What a beautiful picture . . . don't you think? My little desert hawk is perfectly at home perching on cactus, watching for his favorite food . . . . fresh rodent . . . be it the snack-sized mice, or the meal-sized rats.
Usually when I'm hunting here in Texas, I'm much too busy kicking up the rat nests to bother with taking pictures. Finally, with the visit of my favorite Minnesotan, best "dog" and personal photographer and hunting documentarian I was able to get pictures of the action. Above is a very good demonstration of where Cimarron is while I'm kicking up the nests . . . . right in the action. Many times he's even in the way and I have to boot him aside a bit with my whacking stick.
On this outing we had the first rat in the bag within five minutes . . . so we pressed onward, ending with a triple. These pictures show clearly the challenge I face hunting here in the Big Country . . . . the cactus is well defended, and the gloves I'm using only nominally protect my hands. The chaps don't do a very good job either. I purchased some new gloves recently because I simply can't get out all the barbs in the old ones. I'm also coveting some new chaps that I've found at a local Western wear store . . . . but can't quite justify the expense of them. Not yet.
About an hour later there were three rats in the bag . . . and a very contented hawk. This brought our total for the year to 13 rats. The following day we worked a heck of a lot harder in a field that is right next to my house. Here we caught two mice, which quickly disappeared down the hawk's crop, and finally caught a very large rat. This brings the count to 14.
And here are a couple of short videos. It's hard to catch the actual chase and catch as that happens very, very quickly. Small hawks are fast hawks! Rich did catch the afterwards of two of the hunts. Please note all the cactus . . . . Yikes!
Today is Friday, and the start of my "long weekend". After a couple hour nap, and picking up my truck from some preventative maintenance (gotta keep my wheels running) I decided it was a wonderful afternoon to get out with my bird. He's been mews bound for a couple days, as my back to back 12-hour shifts often make it difficult for me to have energy to get out, and it's been very wet and gloomy lately. Today the clouds broke and the Texas sunshine was warming up everything . . . A good day for a refreshing walk outside, exercise for us both, and hunting.
I accepted the open invitation from a co-worker, a nurse at the hospital I work at, to come out to her property and hunt rats. She and her companion have a beautiful Texas "ranch" about 30 miles outside of Abilene that they share with several doggie and kittie friends. Rats are sometimes a problem for them, as they get inside stationary vehicles and buildings and build nests, and chew wires. I was encouraged to catch as many as I could, and to come back.
They both came out with me as we walked into the cactus "garden" just outside their home. With little searching we found the first nest, and after a short effort had the first rat. Because this happened so quickly, and the opportunity was there, I decided to go for "doubles" . . . . try for a second rat. I traded Cimarron off on a piece of meat in my pocket and let him finish that up. He then hopped to the fist, and we were off again.
It took a little longer to find the next nest, and it was tucked into a pretty large patch of cactus. However, that didn't prevent us from popping out a second rat, which Cimarron caught by the butt. Our audience was quite impressed with the performance. I let him finish his crop up on the tasty inner parts, saving enough for a tasteful picture. This is rats #7 and #8. He was put away with a good stuffing, and I went inside to visit a little longer.
Thank you Bettie for the invite. I'll be happy to come out again with my little boy to catch some more of those rats.
Today was a first day off after my long work weekend. It's also been fairly cold and wet, for Texas. After running several errands, I came home and got everything together to take my bird out hunting. I explored finding an access point to a field down the street. I did find a really good access point.
For the next half hour to 45 minutes I walked from cactus clump to cactus clump, searching for rat nests. Most looked pretty old, but a few looked somewhat active. Cimarron flew back and forth, following my progress. Finally I stopped at a pretty good clump of cactus and began working it hard. When I do this he has started to come right down to get into the action, which sometimes may be counter productive to seeing a rat move, but which it is my understanding is normal behavior for these cooperative hawks.
From his behavior, and very soon my own eyes, I discovered we did have a pretty good sized rat moving around the clump. Apparently, it didn't have a bolt hole, because it just moved around the cactus clump, and then over to another one right next to it, moving, moving . . . but never disappearing. Sometimes I saw the rat move back and forth between clumps, when my bird didn't. I began giving the falconer whoop, to alert and notify my bird that I'm seeing prey. I don't think he quite understands yet this signal . . . but with time and multiple hunts together he'll come to understand. Frequently I would see the rat move, but my bird didn't. He just really wasn't on point today! He was hunting, no question about it . . . . but sometimes he was just too focused close up, and not observing the entire area to take best advantage of the rat's movements.
After chasing this rat around for quite a few minutes, and thinking from time to time that he may have found some back door out . . . I saw him make a break for it and run away to a smaller clump of cactus not far away. I moved to give chase . . . I had to call Cimarron to follow me. He hadn't seen the rat run and was still focusing close on the previous clump. I tapped the cactus, looking for the rat. I saw movement, and was surprised to observe the rat through the cactus, in a corner, stopped, possibly tired from being chased. So I poked my whacking stick through to where it was . . . and pinned the rat down! This just doesn't happen much. I tried to reach down with my right, gloved hand but the rat bit the glove and could bite through to my hand so I pulled back. All this time my hawk was on the ground but with a big hunk of cactus blocking his view of what was going on. He didn't even know I had the rat pinned. Silly bird! I reached over, picked him up, brought him over the clump blocking his view . . . and then he finally saw the rat and reached down and grabbed it. I then extracted rat and bird.
If I was going to eat this rat, if I was a hunting hawk on the team . . . I think I shouldn't share with Cimarron . . . . cuz he didn't catch this one. I DID! Of course, what we are doing is for food and exercise for my bird, and we got both. I let him eat the good inner parts, secured him, then traded him off on something a little smaller in my pocket, and put the rest of the rat away. Later weighing the remains, it was 260 grams. With the parts missing, in Cimarron's crop, it was probably about a 300 gram male rat. Number 6! Oh, and I did have to spend quite a few minutes pulling all the cactus spines from his feet . . . and a few more outta me.
The field was large and very filled with cactus, so more opportunities to find more rats. Rich is visiting next week. Perhaps this will be a good field to show him my little Harris Hawk at work. He shares with me that he has indicated to friends that Cimarron will be his "step hawk" . . . as my fast little boy is my baby. I hope to show him how clever his little step-hawk can be. But sometimes, it takes the efforts of the falconer to get the ultimate success. It's what the sport is all about! Cooperative hunting!
Falconry! Or more appropriately for me, Hawking! It is a passion, and a way of life. I happily pursue this sport, with the loving assistance of my husband. Come along with me for our adventures with the birds. Primarily we actively pursue it in the colder months . . . the rest of the time I try to make this blog as interesting as possible. Come let me share my stories, and feel free to contact me. I always enjoy talking about my obsession with this sport.