Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hit Girl in the Game

It was a hawking outing on Tuesday with Justin.  On this day just before Halloween I wanted to give his new bird a really good shot at an easy bunny, and also hopefully get Hit Girl going again.  His newest bird for this season, Angry Bird, is doing great.  He got her flying free in about two weeks.  She really isn't an 'angry bird' . . . Justin's kids named her after the game.  He feels 'doomed' that his kids seem to name all the birds.  Well, it's not exactly as if they come to their names.

Whereas Angry Bird has been flying free, she has not yet been 'entered', that is, she has not yet caught anything other than a mouse or two.  She does not yet understand the value of the falconer to her in the field.  I decided we would go to my all-time favorite place - the railroad in the neighborhood in Byron.  Last year it was bunny rich, and this year was no exception.  I don't know how many we flushed, but it was quite a few, and a really good place to get a new, or slow bird going.  
We flew Justin's bird first.  I wanted her to have first chance at bunnies that have not been harassed this year, at least by me.  She followed very nicely, and made several attempts, but after about 25 minutes or so it seemed that her efforts were not deadly serious.  She would crash the brush just behind the bunny, and she would often be looking the wrong way.  I think she might benefit from just a little less weight, which will sharpen her focus and make her try just a little harder.  We agreed to put her away and try my Hit Girl, and see if she would be any more on her game.

I'll insert a quick apology here . . . . I did not get a picture of Justin with his bird.  I was so focused on getting my girl out and geared up that I didn't get Angry Bird's pic with her falconer.  I'll try to correct that very soon.  She's a pretty girl . . . a little darker than the average Eastern Red Tail.  I know soon she will be in the game.  Justin is great with his birds, giving them lots of exercise and experience.  He's going to be a Great Falconer! 
Hit Girl was talking to me in her giant hood, which is the first time this year she has done that.  That usually is her way of saying she is motivated and wants to hunt.  It was nice seeing her flying again.  She has a very aerial style, almost like a much smaller male, but at 1330 grams on this day she most definitely is a female.  That weight is still higher than I flew her at last year, and her performance today says she also could come down a bit as well.  She too suffered from a bit of hawk ADD, looking the wrong way, and crashing down just behind her quarry.  In a stoop into a very thick brier patch, she furred one rabbit really bad, yet it got away.  Rich said he saw it run past him and it was very bloody.  We flushed for her for about 40 minutes or so, and I decided that we should also go ahead and put her up, as she was doing OK, but not trying really hard.  As we moved back up the track towards the cars we pushed one rabbit out and it ran into the open and over the tracks, and Hit Girl hit it . . . hard.  She scored her first kill for this season.  I let her crop up on warm bunny, to reward the effort, then we put everything away and went for some lunch for ourselves.

After lunch we relocated to another spot that Rich and I found last year.  It was successful for us then, I hoped for the best for this year.  This would be Sassy's spot.  We got her out and she flew perfectly, following and crashing, mostly at what I think were mice.  This field did not have too many rabbits, but we did manage to pop out a couple.  It did have one squirrel that she chased for quite awhile, but eventually it was able to make a break for it, and found refuge in a huge hallow tree.  The one thing this field had in particular . . . was a resident red tail . . . and it truly was the Angry Bird for the day.  It screamed it's challenge towards Sassy as it first came in, and continued to shadow us for quite awhile.  It was definitely not happy about this strange hawk in it's hunting territory, and it seemed rather unfazed about those strange humans hanging out on the ground near that strange hawk.  There were several encounters when it would land in the same tree as Sassy, but all three of us humans in the field would start yelling and waving our sticks, and whacking the tree branches.  The resident never came and actually crabbed with her.  It was the final encounter when it landed in the same tree and was not budging from us primate's yelling that I decided caution would be the best course of action, and I called Sassy to the lure, ending the hunt.  I don't want my nice girl to be hurt by a wild bird that is only doing as it should . . . . protecting it's food resources.  I will probably think twice about coming back to that field this year, or fly my large red tail there instead.  On second thought, that could elicit an even more vigorous defense from the resident, who might think a big young female might be trying to take a territory.

