We finally bagged one of Sue's squirrels. There were witnesses! It was a quick hunt, and Rich did have the GoPro along, but there was a mistake with turning it on, so the action was not caught on film.
Wyvern was aggressive in this chase, and tagged the squirrel first, bringing it to the ground, but didn't hold onto it. It escaped up into the trees but was moving slow. We continued to work it, and Wyvern snagged it again, raking it off the tree. Sassy caught it on the rebound.
Sue assures me there are more where this one came from. Her particular lot of squirrels have been dining on her bird feeder seed all summer.
With only a few short hours available to me the morning of the shortest day of the year, Rich and I got out with the two girls, "B Team" for a little Solstice Hawking. Time was limited, not for the lack of daylight hours, but because it was a work day for me, and I would have to lay down in the afternoon for a nap to reset my clock for working through the night.
We visited a location that has the occasional squirrel, and very rare rabbit. Working the acorn-rich producing trees we kicked up several squirrels. I am noticing that with two hawks going after the squirrels, the tree rats are showing a tendency to bail out of the trees as fast as they can and go to ground. With a single hawk, they just push around to the other side. Wyvern is really starting to get into squirrels with Sassy, and looking up to see them. It is also exciting to see when they come to ground, for with two birds they tend to "hopscotch" the squirrel, each taking an attempt at catching, but when missed, the other bird is in position to try, and skipping back and forth until the squirrel either escapes or is caught. Today I believe two squirrels may have sustained a few bruises and pricks, but the girls didn't get a good grip and hold them down. Giving them just a little credit, the squirrels did look pretty big.
We looped around the woods, which are on some rolling hills, and came around a pond to the far side, which also happens to be closer to houses. Here, in a thick patch, one of those rare rabbits was hiding out for the day, and it got up to escape, however was not fast enough. I don't know who made the first try for it, as I know the first dive was not successful, but the second hopscotch tackled the bunny. It took Rich and I a minute or so to locate them, as they grabbed the bunny inside a brushy pile on a hillside, which was hard for us clumsy humans to get to. Both birds had hold of the bunny, so it wasn't going anywhere. I carefully extracted them from the pile and brought them down off the hill onto some flat grass, where both were rewarded for their efforts. Fully cropped up, we went home, got everyone back into their mews, bunny packaged away into the freezer, myself cleaned up, and off to sleep.
It has been a warmish, El Nino year. What little snow we have gotten has not lasted. This so far mild winter has allowed me quite a longer time to get the two hawks flying well together. Sassy does well either way. Wyvern has been learning, and seems to be coming along great. When and if "real" winter arrives, we'll see how this Texas hawk does with snow.
Below is a rather longish video of the morning. At around the 2:45 mark the real action on the "Big Ass Squirrel" takes place. The bunny hunt was spliced in right after. You can't see the catch on the bunny in the video, but it does show exactly how brushy the final catch location was. It does not clearly reflect that it was on a hillside.
On the coldest day so far this year, on which I went out with my birds, and which Wyvern was the highest weight so far I've flown her on, she took her first "legitimate" head of game, which makes her truly a falconry bird. I tried out a new location which did not have any bunnies, but we did find one single squirrel. Sassy started the chase, Wyvern got in on it. The squirrel made a break for it and jumped to a neighboring tree, then ran down and took off across the ground. Usually, when squirrels go to ground, Sassy almost never catches them. Today, Wyvern was hot on the tree rat, and arrived first to take down her first head of game. Sassy quickly joined her, and together they held it for me until I got there. For her part, Sassy got a bite on her toe.
What followed was a bit clumsy, as I was hunting by myself today. Once I got there and squirrel was dead, Wyvern respected Sassy's authority and jumped away from the squirrel. I gave Sassy a small reward and traded her off the squirrel, then hooded her and tied her to a tree branch. During this effort, Wyvern flew in and grabbed my right hand leather glove laying on the ground next to me, which she confuses with her lure, and flew off with it. Dang it!! I've been trying to be careful to not leave that out where she can get to it. I had to then chase her just a little, at a distance, as she just kept carrying my glove further and further away. Fortunately, I had a full and fluffy squirrel in my game bag. I swung that around and whistled. This caught her attention and she returned to me, to be rewarded and secured to my glove. After getting to eat the tasty parts of the squirrel (heart / lungs / liver) I hooded her and returned to pick up Sassy, and get back to my car.
