I am a woman falconer, enjoying the Great Outdoors with a hawk on my fist.
Friday, December 24, 2010
May the Peace of the Season bring peace to each and all!
(If I had taken this picture before today, I would use it for my holiday card. Maybe for next year. This is taken in my front yard. The snow is pretty! Just very hard to walk through!)
Two years ago I decided to make my own holiday cards with my own pictures. I liked the idea so much I've started to make it a 'tradition' of mine. Below are the best of the pictures I took for this year's card. The top two are the ones I went with. Anyone that got a card from me that also check in here have already seen these pictures.
At one of the farms I was invited to hawk at on the first major snow day I took the above picture of a rustic out building, flanked by a lot of burdock. I don't particularly like burdock, but the picture was really nice. There was another patch of weeds further up the hill which may have made a very nice closeup image, but after having already been up the hill once, and found nothing for the hawk to hunt, I didn't really want to slog up the hill again. So, that image 'got away'.
There are many fruit trees on the farm, and the guys have built a grape arbor which has several varieties of hardy grapes growing. The apple tree is next to the arbor, and some of the grapes wound up into the tree. No one harvested the grapes this year, so some were left on the vine, as well as a few apples up high that didn't fall off on their own. After the first winter storm, which left everything coated in a layer of ice, I scaled a ladder to capture this apple and grape pair. I don't think the image catches quite the sparkle on everything . . . but it still turned out to be one of my favorites.
The rest of these pictures are images I saw and photographed, but just didn't choose for my card. They are still nice, so I'll share them here.
It snowed again outside! I need to get moving and go out and scrape off my car and make an errand up town. I also will have to catch a nap, for I get to work tonight . . . doing the overnight shift . . . working when Santa works.
Hey Santa . . . how about some more bunnies! Or maybe, some courage for my hawk to go after the squirrels I keep showing him, but which he still has no interest in. How about an early melt so there is not so much snow to slog through. I'm feeling very disappointed in this hawking season.
This much! This is the average depth. In some places it is deeper . . . see the snow up to bottom of my jacket? In a few places it has blown off, so is not so deep. But this is the normal depth. All I see of rabbits is some tracks, and maybe a few turds. Bunnies are tucked in safe and hard to find.
I had an enjoyable IM chat with my former sponsor yesterday. I deeply admire this man, and feel very honored that he was the person who mentored me into the world of falconry. He is also having difficulties with finding rabbits, so that at least gives comfort that it's not just my imagination, or lack of effort. The difference is that he has a nice sized female RT, and the skill to get her on squirrels. I'm not even seeing the tree rats now. If nothing else, this season is making me form a to-do list.
1. Possibly consider getting a hawking dog and train up over the summer.
2. Build a bow net set-up, to expand the possibilities of trapping more birds, to make a better selection (i.e. A BIG female for next year).
3. Build another mews, a warmer mews, and consider another species of raptor. A kestrel for all the sparrow around here? A merlin? Can I figure out how to trap one? I don't think I'm crazy enough yet to take on a Coopers or a Sharpie, but they could certainly go for all the sparrow . . . . and I'm pretty sure I could find some more farmers around here who would not mind me knocking those down for them.
Falconry is not an easy sport! It is an obsession! Sometimes I get discouraged, but I keep coming back, keep coming back. I read of the successes of others, and remember my own successes in the past. I'm frustrated that the area I'm living in is not proving to be a good hawking area. Will I ever live in one?
It's snowing outside, again! Probably about an additional 6 to 8 inches, on top of the approximately 19 or more we already have now. It's pretty! It's hard as hell to walk through! It's almost impossible to find anything to flush for the hawk. Despite all this, Richard and I did go out to at least get him some exercise . . . and us too. Surprisingly, he did manage to find a vole today. Nothing else was flushed, despite bunny sign, bunny tracks in the snow.
I've dropped Bailey's weight, due to his poor performance the last time we went out. Today he was 800 grams . . . a very big drop, but he seemed a heck of a lot more attentive to what was going on around him. I believe 800 is too low, and will return him to the mid 850s. Mostly today, he was hunting me. Above he found me while I was moving through a thick grove a pine trees, perching like a parrot instead of the hawk he is. When I tossed him off toward a tree, instead he landed on Richard.
