Friday, July 30, 2010
A Falconry Post . . . . Sort of!
It's the summer months . . . and there is not a lot of falconry news to report. For those who are intermewing a bird (that is, keeping a bird over the summer while she moults) they can at least report about the changing feathers. My bird from last year is hopefully changing into his adult plumage in the wild, enjoying the gulf breezes in Corpus Christi. Yesterday, however, was a beautiful summer afternoon . . . and I did get to engage in a little hawk watching. There is a resident pair of red-tails who have bred on the farm for the last several years. When I arrived back in May, Rich and I walked out to the nest tree, and were glared at over the lip of the nest by one of the parents . . . so I knew a new season of hawk rearing was underway. Our trip to Norway then took us away for several weeks. Some short time after we returned we took a walk again out to the back pasture where the nest tree is tucked into a grove of trees. I could hear the distinct food cries of at least one young eyas in the nest. Getting settled into my new home, and starting my new job again pulled me away from farm wandering for about another month. In early July Rich and I took another walk, this time to assess and possibly gather black caps (wild black berries) from a fence line that runs away from the grove of trees that holds the nest. The berries were abundant, and this time the eyases were what we would call "branchers". They were sitting alongside and moving among the branches of the nest. Our walking under the nest tree spooked them, launching them into two different directions. The older hawk sailed down over the valley and landed in a tree. The younger bailed out the other direction, and hit the ground up the hill by the fence line. We walked up and looked at it, but left it alone. If it's going to jump out of the safety of the tree, it had better learn soon how to get back up into safety pretty quick, or it won't survive. One of the parent hawks was flying overhead screaming her displeasure. Several more weeks passed before our next visit. Over the last couple days Rich's father and brother have been cutting and raking the next crop of hay. We've received reports of hawks sitting prominently up in the trees, and occasionally coming down after the farm equipment passes by, catching a mouse teased out by the rakes. We returned from some errands, it was warm but not overly so, and there were no afternoon plans. Cletus, Richard's father, was out bailing hay, making large round bails. I asked for us to drive out in Rich's big farm truck to see if we could see the hawk family. As we exited the farm yard, we passed by the first stands of field corn. The ears are starting to come in, but it will be a long time before they are harvested. The ground is still a little muddy in places from all the rain we have been getting lately, and a gathering of yellow and white butterflies were sipping moisture/minerals from a small puddle. I saw it too late, and also did not have my camera along, for it would have made a great picture. Maybe they will gather again tomorrow. They flew up in a large cloud over the truck as we passed. We made our way out to the back pastures. At one point the road seemed to end at an embankment with a brushy mass . . . but with a quick switch to 4 wheel drive, Rich plowed over and through it all, into the ditch on the other side. With a little spinning of wheels in the sticky mud, we passed through and up the other side to meet up with Cletus, who was stopped and putting more twine into the bailer. All this time, the fields are absolutely filled with butterflies. It is almost magickal! They flutter over the corn and the soybeans. They are everywhere! As we made it to the tractor, which was still running, Rich pointed out all the butterflies caught by the air intake. As we visited, I went over to the intake and started to pull the insects away from their trap and release them. Rich saw what I was doing, and climbed up into the tractor and turned it off. As I stood in front of the machine, the sudden end of suction freed all the butterflies, who flew up and away over my head. I laughed at the experience! A few were still stuck in the grill . . . gentle pulling allowed them to join the others. These are good summer memories! We then got back into his truck and continued up the hill to an overlook of the nest grove. A single parent bird screamed her red-tail hawk scream from time to time. In a neighboring grove, at the tops of a few old snags, two juvenile hawks sat in the sunshine, crying their juvenile hawk cries continually. We stopped and watched them for about a half hour, with me climbing out the window to sit on the edge, for a clear view over the roof of the truck. It is at these times I wish I had a better camera. Perhaps soon I shall treat myself and buy one of those spotting scopes with camera attachment. The three birds stayed where they were, with only one of the juveniles moving to another location, but still visible. I watched them with my binoculars, and listened to them cry back and forth. Even if I had a camera, they were too far away to photograph. The fields were alive with butterflies. The tractor plodded along the valley scooping up the raked hay, occasionally stopping to plop out a large round bail. I hoped maybe one of them would fly down after a mouse, but they did not while we watched. The summer moves along, and soon it will be trapping season. These are exactly the kinds of birds I will be looking for . . . . juvenile hawks. Our Eastern birds sparkle with their white bellies. To watch them, to look forward to the upcoming season . . . . it is a delight! At heart, this is what falconry is to me. I love these birds! I love everything about them. I like to watch them, even if they are just sitting around doing nothing. I love even more interacting with them, and getting to see them perform their aerial maneuvers. It is a sickness! But it is a healthy sickness . . . and I'm glad we can practice it here!