It was a good day out with Rich and Justin, and all birds got good exercise, and Hit Girl is back in the game now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Flying in Spring Grove

Rich and I made a trip up to the farm today, in Spring Grove. Both hawks spent the night in their boxes in the car, as I gave a short falconry talk on Tuesday afternoon to a group of High School students. One of the students is the son of our good friend and Wednesday night Movie Night hostess, Laurie. The class was spending the week at Whitewater State Park, which is a short 9 miles from Saint Charles. We could not fly the hawks in the park (could not hunt with them, so no flying), but did fly Sassy afterwards north of the park in a brushy Wildlife Management Area. No wildlife was managed . . . just one hawk exercised.
Today I wanted to try Hit Girl free for the first time this season.  The park in Spring Grove is a good place to do this, as there are many squirrels in a confined area.  Whereas she is the lowest weight so far this year, she is still above last year's flight weight.  Also, it is fairly warmish - 60s - which does not lead to very motivated hawks.  She took a perch, rather sloppy - she is going to have to build up some more stamina and grace - but then mostly just wanted to sit, and not follow.  Fortunately, she has great response to the lure, so I brought her down and put her away.  Then I got the Hot Girl out!  Sassy went quickly about the business of teaching the Spring Grove squirrels that she means business.  She did chase one for quite awhile, eventually pushing it up into the tops of the tree, where she raked it off it's branch, but while falling to the ground she lost her grip.  The squirrel took off running as soon as it hit the ground, and she tried to chase, but she had lost all her flight momentum.  We pushed the squirrels just a little more, but she was obviously winded from that intense chase, so we moved off to the brushy, bunny area.
As we kicked around the brushy area Richard flushed a bunny.  Sassy reacted to it, but it disappeared into a new brush pile.  I'm pleased by this brush pile as it is just the right size . . . big enough to attract rabbits, small enough to be stomped.  Richard stomped.  Bunny ran.  Sassy chased, but was not in a good position.  I looped around and poked the brush, and out popped bunny one more time.  This time Sassy made a dive and a chase for it.  They went up the hill, down into the spring valley for which Spring Grove is named, and ended with a really loud SMACK, then bunny cry.  We made our way over, and I had to get some help from Richard to work bunny out as it was wedged into some large branches, with a hawk hanging onto the backside.  Once out, I observed blood everywhere!  Upon returning home, and a shower for Sassy, it was determined it was bunny's blood. I'm not sure which animal made the SMACK, but Sassy otherwise appears to be fine.  I let her crop up on this bunny, so no flying afterwards.  I'll have to watch her to make sure she is OK.
This makes 2 bunnies and 2 squirrels for my Sassy girl!  I'm very pleased with this hawk.  Over the summer she became very possessive and nasty in her mews.  She's back to being her sweet self . . . that is unless you are a bunny or a squirrel, or a mouse.  Then she's just a bloody killer!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Going from Warm to Hot

The day started out quiet with my sleeping in to about 8 AM.  I've worked six out of the last eight days.  8 AM is late when compared to my usual 4 or 5 AM wake-up.  It felt good!  After a leisurely shower, I had breakfast while I figured out how to pick my favorite channels on our new satellite TV setup.  I then puzzled my way through a Sudoku puzzle while I had some coffee.  A co-worker got me curious about Sudoku, and I've found them to be fun and challenging.  This particular puzzle lays unfinished on the table - it's a harder one - and may not get finished.  I then turned my attention to deciding what to do with myself for the day.  Sassy needed to be exercised.  I have a whole host of things I should get accomplished on this current break.  Unpacking more boxes from the garage did not top the list of choices for the day.  I decided I would try to locate the name of a person who Justin told me breeds rats.  This person lives in the Rushford area.  Justin gave me the phone number some time in the recent past.  I had put the info in some terribly safe place . . . so safe I can't find it now.  A few calls helped me track down the name of the person, and I had an agreement to come purchase a rat or two.  I asked, and he also indicated he owned the woods around his home.  He said it would be OK to bring Sassy.  Cool!  I had a place to fly her . . . and I'd get some trapping rats as well.  Time to get moving! 
The gentleman, Greg, has a brother who works at the same hospital I work at.  He and his brother breed exotic snakes.  They also breed rats to feed their snakes.  He showed me his set-up.  It was very nice, with a temperature and humidity controlled room.  He also showed me several of his ball pythons.  I've owned a couple of these snakes before.  I like them because they don't get as large as many of the other python species.  He has several color morphs.  They are all lovely, healthy specimens!  He even has several "baby" snakes that hatched recently.  After selecting a couple of rats, we went outside to poke around his woods with Sassy.  His children came along to kick through the brush.  We did not find any rabbits today, but his oak woods are filled with squirrels.  After about 10 minutes, Sassy pursued one into the high branches, and as smooth as you please, she had her first squirrel catch of the year.  I was quite impressed!  I still think her weight could come down a little more . . . but apparently she is motivated enough to make a go for the tree rats.  I traded her off on a leg and slipped her catch into my bag.  With only a small reward I let her keep flying.
Greg's children were curious and adventurous.  His daughter Isabelle, on the far right here came into the woods in her shorts.  I consider what we walked to be pretty good "bunny-tat" as there was lots of briar.  Surely this young lady got some scratches on her legs, but she did not complain at all.  Later back at the house she let me meet her two ferrets.  His older son, Brady, on the far left in this picture, was very excited by the hawk, and called at her to follow us.  He also wanted to return to the woods soon after we got done, to try his own luck at getting some of the squirrels with his treasured .22 rifle which he received recently as a gift.  Gregg (jr), in dad's arms above, was also talkative, but many times I was not able to understand his soft childish conversation and questions.

