Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A New Hunting Spot

Today, the next to the last day for bunny and squirrel hunting in Minnesota, I scored a new hunting location!
Rich had a dentist appointment in Caledonia, and I wanted to fly my Girls, especially Hit Girl, one last time in my home state.  I do have a hunt permit for Wisconsin, and can continue to use that for an additional month if I wish, but very soon I expect to hang up the gauntlet for the year.  Hit Girl was at weight, so I geared up and took her along.  I dropped Rich off for his appointment, grabbed some coffee from Kwik Trip, then went driving, hoping maybe to find someplace new to hunt.  There is a woods in Caledonia, but I've hit that several times, and the squirrels are getting wise to our ways.  As I drove around in the areas just outside of the town I came upon a really nice, brushy woods next to a series of farm yards.  Looking at my plat book I saw the same last name repeated, so the area was owned by members of the same family.  I stopped at one house and talked to a nice young man who told me the woods were owned by his cousin, at the house down the street.  Stopping down the street and knocking at the door I didn't get a reply, but someone across the street yelled out "you gotta go around the other side".  I asked if he was the owner, and he said he was, so I explained who I was, and he gave me permission to fly the wood lot.  I returned to town to collect Richard, and then we headed back.
The location turned out to be PERFECT!!  Upon entering the field, in less than about 3 minutes, we had flushed a bunny . . . so there are rabbits!  I was concerned that maybe they may be absent as I did see a cat when we drove up.  Later I was also told that another friend of the family runs his beagles in the wood lot.  Well . . . they didn't get all the bunnies in there.  We did see a few squirrels, and Hit Girl got a few flights on them, but with very minimal leaf nests present, I think the tree rats have plenty of holes to duck into, so they were not easily caught.  We worked the lot for about 40 minutes, with a few bunny flushes, ending with a success.  This is bunny #4 for Hit Girl.  Along the way I also seem to have lost my very favorite leather leash from out of my pocket.  There is a tiny hole that it must have worked out of.  It has a hook on one end, and a small metal clamp on the other, which is usually open.  How it could have fallen out of my pocket and not been noticed . . . I don't know . . . but it has been with me for years, and I really liked it, and am going to miss it!
We walked back to the farm houses and thanked the land owners, Matt and Amy.  Matt called over and had Amy bring a couple of their daughters, the ones that were not in school today due to feeling a little sick, over to see the hawk.  Matt said I could come back . . . so I'll look forward to that opportunity next year.  You'll notice we are posed under one of those wonderful Barn Quilts, which grace their building.  I had this design on my earlier blog post about the Houston County Barn Quilts.  I think this next summer I should hunt out a few more of them, when the birds can not be flown, and I'm 'itchin to get out of the house.

As a side note, Sassy was flown a little later and in the park up town.  She really wasn't very motivated, as I've let her weight go up, and she also didn't seem to be very thrilled with the cold icy rain pellets that dominated the afternoon, so there was no success on the squirrels we saw.  No rabbits were flushed up town either . . . they have all found hiding spots for this late part of the winter.  She was fed up and taken home, and placed into her warm mews, and I then enjoyed a hot shower to get the cold outta my own bones.  We have a winter storm forecast, which may mostly miss us, but I'm still ready for spring to come.  It may mean the end of the falconry season, but I'm ready now.

It Was Just a Walk

Recently Richard and I were invited to fly the Girls for one of his co-workers, Karen Lewis, and her family.  Karen lives on top of one of the bluffs overlooking Winona.  We had dropped by her home previously, making a meat delivery (Rich's family raise beef cattle, and do sell the processed meat from time to time).  Behind their house looked like promising woods, and I speculated that it might be a good place to try out.  Karen was just obliging us.  Here above her son is checking out Hit Girl up close.
The walk was pleasant enough, but just didn't provide too many flight opportunities.  A couple squirrels were found, but just a couple, and the area was fairly widespread, allowing for very distributed population disbursal.  The field also tended to end abruptly over a steep incline . . . it was on top of the bluff after all.  Not having any wings, I didn't want to push it too hard that the Girls would spot something further down that I would have been powerless to follow them to.  Above Karen gets a closer look.
After flying Hit Girl on top of the bluff, we moved down into Winona to try out a marshy area I've seen, but never walked.  It looked good, but that was all it did . . . no prey was found.  Well, Sassy thought maybe she had seen a mouse, and maybe she had, but it was not caught.  So I called her to the lure, and let Karen's son have a chance to give her a tidbit on his glove.  It was mostly just a day for flying.  Karen and a couple of their daughters also brought their cameras, so maybe some day I'll get to see a few of those pictures.  Karen is an artist and has painted several water colors from pictures Richard has taken.  We have a few of them (in storage) which will grace our walls again, someday, when we get our own place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One of my Favorite Spots

