Friday, October 16, 2015

Quest - Fulfilled!!

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!

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