We walked a little longer, and I was beginning to think Sassy was not very motivated to keep hunting, as we flushed several more squirrels which she did not engage.  I was just about to call her to the lure, when she did move up and handily snatched another squirrel from the top of a tree.  I didn't really expect her to do so well today.  I though I'd be lucky if she caught a couple mice, but instead we scored two squirrels.  Greg's family was impressed.

I have an invitation to come again and try for some more squirrels.  He also indicates his neighbor has lots of acres, and he would be happy to introduce me. 

Thank you Greg for allowing me to hunt your land!  Thank you for the rats!  And thank you for letting me meet your family.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tall Perch

Harris Hawks are known to be fairly intelligent, as far as hawks go.  However, sometimes I question my own girl's wits.  Earlier this fall, as I was bringing her weight down (still doing that) and getting Sassy into shape for hunting, I tried to introduce her to a "tall perch".  Usually this is a home-made T-perch, with a long pole, which MOST Harris Hawks seem to take to.  It is used to provide a hawk with a launch point if you should hunt where there are no trees.  I introduced one to my little passage HH that I had down in Texas, and he took to it immediately.  Sassy acted like it was an absolute monster that needed to be avoided at all costs.  Silly bird!!

Today we got a late start, and trapped our way to Rochester to pick up a couple of auction items that Rich had won.  I say "trapped our way" although really, we only saw one hawk to try for, and it was not interested in my bait in the least.  Sassy was along for the ride, so I could fly her, but I realized after we were on the road that I had forgotten a few key items for hawking, so she just got a ride in the box.  When we got home the day was late, and I needed to fly/feed her.  We drove around a bit, not finding anything appropriate, and then I just decided to go check out a small state forest that Justin had told me about.  There is a lot of squirrel sign here, though we did not see any squirrels today.  Absolutely no rabbits were flushed.  As we were going into the park the man who lives next to the park, and who owns the farm fields, saw us and chatted for a bit.  He invited us to walk the brushy field next to his house if we wanted, and assured us there would be mice. 

Rich and I walked the park for a bit, and Sassy flew from tree to tree.  Knowing the brushy field we were offered to hunt in to be tree-less, I kept my eyes open for an appropriately shaped stick . . . tall, with a side branch at the top.  I found one.  Upon leaving the park and entering the field I offered Sassy a food reward to hop to the stick.  She was a bit skitish at first, but well . . . there was food being offered, so she landed and took her tid bit, only to quickly leap off, as if the stick had burned her feet.  We proceeded into the field.  Sassy flew out to us, but finding no place to perch, she landed into the deep grass.  I then offered the natural T-perch to her again.  After considering her options for a few seconds, she leaped up to the perch . . . and then seemed to decide that it wasn't so bad after all.

We didn't find anyting in the field, and it was getting late, but the trip was made worthwhile by having introduced and getting acceptance of Sassy to use a tall perch.  I finished out the trip near the car giving her repeated rewards to fly from a distance and land on the perch.  She seemed to finally figure out it was an OK place for a hawk to perch.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Bunny