We are getting very nice snow pictures of the hawk, but that's about all we have to show for our trips out into the deep white stuff. I have hawking envy for all those folks in the blogs that I have bookmarked on my page here . . . for all their success. Game is hard to find, and my weapon to catch it is not performing like he should. I hope this gets better before the season is over.
The Upper Midwest was hammered with snow on the weekend of December 10th and 11th. I decided to try my one close-by field that we've been successful at catching the only rabbit that has gone into the bag with this bird. The snow was beyond belief in how deep and difficult it was to work the field. Most of the time I was up to my knees, but occasionally you'd find yourself up to your thighs or hips, as this field is an old tree nursery, so there are holes where trees previously were growing. With the snow, you don't see the holes, until you are in them, but at least the deep snow cushions the fall. It is now an abandoned field, perfect for bunnies to inhabit . . . and inhabit they do! There was sign of rabbits all over, and a few were spotted . . . but it was incredibly hard work to flush them. Richard took a picture of Bailey perched atop one of the many pine trees still growing in the field. I should have taken a picture of the snow-covered trees, but didn't realize a camera was along.
Upon returning home and talking with one of my hawking friends who frequently travels to Alaska for work, she indicated the falconers there utilize snow shoes. This prompted an Internet search, and I think very soon I will purchase a pair. I might not be able to stomp brush as well in them, but at least, hopefully, I'll be able to walk the field with a lot less effort.
With the snow dumping has also come some sub-zero temperatures. I have been allowing Bailey's weight to maintain a little higher. I think I'm guilty of allowing my sentiment for the animal to cloud my falconry wisdom . . . as he tells me he's starving, but field performance proves otherwise. At the end of our time in this field I had herded a rabbit towards the front of the field. I was just about to give up and go home, when I exited the tree line, having already tossed Bailey towards the large tree at the end of the field, to notice the bunny I had been chasing was sitting in very short cover between myself and the hawk. It was a perfect set-up, for any other bird. I gave the game call, and Bailey whipped his attention towards me, as I ran towards the hiding rabbit to flush it. It did flush, and ran out into the open field towards the trees . . . and my bird just sat in his tree and ignored it!! This is sure indication that the 890 grams I've been allowing him is just too fat for true response. I had determined his flight weight earlier in the year to be 865, and 865 or below is where he needs to be. Since that time, I have been managing his weight a little closer, and hope on Monday the 19th to try again, somewhere. My long work weekends just really cut into my hawking!!
Above is a wild Coopers hawk spotted sunning itself in one of the trees in our yard. I spotted it outside my window where our computers are set up. We watched as it watched the world around it, to include several juncos foraging for food around the base of the tree where it was sitting. If you look closely, you can see this bird already has a crop on it (bulge at the neck) so was not interested in hunting . . . only interested in catching some rays. It is the unseen Coops that is the dangerous one. Those sitting out in the open usually are not hungry or hunting.
The first major snow of the season arrived last week, and it was a decent amount. About 9 inches fell, and blanketed everything. The hawking just got easier, and harder. Easier, because now you can see if there is any bunny activity in the field you want to fly your bird in. Harder, because you have to tromp through it all. I don't have a dog . . . I should really, seriously start thinking about getting one. It would be nice to let a young, agile dog sniff out and kick out the rabbits. Instead it's me, and sometimes I have the pleasure of Richard's company, to tromp through the areas and try to find the rabbits. Yesterday we hit a couple places in La Crosse. We didn't flush as many rabbits as there were sign of their presence. My hawk is also, still, not very good at catching them!! As of yesterday he has now 'furred' about four rabbits. He really needs to learn to grab them by the head, as by the but they just rip away . . . their fur and skin being very loose. It is one of their defense mechanisms. The heavy snow has now made finding mice almost impossible. It is now that the inexperienced birds start to starve. Bailey is just lucky he has a safety net, in me. I just hope he starts getting wiser on how to catch what I work so hard to flush for him.
At this point . . . I'm not planning to keep him for another season. He'd better wise up, or fly South when I let him go in the spring.
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.