Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Slow Motion Sumi

Both birds are making good progress in their training.  Chimera is flying to me on the creance outside, and appears to be well wed to the lure.  I want to work with her just a little more, taking her to other locations and getting the full creance length out before I risk free flight.  I do not want a repeat of what happened last year.

Sumi is flying to the glove short distances inside.  I am now working with her inside my garage, but these videos were while still in my living room.  I asked Rich to take a slow motion video to show off the strength with which she leaps to get airborne.  I follow with a normal speed so you can see just how quickly all the action takes place.  Strong leg muscles push them up so the strong muscles in the wings can take over.

Both birds are now free lofted in their respective mews.  I like to get to this point as quickly as possible to minimize any possible feather damage from bating against the perch.  Also, I think a free lofted hawk is a much more comfortable bird.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Surprise Hawk

After all the miles I covered this trapping season to find a new partner, it was quite the surprise to then have another just pretty much fall into my lap.  Oh, and what a bird!!

I have my trapping gear still in the car.  Whereas I had found my hawk, I know of some others that have not, and I still had an open leg band. Also, you just never know what might be beyond the next corner.  On the morning of Sunday November 11, after I got off from work, I saw not one, but two passage hawks in Rochester as I was leaving town headed home to sleep.  Because of that, I decided that on Monday morning, when I did not have to rush home to sleep because I would have to work that night, I would look around Rochester a little more seriously. Also, I needed to go to the Fleet Farm for some dog food.

Well, that morning I did not spot the two passage birds in town, but as I drove down Hwy 63 headed to Fleet Farm I spotted a very, very dark hawk on one of the poles along the road.  I looped back to a side road to attempt a closer look, but the pole the bird was on was just out of clear range of my binoculars.  It was also in an impossible-to-trap location.  I shrugged it off and proceeded to the store to get my business taken care of.

While at the store, and also after taking an assessment of my gear, I had discovered I did not have a gauntlet with me.  I purchased an inexpensive set of welders gloves, which is what I used when I was a brand new "baby" falconer, as they are cheap, and a leather gauntlet is not.  Thus armed, I loaded up my BC with some rats and went looking for that hawk.

At first, I returned to the location I had just left, prior to shopping.  I spotted the bird, but even farther out on a more distant pole.  Looking across Hwy 63 there were many access points that might give me a closer vantage.  I moved my car.  As I came to the new location I then noticed a very hawk-shaped form flying with crows in pursuit, harassing it.  I followed as it flew, in and out of several parking lots.  I watched as it moved towards my side of 63, around, back behind the Tractor Supply store to a much better, and definitely trappable location.  Driving nearby, I glassed the bird.  Oh Yes, a very beautiful dark phase red tail.  After another move of my car to the other side of the pole it was on, I confirmed it was a passage bird, as I could see the dark tail bands.  Oh Excitement!!

Map copied from

I have very much enjoyed over the years our normal Eastern red tails.  After a little research, I can state that it is known as Buteo jamaicensis borealis.  They are hardy and fearless hunters, willing to crash brush after their prey.  The Eastern red tail is bigger than the Western, making them very desirable as squirrel hawks.  Red tails are so ubiquitous in North America that they have been sub-categorized to range and feather coloring differences.  It can be very exciting when an other-than-normal expected bird shows up in your area.  I look for them, and sometimes have chased them, but up until this day have never trapped anything other than normal borealis.  I found an appropriate out-of-the way spot and dropped my trap, backed up and waited and watched.

It did not take long for this bird to notice my rats and to move in for a closer inspection.  It flew over, hovered briefly, then took to a nearby tree to study the situation.  And study it did.  I watched from my vantage, down the road, excited, hopeful, but also pretty much expecting the same luck I have had all trapping season.  Also, this was after my 12-hour work shift.  I was quite a bit tired and ready to go home for some sleep.  For this bird, however, I would wait.

After about 15 minutes, with this hawk having now turned away from my trap, and started preening, I figured I was not going to be successful.  I drove towards it, turning off onto a small side street, and down a ways until I could easily turn around and return.  As I approached the trap there was some kind of utility van that had pulled out from somewhere.  They were slowed at the side of the road, looking . . . . and behold . . . that little dark bird must have made a go at my trap as soon as I had pulled out of sight.  I raced in, jumped out of my car and grabbed.  GOTCHA!!  The people in the utility van pulled away, I guess after figuring out I was the one responsible for this hawk's trapped disposition.  They didn't stick around to ask questions as many people do if they notice your trapping activity . . . . which I try very hard to not attract attention to myself.  I brought "him" to my car, freed from trap, hooded and cast, then onto the scale.  At 1054 grams this would normally be a male Eastern red tail.  However, as I have already described, this bird was not "from around here".  It very well could be a female Western bird.

