Friday, December 22, 2017

NAFA 2017

As I finally return here to write the text to this post, it is already the New Year.  December was a busy month, and I wasn't even out hawking much.  The cold has descended here in Minnesota and my warm weather hawks cannot be safely flown.  For these below 20 degrees days (below 0 lately) I need a cold-weather hawk.

In October I trapped a new red tail for a hunting partner.  I was really enjoying working with her (I had named her Phoebe) and she was so calm and went through the training process very quickly.  However, I had misjudged her readiness for free flight, and I pushed her a little harder than I should have.  On her first free flight, after sitting in a tree watching me walk through the brush towards her and not getting anything to move, she picked herself up and caught the wind and flew off over the nearby building, and headed to the horizon.  Up to this point I had never lost a bird to a fly off, but there is a first time for everything.

I did have telemetry on her, and I am rather proud of myself that I did track her down, 10 miles away, in a thick area of forest on private land.  As nightfall came, I managed to get into touch with the landowner where she was at, and got permission to come back in the morning and try to retrieve her.  They said yes.  That next morning I walked right up to and under the tree she was in.  She wanted nothing to do with me and flew off to the next valley.  The area she was at had several deer carcasses laid out for the eagles.  I suspect she had cropped up the night before.  She took a brand new set of bells with her, my old transmitter, as well as some vet bills that I hadn't even received yet on the day she flew off.  She also took my hopes for a good hawking season with her.

I had planned to take her with me to the NAFA (North American Falconers Association) meet in Kearney, Nebraska the week of Thanksgiving.  Instead, I quickly made arrangements to trap down in Kansas while I was there.

One of my best hawking friends, Sharon Hartshorn, was also attending the meet.  In fact, she was attending and staying in her newly purchased, deluxe travel trailer which is now her full-time home.  She is a relief veterinarian, filling in for other vets who want to go on vacation.  She works throughout New Mexico and Texas, and goes as far as Alaska in the summer.  Having recently sold her home, she has taken up a nomadic life, but that does not mean she is not comfortable.  She offered to share her trailer with me for the week we were in Nebraska.  It was a very comfortable stay, and good times with a friend I have not seen in awhile.

I did not bring any of my own Harris Hawks, so here I'm shown holding one of her two birds.  I would also like to give credit to Beth Fortner, one of Sharon's hawking friends, who brought along her camera on one of the hawking trips we went out on.  She took the picture above of Sharon, and this one of me below.  She kindly allowed me to use them in my blog post.

The day I arrived, Sharon took me to a place she had found right in town where jack rabbits could be flushed.  I have not had many opportunities to try for jacks as they are not common where I live.  They are also very challenging quarry.  I got to see her two birds make the attempt, but when out with me I did not see a catch.  They had scored one the day before . . . a 3.5 lb bunny.  Them hares are BIG!

The main target for my days spent there was to find a replacement hunting companion.  By late October most passage birds have made their way out of Minnesota, and found their way down to places like Kansas.  There were juvie birds everywhere, and some really nice looking, different colored ones.  Sharon and I went out on one day together, but were not successful.  The next day out on my own I did find a new girl to take home with me.  I had arranged to have her seen at the veterinarian school at Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas to get the all-important health certificate which would allow me to take her home.

Once I had her travel documents I returned to the meet location.

She attended one of the meetings with me to start her manning process.  The alcohol was for me!

Poor Bird!  Who knows where she came from . . . maybe even further up north.  She was headed south for a warmer winter, and here this Minnesota falconer snagged her because she thought rat would be a good breakfast, and took her back to that frozen state.

This is why I have been busy in December, working on training this new bird.  We had a slow start, and she has been pretty skittish to man, but finally she calmed down and we have made progress.  As of the start of this New Year I have been flying her around my home on short, free flights.  She still is not reliably wed to the lure for longer flights.  We are working on that.

Now, back to the meet.

While there, I did get the opportunity to see eagle falconry.  Golden Eagles are best flown on quarry like jack rabbits, and they are found in the open prairies.  This genuine cowboy kindly let us hunt his land.

