Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring in Texas . . . and other pretty things

My trip back down to Corpus Christi and North Padre Island brought me into the spring zone of Texas. With springtime, and enough water, the desert blooms. I don't know how much of a lot of these flowers is native wildflower, but they are treated as such regardless. Large areas have been seeded over the many years in various beautification efforts. As I drove I saw a field full of the small blue bonnet that flowers here . . . . so much smaller than the tall lupine I witnessed last summer at the north shore of Lake Superior, but the same kind of flower. Notice the blue haze at the top of the above picture. Yes, it is a field full of the Texas Bluebonnet, the state flower. Click the picture for a closer view. I don't know what all these flowers are, but they are pretty, and a delight to see after winter. Soon the bloom will make it further up into my area of Texas, but I don't know how much Abilene blooms. I do know the Metroplex of Dallas and Ft Worth have lots of bluebonnets on the freeway system. At one of the locations that I stopped to take pictures I saw hummingbirds sipping the nectar of the wildflowers. They have made it back to South Texas, and will continue their migration as the flower bloom proceeds. I heard red-wing blackbirds in some trees in a little community nearby where I stopped overnight to camp. They bring spring with them on the backs of their red wings. Even the yucca is blooming! At the beach, here is one of the black-faced gulls hanging out at the water's edge. It is possibly a Laughing Gull, based on their call, or even a Franklin's Gull . . . I don't know which. I didn't bring my bird book and didn't look close enough. A crowd of them gathered when I tied my hawk out, crying their alarm call. I put Cimarron into his box, ending his weathering session, when they started to dive bomb him. The beach was littered with seaweed. There were also a lot of Portuguese Man-O-Wars . These are a hazard of the beaches on Padre Island, and the seaweed was full of them, of various sizes. Very interesting looking creatures . . . dangerous to touch. I linked to a description of them. It was a nice weekend trip . . . a bit sad considering why I was there . . . but I think for the best in all things. This was a last look at the beach, which I may not visit now for a good long time, if ever again. I traveled and camped in a quiet State Park north of San Antonio, returning home on Sunday. I had done quite a lot of camping in the past few years, getting spoiled by having a travel companion last summer. Those days will come again! There are lots of parks in Minnesota and the surrounding states I'd like to see. Put it on the agenda Rich!

