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!
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.