Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meet the New Bird!

Finally . . . The new Falconry Season is underway! ((Insert applause here)) From here on out, there will be hawk-related posts. On Monday, September 27, just north of Rochester, MN . . . I trapped my new hunting partner. Passage birds have been pretty hard to find up to this point. The fall migration really has not gotten underway for the larger hawks. I've set my trap down several times prior to this, with at least three birds coming to the trap, but not getting truly snagged, so escaping when I closed in to secure them. I've started to make trapping forays, and recently have focused my efforts towards Rochester. For some reason, passage birds (those first-year hawks) seem to be drawn to cities while they migrate. I don't know if this is because the country-side is "owned" territory, defended by the adult residents. Perhaps it might also be because our modern cities offer landscaped lots of broken habitat filled with mice and bunnies. Either way, cities along a migratory corridor are a good place to find passage birds. I've been on many hawk trapping adventures down around Madison when I lived in Wisconsin. This bird was sitting on a power pole on a fairly deserted road just north of Rochester. We drove by and identified it's status. Only the first year birds are trapped. We turned around and passed by the area again . . . dropping my large trap with a rat for bait. Driving down the road, turning and waiting, we saw no action on this trap. I really don't think the bird saw the bait . . . the grass was rather long. In fact, as we waited, it moved down to another pole, further away from my trap. We then drove by again, this time dropping my old trap on the other side of the road, with a mouse bait. Upon turning around down the road, this bird responded, and was snagged. I waited and gave it a very good amount of time to make sure it was good and caught . . . having been disappointed on the three previous attempts. No escaping this time!
This bird was mine!
Upon hooding and securing it's feet, and "casting" it with a stocking, I placed it on a scale. This hawk weighed 34 oz (980 grams). This places it somewhere between a good sized male, or a small female. My preference for red tailed hawks has usually been for a big female . . . however I did have a really good winter last year with a small male Harris Hawk. The smaller males are usually quicker. With passage birds being a bit scarce yet . . . I decided to keep this birds. I'm somewhat anxious to get a bird and get it trained and get the hunting season underway. It is an obsession . . . ya know! This tiercel learned to take the fist again quickly. Usually a newly jessed up hawk, upon removal of the hood, will bate off the fist (fly off) and then just hang by the leash. Their first lesson is to return back onto the fist. My Harris Hawk last year took several days to learn this lesson, though after learning this his progress was rather fast. This bird barely blinked twice . . . . and mastered that lesson. He has very nice, clean feathers, with only about two insignificant feathers with any trace marks (weaknesses in the feather due to hunger or stress when they were growing). He is a standard Eastern Red Tail, not too dark, not too light. His talons are needle sharp!! He has good sized, dirty feet, so I hope he's been hunting more than just mice. He's not made any attempt yet to grab me . . . but I'm also not offering my hands. I've been sitting with him for a short time on Monday night and Tuesday night. I did have to work a full day on Tuesday (12-hour shifts with 1 hour commute before and after), so these manning sessions have been rather short. Today, Wednesday, I'm off now for many days in a row. I've had the bird out multiple times throughout the day . . . and the house has been full of guests. By the end of the evening he is sitting rather calmly, not lifting his wings much, relaxing his tail, not reacting too much to knocks and sounds, and waving hands. Above is the Norwegian Eucher manning technique. Many Norwegian descent Americans play a card game called Eucher. My husband's family plays this game. I've tried to learn, but I'm not very good at it. It did offer a good opportunity to expose my hawk to lots of noise and people and movement. By the end of the evening he was pretty calm. I've decided to name him "Bailey". He has some nice cream colored areas on his face, and his eyes are the warm creamy yellow juvenile eyes. He reminds me of the Irish Cream which is so very good in coffee. It sounds like a really nice name . . . and upon thinking about it and saying the name several times over the last couple days, I think it fits. So, "Bailey" it is! Now I just need to build another mews and go trapping to find a big dark red tail . . . . I can call it Kahlua!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hawk Ridge, Duluth, MN

