Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Georgia Falconry

Rich found a couple of really good videos of some falconers in Georgia hunting squirrels with Harris Hawks.


Oh, and look . . . Red Tails too!

There are more, but I should stop watching videos and go fly my own bird while the sun is still up.


On this late Winter day the girls went with me and Rich on a trip up North of the Cities to meet an Internet fan. Sassy posed nicely for a lovely and inspiring picture.  She's such a lovely girl, and so nice to fly.  Unfortunately, Spring is right around the corner, and over the Summer she becomes a very moody thing. Today she was a joy . . . even if we didn't find anything to hunt.
CC also came along and only impressed with her beauty and size, for the winds picked up on this day and she came the closest to flying away that she has attempted. I retrieved her, after having to follow across a road and into a neighborhood, and after a little convincing her to come down from her high perch. Soon, very soon, she will be allowed to fly as far away as she pleases. I have decided to not keep her for another season, and to give her back her freedom. She has been nice to handle, and has a good temperament, but is not as aggressive in the field as I would like, and also, frankly, just misses way too many good slips. Soon, she can spend all day looking for those perfect slips, without me.

The Big Chomp

A little while ago . . . the days just sorta blur together so I don't always remember . . . it dawned a clear and not too cold day. Rich and I got out for awhile with Sassy, whose hunting days have been limited due to the very extreme cold we have been having. It has not been as snowy this winter as last year, but for the last month or more we've been having quite a few below zero days and high winds. Sassy needs at least 20s to be able to fly.
We took her to a little patch I discovered this year, and from which she got one of her first rabbits. Prospects didn't look that good, but after a bit of a walk Rich noticed a squirrel. With a little encouragement, Sassy noticed it too. When she brought this tree rat to the bag, it looks like it has been plucking fur off it's belly, so may have been getting prepared for babies. Well, instead we had it for dinner a day later. For her part, Sassy got one of the worst bites she has ever gotten while in my care. It bled rather profusely for awhile, but with pressure, and then cleaning when we got home, it has healed up. I gave her several days off after to heal . . . and besides, it was so cold I would not have been able to fly her anyway.

This was her first squirrel for the season, and #11 head of game. I don't have the haul of bodies in my freezer than some folks I know, but I am flying my girls as much as I can, and catching things.

The One that Got Away

Previously I've mentioned that Sue has lots of squirrels at her home. Justin and Greg and I have been by several times to try our various hawks at catching them. So far, Greg has had the most success, taking two of them. Justin's bird did give very good chase a while ago, but the squirrel escaped into trees in the neighbor's yard, and Sue asked us to not pursue. This particular squirrel has captured our attention, as it has unusual color markings. I don't know how you would describe it, but it appears to be an Eastern Grey Squirrel with mottled fur. Sue has named it Nikki.

While observing and chasing this squirrel, a friendly competition has ensued between we three falconers. Each has asserted if they catch Nikki she may get taxidermied into a trophy.

Well, in an effort to try my hand at that competition, I dropped by Sue's place last weekend. Sassy was all business.  Sue and I spent the better half of probably 20 minutes moving Nikki around the tree, and Sassy stood guard above, looking for an opportunity but never quite finding it. With time, Nikki made a break for it, leaping to a nearby tree, and then the next. Sassy pursued. With a bit more tree whacking Nikki made one last run in the upper branches and into a smaller tree, where she surely must not have felt safe, for she quickly bailed out onto the ground and tried to make it to safety in the surrounding woods.  Now usually, a squirrel on the ground is a tough customer to catch.  Sassy stooped the tree rat, and did contact, but then began to struggle to control it.  I ran as fast as my short legs and the snow would allow, but just as I arrived and was about to put a hand into the fray and help Sassy out . . . . Nikki broke free and escaped into the woods.

Dang it!!  I would have liked to have commissioned my first taxidermy animal.  And I would have enjoyed bragging rights with the guys.

Ah well, at least Sue did see the action and is my witness that Sassy did have that prize squirrel, if only for a short time.  Catching quarry is fun, but sometimes, many times, the prey gets away.  This is usually what makes for fun stories.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hawkin with the Guys

One of the best aspects of falconry, for me, is the camaraderie you find with people who either share your obsession to fly a trained raptor, or with the folks who are willing to come along with you in the field, to brave cold and briar to flush game for the birds.  What follows are several weeks of pics which I had not loaded or commented on, with the most recent on the top.

This most recent weekend I made a visit to my friend Brandon, on the right below. I've known Brandon for many years, and he wants to keep in touch with me as some day he may pursue falconry. For now, he has his plate very full of family and career training. He has been pursuing education at the community college, and now recently has joined the police academy. Soon, he will graduate and he hopes find employment enforcing the laws around his home town. His ultimate dream is to incorporate his other passion, working dog training. Brandon has several working dogs, Malinois, and trains often with K9 handlers and officers. 