On Monday, February 20th I wanted to give a good opportunity to both birds to be successful.  I decided to make the trip to one of my all time favorite spots.  It is a fair drive from my home, about 1.5 hours, but usually worth it.  I just happened to stumble across it last year.  With my little hawk last year, and the terribly deep snow, I didn't take much if anything from there, but there definitely are bunnies there.  This year the snow has been minimal, and every time I've been there, the birds have been successful long before I walked the entire "field".  It's a brushy patch along a RR track, right along a strip of apartments.  It is "in town" enough that it is fairly safe from coyotes, but "rural" enough, that the bunnies breed freely.  On our trip there most recently we did walk the entire length of the patch, and must have had somewhere between 15 to 20 slips, give or take.  We were joined in the field by Rich's niece, Hillary, and her husband Phil.
The hawking trip was complicated by the fact that we had very high winds.  The birds were hard pressed to catch many of the bunny slips as the bunnies ran up wind, and the birds then just kited in the wind with no hope to catch them.  However, with the multiple slips, it was just a matter of time.  Sassy has been flown fairly high, and her response to the fist is really getting sloppy . . . but she keeps hunting!  Next season I'll need to be a little more strict with her, which will probably give even better response.  She wasn't keeping too very close to us, but did eventually manage to plop down on one of the bunnies we kicked up.  This after she caught first a meadow vole, which I had time to walk up to her and pull out of her beak.  She seemed unfazed by my theft, and later got to eat it.  I think Hill and Phil got to see the crash, but it wasn't very spectacular.

Next up was Hit Girl, who was quite a bit more motivated.  With her larger size she really did get pushed around by the wind, and as we moved down the field we were kicking up and practically stepping on rabbits all over the place.  To avoid getting blown around too much, Hit Girl was taking perches that were not very commanding, so did not have the momentum behind her when a slip was provided to her.  We walked down the field, and turned to come back up, briefly chased a couple squirrels, and avoided a train that zipped past.  We were almost to the point where we would exit and leave, when she disappeared down the way and dropped out of sight.  I walked back looking for her, listening for her bells, and eventually found her tucked under a brushy bush, clutching a bunny.  We didn't even see the catch, or the flush for that matter.  Oh well!  A catch is a catch.
After putting the birds away, we went to lunch, then went to see Hill and Phil's home, which looks to be a good place for squirrels.  I've left my laptop with Phil for him to do some computer magic on it . . . maybe next week it will be ready to pick up.  We may try for some of their squirrels at that time.

This brings our totals for the year to 12 bunnies/2 squirrels for Sassy;  3 bunnies/9 squirrels for Hit Girl.  There are still a few more days until the end of the season in Minnesota.  I wonder if we can get to 30 total between them both before then.  I have a permit to continue flying in Wisconsin for another month . . . but it is warming up, and the bird's feathers are looking like crap.  Probably will hang up the gauntlet pretty soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Flying for Tali

On Thursday Rich and I and the Girls met up with a young lady from Madison and her husband. The Girls flew nicely for their own paparazzi, as Tali and Colin have several very nice cameras, but unfortunately all they got to see was a lot of flying.  Sassy got a quick flight on a single rabbit, a single squirrel (which quickly ducked into a hole), and gave the most excitement on a mouse chase, which she still didn't catch. Hit Girl just went out for a nice flight, as we found NOTHING while she was out. But each girl got good exercise, and Tali and Colin were delighted in the experience. I must say, I'm delighted in the video they made!