I've been slowly bringing Sassy's weight down to get going with the new season.  I've not been in a terrible big hurry, as the trees are still fairly well leafed, and the fields very brushy.  Also, I have a new house that I should be moving my stuff into.  Her weight is still not ideal.  She could loose an additional 50 grams or more, but she is safe enough to fly.  I think the best way to get into her lean athlete body is to fly, and to hunt.  We've taken a few flights recently, but nothing serious.  She has caught a small rat and a mouse on these flights.  Today I wanted to give her a serious chance at something bigger.  We visited one of the many small sites I know of . . . . this one being an old abandoned tree farm.  The fields surrounding have been harvested, so bunnies should be hiding in the brushy field.  It's a tricky field, because in the past when trees were removed, they just left the holes, which are covered in grass now.  Great for clumsy short-legged falconers to fall into!  In the winter it can be just a little harder to see the holes, but a lot less dangerous to fall into them, being cushioned by the snow.  We worked the field, and I was surprised to not see too much activity, but there are just so many places to hide right now.  Finally, after about 45 minutes or so we must have flushed a bunny . . . we never saw it . . . but Sassy launched herself from her tree perch, flew with purpose over the field, did a wing-over, crashed . . . and bunny cry!  First bunny of the season. 

Way to Go Sassy!!

I'm currently also working on bringing Hit Girl down.  She can not be flown free unless absolutely at weight.  She has a way to go, but we'll get there, and then she too will be out whacking rabbits and squirrels.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dave's Ace

On Thursday, October 4th I was invited to join Dave for awhile at his trapping blind overlooking the Mississippi River.  Dave drew one of the three trapping permits last year in Wisconsin for passage peregrines.  He did trap one last year, but the allowable take of only two birds had already been filled by the other two falconers in the state who had permits, so he had to release the falcon.  He had a permit for this year as well, and this year he was able to keep the peregrine that he trapped.  This is Ace, a passage tiercel.
His training is coming along very nicely, and soon Dave will be flying him free.  Nice Catch Dave!!
The rest of the time I spent up at the blind was filled with catching red tails.  That is the primary species caught at Dave's site . . . but he has caught a couple falcons (the other one he caught was banded so he let it go), and the occasional Coopers Hawk.  Dave is so very enthusiastic about the raptors he works with.
This year he was able to use his dho gazza nets, which make catching falcons and Coopers Hawks possible.  However, it can be a real challenge to extract the hawks out of the nets once they are in them.  I was assisting a little.  I can't imagine doing this without help.
Later in the afternoon we had a couple of additional visitors (which I had invited).  This is Roar Solheim, who is a Norwegian zoologist.  He is visiting the United States and collecting specimens for his nature museum in Kristiansand, Norway.  He is a guest of Karla at the Houston Nature Center.  His specialty is owls, but he is an avid bird enthusiast.
Sue Fletcher was his companion today.  She was taking him to see some of the birding hot spots in the La Crosse area (which they did go do later, after their visit to the blind).  I felt fortunate to have been able to give them the opportunity to see red tailed hawks up close and personal.  I'm also glad that we had a couple that Dave had trapped that they could release.  It was a really nice afternoon!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's been three years today that you've been gone!  You are missed as much today!
Love You Mom!!  Wish I could still call you, and come visit you!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trapping with Sue

On Tuesday October 2nd I went out on my first "Hawk Stalking" expedition of the year. I invited Sue along for the aventure.  Sue is an avid bird watcher from La Crosse.  We had a pretty good day . . . though it could have been better.
Within the first few minutes of our morning we brought this lovely fellow to the trap.  From the view of the tree he was in, and the very early light, I thought he might have been a "Juvie" (juvenile hawk), as we only trap juveniles.  Surprisingly, he came to our trap . . . which most self-respecting adult hawks just don't do.  However he did give us a chance to check out his lovely colors.
He still maintains the stripes in his tail, which are prominent in juvenile birds, however he clearly has the red tail.  Also, his eyes were fairly dark, so he is several years old.  He was also small!  Many of his tail feathers are just finishing up growing in, so he actually may even be a breeding male.  The moult is delayed in birds that breed.
We took his picture, and then I let Sue release him.  We drove around for several more hours, spotting many birds, and almost bringing to the trap at least two others . . . but at the end of the adventure there were no juvenile birds to bring home.  I did see a very large, what appeared to be a Krider's Moph near my home.  She was terribly near the trap yesterday, when a large noisy piece of farm equipment went by and spooked her.  Later in the evening I saw her again in the same area.  I returned Wednesday morning at dawn, not to see her, but to see a pair of birds in a tree overlooking the valley.  Probably the residents.  I drove by again later, this time to see her.  I laid the trap, and was in almost the perfect setup to catch her, but as she flew over eyeing my rat, I heard a territorial scream, and saw another hawk fly in to chase her.  Damn!!  Missed her again!!  Too bad!!  I really would like to check that bird out.  I'll have to watch and see if she hangs around for awhile.