Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let the Moult Begin

I've not posted here recently, 'cuz there wasn't much to post about.  The hawking season ended pretty much at the end of February.  I have a WI permit, and could have hunted there, but "Spring" came to the Upper Midwest, and it is only March.  We had an unusually warm winter, and it has warmed up into spring about a month (or two) early.  As of this writing, all the trees are budding out, the grass is green and growing, and the daffodils are up.  With the warm weather, the hawks have gotten very belligerent.  To continue to keep their attention I would have to drop their weight to compensate for the weather.  I decided this just wasn't an option I would pursue.  Sassy has been shedding little downy feathers since February.  Also, I've been VERY distracted preparing for and taking a couple of very important examinations.  As of this writing, one is done, and the other is scheduled for next week.
So I've decided the girls are put up now for the season . . . . let the moulting begin! 
I've raised their weights, both of them, and now they are well fed, to the point where Sassy is really sassy . . . and not inclined to come to me or tolerate me much.  This is normal!  The red tail is a bit more spooky of me, but seems to be continuing to tolerate the almost daily activity of my going in, jessing her up, and taking her out to weather in the sunshine.  Routine is a good thing for a trained hawk.  As long as the sun is out and it is pleasant, I'm exposing them to the sunshine.  The more light they get, the quicker their brains will trigger the cascade of hormones to get the moult going.
So we go into the season where there is not a whole lot to blog about . . . falconry wise.  It was a good season, and I had a good time.  I hope both girls moult cleanly . . . as any falconer would wish.  Hit Girl showed some signs of damage to her feathers which I'm guessing may have stemmed from her time in the nest.  If anyone noticed any of the pictures here, and thought poorly of me, she does have some tipped tail feathers, and is missing two primary wing feathers on her left wing.  The tipped tail feathers have all tipped at EXACTLY the same spot on the tail, leading me to think that when they grew in, which they do all at the same time for juvenile hawks, there was a short period where she may either have been exposed to something stressful, or a lack in food, causing a weak point in the feathers.  Being low on the tail, and late in the season, I didn't do anything about it.  The wings were something else altogether.  The two primaries shattered . . . and I do mean shattered, right up almost at the wing bone.  There was nothing to imp to if I had even wanted to attempt to do so.  Again, it happened late in the season, so I let it be as she seemed to still fly without any difficulty.  Many times first-year birds don't moult those last two to three primaries.  I hope she does!  Sassy lost a deck feather shortly after she came to live with me.  I never even found the missing feather.  The replacement grew in while I was keeping her at hunting weight, so it has trace marks on it.  I hope she will re-grow that one with all the others.  So due to all the feather issues . . . the girls are being kept at a very healthy food level, combined with lots of sunshine.  Hopefully a good recipe for quality feather replacement.
For now, Hit Girl is getting put out onto the "Tall Perch".  She seems to be most comfortable there.  In the weathering yard she just bates a lot.  The tall perch offers her a commanding perch, and also additional exercise when she flies back up to the top of this 8' tall pole.  It is also just outside my window where I do my computer work, so I can watch her.
Sassy is tied out on the bow perch, inside the protection of the kennel.  Over the winter I purchased another kennel, but it needs some work.  There is a roll of fencing wire inside the hawk shack, a summer project for Richard to re-fence the frame.  Then I will have two kennels that I can tie hawks safely out into, and leave them for the day, if I choose to do so.  The tall perch is only for when I am around and can monitor to make sure the bird tied to it is safe. 

