Saturday, December 21, 2013

I've Got a Cast!

Flying my birds this winter has been difficult.  It was all in the news and chat everywhere the impact of the "Polar Vortex".  What it has meant for me is that my flying days are severely limited.  Sassy can fly in the mid to high 20s, but Wasp just shuts down.  In the lower 20s neither one wants to fly.  Those rare days in the 30s, that I'm not working, have to be taken advantage of.  These pictures are from just such a rare day.

Justin joined me, and brought along Eric Rain, a young man who may eventually become a falconer.  Eric is a Veteran who spent some of his military years in my old home town, El Paso.  He also was fortunate enough to meet one of the few falconers who lives there. 

We started by flying my two beasts at one of my very favorite spots.  We had lots of flushes, and eventually Sassy got serious and caught a bunny.  Of special note here . . . Sassy let Wasp join her on the kill with no aggression.  That was my goal!  Now if I could just get more warm days, I'd like for Wasp to get more experience.

Here is our little hunting group for the day.  Rich is behind the camera.
A quick pose after the hunt.  We then packed it all up and went to get some lunch.
After lunch we flew Justin's bird.  She's a great bird, and has a great falconer to fly her.
On this particular day she caught a bunny and a squirrel.  This was also #77 head count for the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's Cold Out There!

Today was the first day in about a 10-day stretch when it was neither a work day (6 of the last 10 have been), nor was it single digit or sub-zero temperatures outside.  Granted, it only got up to about 19, but that has been the warmest opportunity I've had for quite awhile to attempt to get my birds out.  Greg was also available, and despite some coughing in their household, two of his kids came along as well. 

After we met up, we first checked a spot in Rochester that I had seen, but had not explored on the ground.  Desper was our overhead game inspector.  The Minnesota Falconers are having a mini-meet in January in Rochester, hosted by a family of new falconers, the mom and wife I met last week.  I've offered to help locate hunting spots for those who join us.  There are several locations I can suggest, but have not explored them all.  Today was a chance to check out a couple of them.  The first site only rendered up two flushes, of which probably was the same bunny.  Though it looked like good squirrel habitat, perhaps it was just too cold today for the tree rats to be out.  Overall, I've judged that site to be rather poor, and not worthy of recommendation.

After some lunch, we explored another location, which I may, or may not share.  I shouldn't be greedy or over protective of my hunting spots, but this one turned out to be rather good.  We flew Sassy and Wasp first, and proceeded to kick up quite a few bunnies.  Sassy got in several good chases, and Wasp even tried to pick one up, rather poorly, as he was just not having a good day.  It was just too cold for him, and quickly became too cold for Sassy as well.  Finally, when she let two bunnies run right under her, and made no effort to chase, I decided I'd lure them in and put them away, and let Desper have another chance.  Desper did get several slips herself, in fact she treated us to at least three classic wing-overs . . . flying over the grassy marsh we were working, then making a quick 90 degree turn and stoop into the grass.  She missed all her bunnies, but it was pretty to see.  Our lack of success today was credited, I think, to Desper being a bit overweight, and my two birds being Harris Hawks in Minnesota, when it is just too cold for them to tolerate.

We were successful in catching some 'game' . . . sort of.  Belle whacked a rodent, which I now think was a short-tailed shrew.  She's holding it up in her right hand above.  Brady is posing with Desper.  Shortly later, I flushed several and managed to stomp on one myself.  Once the picture above was taken, I let Sassy and Wasp each have one of the recently deceased rodents . . . and they each did not say Thank You, and swallowed them whole.  *Urp*

It was a good day, even if no game was brought to the bag.  Next Tuesday it's supposed to get as 'warm' as 30, so maybe I can try flying my cast again.  After that, it is to return to sub-zero temps for several days.  Maybe next year I should consider reverse molting Wasp, artificially stimulating the molt over the winter, and fly him in the summer/early fall.  It just seems too cold for him.  Oh, and next year I should get a passage red tail . . . if they will bless us with their presence and migrate through.  I think they boycotted Minnesota this year.  They were very hard to find.

Thanks Greg, Belle and Brady . . . for a fun day!  Let's do it again, soon!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Compilation of Hunts

Rich wears a GoPro out in the field with me.  Honestly, he does so voluntarily . . . I don't make him do it!  But sometimes he catches the action simply because he is looking at it, and so is the camera.  He has pieced together several recent clips, editing out some of the long boring parts where people are just walking and whacking brush.

The first two clips are from our hunt with Janelle on the very, very cold day.  You can hear the wind.  He did see the quick bunny catch.  I had him cut it off as bunny was crying for quite awhile until I could get there.  Right after I was calling Sassy down.  It was terribly cold, so she was more than happy to come to me and go back in the box.

The next two clips are from our hunt on Thanksgiving Day.  The first clip Sassy caught the squirrel, but while 'parachuting' down, she tangled up on some branches, and it was just the right kind of leverage that the squirrel broke free and got away.  We kept going, and a short time later she caught a different squirrel, which this time did not get away.  Special note, the call of the red tailed hawk.  When out hawking it is not uncommon to encounter resident birds, who will come and defend their turf, especially if you are flying a smaller hawk.  This one was only heard, never seen.