There are not many eagle falconers in the US, but among them is the very famous Lauren McGough. She spent a Fulbright Scholarship in Mongolia learning eagle falconry, and now has made a name for herself back home.  Hawking with eagles entails a lot of walking across prairie to kick up their prey.  If you are lucky you can bring along a line of volunteers to make the job easier.  When one is flushed, the eagle takes off from the fist of the falconer after the quarry.  In Lauren's case, after the flight, whether her bird caught anything or not (we did not see any catches) she goes to her bird to pick him up.  It is a lot of walking for a fit person.  A not so fit person (me) got pretty tired.  It was neat to see, but not the kind of falconry for me.

Love her bumper sticker!

It was a very fun week, and I very much enjoyed meeting up and spending some time with my friend Sharon.  I was happy to have a new bird to take home with me, and try to get some hawking in myself this season.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Yule - Memories from 2005

In Winter of 2005 my life began to change, eventually for the good, but it was the beginning of a very hard year, a threshold into something new, something frightening, something very unknown.

My husband of 20 years moved out, eventually going on in 2006 to divorce me.  In December we were still talking, and I hoped to work things out, and that he would come home.  I felt very alone in our house, that now felt very empty.  Part of my working to keep it all together, I made this music / picture video.  I insisted that I would have Christmas, and would decorate my home for myself, and visit friends and take pictures of their efforts as well.  It has continued to exist on a single DVD that was created by the software that allowed me to assemble it, as well as fragments on my very old and almost non-working laptop.  It was a fragile piece of memory, always guaranteed to illicit complex emotions in me.  I felt my creation was beautiful, but for me, it is also very sad.

New friends have helped me to save this copy into a YouTube file, and now I post it here.  Hopefully there will not be any issues with the fact that I don't have permission to use the music.  The file is marked private, but I can link it here.

The video is a celebration of Yule, the old Pagan word for the longest night of the year.  It is a celebration of the sun, and the hope that it will return again to warm the land and bring back life.  With the Christianization of the Western World the origins of the festival were wrapped into ideas and concepts that would be acceptable to the church.  However, at the root of it is the recognition of the tilt of the globe, and the reality of the decreasing hours of light that mark winter.  At Yule, this progression stops, and the sun is reborn, and makes its slow progress back.  What better reason can you find to have a party, to drink, to eat tasty foods, and to bring an evergreen tree into your midst and decorate it?

The video has a revolving sun theme, as well as winter scenes, both indoor and out.  The creation is older, and my digital camera at the time of poor quality.  Images are not sharp, but it is a snapshot of time.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Today Rich and I took both Harris Hawks out and flew them as a cast for the first time this year.  Shortly out of the box, Flint decided to assert his dominance over Wyvern, which she seemed to accept.  She would go on and frequently take low branches, or even walk around on the ground.

I picked a spot that has quite a few bunnies and knew there would be several slips for them to chase, which there was.  As we moved down the path, finally I popped out a bunny and Flint dropped down from his high perch to snag his second catch of the year, of all time with me.  Wyvern quickly joined him, which is GREAT, because that way bunnies won't be able to kick off little Flint.  He is rather a small guy, flying at 635 grams.  After the catch, it was just a mad flappy ball of Harris Hawk wings over the bunny until Rich made it to our happy huddle and took a picture.  I then moved the party out onto the path.

What followed was some feeding of Wyvern, but not too much, then hooding, then calling Flint back in, as he went up a tree to pout for awhile.  He then got to eat all the best warm parts of the bunny before he was traded off, hooded, and we made our way back to the car.

Things are looking great for the HH team!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Beauty over Brawn, and a Breakthrough

Hawk trapping has been a little "slim pickings" this season.  The girl I decided to keep is a lot smaller than I usually would work with, but she has just charmed me for some reason I can't really put my finger on.  My apprentice, Foxfeather, wanted to get a big, burly girl herself this year.  She's been going with a Game of Thrones theme, and was seeking out a Brienne.  We just didn't find her this year.  Instead, we trapped this little boy.

