Monday, October 13, 2014

A New Hawk . . . Maybe . . . and a Mystery

On Saturday morning, October 4th, I went out trapping with my apprentice Greg. The previous couple days had been high winds out of the North West, so in the wise opinion of my own former sponsor, Dave, good days to try and find hawks as they tend to move in front of these kinds of storms. Hopefully a few passage birds had been blown our way from further up north. This was our hope, but not the reality we were occupying. Greg and I drove around for several hours but still did not spot any passage birds. Calling it a day in the afternoon I returned to my home from Greg's home.

As I turned off one of the back roads near my electric co-op, there on a power pole was the object of our quest for the day. She was also very well positioned to lay down a trap. I pulled over and got my rats back into the bal chatri. I then drove into an empty parking lot, placing my car between the hawk on the pole and a grassy spot, where I planned to set the trap. Just as I was about to toss the BC I looked around, for the bird was now no longer where she had been. A quick search found she had moved but not far away. I repositioned my car again between a grassy place and the bird, then tossed the trap out into the grass and left the area quickly. I drove down the road then made a big loop to a place I could see the hawk if she made a move for the trap. I had hardly arrived and didn't even get my binoculars out when I saw her launch herself and fly in the direction of my trap. I slowly made my way back to where the trap lay, giving her time to check out my rats, and carefully coming around the corner saw she was caught. A few minutes later I had her jessed up in the field, and in my giant hood for the ride home.
She is a fairly good sized, average but nicely colored passage red tailed hawk. Trap weight was 1370 grams / 48.33 ounces.  That's just a tiny hair over 3 lbs!  She's a Big Girl . . .
. . . with BIG HOOKS, as we like to say!

Because I have been hearing an awful lot of stories and speculations and high incidents of what is believed to be Asper (Aspergillosis ~ a usually fatal fungal infection of the lungs and air sacks) I was open to trying a therapy that is all the buzz out in the falconry community right now. A Google search may find you the information, and more specifically if you search on some of the falconry networks you can read up about using fresh pine in the giant hood and mew, replaced often, to prevent or treat Asper. It is attributed to a fairly famous falconer, but I will not mention his name here as I don't really want his theories linked to this page. Each individual needs to make their own decisions. It sounds good, it has the ring of truth, but I would go on to find that it is not well regarded by those in the veterinary medical community, specifically those who treat hawks. However, I did give it a good initial try. On Monday morning I contacted the Raptor Center and arranged to have an appointment so I may have my hawk started on Western Medicine to prevent Asper, just in case. We were seen on Tuesday, and the new bird was checked over and found to be in good condition. She did have a tiny expiratory wheeze, but the doc didn't think this was important. I received a goodly supply of Itraconazole and took her home to continue her training. She had accepted food from me the second day off the trap, so everything looked to be going well. This was before the journey down the proverbial rabbit hole began.
On Wednesday she began to show signs of respiratory distress. Even the slightest exertion, a single bate, brought on gasping. She continued to accept food from me twice a day, but the breathing had me worried. I lost my second falconry hawk back in 2004 to Asper. This appeared the same. I contacted my doc at the Raptor Center on Thursday morning, and they kindly allowed me to get in to see them that afternoon.

My husband appropriately coined what follows as the "House" part of this situation. As of this writing the events continue to unfold, and I have not yet received resolution of the situation. I would like to document here where we have been, and where we are currently going. To those who are familiar I'll state the obvious, and for those who may not know, I'll explain. We have a medical drama show that has been on TV for many years now. The theme is always the same . . . a patient presents with a mysterious illness, and the protagonist of the series, Dr. Gregory House, an incredibly brilliant diagnostician but classic misanthrope, eventually figures out what is going on, usually based on some vague clue. Currently, my bird has the doctors at the Raptor Center stumped as to what is going on with her, and they are intrigued by the challenge. Like the show, I hope they eventually figure it out, and my bird gets better and can return to my home for continued training as a falconry bird.
On Thursday, during her second visit to the Raptor Center in a week, but this time showing signs of sickness, she was anesthetized, X-Rays taken, blood work drawn, and physically examined. A culture was also swabbed from her trachea and started to test for Asper, which would take a few days incubation. Her white cell count was normal, so she was not fighting an infection. Her other levels all seemed to be somewhat normal. She did show a higher than normal Eosinophil level, which is an immunity cell sometimes associated in humans with an allergic reaction or the body's way to address inflammation, but I was cautioned not necessarily so with raptors. Her blood did appear to be darker than normal, which could be a sign of low oxygenation . . . a condition which is called hypoxia. Her doc decided to try her on a conservative therapy for the weekend, and I was to report back on Sunday evening. I was to continue the Itraconazole twice a day, but also had added Diphenhydramine and Meloxicam, to treat the inflammation. I was strongly encourage to stop using the pine needle therapy as in their opinion it has not been proven to do anything, and could possibly be contributing to her breathing difficulties. They also wanted me to try and get her to take casting material (fur in her food) so she could cast some small bones that were in her stomach. We returned home to begin her treatment. That evening she began refusing food, making treating her difficult. I had to start force feeding her.