The last clip was from our last hunt, where I finally flew Wasp with Sassy.  There were several bunny chases, but this was the best one.  Bunny just got too much of a head start on Sassy, and at the end it made a quick turn, a 'juke', and she missed it.  If Wasp had joined her, this bunny may have made it into the bag, but he stayed firmly perched on an overhead wire.  However, this was a first hunt, so they need practice to get comfortable chasing the same bunny.  Since that time, another arctic blast has descended upon our area, so I won't be able to fly them until it warms up a little . . . if it does at all.  Special note on this last clip . . . my great disdain for burdock.  This particular location has quite a thicket of them.  Even though it spreads the seeds, I try to knock them down while walking past them, or I end up with them stuck all over me.  I wear my special burdock-proof hat in places like this.  I hate getting burdock in my hair!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gotta Getta Cast

Today I quashed my fears at releasing two hawks at once, not so much that I didn't trust Sassy, but was unsure on how Wasp would perform, and how they would fly together.  I think it rather turned out OK.  They have had quite awhile to get acquainted, although not right next to each other all the time, but share my 'hawk shack', in separate chambers at each side which allows them to see and hear each other. 

We flew at a location we've been to several times, isolated, with a rather concentrated population of bunnies.  It has a substantial thicket of burdock, thus the choice of my burdock-proof hat.  Weather has been wet, mostly, with some sleet, but held off while we were in the field.  It was just 'warm' enough that the little Harris Hawk should not be bothered by the temp (high 30s).  After activating all the transmitters . . . they each have to have two now according to the new laws, I released Sassy first, then followed with Wasp.  As we worked the little patch of woods the two birds moved along with us, and even sometimes perched in the same tree.  Wasp did a pretty good job of following.  Sassy is an old pro.  During our hunt, the only thing brought to the bag was a field vole, caught by Wasp.  When I went to intervene, I pulled away most of the vole, with him keeping the front part.  Sassy then spotted what was going on, and joined us.  It was at this point that I saw the only aggression.  Sassy scrawed at him to give up the food.  I then distracted her with the part in my hand, and resolved the issue without any further conflict. 

During our hunt today, a couple bunnies were kicked up, but none caught.  Sassy had a really nice chase on one, and it may have been caught if Wasp had joined her.  I'm not sure if he's unsure about bunnies, or afraid to chase the same food as that big female.  The solution may simply be to fly them together as much as I can . . . which I was going to do anyway.  Rich caught the action on his GoPro, so I may have a little video to follow in the next couple days.

Overall, I feel it went well for a first joint flight.  We'll have to work on the recall, as I gave a lure to Rich, and we both called a bird, but ended up each with the other bird, and then both on the same lure.  It was a little clumsy, but all birds were returned to their boxes safe. 

On a somewhat positive note, sortof, I briefly decided to bring Monty out on his leash, and see if he could be persuaded to try and kick out some bunnies in a brush pile.  This was the first opportunity Sassy had to really get a go at that dog that she has despised for some time.  She immediately flew in and got a few good licks in on the dog, who I think now just may respect her for it.  I'm not sure if I could eventually convince Sassy to let him join us in the field, but at least the first step is for him to fear her.  I think maybe he understands that now.  Will he remember . . . that is the question.

I wanted to get a second Harris Hawk so that I could fly a cast.  A second female would have been preferred, but a male is what was available to me, and ultimately, I wanted a second bird that could be a good companion to Sassy.  A little male may turn out to be an ultimate companion, who could eventually be her mate in a couple years.  Hunting together should help cement that bond.  I wanted a cast, and today I flew one.  The team needs work, but it is a start.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Am I Thankful For?

Today is Thanksgiving.  It is a day which means many things to many people here in the United States, but mostly a time to come together with your family, friends and loved ones and to celebrate the abundance in our lives.  Rich and I are both off today from work, for which I am thankful we both have meaningful employment, and gathered with his family to feast.  I brought a sweet potato casserole which I made this morning from fresh sweet potatoes to add to the other traditional fare.  The food was delicious, and the company always appreciated.  I am thankful that my life path brought me to inclusion in a loving family.  I am fortunate in the second half of my life to have found Rich, and to be accepted into his clan.  I am thankful for my wonderful husband, who is the best companion I could have wished for.  I am thankful that despite the political rancor that is present in our country today, we still live in a peaceful and plentiful society, where for the most part we can go about our daily activities in safety, and freedom.

I contacted my sisters today to wish them well on this day when we express our gratitude.  My own family of birth is far away, and my beloved mother is gone now, yet when I saw this picture below and selected it to post, I see my mother's face in my own.  I miss you mom!  I look now as she did when I was in high school.
After we all pushed away from our plates, and some people began moving upstairs to catch some football, Rich and I slipped away for a little hawking.  Sassy was quite ready to go, and we were not far from one of the places I like to hunt, but which I had not visited this year yet.  Our time in the woods was brief, with Sassy catching but losing one squirrel as it crashed to the ground through some tree branches, but then pursuing a different one a few minutes later, and bringing that one to the bag.  This is #7 head of game for the year.  We've not been pushing as hard this year, as last year, but still having a good time.  I am thankful for being able to work with such a wonderful game hawk, and that this activity is legal in our country.
It was a relatively warm day, compared to what we have had recently.  I probably could have even flown Wasp, except he was just too heavy to fly today.  I fed Sassy up on what was in my pocket, and let her have the warm, tasty parts from her squirrel.  We then returned to the family gathering . . . for pie.

