Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Season Winding Down

Last week we were teased with the impending spring to come.  The temperatures warmed above freezing, some days even touching the 50s.  A great amount of the snow on the ground began melting, and the walkways became much more safe.  Then this past weekend, we had another storm come through.  My particular area of far South-East Minnesota did not get the amount of snow and ice that we were potentially forecast for, but we still got a few inches to again cover all the walkways with a mixed snow/crunchy ice layer.  Rich and I got out yesterday for a hunt, hoping with the melt that some bunnies may be found, but they continue to be very elusive.  Above he waits for us to flush something for him.  You can see his nictitating membrane as it flicks across his eye.  Below he found his reflection, thinking it was another hawk that was just his size, and perhaps he should fight with it.  Neither hawk nor reflection were harmed!  
It has been a difficult hawking season, for me.  I've established a few places to fly my bird, but I need to work over the summer to acquire permission for many more.  The snow has been a challenge, and I think the bunny population is very low as well.  I hope they get busy here this next summer and make lots more of themselves.  I've made a 'To-Do' list for myself and hope my efforts on the off months will improve my outcomes for next year.  There are still a few days left until February is over, and I will try to hunt as many of them as I can.  I will then fatten Bailey up a bit, build up his calorie reserves, then release him to continue his mouse-hunting life.  He's a pleasant little hawk . . . great if he was a 'pet' . . . but we do not keep pets in falconry.  Hopefully next year I can trap a big female gamehawk, who will hunt the squirrels we do have, and improve my falconry endeavors here in Minnesota.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 WFA Meet

The 2011 Wisconsin Falconers Meet was held in its usual location, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, on the weekend of February 5 and 6.  For this particular meet I was responsible for inviting a whole "posse" of people.  Our first guests arrived on Friday night, driving the 1.5 hour trip from Rochester.  Foxfeather and her husband Roman were going to caravan with us to Sun Prairie, so were guests in our home.  Fox already has rather extensive experience with animal, and specifically bird husbandry.  She has assisted with rehabilitation and has taken training with the Raptor Center in the Twin Cities.  She is interested in exploring if falconry may be something she would like to get involved in.  She is already the caretaker to several high maintenance birds (special needs parrots, intelligent parrots, a pair of pied crows) so already has the drive to meet the challenge of a raptor.

We began our journey at 4 AM on Saturday.  On our way we stopped in La Crescent, MN to pick up Justin, who was also joining us for the meet.  I was hoping especially for Justin to be able to see red tailed hawks hunt and catch game, as he is the one person among the group invited for this weekend who is the closest to getting his license and first hawk.  He recently passed his written exam, and this summer will be getting his equipment together.  We will trap together this fall.  During the times we have gone out with Bailey, nothing has been caught.  I felt certain many of the Wisconsin falconers would give a good demo of how to catch game.

As implied earlier, a very large group went out into the field for the red tail hawking.  As a new twist to the normal schedule practiced in years past, we had our educational presentations in the morning, and went hawking afterwards.  Phil flew his bird first, and she got a bunny fairly quickly.  She did have an opportunity at a hen pheasant at the very beginning of the hunt, but that game bird managed to elude the hawk by sticking really close to a thick bramble bush.  Once Phil was done with the first bunny, another falconer flew their tiercel red tail.

The tiercel flew well, ignoring all those people in the field, taking nice high perches, and keeping near his falconer as the rest of us worked the field.  He had three unsuccessful, but close slips prior to the final slip where he caught his bunny.  The very deep snow in the field required snow shoes, and I was experiencing snowshoe difficulties which delayed me to get to the bird after his catch, but eventually I arrived in time to get a picture.  He was allowed to crop up on his kill as the others made their way out of the field.

Back at the cars several flight demos were presented, to include a Merlin.  A gyrfalcon hybrid was then flown to the lure.  The final flight was a peregrine on a chukar.  Rich got to see that action up close, as the game bird, when released, looped around and flew over the crowd and clipped Rich's hat.  Fortunately the falcon didn't clip his hat as well.  The birds were then put away and we all went to lunch.  After lunch a few more red tails were flown, and finally the group above broke away, and Phil flew his hawk for a squirrel, which she did catch.  We then all returned to the hotel for the evening dinner and program.

At the meet today were the following birds.  I was not the efficient reporter that I have been in the past.  I have pictures that mostly Rich took, and did not get permission to show people, so only have the birds.  Above is a male American kestrel.

During the morning programs a couple of goshawks were present in the room.  I know at least one of them went on that day to catch a duck.

Here is the Merlin whose flight I saw earlier.  The gyrfalcon hybrid is below.  Both of these birds are flown by the same extraordinary falconry woman . . . but again, I didn't get permission to mention her, so I won't.