At a distance, viewing him in the tree overlooking the trap I had just put down, I was intrigued and wanted to see him in hand.  His coloring is just so stunning!  In hand, I'm still fascinated with his looks.  Fox has decided to name him Loras, after the Knight of Flowers.  He's such a pretty boy, but hopefully still a skilled hunter.  He had blood all over his beak when trapped, so that may be a good sign.

As to my own "little boy", Flint is the first of my birds totally ready to be flown.  On Saturday I got Fox's help, and we cast him and put a Track Pack on him.  He also got a beak trim.  He was none too happy about his man handling (woman handling), and when I brought him home and put him into the mew with my other hawk, Wyvern, who he has been rooming with lately, he decided to attack her.  OK, very bad mood!  He was housed elsewhere that night.

On Sunday, I went for the first true hunt.  I didn't have real high hopes, as Flint has never caught anything of significance while out hawking.  He's been a somewhat useless bird, willing to come when called and come to the lure, and follow along out hunting, but not willing to engage in the hunt. We weren't in the field 5 minutes and I flushed a bunny which he went for.  Actually, I flushed the bunny but never saw it.  I saw him stoop from the tree after something, and was mantling as I got close to him.  I though maybe he had a mouse.  Bunny never cried.  He had it by the butt, and I was afraid as I approached it would break free.  I carefully made into him then quickly reached in and grabbed bunny.  Good thing, because he then let go.  I dispatched bunny, then encouraged him to return and had him grab the head.  I then let him eat as much as he liked, to reward him for his effort.

This is bunny #1 for the 2017/2018 hawking season, and Flint's first bunny ever.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Will return soon and write about this.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Touching the Four Corners (and a few in-between points) - Part II

With the arrival of October, and getting through the first week when I had to work, my end-of-summer vacation began.  We would pick up the project of circumnavigating our home state of Minnesota and touch the Four Corners, and a few points in-between.
October 12, 2017
46°52'25" N, 96°46'33" W
Elevation:  910 feet

We would start off this project where we left off, and get that bridge picture in Fargo-Moorhead.  We had camped the previous night at the nearby Buffalo River State Park.  There were only two other people in the camp ground that night, and they were both in travel trailers.  The weather was still good enough for hardy folks to sleep in a tent.  The weather would hold for us, mostly, through our whole trip, with many cool but sunny days, with spectacular fall colors.  Once settled into our camp ground, we ventured out to a small nearby town for some quick dinner before they closed.  Our night was star-filled, and beautiful!

The next morning we were up early and on the quest for both bagels, and a bridge.  During our previous visit we missed both due to the store being closed (for the bagels) and rain (for the bridge).  We found the bagels and were at their door when they opened.  Those secured, we found the bridge, where we ate them for our breakfast, then took a brisk walk from the parking lot up to the bridge.  This is one of the major crossing points between Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota.

There is a joint memorial for the armed forces of each state.  The view below was the Minnesota side.

Between, inlaid with the concrete, is a map of the river as it flows between the two cities.

Here is the view of the North Dakota side.

Our bagel run scored me one of the "famous" (so they say) rainbow bagels from Boppa's Bagels.

It tasted just like any other regular bagel, but was very colorful.  There was even a ribbon of purple which did not show in this picture below.

After pictures on the bridge we made our way back to the car and got out onto the road, headed North.  I did observe that some of the crops in the fields were not crops I was familiar with.  In many places I also noticed these odd objects on the road.  Rich knew what they were.  I had him pull over, and I grabbed one.  I did post it to Facebook, asking who among my friends could identify it first.  It turns out to be a sugar beet, which according to Wikipedia is actually one word, "sugarbeet".  Yes, I did taste it, a clean slice from the inside.  It tastes like beets, only much sweeter than the regular red ones.  Rich commented: "We'll probably soon see a pile of them, because that is how they store them after harvest."