It is a good holiday, to stop and take time to reflect on the positives in our lives.  I truly have abundance, which I recognize, and always acknowledge a deep appreciation for.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Very Cold

The last couple of weeks we've had a bit of an arctic blast descend over us from out of Canada.  I guess we can count ourselves lucky, in that we didn't get the blanket of snow that a lot of the states down South got (New Mexico, Colorado, Texas).  It sounds like the NAFA meet got a lot of snow to start things off.  We didn't plan to attend, so I'm just hearing about the hawking adventures on Facebook through my friends who did go.  I have tried to get out a couple times, but it has been challenging, as it has been single digits, with WIND.  Brrrrrrr.

On Tuesday, November 26 we did take my new friend Janelle out to tromp through some woods with Sassy.  Janelle grew up just outside of Rochester, and knows lots of people with land.  We were hunting in a wood lot owned by one of her neighbors.  Inside the wood lot it was tolerable, once you got moving and got warmed up.  Regardless of the multiple layers of clothing I was wearing, there was a substantial wind, especially felt outside of the wood lot, so we did not stay out in the open much.  This temperature range is just about almost out of Sassy's tolerance level.  However, she hadn't been flown for several days, and was game to try.
We looped around the lot, and made our way across the creek that winds through it, and were making our way up the hill when Rich flushed a bunny.  Sassy was all over it.  He did catch it on his GoPro, and I may post a video, but will not show the entire clip of the action, as bunny is crying quite a bit before I could get there. 

I'm wanting to limit posting some of the coverage we capture, as I don't want to leave 'fuel' out on the Internet for people who may be adverse to the killing of small game with a trained raptor.  It is a blood sport, although what we are killing is food for the birds, and dispatched as quickly as I can.  However, in the excitement of the moment I also tend to laugh at enjoyment of a fine gamehawk doing what their instincts and training direct them to do, and which I'm delighted to get to participate in.  The laughing may sound like I'm enjoying the death of the small animal, which is not the reason at all.

We did kick up another bunny on our long way back to the car, but it escaped our efforts to catch it.  Janelle had a good day out with us, and I've promised her that I'll be happy to go out hunting throughout the winter with her and her son.  How could I possibly say 'no', when she will get me access to lots of new places to hunt. 
This previous Sunday I went out hawking with Greg, his son Brady, and his bird, Desper.  It was also a fairly cold day, but not as much wind.  We explored a few places not far from his house, and did provide a few slips for Desper, but no game was brought to the bag.  I did have my two birds along for the ride, but just ran out of daylight.  Besides, I was wanting to give Desper more opportunity, as she needs some more successes to cement her gamebird status.  She has caught a rabbit and a squirrel, as well as some miscellaneous stuff.  She flew pretty good, and followed for the most part.  As the day wore on, I think she was beginning to lose focus, so we called her down.  We also wanted to get back to Greg's house with some daylight left, as he and Brady would go out for awhile onto their land and sit and wait for deer.  This is Brady's first year that he could try for a deer, and he is terribly excited by the prospect.  Believe me, it was mostly what we heard from him all morning.
I'm also including this pic from a couple weeks ago.  Justin came over and helped to install backpacks to Greg's bird Desper, and my two Harris Hawks.  Justin is becoming quite the skilled falconer, and networking and making contacts, and perfecting his skills.  After this picture was taken, he went out West to Kansas with Dave and a few of Dave's friends and got to hunt for jackrabbits.  Justin's bird this year, Chomps, took two of those giant bunnies.  I've only had the opportunity to try for jacks twice in the years I've been in this sport, and I've never caught one.  They just don't occur in this area.  I am aware that they can be found out in Western Minnesota, and some time I may plan a trip there to see if I can find any.  For now, I just have to hear about the adventures of others.

Where is Wasp, you may ask!  Well, it has been so terribly cold, I can't fly him.  I can feel his shivering through my glove.  I'm needing to explore other ways to hunt him.  Perhaps some car hawking.  Or I might just have to wait until we have warmer days, which now may not be until Spring.  I'd like to explore his chasing bunnies.  I did fly him last week, and he started to wander and not respond to the lure.  We found him on the ground, shivering.  It was just too cold for him, and I hope that is what was his distraction.  Down in Texas, I got lucky and discovered packrats, which became our preferred quarry.  I need to find an acceptable prey species for him, barring our very cold winters.  I might have to make him more of a fall/spring bird, and maybe into summer if I can get him on birds.  We certainly have plenty of starlings, house sparrows and pigeons. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Surprise Ending

Ooops . . . my audience saw this post before I could type up any text. I was a bit tuckered last night after posting pictures, so didn't get to the text portion right away. Here goes that explanation now.

Rich and I got out hawking on Thursday as we are going into our work weekend, and this will be a 4-day stint for me. So best to fly the birds, as they will be twiddling their talons for the next few days. Soon, very soon I want to attempt to fly both Harris Hawks together, and see how they do with that. I chose a place that I thought might work, but when we got there I felt just a little uneasy for some unknown reason, so listened to my gut instinct, and went with flying them separate. Sassy went first, and frankly I didn't have high hopes as she is way over weight, which I thought for an initial cast flight with Wasp might not be such a bad idea, for then she would not be too sharp. (Side Note to any wannabe falconers out there . . . some HHs can be flown overweight. This is not advised with most birds, as they could fly off, or ignore you. Sassy is quite game even when fat, she just usually doesn't try real hard when not sharp.)

