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.