Tali enjoying her first face to face with a hawk.
Colin looking at Sassy, and Sassy looking back . . . only Colin was recording the event.
Thanks for contacting me and coming out with the Girls!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine

A quick picture of my pretty gift from my special guy.  I managed to not kill my orchid plants from last year, in fact even kept them alive enough that they re-bloomed this year.  By this measure I think I've earned the "right" to get an even more expensive plant, and prettier too!  I had a hand in the selection of this gift.  I very much enjoy flowers, and these will stick around for awhile, and if all goes well, revisit me yearly with their blooms.

Thank you to Rich for being such a great companion!  Not because you buy me expensive orchids . . . but because you are just a first rate good guy, kind, considerate, honest, dependable.  I Love You Very Much for all those wonderful traits . . . and so many more.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bunny Hunt at Brandon's

On the Sunday after the falconry meet, we routed our way home to so I could meet up with Brandon at his home and let him see the girls hunt.  He promised bunnies at his place, wild ones (he has domesticated ones as well) . . . and he was good to his promise.  Both girls had good flights and put a bunny each into the bag.  I'll return here soon to finish this story.  Some of these pictures were taken by one of Brandon's four daughters, his second oldest, Ayla.  I'll indicate which ones as we go through this.  Thanks for letting me use them Ayla!

(Seriously . . . I have taken just too long to get back to this post, so finally on a terribly early Sunday morning ~5AM~ I'm awake, so will finish this up.)
Just behind Brandon's house is a perfect "rabbitat" area.  There are piles of branches and wood, and extensive burdock growth, and briar.  The rabbits seem to appreciate the proper environment and have moved in.  There was sign everywhere of their presence (bunny poop, tracks) as well as Brandon's report of having seen them extensively.  Well, we moved into the patch, after putting the chickens away . . . I'm sure Sassy would have just as happily had chicken for dinner.  We didn't have to work the area very hard before our first flush, but Sassy was not well placed so missed it.  Also, she is not a red tail, so does not crash the brush hard.  She's also an older bird, so perhaps wiser, or maybe just not at a really sharp weight so doesn't try as hard as she would if she was more hungry.
It didn't take long before we were moving other bunnies.  A bit of a chase ensued, before one was flushed down the hill, and caught just before it almost escaped into another pile.  It was a pretty big bunny, and Sassy was all ready to tuck into it, when I traded her off for a smaller snack.
After her snack she looked back up at me wondering where that huge bunny had gone.  She was sure she had a much larger meal.  This girl is no dummy!
This is one of Ayla's pictures above.  That's her on the far right below in our after hunt pose.  Her big sister Alexis is to her right.  They were great bunny flushers.  You too Brandon!
Next it was Hit Girl's turn.  For her we moved further away from the house, and almost immediately encountered squirrels . . . lots of them!  Ayla caught this moving picture below of Hit Girl flying between trees.
We moved those tree rats around, but just didn't corner one well enough to catch it.  Also, as we moved we kicked up rabbits, and the hawks prefer those easier rabbits as they don't fight back too much.  Squirrels can be tough customer's when it comes to defending their lives.
The video above catches the action of the final bunny flush.  Ayla then got a lot of extensive kill and eating shots . . . which her dad later posted to his Facebook page, much to the disgust of some of his friends and relatives.  Ayla was fascinated!  So was Brandon.  His family lives pretty close to the land, raising their own meat, and hunting deer.  His girls are getting to grow up wise to these ways.  It's a good way to grow up!  Good job Brandon . . . and to your wife, Elizabeth too.
I'm pretty certain I'll be going out hunting with him again, at least one more time this year.  He is very interested in falconry, so seems to want to stay in touch.  I enjoy meeting people, sharing my passion, and also finding friends who would like to share this experience with Rich and I.  The more the merrier!!