As for the missing glove, which Wyvern flew some distance away with . . . I need a new one anyways! I didn't even try to go find it.
Both birds got a good foot washing when I got home. Sassy's bite was treated. Usually she's pretty good at controlling the squirrels. Maybe because she wasn't the one catching it today is why she got bit.
I had no particular location in mind today when I set out to find someplace to fly the teams. I just loaded everyone up and headed out. I had to stay around my home for the morning, for the satellite TV guy to show up, but he arrived and did what he needed to do prior to noon. I would get out with the birds in the afternoon.
I started on the back roads with a mind to find a farm to inquire if I could beat around in the brush. Most farms of any size have brushy areas that hide bunnies. Just outside of Dover I saw a possible farm that fit the description. I drove up the driveway to go knock on the door.
I was greeted by a big Swiss Mountain Dog / St. Bernard of some kind who was friendly, and then kindly went on to show me the really nice deer leg he had been given to chew on. I was informed later that a relative of the farm family had dropped by that morning with the doggy gift. The mom to this family was warm and welcoming and didn't have any reservations about letting me poke around the farm looking for bunnies. However, the multiple dogs were requested to be tied up, and there was a little miscommunication about the poultry on the farm. More on that!
Before I could even get started, and just after introductions were made, I heard most distinctly the cries of a rabbit in distress. As a falconer, I know this sound well, but I was not responsible for this particular scream of pain, as I had not even taken any of my birds out of their boxes. A couple of the farm dogs hurried off to see what the sound meant. The family joined me as we walked around the fenced and brushy chicken yard. At the far end of the corner a barn cat had spooked a bunny into running away, and attempting to get through the fence. It had become stuck and could not escape. There was a cat on one side, and a curious dog on the other. However, unfortunately for bunny, there was a falconer that was more than happy to make that bunny part of the game bag for the day. Bunny dispatched and placed into my bag, I proceeded to go get the girls out and ready to fly.
It was thought that most of the chickens were inside their coop. This turned out to be a false notion. The coop was open, and very quickly once released, I was chasing after hawks, that were chasing after chickens. The chickens were all mostly old laying birds that were destined to be replaced in the spring, so not one of the humans was too upset. Most exciting to me was the gusto with which Wyvern chased a hen across the yard and into the coop, and up under some nest boxes. She chased with purpose, and caught with purpose, like a Coopers Hawk or Sharpie. It was a shame for me to have to steal her prize away. Once chickens were gathered up and packed away and the coop closed, Sassy zeroed in on the only duck in the yard. She stooped and caught it just about the time a certain grandchild, who the duck belonged to, arrived with her father to see the chase. I though surely the duck was dead as Sassy had a really good death grip on its head, but once pried off it played Lazarus and came back to life and waddled off to get put into the hen house. All the domestic poultry chasing done, we moved off into the brushy areas to chase legitimate prey.
I was joined in my brush beating by Sam and Sadie, the youngest children of the farm mom. The two kids were helpful, and we did kick up two bunnies, but the girls were out of position and didn't bring any additional bunnies to the bag. We looped out into the surrounding field, and hopped across a creek multiple times before coming up along the fence to the other side of the farm. Here Sassy and Wyvern started finding mice, and as we got closer, spied a few more chickens. Before they could give serious chase I called them down to end the day's hunt.
It was a good experience for everyone involved. I don't exactly like to encourage chicken chasing in hawks. For red tails, it can be a very dangerous practice, as once they return to the wild such hunting could get them killed. But sometimes it can't be helped. I think the kids had a good time. After posing for a few pictures, I was invited to return in the future and try to catch those bunnies that got away.
I've been flying Sassy and Wyvern together a lot lately. Wyvern flies better with her, and Sassy is successful in catching bunnies. Wyvern is stepping up her efforts, and is so very close to getting entered to bunnies. I've seen her crash down just behind several slips. It is just a matter of time. I'll continue to fly this "B Team" as much as my schedule will allow, and hope soon to have Wyvern catch her first bunny with me. I don't know what she was doing in the wild, but I do know she is quite accomplished at catching mice. She's done that quite regular when we are out flying.
You gotta love Harris Hawks. Both these girls come right back to the car without being called when the hunt is over. Above the sun was going down, and a light snow was accumulating on my car. Both birds arrived to the car before Rich and I could get there, as if to say: "Can we go now?"
The brush pile above did not produce any rabbits, but Sassy joined Wyvern looking for mice.