Sure enough, he was right!  We would go on to see many piles of sugarbeets all along our journey along the upper Northwest of Minnesota.  We also passed the Crystal Sugar processing plant in East Grand Forks.

Our next destination was Noyes, Minnesota.  This small town may have seen more active days when it was the border crossing into Canada, but now this location is closed down on both sides.
October 12, 2017
Noyes, MN, Northwest Corner
48°59'53" N, 97°12'30" W
Elevation:  812 feet

We both posed at the boundary monument.

According to the Wikipedia entry (see link above), this port of entry has been closed since 2003 on the Canadian side, and 2006 on the US side.  To access Canada now you must go over to Interstate 29 in North Dakota.

The old crossing is barricaded.  The road has weeds growing up in between the cracks.  The entire area has a decayed, disused vibe about it . . . but don't be fooled.  There are surveillance cameras watching on both sides.

After Noyes, we turned East, as best we could, taking a path that would lead us up to as close as we could get to the farthest Northern part of the state.  There is a small bit of land, Minnesota territory, which is called "The Angle".  However, to access it you must either have a boat to cross Lake of the Woods, or go through Canada.  We would do neither.  Instead we would get as close as we could to each side of the lake.
October 12, 2017
Below the Angle, Left of Lake of the Woods
48°59'18" N, 95°20'36" W
Elevation:  1060 Feet

As we were driving East I was delightfully surprised to spot some of these birds, as pictured above.  They are black-billed magpies.  We don't have magpies in the Eastern US.  Looking up the data on them in e-Bird I discovered that they do come into Minnesota's northern range in the winter.  Well, here they were.  Rich tried to get a good picture of them, but they were fairly wary and would not allow for close approach.  He did the best he could, and did at least get proof of their presence.

Taking back gravel roads we got to this farthest point, bordering on State Wildlife land. Somewhere beyond the line of trees is the lake.

From time to time we would spot another magpie.  This one was poking around in the gravel of the road.  It flew off as we got closer.

We drove around the connecting roads to the farthest East side of Lake of the Woods.
October 12, 2017
Below the Angle, Right of Lake of the Woods
48°50'36" N, 94°41'45" W
Elevation:  1060 Feet

What we discovered was a marina.

Pictures taken, GPS coordinates recorded, we made our way as quickly as we could to International Falls, where we found an over-priced place to sleep.

October 13, 2017
International Falls
43°36'9" N, 93°24'8" W
Elevation:  1130 Feet

The next morning, filled with fairly good hotel breakfast, we found the border crossing at International Falls.

My, but those Welcome signs are very BIG!

It is pretty much impossible to follow along the North Central to North-East corner of Minnesota without a boat.  This area is the location of Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest.  Not having a boat of canoe, we charted our path down South to Ely, to visit the International Wolf Center.

The facility houses educational information about North American Wolves, as well as two captive wolf packs.  The pack you can see is the ambassador display pack.  There is also a retired pack, where the animals no longer have windows and people peeking in on what they are up to.  Web cams watch all the time, both groups.  If you follow the link above you too can peek in on what the wolves are up to.

The pair of wolves above are Axel and Grayson, brothers who are the most recent addition to the exhibit pack.  They are Arctic Gray Wolves who joined the pack in 2016.

This handsome fellow above is Boltz, a Great Plains Gray Wolf, who has been at the Center since 2012.

Axel and Grayson seem to be naturals at striking stunning poses.

The whole display pack lined up along the fence, checking out what was going on with one of the caretakers on the other side.  The staff informed us that the pack is fed once a week, on Saturday, with whole deer and beavers.  We were visiting on Friday, so supper would be served the next day.  Everyone was hungry and waiting for their take-out to arrive.

There was a nice bulletin board of the current pack, both on display and retirement.

October 13, 2017
Grand Portage
47°59'59" N, 89°35'33" W
Elevation:  660 Feet

After the Wolf Center we made our way down to the North Shore, then up to the tip as far as we could drive.  Prior to our visit of the Wolf Center we did detour to Virginia and Eveleth to pass over the tallest, and one of the newest, bridges in Minnesota.  This is a new path over the Iron Range, to allow the mining company to dig out the ore under the previous route.  We could not find any place to pull over to get a picture of the bridge, so there will be no photos are videos.

