Rich and I went to the Cities yesterday for some shopping, and picked up a pair of military surplus snow shoes. After figuring out how to put the straps on, we took em for a spin about the farm yard, where there is much deep snow and drifts. They did GREAT!! We will take them down to the park in town and fly the hawk, who is at weight, and see if the squirrels are out, or if we can find that bunny that has been hiding in the brush. I think we will be able to move a lot easier. Modern snow shoes can go anywhere from $100 to well into the $300 range. These were $40 a pair. Hopefully they will improve the hawking experience. I'll report back later.
It was a great hawking experience, even if we, again, brought nothing home to show for the hunting effort. We went to the park uptown, which has a LOT of snow, but with our new snow shoes, we just glided over the hills. The big shoes also work nice to stomp down brush. It is a little hard to work through the brush, and going backwards is really hard, but I floated on top of the snow, and didn't sink. As you can see above (though you can't see the snow shoes) I only have snow up to my ankle area, not up to my thighs. It was pleasant to not work so hard to simply walk. It was also a relatively warm day, for a Minnesota January (in the low 40s) so was a really nice day to be out and about flying the bird. See . . . no coat!
We didn't flush any bunnies, but the hawk did make a go at a single squirrel. There were several others out, and we tried to bring the bird's attention to them, but Bailey just doesn't get the concept of looking up. When I give the game call, he flies to the tree and looks down at me.
Above I'm showing off the shoes, pretending to about to squash the hawk . . . . but no fear . . . no hawks were squashed . . . just fed from the food in my pocket. Next week Rich and I will go back to Canton and try the tree farm. I know there are bunnies there, and now we should be able to move a lot easier. We are both going into a work weekend . . . so no hawk flying for a couple days.
Recently my husband has been subjecting me to all of the clips out on the Internet that he can find of an old Saturday Night Live skit called "The Falconer". It's the same story each episode . . . the falconer, named Ken Mortimer, is in trouble and needs help, and sends the falcon, Donald, off to find it. But always the falcon goes and finds his own fun. The attached clip is one of the cleaner ones!!
It was a cold day that found us at the Houston Nature Center, on our way to Winona for a few errands. I stopped in to see Karla, and check out what's been going on with her owls. You can find her link below here on my blog links. She has an education owl, Alice, who normally comes to work with her and sits staring out the window most days. I was informed that Alice is on maternity leave. She has laid her egg . . . infertile . . . but she doesn't know that, and will sit on it nonetheless for the required incubation time. Karla is also conducting a breeding project and owl vocalization study. Her link will also bring you to a webcam, where you can peek in on Rusty and Iris, a pair of non-releasable great horned owls. Rusty is doing his best to woo Iris . . . . Iris is not yet so sure she wants to be wooed. Everyone associated with the project hopes they will be successful and breed.
The day promised to get only much more colder, so we decided to fly Bailey at the marsh after the bunnies that the snow told us were there. I didn't intend to work too hard, but my bird needed to be flown and fed, and it was a good place to do it.
We began to work the marsh, and after a short time, Rich indicated that he had seen a rabbit run. Bailey had also flown briefly over the marsh, hovering, looking, looking . . . so he too saw something as well, but he didn't stay there, but went back to his tree perch. I worked my way over to where Rich was, and bumped the bunny, which left the marsh we were in, ran over the rise, and into the next frozen pond and brush . . . with a hawk on it's tail. Bailey wasn't too close behind, so bunny made it to the brush and cover.
We followed. As we made it to the marsh and began working the edge, Rich pointed and indicated he could see the bunny. I walked over, and sure enough, it was hiding in a bunch of cattails. We both got ready . . . I poked, bunny ran, and then Rich whomped it with his stick, which slowed bunny considerably, and then I grabbed it. All this time Bailey just sat in his tree and watched the action. I had to waggle the bunny at him before he realized we had lunch. This is NOT how falconry is supposed to work!!
Every hawk is an individual. I'm not greatly impressed with my current bird. He is guaranteed to get his freedom when the season ends at the beginning of March. I'll feed him up for a few weeks to give him a fat reserve, but he will return to the wild to hunt mice to his heart's content. Justin informs me that he has passed his falconry exam. This summer he'll get his equipment together. I'm going to build a bow net trapping setup. This next fall I hope to be able to trap multiple birds, and pick a large female for next season. I'm also slowly making contacts and securing locations to hunt. Many are farm yards, but still have bunnies. Hopefully, next year will be a better season.
It can be easy sometimes, to forget to mention that what we do when we hawk, sometimes, is just downright cool. I am focused on the goal of trying to locate and capture quarry, because that is what falconry is . . . the hunting of wild game with a trained raptor. However, there are times when I am reminded that there is something almost spiritual when you are out in an open, wild area, the sky is clear, the air is cold, and the only sound is the scrunch of your boots in the snow, and the occasional sound of the bird's bells as it moves from tree to tree.
Today I took a walk in a marsh. It is all frozen over at this time. It was a nice walk, in which I was unsuccessful at finding any bunnies. However, Bailey did find himself a mouse. He is pretty good at finding them. Not exciting . . . but it is high quality hawk food. It was pretty cold, but very quickly the body warms up as you walk, and you don't notice it. I came across tracks in the marsh that walked a similar path that I took, and poked at some of the same spots I was interested in poking at . . . looking to flush bunnies. Perhaps another falconer has been in the area recently. I wonder if he or she found any bunnies. I did come across several couples out walking along the marsh path . . . and all are excited and interested to see the bird, and ask questions.