A nice profile of Sassy on one of the many piles of junk we encounter on our hunting trips. Recently I've been doing a lot of door knocking and getting permission on new land. Mostly, people are welcoming and think what we are doing is neat. Generally, people don't care much about bunnies, and prefer they not be in the yard eating their gardens and expensive landscape plants. This is to our advantage. It's funny how there is more concern for squirrels, and yet they are more likely to do damage to property.
Coming soon . . . a quick flight on a single bunny, produced after an hour slog on an old farm yard. The girls should have picked this bunny off, but an advantageous "Christmas" tree provided just enough cover to rake the pursuing hawk off. Merry Christmas bunny!
I think we can safely say we can comply with this rule.
I discovered on Sunday that we will not have a "C Team". I tried to fly all the birds together. Flint immediately started attacking Wyvern and trying to chase her off. I separated them, and put Wyvern away to fly later. With time maybe I could fly all three . . . but keeping track of all three is a bit of work. Sassy would go ahead and catch her second bunny on this day. Still, no contributions from the other two, but I think Wyvern is getting close. She is actively chasing anything we kick up. It is only a matter of time.
Earlier in the day Sassy gave a great show for a nice couple who were house guests in my home over the weekend. She scooped up this bunny right in front of everyone. I'm glad Marc and Jamey got to see it. I met them through a web site I participate in, Couchsurfing. I've invited them to return, maybe next summer, and bring all their kids. We could make it a raptor weekend, and go see the Owls at the Houston International Owl Center and the Eagles at the National Eagle Center in Waubasha.
Please just ignore this page . . . if you are one of my regular readers.
Often, I want to share a video with people when I introduce them to my blog, but I just don't remember where they all are. Here I'm creating an archive I can easily pull up to find just what I'm looking for.
Today the weather was more of what we expect for this time of year, rather than the "warmish" fall we have enjoyed thus far. It got maybe all of a high temp of 28, or maybe 30, with a bit of wind. There is some snow, a little, in a few places. I had agreed to go out hawking with Justin, and that is exactly what we did. Being a cold day, and having Justin along, I decided to try out my "B Team", that is, Sassy flying with Wyvern (I'm referring to Sassy and Flint as "A Team" mostly because they flew together first). I have not flown Wyvern with another hawk yet. Today would be the day.
But first we flew Justin's red tail at a field neither of us have hit this year. There were a few bunnies flushed for her, but she was rather distracted by all the mice or voles in the field. Also, the resident pair of wild red tails were soaring and calling and generally making her perhaps a little more wary and less focused on hunting.
After switching fields, I flew my two girls together. Almost immediately out into the field, Sassy nailed our only bunny we would bring to the bag. The good thing was that she let Wyvern join her, and didn't fuss or crab with the young hawk. Also, we would go on to continue to work the field and flush several more bunnies. Wyvern began to follow better up in the trees, and she made several stoops and attempts at the bunnies we did kick up. I think with more practice, she will catch her first bunny of her own. However, today I think she got a very good lesson from Sassy, who played the role of "Make Hawk" very nicely.
After deciding the Harris Hawk team had flown enough, we put them away and got out Justin's goshawk. She chased a couple bunnies in the field we were in, furred one, and then we relocated to another place, where she chased a few more, but didn't seal the deal today.
Overall, a very good day hawking!
I'm planning next Tuesday to fly all three Harris Hawks in my most favorite squirrel location. Let's see if Sassy can teach those two to chase tree rats. If Sassy and Wyvern begin to do really well together, I might have to rename them "A Team". Both of the females are catching things. Sure, so far Wyvern is catching mice (she caught one today), but soon I hope she'll get a bunny. Flint hasn't caught anything yet! It's time for him to step up his game. Maybe some girl competition in the field will be the ticket.
If I lived someplace more appropriate for this kind of hawk, I believe I would trap one and try falconry with this largest of our North American buteos. They are stunning to look at, especially in their adult plumage. Unfortunately, they like wide open spaces, and I just don't have that here in Minnesota. I can dream though!
Here is a very professional video of a woman falconer who is living the dream.
It was a really glorious fall day in Minnesota on Sunday, 11/15. Sunny, high 50s. After a 5-day stretch of work, I was ready for a few days off. After a little nap, I took my A Team out to hunt down the street, on a neighbor's property. It looked really good, and would prove to be good exercise for all in the field (especially me), at the end of the hunt Sassy brought bunny #7 to the bag.