The location is along a railroad outside of my little town. Usually, when there is snow, we see all kinds of rabbit activity, but today I think all the bunnies were down their holes. There is thick brush along this track, which would be great for a little hawking dog . . . dang that Sassy and Monty hate each other. Some day I'm just going to need to risk/try that as well, and see what happens. I think the dog needs some more training. Actually, no 'think' there . . . I'm certain he needs more training!

Anyway, we worked the brush down along the track without much of any prospects. A single rabbit was kicked out, but elluded Sassy through that thick brush. It was somewhat of a dreary afternoon, and had begun to drizzle. I forgot my hat, so proceeded to get wet on my head. With the dismal prospects of success I was just about to call it quits for her and head someplace else, to fly Wasp, or even home if the drizzle kept up. I looked ahead in the trees and saw a break in the cover, and appointed that as my end goal. There we would cross over and walk back. The other side of the track is not nearly so good for bunnies. The end of the track had a thick cover, and I thought it possible we could still bust a bunny that had been pushed down the row. As we came to the end, Sassy burst into action, but not towards the ground. Instead, it was up in the trees after a squirrel. I never even saw the squirrel. She hit it, snagged it, and proceeded to hang up the tree for about 10 mintues. She must have grabbed it with both feet around a branch. This allowed for plenty of time for Rich to take pictures. Squirrel was calling. Sassy was growling at it from time to time. I hoped she wasn't being bitten, as it was up the tree a fair distance, and I don't climb trees!

Eventually, she repositioned her feet, and came down. I moved in to secure her prize, and check her out for any bites. Her feet were covered in blood, but it did not appear to be hers. Good! It was a smallish squirrel, but the first of the season. This puts us at 5 head of game. Three rabbits, one squirrel, and one substantial miscellaneous, which will just go unmentioned here. It was a surprise ending, as I hadn't even seen any squirrels, and wasn't expecting action from that direction.

Here above I'm also gesturing with my safety glasses. I took a big chunk of brush and leaves in the face earlier in the season, and ended up needing to go to the opthalmologist's office to examine my eye. I had managed to get some plant matter imbedded on the underside of my eyelid, which was scraping my eye. Ouch! So . . . when hawking, wear sunglasses, and if it is gloomy, clear safety glasses.

Later in the evening I washed Sassy's feet thoroughly, and checked her over. No wounds!

First squirrel of the season!

We worked our way back to the car and relocated to fly Wasp. There is a brushy area in our little town next to the county fair grounds. We gave that a try. Wasp followed pretty good, but did get kicked around a bit by the wind. He hit a couple fences kinda hard too because of the wind. At some point he did find a mouse in the grass, so we are up to three mice for him. I was also encouraged to see his reaction to the first open ground bunny flush. He went after it, and with some steam. Unfortunately, bunny made it to cover just in front of him, and he hit that cover rather hard. I didn't have time to check on him this morning prior to leaving for work . . . hopefully he's fine with all the bumps he took on Thursday. He seemed fine last night.

At the end of the day, with them both cropped up, and feet cleaned and inspected, I perched them on their 'getting to know you' perch. After awhile, I lifted Sassy, untied her, and set her down next to Wasp. They just stood there, no aggression, and Wasp proceeded to tuck his leg. OK, they seem to be getting comfortable with each other. Soon I'll have to try flying them as a cast.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It Qualifies!

I spent the greater portion of my morning cleaning my house.  It has to be done once in awhile.  Also, I have company coming for a few days.  Can't let it be known that I live like a slob most of the time.  I also had to mop up the hawk poo on my living room floor.  That took up most of the day.  Rich ran an errand up almost to the Cities, picking up a piece of furniture from a recent auction.  When he got home we pushed and squeezed a "new" loveseat through the doors and downstairs, then packed up the birds and headed out for a little hawkin.

I flew Wasp first, with the hope to kick up something so he starts to get an idea of what we are up to.  He followed well enough, and did get "entered" today . . . on a couple mice.  "Entered" is what we call it when they have caught a particular kind of prey in the wild.  He knows what mice are . . . I've fed him several, both alive and dead.  We did kick up some rabbits, but he doesn't seem to know quite what those are.  He got some good exercise, he caught and ate some good food, and at the end of the day he came to the lure and was returned safe to his box, and eventually to his mews.  They may be humble quarry, but they do qualify.  After all, he's a fairly small hawk.  I may fly him free sometime soon with Sassy, when she is hunting rabbits.  She can hopefully show him what the game is really about.
Next we flew Sassy.  We were at Byron again, as we have yet to fully walk that entire location.  I must say, the rabbit population there is fantastic.  We'll be able to visit it several time this year, I'm sure.  We kicked up a whole heck of a lot of bunnies for her.  She was not well placed for most of the slips.  Eventually, as we headed back to leave, as the sun was going down, we kicked up a rabbit which went on a long run.  Sassy was up a particularly tall tree, and well placed, and stooped with speed towards her prize . . . which was brought to the bag.  This makes bunny #3 for Sassy for this season.  Rich caught my picture above in the fading light.  I look tired!  I am tired!  I had cleaned house most of the day . . . and now was chasing hawks through thick cover.

I posed the picture below.