During the week of September 13 - 15 Rich and I both had some time off, so I planned to finally go visit a spot on the map that I've wanted to visit, and passed close to several times. At the western tip of Lake Superior is Duluth, MN. The geographic features of the lake channels migrating birds through this area, making it a bird observing hot spot. Birds coming out of upper Minnesota and Canada hit the lake, and being unwilling to fly over some unknown distance of water, follow the shore. This causes a great pile-up of birds, which can be observed. In the fall trained observers take turns counting primarily raptors, but also other smaller songbirds, on Hawk Ridge, which is a hilltop overlooking the city and the lake, that has been set aside for conservation. During the fall migration there are volunteers who also answer questions, point out interesting birds in the air, and sell items to support the program. There is a trapping station that captures and bands, then releases hawks. Looking at the website, it says for a $50 membership you can go observe the trapping. I was hoping to do this . . . yet when I arrived they inform me I have to have a reservation. I didn't see that on the website . . . gonna have to look again. Disappointed, I also didn't give them $50, but I did buy a shirt, and Rich a new hat. I did get to see a few birds that were trapped. Above is a Broad-Winged Hawk, a species that is passing over Hawk Ridge right now in the thousands daily, really. It looks very much like a juvie Red-Tailed hawk, only much smaller. It was even displaying fear as they do, mouth open. If it could have spread its wings, it probably would have. Above was another species that is seen in incredible numbers early in the fall, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Look at the difference in the appearance of this little bird-killer. He (she?) seems unfazed by being held, indifferent, ready the moment he is released to get on his way, unwilling to show any fear. That's an accipiter for you! They are little murdering machines. True 'cold-blooded' serial killers. Two of the volunteers showed the difference in the shapes of the wings between a soaring hawk (Broad-Wing) and a true forest hawk (Sharp-Shin). Each bird trapped is marked with a traceable leg band which is recorded, and in future when and if the bird is either found dead, or trapped again, gives valuable information about migration patterns, lifespan, habitat usage, etc. This is one of the major functions of Hawk Ridge . . . research. Here you can see a couple of the observers watching the sky and counting. The bushes and plants on the hill are also very attractive to smaller passerines, who follow the same migration route as the hawks. It is a fabulous place for bird watchers to come and spend many enjoyable hours just watching and counting. While we were there, the observer/volunteers told us of a kettle of Broad Wings forming on the horizon. We looked with naked eyes, and binoculars, yet saw nothing. A kindly birder let us look through his scope, and then we did see a very large gathering of hawks. They form large circling flocks inside a thermal, where they gain altitude to aid in their journey. I'm not quite sure if Rich found some of the ships on the lake more interesting. We spent Tuesday on the road to the Twin Cities, where we had to hunt down a place to camp for the night. Wednesday was spent slowly working our way back home. All this time I was watching and looking for juvenile red-tailed hawks to toss a trap under. Thus far, I have seen and tossed the trap twice . . . both times the bird was caught, and both times it broke free. I guess it is just not time yet to have my next hawk. I was returning home to go into three days of work. Still . . . I'm 'chomping at the bit' to get my next bird. We didn't see very many as we travelled. I've been watching the migration numbers from Hawk Ridge, but thus far not that many Red-Tails are flying through, yet. October is their big push month. I'll continue to watch, to hawk stalk, to most likely change out some of the nooses on my trap . . . and hopefully soon I'll trap a new bird.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A New Falconry Season . . . .

It is the beginning of September. On Monday my transfer license arrived . . . so I am now legal to practice falconry in the State of Minnesota. I have already received two Federal markers. Trap season is already (strangely) on for this state. I'm used to it not starting (in both Wisconsin and Texas) until the middle of September. This makes sense to me . . . as I'm not seeing any juvenile hawks in the area. I have been checking the totals of the HawkWatch station in Duluth. This will indicate to me when the real push of migration will be on from out of Canada. The Sharp-Shinned Hawks are already on the move, as are the Broadwing Hawks and American Kestrels. These are some of the first raptor species to stream past the counting station. The Red-Tailed hawks won't get moving until later in September. I have a long block of time coming up here in less than a week. I expect Rich and I will plan a roadtrip . . . . and go searching for my new hunting partner. I'm excited!! I need to pull my trap out and look it over. It may need a little work. I already have a tank and supplies ready for the rat bait animal I'll purchase very soon. After I have a new bird, I'm thinking about having a new hood made as well. This blog has been far too long away from the purpose for which it was created . . . writing about falconry. Soon we begin anew! On a somewhat different note . . . this upcoming weekend we are having the 'reception' for our wedding. We are hosting our friends and family for a hog roast picnic. The hog arrived today . . . on the hoof. Probably on Thursday she will be butchered. On Friday night she goes into the roaster. The weather promises to be perfect! It should be a lot of fun.