It is cool what we do. I would prefer to also add catching quarry. I've done this before, with previous hawks . . . so perhaps it is just my little mouse hawker to blame. And maybe the bunnies are also scarce. Whatever the reason . . . I'll still take him out as often as I can, and keep trying until the season is over.
In case no one has heard me bitch yet this year about this . . . I am so sick of deep snow!!
I have been doing what I'm supposed to be doing . . . getting out several times during the week to fly my bird. We have been focusing on small areas, farm yards, brushy spots along RR tracks, and today a nice place outside of Winona, where I work. This last week I've brought several people along for the experience. Bailey has flown nice, kept near me pretty good, had a few slips, but not nearly as many as I would like. I am constantly finding myself sunk into snow drifts up to my waist, stuck in brush and briar that I can't see under all the snow, tripping and crawling on my belly to try to get traction. It's very frustrating!
On Monday I took out a couple of young ladies who live in Rochester. Bailey had 4 good slips. He caught the first one . . . better than the 'tag' that I've been crediting him with most of this winter. He had this bunny and it was wailing. It had fled with the hawk hot on it's tail and squeezed between an outdoor kennel and a canvas hung to provide a wind break. It wailed for like 2 to 3 minutes as I struggled to get through the drift, as this was on a hillside. Just as I reached and went to grab, my traction below me gave out, and I fell. The bunny did a flip in reverse, twisted the hawk, hopped over him, and over my hand . . . . and gone gone gone!! It was the closest thing to a bunny in the bag this week.
On Tuesday we flew the field and farm of the man who owns the bowling alley that Rich has a men's league on Thursdays. We had about 4 slips there too . . . but it was a hard slog and dig . . . the bunnies are under some pretty heavy snow drifts. This man also has a 'bunny fortress' across the street . . . a huge brush pile the size of a couple houses. The tracks in the snow and the turds on the edges are just mocking . . . there is NO getting these bunnies out.
Today we flushed one rabbit for sure, just as we entered the field, after I managed to get Bailey to come away from the backyard where I heard quail putting up a fuss because of the hawk eying them. I'm glad he didn't try for any of them, though I'm pretty sure they were securely housed. He chased that bunny down the hill and under the RR bridge. Sometime shortly after that he disappeared again, and came back wet, with the water freezing on his feathers, and his bells silenced. I think he made a go again at a bunny, and missed hitting the creek.
The rest of the afternoon was spent struggling through deep snow, and finding nothing. We were followed into the field by Justin, who works at the hospital I work at. I believe he may become my first apprentice . . . . and he seems very appropriate for the sport. He is going to take his test next week . . . and I'm sure he will do fine! This summer he'll get his equipment put together. So, hopefully, next fall we can trap together. He has his home along the Mississippi river, close to it, so should be a good place for a bownet setup.
The hawking has pretty much sucked this year!! Rabbits are hard to find, and I'm tired of deep snow. I've been wanting to get a hawking dog . . . . and was looking at a pup at a shelter near here . . . . but I think now I will pass on the mini dachshund for now. Next year I need to make sure I trap a large female hawk. Maybe over the summer I'll raise up a Jack Russell Terrier. So many ideas to improve my hawking . . . . I hope for the best.
On Saturday January 8th I got to get in some hawking with my former sponsor, Dave, and was able to show falconry to a couple of new friends. I have Kaylynn, pictured above, to thank for these pictures. Dave was flying Patti, his passage RT hawk. I flew Bailey later in a different field, but didn't get a picture of the both of us with our birds.
From left to right is first Christina, a young lady I have known for several years, who wants to get into falconry as soon as her life will allow her. She currently is finishing up her education with massage therapy . . . so I will know where to go and who to send people to very soon when they need to get that stress and muscle strain worked out. Next is me . . . complete with my cold weather hawking gear patched up with duct tape! I'm trying to get one last year out of it before I buy new stuff. It was a pretty cold day (single digits with a light breeze, but thankfully sunny) requiring the heavy duty stuff. Then there is Dave. On the far right is a young man from my current workplace. Justin is very interested in falconry, and may possibly become my first apprentice. This was his second opportunity to go out hawking with me, and I think he is thoroughly hooked. He was the best dressed of all of us!
My hawking posse met up with me over some coffee and bagels as we awaited for Dave to arrive. After a bagel and some coffee of his own, we left to go to a field that I've not visited for two years to first fly Patti. We had a tough walk at times, but much better than some of the fields I've been working lately. Patti got several flushes but just didn't manage to connect with any of the bunnies. Dave told me he has been mostly flying her in the afternoons, so she may have been a little confused by this morning flying. After a couple hours Kaylynn had to leave, so we relocated to a different field. I then flew Bailey, who also got a couple of flushes, but also did not catch anything. The final move was to the tiny field I've flown multiple time to try for that bunny that keeps getting away. We didn't see it at all this time. So . . . we were skunked that day . . . but it was a good day out letting our birds exercise, and ourselves too.
Many, if not all, of these people are going to try to make it to the Wisconsin Falconers Meet which is the first weekend of February. I'm looking forward to it!
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.