The End of the Day . . . A Good Day Hawking

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hawkin Posse

Today I got out hawking with my former apprentice, Justin (on the right) and my current apprentice, Greg (on the left).  Justin is holding his new passage hawk for the season.  He (and his kids) have decided to call her Chomps.  She has been particularly destructive to her equipment.  Greg is holding his new (and first) passage hawk, Desperation.  They are calling her Desper.
We started the day by checking out a brushy spot I've seen, but not walked.  It turned out to be a no-go, as there was a substantial creek alongside it.  So we moved our posse off to my best hawking field, in Byron.  Justin and Chomps went first, and we hadn't been beating brush for much more than a couple minutes when she nailed her second bunny.  Justin indicates he had entered her to bunnies the previous day.  She is now on her way to a successful career as a falconry bird.  He says he has to be careful trading her off, as she is quite footy on her prize.
He told me today he will be going to Kansas in a couple weeks to hunt with Dave and his friends.  He'll probably enter her to jacks while there.  I'm sure it will be a great time.

After Chomps' success, I got Sassy out and beeped up.  It was a very high wind day, and she showed some signs of difficulty flying because of it.  She was also quite distracted by the mice and voles in the field, preferring to chase these, rather than the multiple bunnies we kicked up.  We continued down the field with her following mostly behind.  At one point, when she was ahead of me, I kicked up one rabbit which ran under and behind her.  She completely ignored it.  I looked at her demeanor, and noticed she was staring intently down to my left.  I walked forward slowly and kicked up a rabbit, which she had been watching, and she caught it before it could escape into a pile of rail road ties.  This was bunny #2 for her for the season.
We broke for some lunch, then relocated to an isolated and somewhat sheltered valley to fly the two new birds.  Even here the wind was quite brisk.  Greg flew Desper on the creance for a few flights.  Her response was OK, but then she looked longingly up into the trees, and headed for them.  Greg then pulled the lure for her, but she still is not tightly wed to it.  She would not fly free today, and needs a bit more work.  We then flew Wasp.  He did fly free, but doesn't follow tight, as he doesn't really have a clue about what we are doing.  Where we were at does not have any game to speak of.  I wanted to fly him in Byron, where there are many mice, but the high winds discouraged this.  After awhile I pulled the lure for him.  His response was also slow, though I know he has a good condition for it.  He is still too high.  Regardless, I cropped him up as well, as the following evening I let both Harris Hawks spend time on the "Getting to Know You" perch.
Justin and I posing with the birds that were successful today.  Sassy had thrown her hood while I was getting them out, so got an extra snack off her bunny she had caught.

It was a Great Day with a couple of Cool Guys . . . and some Wonderful Birds.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting to Know You

Rich made for me a "Getting to Know You" perch, so my two Harris Hawks can get acquainted.  So far, Wasp had an opportunity yesterday while I was letting them see each other, holding Sassy, to reach out and "sting" Sassy with a bit of a crab.  He has an attitude and certainly isn't impressed with this large female.

By way of caution, this perch is only used under supervision.  It is not safe to leave them tethered this way without my being nearby. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Back in the Game

Sassy caught her first head of game, a cottontail, for the 2013/2014 falconry season.  I am particularly pleased with her success, as it means she is fully recovered from her injury and surgery.  Her flight at times is a little labored, and she doesn't get height very good sometimes, but I think this is more a matter of just coming out of the molt and not being in the greatest condition.  Previous to her bunny catch we were chasing a few squirrels, but she's going to need to drop a little more weight to truly be motivated to hunt those tree rats.  She wasn't chasing them very hard.  Getting her out for frequent flights will strengthen her up and slim her down more in the best possible way . . . through normal exercise, and chasing game.
This bunny almost got away!  She smacked down and caught it, through the brush, and had it by one foot on its back side.  It took some work by me to get to her, but she held on tight to her prize.  For her efforts, and my pleasure at her being fully back to normal, I let her crop up on her first bunny.
Here I am showing off the lovely "new" coat Rich found for me on some auction site.  It is almost just a little too small, but has none of the blaze orange my other coat has.  It's a little less heavy than the other coat, so best for early winter and late winter hawking.  I'll be wearing the other one soon as the deer gun hunting season gets going.  But then I usually hunt near or in towns at that time, to prevent getting shot at.

On other positive fronts, Greg called me this evening and his bird has jumped to the fist.  Her training is moving along, and soon she will be out hunting as well.  The falconry season is underway!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trapping Season

It's been a rather unusual trapping season this year.  I don't know about other areas of the Upper Midwest, or the rest of the US for that matter, but here in Southeastern Minnesota, passage birds have been few and far between.  I've gone out trapping several times with Greg, with no luck, and he's been out several times by himself (well, his kids usually come along), with the same fate.  We've put some serious mileage on our vehicles stalking non-existent hawks.  A small hand-ful of hawks have been caught, but all were small males, so released.  Checking in with my friend Dave, who has a trapping station over the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side, the flow of passage Red Tails have been slow as well, especially compared to the numbers observed moving through last year.  Finally, this last weekend, west of Rochester on a back road an average sized red tail hawk, despite her full crop, came to the trap double-time.  She weighed in at 41 ounces, an average female.
I went over to Greg's house to show him how to put her Federal ID band onto her leg.  Now the fun starts . . . training.
 She has already settled down and sits calmly on the fist, and regains the fist after a bate.

