their yard that grow down in South Texas. We had delicious orange juice every morning . . . and brought home bags of fruit. Yummy! It was a good weekend trip!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Neotoma micropus

We just had to figure out what to hunt. Apparently, around here, it's wood rats, which are also called pack rats. Above is #3. It's a bit more work for me to kick em out of their nest, but when they move, Cimarron is all over them. I'm just glad to now have a quarry species to focus on, and to be having success with my bird. This female rat weighs in at 242 grams . . . . just shy of about half of Cimarron's weight. A little research later clarified the species. Here is a link to a description, and the habits which I think clearly defines which rat we are hunting. Neotoma micropus

Thursday, January 14, 2010


OK . . . . I think this is funny, so I'll share. Where I work, we have these nice, handy little bags that come with our Arterial Blood Gas sampling kits. Most of the time, these little bags are just thrown away, so I've been taking them home. They are the perfect size to store cut up hawk food . . . . so that's what I'm using them for. Someone may have to think twice before they open up what's inside my freezer. It could lead to serious questioning if I ever get inspected.

Define "Quarry"

OK . . . so I guess I need to re-define my idea of quarry. When you read the literature about falconry, you'll be advised to match your bird to the quarry that is available where you live. While cotton-tailed rabbits certainly are found in this area, albeit sometimes hard to find, and I trust that eventually we will catch one . . . . what we do have around here . . . are pack rats. I've found many nests, and I'm not sure if they all had a rat in them or not, but today I really worked a rat nest, and we popped out a rat. And I'm here to tell ya . . . . this is no small quarry!! These guys are good sized!! They are the size of an adult rat, but furry. I'd make the comparison to a smallish squirrel. (I just weighed what is left over, the back side of the rat and his head, and it is 235 grams . . . so all together is probably at least 350 to 400 grams . . . my bird is only 580 grams . . . so you see this is a big prey item for the hawk.) Cimarron chased it and caught it, and it squeaked . . . just like a bunny does when you catch them. I then assisted to quickly dispatch the quarry, secure the hawk, and allowed him a nice, warm meal to reward his efforts. He did still try to get away with the food, but I didn't let him, and eventually he settled down and stuffed himself. I'll spare my readers a view of what was left over . . . . it's not pretty . . . . but above is the bird post meal . . . bloody beak and all. I didn't let him eat the whole rat. He did a good job . . . . and I'd consider it to be true falconry. Back in Wisconsin, where I trained, we discourage our hawks from "mousing" . . . . but there is a big difference between a mouse, and these rats living in the bottom of cactus nests, which I've learned are called "middens". I'll have to work these middens a little harder, and perhaps we'll continue to have success catching rats.
A Little Post Hunt Preening
It was a very pleasant addition to an otherwise good day. Today I completed a two-day PALS training course, and I passed . . . . so I am now PALS certified. PALS is Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and it is a certification that I need to get and maintain. It was one of the goals I have made for myself for my time here in Texas. I still need to get one additional certification, NRP, which is neonatal resusitation. Of course, the most important thing I have to finish is accomplishing my RRT . . . . which I'll start working on very soon. I'm happy this evening . . . . which sometimes I'm not always feeling. It's a little lonely here in Abilene. Success with my bird helps!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Kill

Today, finally, we were practicing "falconry" . . . which is defined as catching wild quarry with a trained raptor. OK . . . what we caught was small . . . but it was wild, and we did catch it. I'm a bit house bound right now as I had an accident with my vehicle a couple weeks ago, and my truck is in the shop getting repaired. I was told it may possibly get totaled, and would have to be replaced, but apparently the repairs didn't go over the value of the vehicle. So, this being the first day off after 5 days of work, I really needed to get my bird out for some exercise. Not being able to go very far, I decided to try the field just around the corner which I've not tried before. Walking over to look it over before I brought the bird, I flushed a bunny within 1 minute. OK, good field for once!! I brought Cimarron across the street hooded to keep him from bating while I dodged the traffic on the street in front of my house. As soon as we were in the field, I hit the tumble weeds where I had flushed the bunny a few minutes ago, but no more in there. I then went over to the patch where the bunny had run to, and did flush him again. What followed was a delightful half hour practicing falconry as I have known it. I must have flushed several bunnies, or the same one (or two) multiple times. Cimarron was flying back and forth, and making several attempts. Some slips were in the open and I got to see the action. He was stooping at the bunnies just a little too slow, and they kept getting away. In the distant field on the high power poles the resident red tailed hawk was watching us, but as I walked the field it kept its distance. At one point I even had a Coopers or Sharp-Shin buzz us, I'm not sure which it was. At the far end of the field, as I worked the brush piles and tumble weeds, Cimarron made a quick dive into the brush . . . . and to my surprise when I moved close to him, finally, he had something in his talons. He's been making attempts at mouse-like creatures several times in our hawking outings, but as of yet hadn't caught one. This time he did. And, as expected, he carried his prize away from me. I slowly moved to keep him close enough, and then waited for him to relax and start to pluck his prey. I was then able to move closer, and I offered him a chunk of rat on the glove. He quickly exchanged and went for the meat he could eat right away, letting his live rat go. I say "live" because it then tried to move away . . . . but was so damaged was easily caught. I stuffed it into my pocket, then secured the hawk by re-looping his jess into his anklet, and attaching his leash. I dispatched the rodent in my pocket, and once my hawk was done eating, returned home. I'm not exactly sure what he caught. It's pretty large for a mouse, yet seems too small for a rat. It may possibly be a desert kangaroo rat. It will make a good meal for the next two days. Really . . . . I don't care! It's his first head of game . . . . in an otherwise unsuccessful hawking season. I'll return to that field to try again for the bunnies. I'll also try several of the fields in the surrounding area. Hopefully soon we'll catch the first bunny. He makes a go for them, just needs more opportunity to be successful.