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.

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