The whole area is very overgrown with raspberry briar. Being a warm day, I wasn't wearing a jacket, so my arms are all scratched up from moving through that mess, moving the bunnies. Sassy was hot, and several times sat over a thick patch, looking into the bramble, being able to see her quarry, but knowing she would not catch it. Instead she just voiced her opinions on the matter, perhaps mumbling fighting words, "talking shit" at the bunnies. Like Brer Rabbit, of Uncle Remus' tales, the bunnies know they are safest inside the briar. However, there was a big, clumsy human crashing through, and pushing the bunnies along out of their safety.
Sassy and I worked together (again, Flint came along but wasn't really doing much other than flying to keep up with Sassy . . . he doesn't make any catch attempts, yet). We pushed the bunnies around on the new property, we moved a few off to the next neighbor, the one who lives just South of me, and just when we crossed over the barb wire fence onto my own patch of raspberry, a bunny busted forward, and Sassy took it. Yeah Sassy! The picture above is not as clear at indicating how thick the briar is, but believe me, it is very hard to move through. The canes are long and grab at your clothes, and scratch. Frequently they lock up and you can't tear through them, and have to step up and over. It's hard to hunt in the stuff.
I extricated her, her bunny, and myself and went over the next fence, into a harvested field, open and walkable. Flint joined us at this time. Instead of leashing everyone up and parsing out some food, I just picked up the bunny and both birds, walked along the fence and came to my own yard, and put the birds into their weathering yard, then cut up portions. Leaving them to eat, I unloaded myself of all my gear, and then walked back down the street to pick up my car.
So glad I didn't have to walk back THROUGH the briar patch, with both birds, to get my car.
I really need a dog on my team! I wish Sassy would let me add one, but she just hates Brer Dog!
On Wednesday morning I got off from work, not having to work again that night so didn't go to sleep, and with a winter storm on its way, scheduled to arrive after noon, took the birds out for a little morning hunting. Sassy brought 2 bunnies to the bag in really quite a quick fashion.
Flint came along. This is what he does, especially if I have someone else in the field. Rich was with me this morning. He (Flint) just comes along. He's not hunting, but hopefully he is watching, and learning.
A successful morning!
A little later we took Wyvern out. Still no bunny for her, but she did catch three mice. Again, not exactly our target quarry, but it is good food for a hawk, and she caught it herself, and came to the lure when that was all done. She needs to learn to get up higher in the trees. She wants to hunt very close to the ground. Hopefully, once I get Sassy flying with her, she'll take a higher perch to have a better chance at the bunnies.
Here is a video of the two catches for Sassy. We were in some pretty heavy cover, so can't really see a whole lot, but it is what it is.
On a day when I can't fly my birds (working tonight, gotta sleep), they can spend some time tied out under the weak Minnesota sun and get acquainted. Wyvern in the front, Sassy in the back. Sassy is actually much bigger, flying at around 1010 grams. Wyvern is flying at about 760. Today they are both fatties, as I fed them good yesterday knowing I could not go hunting today. No one is too worried about food right now. A good way to get to know each other.
Sassy really was the star this weekend. On Saturday I visited my friend, Janelle, who has some good brushy areas on the land around where she lives. Sassy got to check it out, with Flint coming along to learn how a proper Harris Hawk is supposed to act. Before I even got to where I wanted to start hunting, and only about 2 to 3 minutes out of the hood, she nailed a squirrel. I moved in to help, and Flint started over to get in on the game, and just as he landed, Sassy let go of her squirrel and flew up to the tree. I don't know if the tree rat had bit her or what, but I was left with a very much alive squirrel. I dealt with it, pushed it into the game bag and kept going. Within about 10 more minutes, she brought a bunny to the bag. She's such a great bird! We had several other flushes, but no more catches that day. At the end of the hunt both came down to the lure.
On Sunday morning I took Wyvern out for a hunt in a place where I know there are lots of mice, and also a few bunnies. As I planned, she did hunt, and caught three mice. It's not anything exciting, but it was hunting for her, she followed me in the field, and came to the lure at the end of the day. She is showing a tendency to carry what she has caught. I gave her space today. When she nailed a mouse, I didn't move in too close, but after she was done eating each, I called her to the fist for a little tid bit. It is also a start. Any gain is a good gain. There was one particular time a bunny was about to be flushed, and she did fly into the grass nearby. It is probably just a matter of time before she starts catching real quarry (rabbits).