2012 Winter WFA Meet

The morning of the 2012 Wisconsin Winter Meet started very early for Rich and I.  It had been a work day for both of us on Friday, so unlike some members of the club, we had to come to Sun Prairie on Saturday morning.  It being a 3-hour drive, it was an early start.  The meet is always a good opportunity to see friends that I have known for years.  Upon arrival we checked into our room, then joined the club members for some morning skills demonstrations.  We also paired up in our hunting teams.  The club has a few longwingers (those who fly falcons), a few others who fly accipiters (mostly goshawks), but mostly the membership has those who fly red-tailed hawks.  One of the best of those members would be Dave Noble.  I was able to join his hunting team, made up primarily of his two current apprentices, and a lot of tag-alongs related to those people.  Our team had many hawks that needed to be flown, so we got to business as soon as we could.

Dave took the team first to a very brushy and overgrown area behind a Wally World, in Madison.  Emily Jean Huf flew her bird, Xena first.  There were 11 people in the field to drive the bunnies.  Several were flushed in the tall marsh grass, but not successfully caught.  Several flushers got very muddy boots as it was becoming a very nice sunny, and warm for Wisconsin day.  At the end of the field a bunny was pressured to break cover along a brush covered fence, and Xena scooped it up.  Bunny #1 for the team was in the bag.

The next to fly was Dave.  His bird this year, Hawquila, made very short work of her task, and had a bunny in the bag within about 10 minutes.  He decided to put her back up for just a little longer to try for a double, but as the second attempt started to take just a little longer, he pulled her down and we decided to move to a different field.  All of these bunny hunts took place as we crossed and re-crossed a fairly deep creek which bisected our hunting field.  I hate crossing water!  One crossing was a beaver dam type build-up of mud and branches, and a little more stable.  The other, which I only attempted to cross once, was a slippery log.  Everyone else didn't seem to have much of a problem crossing it, but I do not trust my sense of balance, nor my old and tread-worn boots.  I got some teasing for it . . . but I don't care.  I have memories as a child of what I remember to be a fairly scary pipe which crossed an old dry arroyo in the desert where my sisters and I played.  I remember it as being really high, though in reality, being only about 6 at the time, it probably wasn't so bad.  But it was scary to me as my sisters walked across it (I scooted across) so ingrained a respect (fear) of heights at a young age.

We grabbed some quick lunch before moving to the new field.  We also picked up three more people.  The new location is a frisbee golf park.  The next to fly was Altair, who is Frank Sagehorn's first hawk.  Frank is Dave's newest apprentice.  Altair followed nicely, and did make several attempts at bunnies flushed for her, but she was a little high today, so not as motivated as she could have been.  She did get some good exercise, but eventually Dave recommended that she come down, and for the last hawk to get her chance.

One of the other members of our group, a falconer I do not know, was last to fly his redtail.  Whereas she did not bring anything to the bag, she did give a good show.  It took a little while of walking around, but eventually we did find some squirrels for her to chase . . . and chase she did.  She smacked around a few trees, and did catch one of the squirrels for awhile, but lost it when they both became tangled in some branches on the way to the ground.  We then picked up the trail of a really pretty blond squirrel, which I would have liked to see up close, however for some reason the hawk decided that she didn't like the look of the blond squirrel, so would not chase it.  Dave suggests that perhaps she has had a run in with a fox squirrel (the largest species we have up north here) and maybe she thought the blond one was one, so didn't want to tangle with it.  Either way, she gave an exciting 45 minutes or so, before it started to get dark.  We all retired to the cars to head back to the meet hall.  Three bunnies were caught that afternoon, and all hawks returned safely to their boxes.  A Good Day! 

Rich got a picture of the cool blond squirrel which we were not successful in bringing to the bag.

Along our journeys (the next day) we saw an unusual daytime siting of a Great Horned Owl . . . spotted as we did some of our driving around.  Shortly after backing up and stopping to take his picture he decided he didn't like the attention, so flew off.  Well . . . what are you doing out during the daytime??

Upon our return to the meet hotel and hall we were treated to a spaghetti dinner, and eventually our guest speaker, who gave us an interesting story of his trip in 2001 to the Middle East with Dr. Pat Redig of the Raptor Center of Minnesota to work on the foot of a royal's falcon.  Raffle after was a bust for both Rich and I!