Throughout the weekend the breathing became worse, but when quiescent, quiet and at rest, she appeared normal. She was paying attention to her surroundings, and on Sunday morning was very annoyed at her forced feeding, acting very hawk peevish. I hoped this was a good sign. However on Sunday afternoon I discovered that she had thrown her food up, which is never a good sign. On Sunday evening I carefully tried to temp her with small cut up tidbits of a freshly killed rat. She took most of the meal, only having to be force fed her meds at the very end. Overnight I hoped she would keep the meal down. She did. On Monday morning I was back in touch with the Raptor Center for guidance. They wanted me to come back for a new evaluation.

On Monday she would be evaluated by none other than the co-founder of the Raptor Center, Dr. Patrick Redig. She was being seen by one of the best avian doctors in North America, if not the world.

And I'll continue here soon . . . it is late, and has been a long day!

~Some Extensive Time Later~

I have wanted to return here, and to blog further about all that has transpired this last month, but frankly I have just been too busy, busy, busy.

The new bird has survived her ordeal. She would go on to be seen, and thoroughly examined by Dr. Redig, with x-rays (again), and blood work (again), and this time a two day stay at the Raptor Center, to include an endoscopy of her trachea and lungs.  She was given support fluids, and placed on a regimen of Voriconazole which treats for Asper, even though she never was clearly diagnosed with Asper, or anything else for that matter. With time and support, her own body eventually stepped up and she has made the recovery from her respiratory distress.

Through this all, she has remained calm, and progressed through the standard training of a falconry bird. I have held her back only to finish up her medication regimen, but she has been held back long enough.  My work schedule, as well as a time change back to standard time, has resulted in a delay to move on to the next step. I must be brave and daring and do so these next couple days. She has been allowed ample time to recover . . . it is time now for some tough physical therapy, and frankly a return to flight.

Because of all of this ordeal, and the expense she has incurred under my care, she has earned a name. She will be knowns as:

I shall call her CC for short!

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Season Truly Starts

On Sunday October 5th Rich and I had a 'bonus' day together. Normally he works every weekend, but he took the 4th and 5th off. Sassy has been ready to go flying and hunting for real, not just walks with the hawk. Because it was a weekend I did not want to go to my all-time favorite hunting spot, as it's along an area where there are houses, and I prefer to fly there during the week, to decrease the possibility of attracting attention from the human residents.  Instead, we went to the place that has become my second most favorite.

The brush is still pretty thick, and Sassy showed off her skill by taking her first bunny for the season, catching directly through a thick blanket of green bramble and brush. Her first bunny was a youngster, and was caught within the first 5 minutes of our hunt, so trade her off, put the bunny in the bag, and keep going.
We worked around the area, crossing back and forth across a creek, then came out into a more open field. Sassy did catch a mouse, which was removed from her and saved for later. Then, as Rich and I were stomping a brush pile, from somewhere a bunny busted out and made it's way across the field, however didn't move fast enough to evade the death which came winging in from above. Bunny #2 was dispatched, and Sassy was allowed to enjoy her just rewards.
I do so love this bird, and I again am very grateful that she can still fly, and be what she is, a hunting hawk.

Rich took a video and spliced together the two catches. The first one occurred in deep brush so neither of us heard it, but only came onto the scene after the action. You can see the second catch pretty good.

Let's Go Sassy . . . . the 2014/2015 Season Truly Starts!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We were just chasing the game

On the first day of October Rich and I and Sassy went up to the farm to visit and get some things done. So far we've not been hitting any of the good fields I like to fly in.  Sassy is at a hunting weight, but still on the higher end of the weight spectrum, so not as motivated as she could be. Flying will make her more fit.

This was a nice fall afternoon in Spring Grove. Autumn truly is my favorite season, but it lasts all too briefly, quickly rolling into winter. As we drove into the park we were going to hunt, I counted many multiple squirrels. Sassy would go on to chase a few of them, but not being at the sharpest hunting weight, she was just mostly playing with them. She did manage to scrape one off the tree it was climbing, but it hit the ground and ran right back up the tree, leaving Sassy in the dust. We moved away from the squirrel part of the park and into the bunny part. We did eventually kick up one bunny. For whatever reason, these last few years, we only seem to kick up one bunny in this location. Sassy made several attempts to catch it, but eventually it made its way up the hill and under a garden shed in a neighboring house yard. Eventually, Sassy did catch two mice, stuffing them into her crop as fast as she could. I called her to the lure and we made our way to the car, stopping to take a picture. Everyone got exercise, including the game, as nothing greater than a couple mice was caught.