I then went home and switched out to my A Team. Flint seems to do a lot better when it is just me in the field as the only human. He kept closer to Sassy and I, and when she caught her bunny, he came in, but didn't try crowding her. I think the best thing for him is to just keep getting exposed to quarry chases and catches. I hope our mild fall weather continues.
Today, Wyvern "successfully" hunted . . . my glove. She followed, more or less, was not in position for the 4 or so bunnies we kicked out for her, and at the end of the hunt, when I dropped my right-hand glove, she flew in, grabbed it, and carried it off. She would then not come to the lure. It took awhile, but eventually I was able to convince her that what I had could actually be eaten.
I must let her and Sassy spend time together, so I can fly them together. She really needs an experienced hawk to teach her what we are doing.
This Girl is just moving right along! I need to finish up the posting about having trapped her, but here we are, 15 days later, and she had her first free flight. October 22, 2015. I'll get back here as soon as I can to write up the text.
Hanging out on the rail road tracks, before she figured out to go to the trees.
Wyvern: "I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE this lure!!"
And ya, that's McDonald's trash there. Believe me, there was tasty rat on the lure . . . not a cheeseburger!
The picture above was taken by my husband on one of our morning in South Texas, this one after the evening we camped on the beach, and greeted the sunrise, escaping our tent filled with ants. That tale later! It is a nice start to a happy posting, and the introduction to the 2014 / 2015 falconry season.
In 2013 I won a falconry trapping permit from the State of New Mexico. That Quest was unsuccessful in securing me a new bird for my team, as related in the posting linked here. Earlier this year, my sisters announced plans to come together in our yearly Sister's Weekend for the special task of scattering my father's ashes in his birthplace, in Agua Dulce, Texas, which is very close to Corpus Christi, and for my purposes, very close to the natural range of the wild Harris Hawks of Texas. I decided to risk a second chance, this time with a much greater trapping permit fee, and go chase hawks in South Texas prior to meeting up with my sisters.
The range of the wild Harris Hawk extends up from Central America and Mexico into the United States in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. At these locations, a wild, passage bird may be taken, once all the local governing bodies' requirements have been met. The trapping possibilities in New Mexico, at least when we were there, were very limited. I have it on good authority that the population in Arizona is stable and abundant. The one in Texas also covers a very wide swath of land, which results in a healthy population from which to attempt a trapping. Not being familiar with the terrain, nor the particular skills needed to trap a Harris Hawk (which are a little different than trapping a Red Tailed Hawk), I made an effort and reached out to try and find a local guide who might be able to help me. Seeking assistance on a Facebook page which I am a member of, Women Falconers and Beginning Apprentices, I was given a referral by a young woman who had gone out trapping in Texas with a falconer who lives in San Antonio. I would go on to contact Mike Mosley, and he would go on to kindly offer me his assistance trapping. He has hunted with many birds he has trapped in the deserts South and South-West of San Antonio. This is the most precise location I'm going to give, as Mike asked me to please not reveal exactly where we were in exchange for his assistance. Promise Kept!
But I am getting a little ahead of my story.
After making arrangements prior, to include forking over a substantially larger amount of money to the State of Texas in order to secure the privilege of relieving them of one of their native-born raptors, and arranging for a goodly block of time off from work, and having Rich do the same, and making arrangements for someone to come and take care of all the rest of our animals and our home while we were away (Thank You Darla), we set off on the two-day journey to Texas after I got off from a three-day, 12-hour per shift work weekend. Fortunately, Rich had worked the previous day, so was well rested, and did most of the driving on the trip, but especially that first leg. Unlike our trip to New Mexico, we only brought rats to be used for trapping, and the trapping gear, and our luggage and camping gear. My new car was packed to the gills, and I would go on for much of the next week having difficulties finding things. But that new Diesel VW got very good fuel mileage.
My plan was to make the journey down to Texas in two days. The approximate halfway point would be Oklahoma City. However, delays to my packing once I got home from work, and some last minute errands before we left the area got us onto the road a bit later than I had wanted. Rich was game though, driving all day, while I snoozed the miles away. He drove into the night, and we sailed right past OKC, and instead went ahead and took my sister in Mansfield, Texas up on her offer to let us crash there for awhile. I took over driving in Oklahoma and arrived at my sister's home very early on Tuesday morning. Fortunately, my sister has recently semi-retired, so we were not keeping her from her routine. She let us sleep in her bed, very nice of her, and after a few hours, greeted us with some local pastries from her favorite bakery. Refreshed, showered, and a little more rested, we continued on our journey.