Smile Greg!
But first . . . take the pencil outta your hat!
There ya go!  A couple of his kids join him in the picture.  They both helped in the search as they have good eyes to spot the birds.  Unlike us 'Old Fogies'.
He has decided to call her 'Desperation'.  I look forward to seeing their progress!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Quick Talk at Whitewater

I gave a quick talk today about falconry at Whitewater State Park for the daughter of our friend, Lori. Kelly's class has been camping the last couple days.  Rich caught this nice picture of Sassy, with her wings and tail spread out.  I rather like it, so I'll post it here.  Her weight is coming down, and soon we will be hunting again.  Bunnies and Squirrels . . . watch out!
Thank You Kelly, for inviting us!

New Quest

With my failure at trying to add a new hunting partner to my team by trapping down in New Mexico fresh on my mind, and my determination to have a new Harris Hawk this season, I looked into other options.  As I said on Facebook . . . what skill and luck did not bring me in New Mexico, Cold Hard Cash would . . . from Oregon.

I contacted Mike Syring of Mike's Falconry Supplies in Gresham, Oregon.  He informed me that he did have a five-month old male from his breeding project which was still available.  This particular male was still in the chamber with his parents, and had witnessed them go on for a second breeding, so had watched his parents brood and rear his siblings.  This is good, as I'm thinking that if he turns out to be a good companion for my Sassy, and a good hunter, I may consider letting them attempt to breed in a couple years. 

Please meet the new bird!

He caught a one-way direct flight to me on Tuesday, 10/8 from Portland to Minneapolis / St. Paul.  We picked him up from the cargo delivery about an hour after the plane had landed.  Once home, I just left him in his delivery kennel until the next morning, as we did get home rather late.  The next morning I retrieved him from his box to jess him up and take a first look and hold of him.  Immediately out of the box he latched onto my glove, and managed to get a stinger-hold onto my pinkie finger through the glove.  This would go on to help me name him.  Out of the box and with the male Harris Hawk hood I had from my previous bird in Abilene (which fit pretty good), onto the scale he went.  He weighed in at 650 grams.  A little guy . . . but feisty, and full of "piss and vinegar" as my mother used to say.  The braces are not tight on the image below.  When they are, the hood fits perfectly.  I like all of my birds, even the more 'friendly' Harris Hawks, to be hood trained.  It helps to have an 'off' switch' when you need it.

Over the next week I would not get to spend great swaths of time with him, due to having to go to work for several days, and then over the weekend getting out to attempt to trap a passage red-tail with Greg.  However, each evening we have watched some TV, and I've been working on his manning, as I wait for his weight to drop to get a response.  He seems to be settling down somewhat in his mews, although right now he is being tethered, and all perches but the bow perch in the middle of the chamber have been removed.  Once calmly responding to his training, I'll free-loft him.  The two birds are able to see (and hear) each other across their separate chambers.  On Sunday night we made real progress, and last night, at 590 grams, he jumped to the fist.  Things should move along very quickly now.  Many evenings I man him with Monty in the room, in his kennel, so they can see and get used to each other.  Then, on other nights, I'll put Monty away, and have Sassy tied out onto her indoor perch, so she and he can see each other.  It is during those times that the new little bird seems to relax the most . . . . I guess that large and comfortable-looking adult female Harris Hawk puts him at his ease.  Soon, I'm going to commission Rich to make some kind of double-perch so I can let them perch closer, but with a barrier between so they can't get a foot on each other.  Not yet.  All this time, I'm also working on getting Sassy's weight down.  We are about 50 grams out.  It is finally starting to look like fall, so the cool evenings should help.

Sassy (on the right in this picture above) is rather a large female Harris Hawk, as Harris Hawks go.  She normally flies at 990 to 1000 grams.  The new bird is about the same size as my passage bird trapped in Corpus Christi, if just a tiny bit bigger.  I am told that the new bird has ancestors from out of the White Wing line from the Coulsons . . . a very famous pair of Harris Hawk breeders and falconers of renown.  They wrote the definitive book on the species . . . really!  Hopefully, these two will go on to form a nice, tight cast.  I have felt somewhat bad at not having another Harris Hawk for Sassy, as they are a social species, and benefit from flying with another of their own kind.  Hopefully, now that is rectified.

Now, for a name.  I had not been particularly influenced one way or another for any kind of fancy name.  I did come up with something, based on his initial behavior for me, but it took a couple days to warm up to it.  Now, I think it is going to stick.  It's not creative, as in something that would go well with Sassy, but . . . it is what it is.  I have decided to call him Wasp, because he was a little stinger right off the bat.
I hope to fly him and Sassy at bunnies, which we have in abundance around here.  I probably could get him on Starlings as well, and maybe even pigeons.  There are plenty of farmers with these pests in their barnyards, to provide plenty of exercise, and excitement.

We'll see what the little stinger can accomplish!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quest - Unfulfilled

Southeast New Mexico ~ this was the location of my quest to add a new hunting partner to my hawk team.  I had taken my 'free weekend' on September 14 and 15 to finish assembling everything I would need for the trip.  Richard worked on the Saturday, but took Sunday off.  I had planned to get up and leave around midnight of Saturday into Sunday, but got to bed the previous night too late, so pushed off departure for a few hours.  By about 4:30 on Sunday we were on the road.  Let the adventure begin!