Stunned, excited, fascinated at the turn of events, I rushed home to show my sleeping husband.  I also had to dig through my old equipment, for I had not expected to trap a second bird this year, and did not have any freshly made anklets or jesses.  Fortunately, I save old, usable equipment, which will be usable for a short time, until I can cut fresh.  Comfortably outfitted, "she" chilled her toes in my spare mew, hooded, and I got some sleep.  That evening, we started the manning process.

At first I thought the bird was male but now I am referring to it as "she".  I now say "she" as I just get a female vibe from her, and also some of my friends, one who has had some experience with Western birds, looked at her and agrees her feet look larger, thus female, and her beak is also wider, which is a female trait.  Male red tails have a somewhat more sharply angled, narrow beak.  She took to the fist pretty quickly during her first manning session, but would go on to refuse food until about day three.  Even now, days later, she is still a bit spooky of sudden movement and sounds.  Several days later I took her with me to Foxfeather's home when we were invited to dinner, and she got some manning time with other people.  By this time she had started to take small jumps for food.

After consulting with an online group the consensus is that this bird in my hand is either a dark phase Western red tail (Buteo jamaicensis calurus), or even more desirable, a Harlan's (Buteo jamaicensis harlani).  I will know with the first molt.  If the tail comes in solid red, with possibly still those cross bars, it is Western.  However, if it is a mixture of stripes, spots, streaks and weird coloring, it is a Harlan's.  Time will tell.  Those same friends we shared dinner with, several of them artists, suggested a name which I agree fits.  She shall be called Sumi, which is a dark Japanese ink.

Either way, my hands are now full with two birds to train.  At least the weather is getting colder so my ability to get the Harris Hawks out is limited.  My days are taken up with hawk-related activities.  This give me JOY!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Two Recent Hunts

Here is the video of the hunt in the posting below, and an additional one Rich edited onto this video.  We are probably getting close to the end of the days I can safely fly the Harris Hawks.  It is frequently not getting above the 20s, and snow fell last night which may stick around for awhile.  It's a good thing I have a cold weather hawk in the works . . . . and a surprise new one.  More on that soon.

In the video I mention that you have to be careful when going in on game with Wyvern.  Sometimes, she may let it go if she feels pressured, and then will pout and not come to me, or even for her rabbit.  She doesn't like sitting on the fist either.  I work around her preferences.  After all, she is not a selectively bred Harris Hawk, but a wild trap.  She gets the job done where it counts, hunting, and if I don't bruise her ego too much, comes at the end of the day.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Finally At This Spot

There is a nice farm not far from where we live that has very good rabbitat.  The landowner has been quite nice to allow us permission to hunt there for the last couple years.  The place is abundant with brushy, overgrown spots where rabbits frequent.  I think this is going on year 3, or maybe even 4.  We have pushed bunnies around here, but never taken one home.  Well, Wyvern finally sealed the deal.  We didn't even get very far into the hunt today before she performed.

Rich took a video with his GoPro, and after some editing it should be pretty good.  I'll post it once it is ready.  Way To Go Wyvern!!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Cold Weather Hunting Partner


a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve.

Minnesota gets cold in the winter!

I have two Harris Hawks because they are fun to work with, and fairly easy to fly.  Their unique cooperative nature allows you to fly them together as a cast, or more, although I have yet to find out if mine are going to fly together harmoniously this year.  Usually Flint is a bit of a butt and gives Wyvern a hard time, even though she is the female and the bigger bird.  They have been housed next to each other all year.  We'll see.  However, flying Harris Hawks in Minnesota is not something you can do all winter.  Once it gets below freezing, it is just not safe, especially with Wyvern.  Harris Hawks are adapted to living in a hot environment, so everything about their body is designed to bleed off heat, not retain it.  Their season last year was cut short because I flew them both on a day that was a bit colder than common sense warranted.  Both, but especially Wyvern, got a case of frost bite on the feet.  I didn't write about it, I just dealt with it.  Through the rest of winter and into the summer molt they were pampered, and the injuries healed.  If it is 32° or below, they will not be flown.  Just too risky!