Now you may have heard that everything in Texas is bigger, and at least as far as one of the fuel stops we made between Austin and San Antonio, they absolutely are telling the truth. We saw advertised for many miles the Buc-ee's. I don't know how many fuel pumps that is, but 120 would probably be close to accurate (turns out 120 is the number). Attached is a convenience store on steroids, really. You can shop and purchase breakfast/lunch/dinner, and drinks, and candy, and nuts, and jerky, and jelly, and fudge, and souvenirs, and whatever else your heart desires. They do have some of the cleanest and largest bathrooms I saw on the whole trip. It's a destination!
A quick search even found a walking video of the store we visited. Since this was filmed, they did build that additional 60 fuel bays. When we arrived we just were not hungry, which is too bad, as I'm sure that BBQ would have been tasty. If you seriously want to know more, click on the link above and explore.
After our fuel stop and bathroom break we pushed on down through San Antonio, and beyond, to finally make it to our first stop, where we would camp the night. The video I found must have been filmed in the greener, summer months. We had the place to ourselves, and everything was rather dry. We set up our tent and got to the serious business of sleeping. That night we did hear coyotes very close by, and a pair of great horned owls were right outside our tent in the early morning. Fortunately, none of the alligators was spotted, or visited.
In the morning, after packing up our gear and making our way out to go and meet my guide, I saw the following trail sign in the park. I had Rich take a picture. I was certainly hoping I was headed down Hawk Alley . . . . especially Harris Hawk Alley.
As a side note, I'll include this picture below that Rich took when we arrived to the camp grounds at Choke Canyon. All around this area we would see many pairs of Crested Caracaras. They are in the same family as Falcons, but are more scavengers, though they are capable of hunting live food. Whenever we would see them, they usually were in pairs. The pair below were getting water from the faucet that was slowly leaking. When out 'hawk stalking' in the distance, their silhouettes would often give the heart pause, as they are about the right size and form of perching Harris Hawks, but the white heads would usually give them away first.
Later in our adventures down in Texas, I would have an opportunity to meet one up close and personal. It is a very interesting bird, and this particular fellow below (the bird, not the man) was friendly enough he would go into the house and visit sometimes. I'll get back to this tale later.
At dawn we met our guide, Mike Mosley. Again, I cannot express my appreciation enough for his willingness to help me out in my quest to trap a new hunting partner. After showing him my permits, so he knew I was completely legal, we transferred all my trapping gear into his 4-wheel drive Subaru, and began criss-crossing many of those long, open Texas roads that break up the thousands of acres of ranches and oil and gas fields. I was relieved to see that unlike New Mexico, we started to spot Harris Hawks in many areas, although all were adults. He assured me that when you see the adults, you slow down and listen for the youngsters. They are usually hiding down in the brush, out of sight. He also had a game call, a recording of a rabbit in distress, which he could play over his stereo system, which he would get the chance to demonstrate the absolute genius of later in the day.
Morning trapping did not give us many opportunities. When we slowed to view and listen when adults were spotted, no juveniles appeared to be present. At one point, we did see multiple birds, and we were fairly certain one of them was a juvie, so we dropped the trap and backed up. The male below came plowing into the trap almost immediately, flipping the trap onto himself, and the youngster that followed had no opportunity to get caught as all the nooses were on the other side, on top of the male. Once we figured this out, from the distance that we were watching the trapping progress, we moved in and freed the adult and picked up the trap.
I feel particularly special about the bird that we would trap . . . as I'm the only one who saw her!
While Mike was driving us around, he was also talking on his phone, as he may be making a career move in the near future, and was discussing details with a recruiter. When he came up to an intersection, out of the corner of my vision I thought I saw a hawk-shaped form. I interrupted his phone call and had him stop. We would back up, and creep forward, with my pointing to a bush off the road and up an embankment, and at first neither of the guys in the car saw the bird, but eventually he moved and stopped his vehicle so I could take a good look with my binoculars. Yes, a hawk, sitting low in the branches, and resting. But is it an adult, or a juvie? I could not tell in the shadows. We listened, and we did hear juvenile calls, soft, repetitive, not like the squawking the captive-raised birds can make.