We took turns driving, with the goal to make it to Hobbs, New Mexico in one continuous push.  I have an Aunt who lives in Hobbs, and she didn't mind our crashing there.  We did accomplish this initial goal, although not in the time we had anticipated.  GPS and previous computer assessment had indicated about an 18-hour drive, but it actually took about 23 hours.  The mini-van was packed to the gills with all we would need for the trip, and the dog, and the hawk, and all the rats.  It was good to arrive and relax.  That first day we drove across town to a golf course that I knew had previously hosted a family of Harris Hawks.  I know this because when I had Cimarron, my previous passage Harris Hawk, I had flown in the vicinity of this golf course and seen them.  I found a pair immediately, and this put me in a mindset that trapping would be easy.  After all, I had found a pair of adults almost immediately, and I had the experience of quickly catching a passage Harris Hawk before.  We just had to start finding the babies.

Oh . . . How Wrong I Was!!

Rich and I would spend Tuesday driving around looking for adults and juvies, to no successful end.  We did make it down to Carlsbad, which would turn out to be the focus of much of our search the following days.  We were to join forces with my falconry friend, Sharon Hartshorn, on Wednesday.  She lives in New Mexico and also drew one of the permits for a passage Harris Hawk.  We would team up in this quest on Wednesday through Friday.  Poor Richard . . . he would have to put up with two crazy falconry women in one car.
My very mellow-mannered husband put up with his abuse most admirably.  Thank You Rich for foregoing a lot of sleep on this trip, and taking driving directions from two very obsessed people.
Pictured below is one of the two adult birds I found in the Hobbs golf course.  I would proceed to visit them several times over the next week, hoping to see if they had any babies, but never spotted any juvenile offspring.  Sharon came armed with information, nest maps from a falconry friend who lives in Las Cruces, and who in years past spent a lot of time researching the population of Harris Hawks in New Mexico.  He also provided trapping advice via her Smart Phone.  His research indicated their presence mostly around the Carlsbad area, even though our permit allowed for search east of Hwy 285, which would cover much of the Southeast corner of the state.  They are mostly concentrated in a small area.  Some other falconers had been successful earlier in the year with eyas take, nestlings right out of the nest, however Sharon also reported hearing about a late spring / early summer storm which may have resulted in the deaths of a majority of the nestlings.  Our searching seemed to prove this out.  We only found one active nest, one family of Harris Hawks our entire time in and around Carlsbad.  This was despite extensive searching.  We put some serious mileage on the mini-van during our time in Southeast New Mexico.
We came across this one family on Wednesday morning.  That's 'Mom & Dad' below.  We would proceed to hawk stalk them for the next six days or so, on and off.  Initially, we dropped multiple BC's for them, with a variety of tasty trap animals to entice them.  The juvies would make strafing flights at the BCs, checking out the situation, but would never land and actively foot the traps.  I'm not sure if our failure was because it is still fairly early in the trapping season, and these youngsters (we would come to call them 'The Kids') were still very well fed by their parents, or that they were also very well supervised by these parents, especially the female.  The adults were ALWAYS present, and often it seemed to me the female was warding her kids away from our traps.  The area we came to canvas extensively had what appeared to be multiple nests in the same field, so this may be a very successful pair of adult hawks who have raised a family many years in a row at this spot.
The main nest, as well as a roosting tree (we would come to call it 'Home Tree' as the family spent a lot of time in it), are terribly near this nasty power pole.  While dropping traps I did discover the remains of a third nestling, so there were at least three eggs in this previous breeding season for this family.  That dead bird must have killed itself on these dangerous exposed power lines sometime on its initial fledging flights.  I hope the others go on to avoid that same fate.

My new Eagle Optics binoculars served me most excellently.  I would use them quite a bit on this trip to distinguish one bird from another, and to watch the antics of The Kids.  At this time, New Mexico is hosting a lot of black vultures migrating through.  Several towers in Carlsbad are festooned with several hundred of them at night.  There are also many multiple Swainson's Hawks to be found in the area.  Many of the hawks spotted on our searching of the area for Harris Hawks resulted in spotting mostly Swainson's Hawks, and adult Red Tailed Hawks.  Oh . . . and while searching in the desert for desert hawks, and not finding many of them, we did find quite a few 'water hawks' . . . osprey.  The Pecos River runs through Carlsbad, and there is a healthy population of them fishing the lakes and streams.

The Kids did give us many enjoyable opportunities to observe hawk behavior.  They were rather playful with each other, chasing each other in flight, did demonstrate at one point 'back standing' on one of the poles (flying in and landing on the back of a bird already standing on the pole ~ this is a behavior noted as being unique to this species, and possibly a result of their not normally having many perches in their environment, so they use each other).  We also watched cooperative hunting flights with the parents, and also with the Kids.  We tried to drop traps late in the evening, and also very early in the morning.  I think all we proceeded to do was to train the Kids to avoid BCs.  On one evening we put traps all around Home Tree, then went up the hill to observe the entire field as evening came on.  The two brats, seen below, came and perched on the power pole right by our car, in what seemed like a tease.  I know this picture is not the greatest, but with my binoculars I could look at them both very well.  It looked like one female, on the left, and one male.  Here close up was the target of our efforts, and we would never lay a hand on either of them.