To finish up this post, I'll include a couple of short clips of the girls.  Just because!  Here is Sassy being her sassy self.  It's a good thing the hawk shack isn't right next to the house!
Hit Girl enjoying the sunshine, with all the spring birds singing in the surrounding trees.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Professional Photo Shoot

Today we were invited to be the guest of Barbara O'Brien , a professional photographer, as well as her friend Michael Karns , another professional photographer who lives in the Twin Cities.  Soon they have indicated I will be able to link to some of their work that was created today.  For now, I've got a few nice pictures that my own personal photographer, Richard, took to document our day.  You can link to their respective pages above by clicking on their names.  Both had very nice cameras . . . especially Michael!  You can get really nice pictures when you have an expensive, high-end camera.  Maybe some time in the future I'll have to invest in a nice gift for my personal photographer.  I don't think I'll be purchasing a camera that requires a $10K lense (like Michael had) but an upgrade might be appreciated.
Sassy is a fatty, fed up as she has been, as she's been dropping lots of downy feathers, so was just flown on creance except for the last flight to the lure.  However she still gave a great show once we convinced her to stop trying to fly to the little tree we were near by.  She's so very calm, and let the cameras get right up into her face.  It was a very nice, warm day, with beautiful sunlight in the open field.  Her warm brown desert colors were nice against the yellow winter corn field.  Later, Hit Girl looked nice with the soft snow reflected light under the tree canopy.
Michael looks like a natural with the rustic barn in the background.  They both look like they belong together, further out west somewhere, like Montana, or Nebraska.
I finished Sassy's session off by calling her to the lure, untethered.

We then went to another location, with trees, and hunted Hit Girl, even though we didn't find anything, except a vole, which she caught and gulped down.

Thank You Barbara for photographing the girls!  And Thank You Michael for coming along too.  I look forward to seeing your work!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Snowy Owl - Take Two

I was feeling lucky this morning . . . and I was!
I had attended, and done a little volunteer work, yesterday at the Houston, Minnesota's International Festival of Owls.  I was going to spend today with my girlfriend Patti, but her husband had surgery recently, and she wanted to stay near him today, so we'll get together in a couple weeks.  This gave me the day off.  I got up this AM when Richard left for work, and completed a couple of blog posts that I had left unfinished.  As the sun was rising, I decided to follow a lead I had heard about and see if I could find the Snowy Owl which was reported outside of Caledonia.  I checked the ebird listing to get a clue of about where to look.  With only that info, I set off.
The reported siting was described as "On Cty Rd 3 about 3 miles west of Brownsville".  I went to County Road 3, outside of Caledonia, and drove it slowly to Brownsville, then turned and returned.  I did spot a very large bird way off in the distance, which upon further observation by spotting scope just turned out to be a Bald Eagle.  Nothing exciting there . . . I see them all the time.  As I was getting nearer to Caledonia, I decided to take one of the side roads, randomly.  I turned on Malay road, a rural dirt road.  I didn't drive far before I noticed a gathering of crows.  I then noticed a white blob which was the focus of their attention.  I held my breath as I stopped and checked with my binoculars.  YES!  I had found him!
I don't have fabulous equipment, but it is good enough, and this time the owl was close enough, that I could get a much better picture of him.  Also, after a short time, he flew to a different location, closer, trying to find some breakfast.  The view through my scope with my naked eye is great . . . I just can't get it into my digital camera as sharp.  I observed him for about 20 minutes, taking lots of pictures.  The best of them are here.  I then made my way back to the Nature Center in Houston, knowing they had a birding trip scheduled this morning, and this was one of the birds they wanted to try to spot.  As it happens, on the way there, I passed a man in a van with a spotting scope out the window.  A birder!  I stopped and turned around.  We spoke, and I was going to tell him about the owl, when he told me he was the person leading the expedition from the festival.  PERFECT!  Just the person I wanted to try and find.  I described the location for him, and he got out his map to confirm it.  Hopefully, the owl will still be there when he takes the bus of folks back that way so they too can see this most rare visitor from the arctic.
It was a lucky morning for me! I've not checked my lottery ticket from last night yet. Wonder if my luck extended as far as last night??

If you would like to enjoy some extremely crisp pictures of snowy owls, check out this link to Rob Palmer's photo gallery on Facebook.  He photographs raptors of all kinds, and has been getting some fabulous snaps of the Snowies .  There are other wonderful pics too that are a part of the gallery.  Flip through and enjoy!