Sunday, September 11, 2016

Trapping on the North Shore

Over the weekend I attended the Minnesota Falconers' meeting which was held up in Duluth.  This was organized to also allow club members to come see the trapping action going on at several sites on the North Shore, and most especially by Frank Taylor.  Frank has been running a hawk banding station for 47 years, and he is still very enthusiastic about the whole process.  I've been reading his weekend reports now for awhile, and have wanted to accept his open invitation to falconers and birders and conservationists to see trapping in person.  This last weekend was my opportunity.

He and his wife Trudi have a nice bit of land that they have named "Hawk Harbor" where they keep their own trailer to sleep, and where others have brought trailers, and there is space for tents.  Each night when falconers and banders are present a bonfire is usually going in the burn pit, and conversation can be had with interesting people.  Alongside his land is a place where falconers may trap for migrating birds for falconry.  Across from his land is a large, open grassy field that he has had permission from the landowner for years to trap for banding then release.  All trapping is done under Federal permits.

This picture below was taken by Frank of his wife Trudi, myself, and his trapping parter this day, Rick.

When I first arrived, I saw several kestrels flying and chasing each other.  The early autumn field is still green, but with many of the grasses turning yellow.  It is alive with grasshoppers and dragonflies.  It is no wonder there are kestrels here, as there is a lot of good food for them.  Kestrels include insects in their list of things to eat.

I apparently came on a very good day.  Later, when I checked the numbers at Hawk Ridge, which is just down the coast a short distance, you can see there was a significant jump in the number of Sharp-Shinned Hawks as well as Broad-winged Hawks migrating this day.

At this time of the year, this early time of migration, mostly the smaller raptors are starting to move, kestrels, sharp-shinned hawks, broad-winged hawks, a few merlins.  The larger raptors don't start to move until later, mostly, however on this day one passage red-tailed hawk was caught.  Frank is putting the band on it.  His smile tells the whole story.  He loves this work that he does, and is super enthusiastic about it.  The hawk is not so impressed, but very soon would be free again.

During my time visiting in the blind I think we caught about 5 "shins" as they were called.  Once freed from the net that snags them when they make a pass at the lure pigeon, they are measured, their condition and any significant information about them logged, and then they are given a numbered band which will be registered.  The data collected here, and from other banding stations around the US and world, from over the years helps to understand the migrating patterns and population density of the various species observed. For this reason, whenever I notice a dead hawk on the side of the road, I will usually stop to see if they have a leg band.  I have yet to find one that did, but if I did I would write down the information and submit it.  The band has the info on who to contact.

(Special Note: Any dead birds found on the road are left exactly where they were found.  I just check for a leg band, and also to make sure the bird is dead.  If it wasn't I know who to call to try and get it to the Raptor Center.)

Here is a close-up of one of the shins just before it was released.

And a super close-up taken by Frank's much better camera.

When he has guests at his blind, he will let them release the birds once their band is secure and the information recorded.  If there is a large group, he has a lottery for the "winner".  When I was visiting, I was the only guest, so I got to release 2 birds.

It looks like I am flipping it upside down, but quickly it gains control and flew off and melted into the tree line, as any good accipiter would.

After the exciting evening of banding, we all went into Duluth and met up with some of the club members for a quick meeting.  We then re-located to a Perkins for dinner.  Upon returning to Hawk Harbor I headed to bed, as it had been a very long day for me.

The following morning, slowly, everyone woke up and gathered at the camp "kitchen" for caffeine drinks of choice, and to share some of the cookies I brought.  For Sunday, I was invited by Greg, on the far left below, to check out the blind he has been using further down the coast and on a high ridge.

He explained the location has been an active trapping site for well over 100 years.  The current owner of the land has kindly given Greg permission to trap there.  Greg is more interested in goshawks, or the ultimate bonus, a gyrfalcon, should one pass through, however like many falconers, he just enjoys trapping.  We had to climb up to the location, and whereas it was not too hard a journey, if you did not know where you were going, you could easily get lost.  There are also many slippery rocks that you could easily twist an ankle on.

The video below is not the greatest, but you can see it overlooks the lake.  He explained that this particular location is really good for falcons, especially peregrines, as they like to follow along the coast.  Whereas, there is another blind that he walked me over to, which was not active on this day, but which straddles the spine of the ridge.  He explained that goshawks prefer to fly along the spine, and along the wooded side, being forest hawks.  That all being said, on the previous evening, as he had already shut down his trapping operation and put away the nets and the pigeon, a passage gos came in, took a perch in a nearby tree, and observed him for 10 minutes.  He shared this tale with us at the camp on Saturday evening.

Within 2 minutes of getting set up, this little male kestrel flew into the net.  Greg carefully worked to free him, and tried to not get bit.  This tiniest of the North American falcons can deliver quite the pinch.
The male kestrel has the gray on it's wings.  It also has a solid reddish brown tail, which you cannot see in this picture.  The female lacks the gray, and has stripes down her tail.  Also, like all raptors, the female is bigger!

There was only one other catch while I was there, this passage shin.  We did have another come into the area, and perch nearby so we could watch it with our binoculars, and then we saw it take off after some birds that flew up over the ridge.  I had to leave by 10 am as I had a long drive home.

It was truly an exciting weekend for me.  I've wanted to get up to see North Shore trapping for some time, and now I can check that off my "bucket list".

I'm headed out the following weekend to meet up with my sisters in Mackinaw City for a Sister's Weekend.  When I get home, I'm going to be setting up my own trapping station.  I hope to catch a new red-tail for the coming season.  Hopefully, the location I will be trapping at will be a good location where many hawks fly over.

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