I did get a video of the far Northeast tip of Minnesota.  Prior to arriving at the tip, we stopped in Grand Marais, and visited the Dockside Fish Market.  We had lunch and took a nice side of smoked fish for later.  Before going up to the tip, we located our camp site and got our tent all set up.  This night we would sleep in Judge C.R. Magney State Park.  Almost as soon as we arrived, we were waylaid by a resident chipmunk, a very brave and resourceful chipmunk, who proceeded to help himself to some corn that had spilled from the back of my car.  I had brought all of my hawk trapping gear just in case, and had food for my bait rats.  Mr. Chippy stored a great amount of corn, and we gave him a few other things to add to his larder.  A piece of banana that I offered was eaten immediately.

The view of the tip of Minnesota.

At the end of the road, before crossing into Canada, and as the sun was going down I posed at this gateway to our State.  This was the final true corner.

Having accomplished my goal, and it getting dark, but we were not quite ready to go back to our tent home and sleep, I confirmed with my cell phone resources that the probability of Northern Lights was high this night.  However, we would need to find a vantage point beyond the ridge that follows all along the North shore.  We ended up going up a portion of the Gun Flint Trail and found a little airstrip that offered us a view of the Northern horizon.  The sky did lighten at the horizon, and there were occasional fiery bands that rose up into the sky, but it never quite took off like the gif below, which was too bad.  Still, it was neat to see this most Northern of experiences.

The next morning, our tent and camping gear stored, and Mr. Chippy shooed out of my car, we explored one of the major attractions of Judge C.R. Magney State Park.  We hiked over and then along the Brule River inland until we came to the Devil's Kettle.

Rich looking back as I stopped to adjust my socks.

Part of the journey included this staircase, with 177 steps.  Yes, I counted them!  It was easy going down . . . a little more work coming back up.

The Devil's Kettle is a split in the Brule river, with half of the water apparently disappearing down a hole which has fueled much speculation on where the water comes out. This article indicates a hydrologist studied the problem earlier this year and has concluded the water reemerges a short distance from these falls.  I'll have to listen for confirmation of his test experiment, which I assume will be later this winter, when the water does not flow as quickly.

It is a very beautiful waterfall!

Rich decided to ham up my picture of him.  Such a rock star!

After our adventures with the Brule River and the Devil's Kettle, we searched out some breakfast, and then made our way down the North Shore to Hawk Harbor.  This is Frank Taylor's home away from home during hawk migration and trapping season.  He has been manning a station there for a very long time.  Rich was not with me last year when I came, but joined me this year.  The Minnesota Falconers had their meeting, and then enjoyed a cook out and company.  Many of us camped the night, which was rainy and cold. The next day Rich and I would join Frank at his trapping blind, but the weather was wet and the winds were out of the wrong direction.  We saw a few birds fly over, but none made a go at the nets. By noon we decided to head on down the road as we needed to get home by the end of the day.

While there we were able to see the club President's newest bird, an arctic tundra peregrine falcon.  He has named her Scarlet.

Our final stop and compass point reference was at Duluth, at the far tip of Lake Superior.  There are a couple crossings into Wisconsin as you go South, but these are crossings we go over frequently, to especially include the one at La Crosse, so I did not include them on this journey.
October 15, 2017
Duluth Harbor
46°45'29" N, 92°9'51" W
Elevation:  1060 Feet

Coming into town I did some quick research and found a place that makes very tasty and hearty sandwiches.  We found it, bought our lunch, then sought out a high point and a park to eat and overlook the harbor.  It was a very nice afternoon finish to a great little vacation.  I would keep my eyes open on the way home for trapping opportunities but few presented themselves, and we were rather eager to get back home.

Minnesota is a Great State to visit, from all four corners and every point in-between!