After our final day of trapping together, we two determined falconers would come away with an empty box.  Rich had made for me a nice new giant hood for the new bird, but no bird would get to try it out.  Sharon and I hammed up our disappointment.
On the last day Sharon was with us, Friday, and after extensive searching the area and not finding anything other than this one family, we called it quits and went hawking with her current bird, Rio.  On this trip she was wanting to get a hunting companion for her most excellent game hawk, as I was also trying to do the same thing for my Sassy.
Rio's weight was still a little high, and this was her first flight for the season, but Sharon judged her ready.  The field we picked turned out to not have anything to offer quarry wise, so it was just a walk with the bird.  We did attract the attention of a local pair of red tailed hawks.  It's probably just as well that we can not speak red tail, because they were surely screaming some obscenities our way.  Although it is not quite in sequence, I'm also including a picture of myself below with Sassy.  Over the weekend we would travel to El Paso to visit some of my family, and for me to show Richard where I grew up.  I'll include the picture of we two hawkin ladies and our birds together.  Sassy and I are posed at the Information Center at the Guadalupe National Forest.  I had brought camping gear, hoping to camp there, but we just ran outta time. 
My failure at trapping a hawk with a BC, a method that has always worked before, inspired me to make the effort to try a different trapping option.  Sharon had a couple of pigeons with her, and I negotiated to keep them by giving her some rats.  On Friday evening I spent several hours making a pigeon harness.  It's not pretty, but it was serviceable, and made on the fly.  I'm glad I brought much of my leather working tools with me, or this would not have been possible.  On Saturday morning, as Rich and I traveled with my Aunt Lois to El Paso, which brings us through Carlsbad, we deployed the pigeon strategy.  It would turn out to be the closest I would come to trapping one of The Kids.  I did have one of the two (and I think it was the female) come to the pigeon, kill it and eat on it.  We watched from a distance, and when it appeared she was caught, moved in.  She was caught, but not tight.  She pulled free (the noose did not break!) at the last moment.  We did catch this on Rich's GoPro.  It was terribly disappointing!  Many of the nooses are on the back of the pigeon, and this trapping technique works fairly well with falcons, but not hawks.  The hawk had killed the pigeon, then flipped it over to eat, where there are not many nooses.  I did try to reset pigeon, hoping maybe the hawk would come back (a technique used by some falconers, but so far never by me), but instead we attracted the attention of one of the many vultures in the area, which landed and walked up to the bait.  Not wanting to catch a vulture, which I probably would have done if I had waited, I picked up the dead pigeon, and we proceeded on our journey to El Paso. 
Here is video Rich caught of the defeat.  It's hard to see detail, but it did capture what happened.  We were actually waiting and watching for 10 minutes.  This whole time, the parent birds were on the power pole overlooking where the juvie was on the ground with its prize.  Mom was probably chastising her kid, who wasn't listening.  I was sitting in the back seat, and had opened the sliding mini-van door, ready to leap out.  I didn't get my chance.

After our weekend visit, I had added more nooses onto the flaps which would tie around the breast and belly of the second pigeon, to hopefully better snare any investigating hawk.  However, I never got the second opportunity.  On the Monday morning when we tried, deploying trap in the dark, mom hawk actively put herself on guard duty on the pole over the setup warning off her kids.  This time, they both listened.  After giving them a decent amount of time to defy her, we called it quits and picked up the bait bird.  I would go on to release this second, unharmed pigeon in Hobbs.  We then took a slow drive back to Hobbs to pack up the van and get going.  We did spot a pair of hawks at a location where previous we had only seen a single adult, but no juvies were spotted.  Rich also kindly looped by the golf course one last time, but we didn't see anything this last visit.  My trapping efforts to New Mexico was a bust.  I'm trying to cope with the disappointment . . . . and now needing to go home and pay off all the expenses of this unsuccessful trip. 
Here is my Aunt Lois with Rich and I.  We brought her with us to El Paso to visit with my niece, Christy, and her husband Albert and all their kids.  While there we visited my mother's grave, which I have not been to since she was buried almost four years ago.  We also took Aunt Lois to Great American Land and Cattle Steakburger ~ a favorite of my family.  Rich got to see where I came from.  Nuttin too exciting there!
On our journey home we looped through the DFW Metroplex and had a very short visit with my sister Janet and her family, and took my dad out to breakfast the next day.  It was a work night for those folks, so a very short visit . . . but Thank You Janet for waiting to have late dinner with us, and Thank You to my niece, Katie, for dog and hawk-sitting while I visited with Grandpa.  We also picked up a rocking chair that I bought for my father, which was destined to come to me when he no longer needed it.  He is in assisted living and has limited space, so it has been in storage waiting to be picked up for quite awhile now.  Packing what all we had for the journey was a feat of organization on the part of Rich.  Getting that chair in there . . . practically miraculous!  I leave all my packing to my husband's spatial skills.  He's quite good at it!  He's got good memory too!
The trip was an adventure, but it did not have the payoff that I had hoped for.  I should have not been so confident in just the BC, and instead brought multiple trapping systems . . . which I will explore in the very near future.  I now need to re-align my plans here at home and decide what I'm going to do, hawk wise.  There are Harris Hawks available for sale, but I don't have the funds now, having blown them all on this trip.  I had already planned to trap a red-tail with Greg, and will focus on that in the month to come. 

For now, I think I'll just wait a little, and get back to my routine.  I enjoyed the trip, and have learned some lessons.  I'll finish by sharing another video we took on one of our loops through back roads.  The text is self explanatory.