Below is the falcon with the chukar it caught.

Our guest speaker was Joe Atkinson from Oregon.  He is a golden eagle falconer, who is one of the world's most prominent authorities on the management, training and handling of these majestic birds.  The link to his blog can be found to the left on my blog list.  Here is the link to the International Eagle Austringer's Association:    EAGLES    Joe was not able to bring one of his birds, but another eagle falconer who lives in Minnesota was able to come, and bring his tiercel eagle.  Yes, that huge bird above here is a male, meaning he is smaller than the female.  Even as a smaller male, the bird is massive, and I would not want to work with him.  As Joe says, when you are an eagle falconer:  "It is not a question of if, but WHEN you are hurt by your bird."  Again, the gentleman above holding the bird will remain unmentioned, as I did talk to him and ask him questions about Ferruginous Hawks, as he also flies one of them, but did not get permission to mention him here.  I was a really lax reporter this weekend!  

You can see above the size of the talons to the man's hand, and below the hallux (back toe).  Those talons can be driven by incredibly powerful feet that ratchet closed.  If an eagle grabs you, the eagle has to let go . . . because they can not be pried off.  I am definitely not interested in flying them . . . but I would like to see them flown.  It was a very enjoyable evening, which ended with us all in the basement of the bar watching eagle videos.  Nothing important was won by me at the raffle.  Too bad!!

The following morning we gathered again with Foxfeather and Roman, and Kaylynn (a possible future apprentice for Dave).  Her experience is with training obedience, agility and therapy dogs, specifically rottweilers.  We purchased books at the Half Price Bookstore, then enjoyed wonderful Indian food buffet, and finished up visiting the Mustard Museum, where Roman was successful in finding some mustard from his home country, the Czech Republic.  The Curator even played the Czech Republic national anthem for him.  After our mustard adventures we all went our separate ways.

Rich and I made our way then to visit his cousin Barb and her husband Dickie.  No one was particularly excited by the Super Bowl, but it was TIVOed, and fast forwarded through to see key commercials, and specific action on the field.  Rich and I are showing off our meet shirts below.

It was a good visit, a really great weekend.  Rich and I dragged ourselves home late on Monday night.

The hawking season will continue until the end of February, when the season for bunnies in Minnesota ends.  I will get out as often as I can . . . but it can sometimes be difficult as today we have subzero weather even with the sun out.  I am truly ready for winter to be over, and for all this snow to go away!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hawk on Ice

The last few days have been punctuated with fairly high winds.  On Thursday it got into the high 20s, so the wind was not as biting.  Rich and I flew Bailey at the old tree nursery.  Our snow shoes made working that field a lot easier, but it was still tough.  He had one single flush, a bunny which he almost caught.  It reached the tree line just as he did, raking him off.  Any further bunnies in that field, and there was plenty of sign they were there, were tucked down deep holes.  I stomped several, but no one volunteered to come out and play.

This morning Bailey opted to sit in the snow rather than on top of his tall perch.  The sun is shining, but the wind is still brisk.  So, he was moved into his mews.  Tomorrow is the Wisconsin Falconer's Meet.  It is forecast to be in the high 20s with only about a 5 mph wind.  For you folks down South . . . that's GOOD falconry weather!  I'm going . . . Rich is coming . . . and a whole bunch of people are joining us to see the Wisconsin falconers fly their birds.  There will be many pictures to follow, and hopefully interesting tales!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's Fricken Cold Our There!!

Was going to hawk today.  We even got everything together, got into the truck, and went to the place I wanted to hunt, about 15 minutes away.  We passed a sturdy Amish buggy . . . I'd definitely not want to be Amish in this weather!  In fact, I can't think of ANY reason why I would want to be Amish!!  When we got to the place I wanted to fly, we got out, and I caught my breath.  It's above 0, but the wind is picking up . . . and I decided then and there I just really wasn't serious about hunting today.  My bird has never flown away . . . but he could end up doing that today whether he meant to or not . . . very high winds.  The farm is protected in a patch of trees and I didn't realize exactly how much the wind was blowing.  I took Bailey home and fed him up.  Tomorrow doesn't promise to be any better.  Minnesota is north of the blizzard that is hitting South of here, and pushing Eastward . . . but we are still catching some of the wind.  Sounds to me like a good day and night to stay home.

My bud in Illinois is in the "You Should Buy Liquor" portion of the map above.  I also stole this image from her posting on Facebook.  It's nice being North of all that and being able to sit back and watch and not worry that we'll have a lot of digging out to do tomorrow.  Of course, on the farm, I never dig anything out.  That's what farmers are for . . . and winter farm toys.
Enjoy the Blizzard everyone!!