One of the other things that Brandon has is access to some very prime bunny habitat. CC was flown first and had lots of slips, but she was pretty clumsy with most of them. We worked the brushy spots near Brandon's home, and then down the hill into a largish, but stompable brush pile, which produced several slips. Eventually, I moved across the street following a path through a culvert, which led to another smaller brushy spot. Upon further inspection, I did not expect to have any success at this second location as it appears to have a foundation of large concrete blocks, providing great hiding for bunnies. CC flew from the treeline on the other side to join us, doing a very pretty wingover and crash, only to lose her bunny into the maze of concrete, which is now covered in snow. I pretty much thought we were done as Damien, the fella above and left, who is one of Brandon's neighbors, saw the bunny escape into a hole. But somehow, even with CC pretty much on the ground, and Damien poking around the hole he saw bunny dive into, the bunny must have tried to slip out a back door, only to be met by CC. It wasn't a fantastic catch, but it was a catch. This makes bunny #6 for her, seven total head of game for the year.
I then traded out birds and gave Sassy a chance. Flying her recently has been difficult as the weather has been pretty cold, and weight control off as well as I don't like to keep her at flight weight for long stretches if I can't fly her. Today she was HOT! We walked across a farm field to one of the islands of trees Brandon has permission for. There were several, but we only had to go to the first one. These spots have many mature trees, some downed trees, and lots of raspberry vines. This all makes for great rabbitat. Sassy followed tight and was aggressive to take advantage of any opportunities. Very quickly we started kicking up bunnies. On about the third one she contacted and had her first head for the day. I traded her off and sent her back up. It didn't take long before we kicked up another, which she handily snagged, to bring our total for the day to three. I could have tried for one more, as there was amble opportunity, but it was already getting late in the day, and I had some further obligations that I needed to attend to. We made our way back to Brandon's home for pictures, and for me to then pack up and get going. In the picture above I'm giving the 'Thumbs Up', although it looks like I'm pointing to my mouth. The day's haul brought Sassy total up to Ten.

The following day I met up with Greg and Justin for hawking of all of our birds. Sassy was too far overweight from my allowing her to enjoy her second catch, but CC was close, and I figured would be good if she hunted later in the day. I joined the guys just a little late, as I was fairly stiff this morning from the previous day's activities. I fear I am getting some of my mother's arthritis, although not the same type. Some days are more slowly started than others.

We began at a brushy spot behind one of the local elementary schools not far from where Greg lives. It has a few bush piles that have produced bunnies, but more reliably has squirrels. Greg's bird, which as far as I know still really doesn't have a name, other than hollared expletives when she is not performing, was hunting first. She chased a few squirrels some, but did a lot of perching and foot-tucking too, as I don't think she was quite ready to hunt. Greg called her down and Justin's red tail, Chomps, was given a chance. Justin's red tail also gets to hunt with his Jack Russel Terrier, Lucy. Lucy is quite an asset in the field, and motivates me to see if I can get Monty to perform better. He has shown he can be trained, I just don't know if he has as much spunk and hunt drive like Lucy has. She rooted herself into a very large brush pile, but apparently no one was home, as no bunnies busted. We decided to pack up and relocate. Also, Sue invited us to chase her abundant squirrels outside her home, and tempted us with fresh brownies.

After brownies and hot beverages were enjoyed, Greg's bird was given a second chance. She had produced a large slice in her box (hawk poo for you non-falconry types out there), so was now in a better head for hunting. We were after a particularly bossy squirrel that Sue called "the King", as it appears to rule the yard and bird feeder. Well, the King lost his crown, as fairly quickly Greg's bird de-throned him. Greg's hawk has turned into a pretty good squirrel hawk. She's gotten a lot of bites for her efforts, but has also added a lot of game to the freezer for the summer. That accomplished we moved as a group to another location in the La Crescent area that Justin told us about.

I've never hawked at this location that Justin took us to, but I have been to it. Turns out, it is one of the stops Rich and I make on our annual Frog and Toad Survey. Of course, during that survey it is springtime, and dark, and we don't go out and walk all around the marsh. Justin's bird Chomps flew again, and we also got to see Lucy doing what she does so very good at. It was not long before another bunny was in the bag.

At this point we decided to pack up and go check out Sprague Woods, in Caledonia. CC would fly first. We were joined by Justin's sister and husband. CC was ready to hunt now, and in good time, put bunny #7 in the bag. After putting her away, Justin's gos came out, and within 3 minutes took another rabbit from this field.  That bird is just soooooo fast! Justin has done a really good job training and flying her. He's thinking about looking for nests and pulling another for this next season. I think he's rather crazy . . . but that is usually a good quality for a falconer.

Our Group after CC's catch.
On a previous visit to Sue's place, Greg's bird took another squirrel.  Sue assures us she has many squirrels that can be taken, as she also has a bird feeding station, and the tree rats from all around come to dine.
A quick video of that previous catch.

Greg's son, Brady, comes along from all of his hunts and helps out quite a bit . . . although it looks like it is most likely going to be his daughter, Isabelle, who may try to get her license next. She wants to fly a kestrel.