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.

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