Full Circle

It was with some mixed emotions on this previous weekend of March 19 through the 21st that I traveled to Corpus Christi to return my little desert hawk to his home turf. It was the spring equinox, and we have come full circle. I released Cimarron within the mile that I had trapped him. I found it curious that the spot I had selected was overwatched by what I believe is a wild merlin. It was a small falcon, no doubt, but not a kestrel, and much too small to be a peregrine or prairie falcon. It was a somewhat gloomy morning, so the picture I took is not very clear. The little falcon allowed me to get fairly close to it to take the picture, but my camera just isn't able to take clear photographs beyond a certain distance. It stayed where it was perched the entire time I was there saying 'good bye' and releasing my bird. This blog was created to mark a new phase of my life . . . and I am about to turn the pages into a new chapter. In about a month and a half I will end my exile in Abilene, returning up north to get married, to start a new job, and a new life. I came back to Texas for two reasons. First, and foremost, to be near my parents, and assist to relocate them from El Paso to Ft Worth. I was looking forward to spending more time with them, especially my mother. Unfortunately, while doing this, my mother passed away, and the time I wanted to spend with her did not manifest. The opportunity has allowed me to spend more time with my father, which has been good. The second reason was to take a first job in my new career field and to gain experience. My time here at the hospital in Abilene has been good, and the work flow and people have taught me many valuable lessons that can only be gained through experience. My career would benefit from more time here . . . . but I am lonely in Abilene, and long for this isolation to end. I have walked alone for going on five years now. Abilene has done little to entice me to stay. I am making more pay now than I have ever during any time of my life, but money doesn't feed the soul . . . at least not mine. There is a life, and a family, and a man up north who wait for and encourage my return. I am following the call early. Minnesota is no place for a little desert hawk unless you have a very well built and insulated mews. I also feel some compassion for this little social hawk and the separation he has experienced these last few months from his own kind. During a weekend visit to Hobbs, NM I flew him in an area where wild Harris Hawks live, and came near to observe us. For the first time my little hawk made noises I have never heard escape his breast . . . . sounding almost longing, curious, entreating. This planted the seed to my realizing that if I took him with me up north he may be separated from his kind forever. At this time I have no plans to acquire another HH and know no other falconers up north who have one. To keep one bird alone may be a cruelty to him. Call it anthropomorphising the situation, but my isolation in Abilene allows me to feel compassion for his isolation from his own kind. Also because of certain organizational obstacles to relocate both myself and the hawk to Minnesota, I decided it would be best to return him to the wild to resume his life. We can do that with 'passage' birds. The training we place upon them is only temporary. Feed them up, and they revert to their wild nature. I have observed this in Cimarron the last couple weeks, as the warming weather has brought our hunting to an end. He brought 19 pack rats to the game bag . . . a good enough total for my first year with him, and a slow start as we figured out what to hunt. Texas is blooming around and South of San Antonio. I shall make a post after this to share the pretty flowers springtime has brought to the desert. I traveled to and arrived at Malaquite Beach on North Padre Island on Friday late afternoon. Unlike last October, the campground was crowded. There was but one spot left that I claimed. Also unlike last October the wind off the ocean was much too great to set up my tent. I tried, but failed. In desperation, and it getting dark, I shifted some of my cargo onto the picnic bench beside my truck, and made a nest for myself in the back of the truck. Surprisingly, I was actually quite comfortable and slept well. The wind blew outside, but it was not a cold wind, and I was protected by the bed of the truck, though I left the back hatch open. The following morning I awoke around 6 or so, it still being dark, and made my way to the restroom facilities. A great dark sky filled with stars and the arch of the Milky Way stretched overhead. Beautiful! I have not seen the dark sky much in Abilene. All too soon clouds made their way in and covered the sky, heralding the thunder storms that blanketed the area the entire morning. I walked the beach, but today it did not hold the wonder and fascination that it often does. Great groves of sea weed have washed up over the windy night, and there were no shells to be found, unlike last October where they littered the beach. It is easy to see why mariners often refer to the ocean as a woman. So many moods, and you never know which one you will meet on any given day. I decided after my task was done in Corpus I would leave the area and camp someplace different that night. The actual release was rather uneventful. I chose my location mere blocks from where I had trapped him, but a much more secluded park-like location. I looked, and hoped to see other Harris Hawks, like last October, but other than the little merlin, and Cimarron, saw no other raptors in the area. I opened his box and removed all his gear, then took his picture "naked". Pulling him from the box I let him fly to one of the trees. I then moved away from my truck and called him to the fist for some food. His increasing weight over the last couple weeks, as I have been fattening him up preparing for his release, caused his reaction to be slow, but he eventually came. I then cropped him up with his last meal from me. So large his last meal, he actually stepped away from it, not being able to stuff another morsel into his crop. I then called him to the fist and let him sit for awhile, until by his own choice he flew to a nearby bare tree. At this time he gathered the attention of a pair of mockingbirds, who most likely are nest building in the area. They were very unhappy about this raptor in their neighborhood. They proceeded to alarm call and mob him some. For his part, Cimarron just moved over to a thicker tree, where they continued their activities to encourge him to move off. Here they both are . . . . Mockingbird butts! This was my final view of my very nice little Harris Hawk. He probably sat there for a good portion of the day, content to put over his large crop of food. I released him in the range where he was trapped. Is his family clan still in the area? Can he rejoin them? Could he join another Harris Hawk group? These are all questions I will never have an answer to. He allowed me several enjoyable months with him. I am sad to let him go, but think it is the best decision. There are many red-tailed hawks even now beginning to nest up north, and from their offspring I will take a new hunting partner this next winter. As I write this, the house here in Abilene seems strangely quiet now. There are no animals here to take care of. Until recently there was the hawk, the rat that I used to trap with, and a couple quail I purchased to try and train him to quail . . . which never happened. All have found new homes . . . the rat with a young girl, and the others a place in the wild. There is a mild melancholy, but nothing too serious. I am excited about the upcoming changes, and must be busy about the business of making all the arrangements. I will see spring come to a certain farm in Minnesota, and start a new life with a wonderful man, witnessed among his relatives in Norway. Sometimes you must let go of things for other things to occur. At this time in my life I felt it best to let this wonderful little hawk go. I wish him well, and hope the best for him. Ultimately, I will never know.