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.
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.