The set-up was tricky! There was nowhere that we could easily just toss a trap out the window and a bird could see it, as the road was recessed, lower than the surrounding terrain, and the surrounding terrain had lots of tall, dry grasses. We decided the best course would be for me to get out of the car, climb up the embankment, beyond the grasses, and toss the trap onto short grass on the other side of a fence. If this bird was a red tail, I would be afraid that we would bump the bird, and it would fly away. However, Mike had told me from the very beginning that Harris Hawks are different. They do not spook easy. He says you could get out of your car, walk up close, drop a trap and dance a jig, and the birds will just sit there and look at you. Fortunately for me, this was true. Once the trap was down, we backed up, and then he used the predator call. Like hawk candy, that young girl resting in the shade popped out and onto the fence, looking all around to see where that rabbit was. Then she saw the rats in my trap. Mike and I admired her, and waited for her to make a move. After giving my rats a good look, she went down to the trap, and beyond our view. Then . . . the waiting. You want to give her enough time to foot the trap and get caught, but you also want to move in as soon as you can see that the bird is trapped. It was a tense few minutes, and we had to drive slowly by, looking for any wing flap . . . until finally we were sure we saw that. STOP the car, out the door, up the embankment, lean over the fence and throw a towel over the bird to fowl its wings if it should break free, roll under the fence, never mind the fire ants . . . oh, hope I didn't get any on me, and then grab the bird. One noose! I had her by one noose . . . but it was a strong noose. She wasn't going anywhere.
WE HAVE HER!! A beautiful female passage Harris Hawk!
Mike joined me on the other side, and helped me to hood her and free her from the trap. We did a quick securing of feet in the field and socked her, then back into the air conditioning, and off we go. There was actually the soft calling of another youngster in the area. We could not see the sibling, but it was there, somewhere. Mike wasn't interested in trying to find the other bird. He was happy we had success on Day One . . . as he had set aside several days to help me to trap. This would free up his time for other activities.
I was ecstatic! I posted immediately to some of my friends who would be most interested in my success. We have her!
We returned to civilization, a small town nearby, and in a back lot, out of the view of prying eyes, I put her on the scale to get the initial weight. I would then gear her up so she could sit more comfortably. Newly trapped birds should not sit in their socked position for long, as they normally process food and defecate regularly. Texas, even in October, can be quite a bit warm. Pooping keeps them cool. She is smaller than my Sassy, but still, a good sized female Texas Harris Hawk. I instantly love her!
I was so happy with our success, I asked Mike if we could go back to San Antonio, and if I could take his family out for dinner. We would do this, and spent the night in a San Antonio hotel.
Thank You so much Mike . . . for this special Texas gift!
The new bird, now hooded with a hood that Mike lent to me, which fit better, and in her giant hood.
She would spend the rest of our week in Texas in the box, out of the box supervised in multiple hotel rooms (shhhhhhh . . . management didn't know), and starting the manning process under not such ideal circumstances. She did very well with it all, and started eating on Day 2.
She is a feisty girl, and must have a bit of falcon in her, for she bit me several times, and even got a bite in on Mike. However, she calmed quickly, and started making progress.
After our night in San Antonio, I wanted to make our way down beyond Corpus Christy to the Padre Island National Seashore. I camped here in 2009, when I trapped Cimarron, I have fond memories of that experience, and wanted to make some new ones with Rich. As before, in the autumn months, there are less campers, so camping spots are readily available. Also, as before, there had been a red tide, subsiding, but still many dead fish on the beach. This time I think the aerosols of the microorganisms that form Red Tide, as well as some of the rotting fish, made my allergies active. I went through a lot of kleenix during my beach visit.
After setting up camp, and now finding ourselves with some leisure time, I decided I wanted to come up with a solution to tie out my new bird, so she could come out of her box. When going on an expedition, always something seems to be left behind. For this trip, I forgot to pack a bow perch. We went into town on Mustang Island to the hardware store to seek out solutions. Here is where coincidences become curious. We walked the isles and looked at what they had, and at first I was going to make a simple block perch out of a paint bucket, but then found some saw horse parts, so proceeded to plan for a tiny saw horse, which could serve as perch. The young men working the store were most kind, and agreed that if we bought the parts, they could help with cutting and screwing, as we had no tools with us. Rich began working on that, and I brought in my giant hood with my new bird so they could see the reason for which they were working. All the store employees were curious and excited about this hawk in their presence. As I held her on my fist, a gentleman walked up, looked at me and the bird, and announced "that is a passage Harris Hawk". Obviously, this man new a thing or two about hawks, so was either a birder, or falconer. Turns out he was the latter . . . and quite a falconer at that!