Of special note, Dave Noble, the man who introduced me to falconry, and has done the same for so many other people, was honored with a lifetime contribution recognition from the club, and granted honorary membership.  I was sorely delinquent in taking pictures this weekend, so have little to offer in the way of photography . . . which is sad, as there was a beautiful kestrel in attendance, as well as a merlin, not to mention several beautiful falcons and goshawks.  No excuses . . . . Sorry!!

After the meet was over we met at the bar, drank some, and I'm sure the party went on into the night . . . but Rich and I headed to our rooms to get some sleep as it has been a pretty long day.  There would be more hunting the next day . . . which I'll return soon and write about.


Falconry is my passion!  That is . . . Hawking is my passion!

I have pursued other hobbies in my life, but nothing has so captured my imagination, or motivated me to make the effort to continue in this activity like hawking has.  I have no illusions of my abilities.  I am just an average falconer.  There are others I have had the pleasure to meet who pursue it with far more expertise and skill.  I do not anticipate ever "moving on" to take up a falcon or an accipiter, with the only possible exception being either another kestrel, or maybe some day a merlin.  Where I live is perfectly suited for "dirt hawking", and that gives me plenty of pleasure!

However, I do openly enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for this sport . . . and for that reason I created this blog and maintain it as an open forum.  I also seldom pass up any opportunity to share my love of my birds with others, to tell them about the sport, and to show off my birds.  I enjoy proselytizing for the sport . . . the appreciation for those who have no interest to pursue it, and the infecting of those who might.  Increasingly my blog is being noticed, and I frequently get contacted from people in the public.  As much as I am able I try to meet these inquiries with enthusiastic replies.

Recently I was contacted by a young man who has had a lifelong interest in wildlife, and with raptors in particular.  We chatted over e-mail a bit, and Facebook, and then arranged a meet-up.  He is not in a good place in his life right now to take up falconry, however I could go a long way towards answering his questions and setting him down the path towards the goal.
Richard and I met up with Brandon and the youngest of his daughters Charli.  I let him hold both hawks (which I know is something a prospective falconer WANTS to do . . . because I wanted to do this when I started).  He was absolutely thrilled.  Hit Girl was particularly interested in Charli's coat . . . I guess maybe the fluffy lining looked a little like some prey animal, so we made sure Brandon had a really good hold on her leash.
Brandon was invited to come to the Wisconsin Falconers Meet where he would have a chance to see many of the Wisconsin falconers fly their birds.  He planned to try and make it around his other responsibilities that weekend. 

So Brandon . . . interested????

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sprague Woods #2

Today was the first day off after my most recent 5-day work stint.  It was a big time catch up on laundry, and pick up the messy place, and get some things done that I've not had time to do.  I tied both birds outside, as it is unseasonably "warm" . . . meaning high 30s.  Hit Girl was not only at weight, but a bit below, so sharp and ready to go.  Sassy is closer to the flight weight I had been working her at early in the year, but still higher than usual, but was strangely stubborn and not very responsive today.  We flew her first, after she decided to "walk" over my head when I was putting her transmitter on, and gave me a really good scratch to my nose which bled and bled for awhile.  We did manage to flush a single bunny for her, which she made a go at, but she missed it, and it got away.  With her lack of enthusiasm to come to my fist when called, I fed her up and put her away.

I was able to finally catch someone at home at a house across the street from a patch of woods I've had my eye on.  Turns out, they didn't own the land, but the folks down at the end of the street.  So we went there, and was given permission, for all the good it did us.  Rabbit sign, but a huge junk pile they have been living under for a long time.  No squirrel sign at all.  So Rich and I relocated to the Sprague Woods in Caledonia.  We went there the last time I had a long work stint, to good results.  Well, Hit Girl got right down to business, and saw and chased several squirrels.  All three of us were moving in different directions, so Rich was not nearby to see the catch.  Neither was I, but at least I saw it at a distance.  She ambushed a couple squirrels at the top of one of the trees, and actually knocked one of them off the tree.  As it fell to the ground, she tucked herself to have fast momentum, and was there at the bottom to snag it up.  So, no videos this time, just a picture.  That's one big male squirrel that won't be fathering any babies this spring.