Saturday, December 12, 2015

Of Chickens, One Duck, and an Incidental Rabbit

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.

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