Jonathan Wood is a Master falconer who lives in Roxbury, New York. He has a winter home on Mustang Island. He owns and runs a bird of prey show utilizing many rehab birds. I won't try to represent him here on my own, but instead direct my audience to his web site, where you can read what he has written about himself and his program, Raptor Project. When he said 'hello', I started talking to him, and explaining my problem and why we were in the hardware store. He smiled and said he had a solution for me. He then invited me to come over to his home, to meet some of his program ambassadors, and would give me one of his older perches, used but still very serviceable. Rich and I were treated to being able to see some of his birds, and there were many of them in the multiple mews in his back yard. Out front is an impressive travel trailer that allows his show to move around the country. This is where I met the caracara pictures above. The block perch he gave me was perfect for my needs, low, but sturdy so I could get my new hawk out of her box and give her some fresh air and sunshine time (hooded of course).
It turns out Jonathan was actively attempting to trap passage peregrine falcons along the beach, but had met up with a problem, in that the red tide had washed up lots of fish, that have sharp fins that can puncture tires. He related that he and his friends had experienced just such recently, with all four of their tires popped. Oh dear! He was working on a solution with his motor cycle. It's too bad about the tire hazard, as otherwise he indicated he would invite me to go trapping on the beach. Well, for my part, I was happy enough with the encounter to get a good perch to use the rest of my trip.
We slept only one night on the beach. My allergies were horrible, and somewhere in my aging tent the ants found a way inside. Some of our clothes and blankets were covered in ants in the morning. Fortunately, they were just crawly, not bitey or stingy. But still, waking up to ants all over everything was not something I wanted to do two nights in a row. We found a nice hotel in Kingsville that night.
Prior to leaving I stopped up at the ranger station on the beach, and after talking to the staff and requesting if I could use a little floor space, indoors, to offer some food to the new bird, they happily let me do so, and even got in on a picture.
Our night in Kingsville was quiet and low key. The next day we moved up the beach, and up the hotel ritz level, to spend a few nights with my sisters for the weekend.
By this time, she would sit calmly on the fist for folks to look at her and take her picture. She was also happily eating.
Taking a Selfie with my new girl!
That Saturday night, and then Sunday was spent with my sisters and my neice Erica. We girls went for our traditional pedicure. Later that day we drove to Agua Dulce, and not knowing exactly where my dad's family's farm was, found a side road following a local creek, and a farm field, where we spread his ashes. He always wanted to return to Texas, where he grew up, but my mom did not want to move to South Texas, so that never happened.
The creek we chose . . . my thinking was that the next good rain would spread the ashes over a wide swath of Texas. Turns out, Texas did get a really good rain a week after we were there . . . so mission accomplished.
Dad grew up on a farm. It is only fitting to spread his ashes over farm land.
My sisters and I with a picture of Dad. Jennefer on the far left, Janet in the middle.
The rest of the pictures on this post are from our visit. Rich got a pretty good picture of one of the crabs that are all over the beach, especially taking advantage of all those dead fish out there. On one of the evenings we went out on the beach at night with a flashlight. Then you can see the really BIG crabs.
We girls getting our pedicures. Janet was taking the picture.
The pretty results.
On our final evening together we had a cookout on the beach. There was fish and chicken and shrimp and potatoes and corn. It was a tasty meal with family.
The next day Rich and I headed out on our indirect route home. We looped through New Mexico to show my Aunt Lois what we had been chasing when we visited there two years ago. Jennefer and Janet and Erica drove some of the back roads of Texas looking for future possibilities of a new home for Jennefer and Jim. They plan to retire in Texas. Where has yet to be decided.
It was nice to see my family. It was fantastic to bring home my own special souvenir from Texas. I have decided to name her Wyvern. That's a little two legged, two winged dragon. It fits!
Falconry! Or more appropriately for me, Hawking! It is a passion, and a way of life. I happily pursue this sport, with the loving assistance of my husband. Come along with me for our adventures with the birds. Primarily we actively pursue it in the colder months . . . the rest of the time I try to make this blog as interesting as possible. Come let me share my stories, and feel free to contact me. I always enjoy talking about my obsession with this sport.