But winter lasts a long time!!  For the below 32° days, you need a cold weather hawk.  Our local red tails are built for the challenge!

I went into the last molt with three birds, having finished our last season with Ruby, my Kansas-trapped bird. Due to an unfortunate situation with my apprentice, Foxfeather, her hawk from last year was lost when it caught and ate a poisoned rat.  Typical with poison and rats . . . the rat laughed off the poison and was running fine, the hawk was killed by the poison.  DON'T USE RODENT POISON!!  It doesn't work well on the rodents, and harms far more beneficial animals.  With her having an empty mew, and I having three birds, I transferred Ruby over to her license to care for over the summer, and get back into shape and hunt this next winter.  This left me without a cold weather bird.  I figured, "no problem, I'll just trap a new one".  Well, that turned out to be quite the quest.

Migration of red tails in Minnesota really gets kicked in during the month of October.  I monitor the flow through the trapping and banding station at Hawk Ridge, in Duluth, Minnesota.  When the numbers are up in that location, I figure they are also up throughout the state.  Well, this year I was on an out-of-town vacation during the first week of October, and by all evidence that I could observe for the rest of the month, the migration seems to have bypassed my area.  Starting after I returned, about mid month, and for many days, turning into weeks thereafter, I have logged probably in excess of 1500 miles on my car searching for, and not finding passage birds.  It had become a very frustrating endeavor.  I consider myself to be a pretty good hawk trapper, with a BC, but you cannot trap what you cannot find.

Rochester is usually one of my best, and closest options.  Cities seem to catch up passage birds as they fly by.  I'm not sure if this is because the surrounding area is occupied by established, territorial birds that push around migrants, or if the cities offer quick food and abundant places to hide.  Either way, you can usually, reliably find passage birds in town.  Well, this year I think I saw maybe 2 juvies in or nearby Rochester, and both at a time when I could not drop a trap.  This bad luck would continue to expand to the countryside.

I began to canvass within a couple hours drive of my home.  I drove South to the Iowa border, North to the suburbs of the Cities, East and along the Mississippi River bluffs.  Many of these areas in years past have held many passage birds, which I have easily caught.  This year I found very few.  In fact, I have observed far more bald eagles.  I found many adult red tails, but few juvies.  The few that were found proved to be hard to trap.

There is a very pretty, dark-colored bird just outside Mabel, the town next to where my husband's family farm is located.  That bird was not interested in the BC the first day I found it, and I gave it an hour's opportunity to get interested.  I came back the next day at dawn, and was successful in finding the bird again, and it came double-time to the trap, but proceeded to only superficially get snagged, then break free, flipping the trap over in the process.  It then stood on the lawn looking at the now useless trap.  If it had re-engaged it would not have been snagged.  I moved in and bumped the bird.  I then decided to try to up the stakes by using a pigeon harness.  I have only used this method of trapping once before, unsuccessfully.  Well, I was unsuccessful this time as well.  I did find the hawk again, on another day, at dawn, and it came to and killed my pigeon, but was not caught.  I just don't know if this method does not work well with hawks.  Maybe it works great for falcons who make strafing flights at their prey, but not so much hawks who just tackle, kill, flip over and eat.  And maybe I'm just not doing it right.  That said, I know where a very pretty bird is available.  Maybe if someone set up a bow netting station they could catch it.

I found a juvie just outside La Crescent.  I watched this bird chase a squirrel in the tree it was sitting in.  GREAT!  However, I never could seem to catch its attention with a BC.  It was located in a pretty challenging valley, with a swift creek, and deep grass.  Both times I found it, and I did come back on another day, I simply could not drop the trap someplace where the bird noticed.  Then I no longer could find it.  Maybe it moved on.

There was the juvie in Winona, right in town, hanging out in a suburban neighborhood in the bluff, overlooking the marsh.  It studied my trap, with very careful observation, but would never land and engage.  I found another juvie in Winona several days later, probably the same bird, nearby where I had been.  It was also just not interested in the trap.

There was the pair of birds in the Yucatan Valley, a location that usually gives up multiple juvies throughout trapping season, but this season only found after many tours through.  The one bird, the larger, just stayed on her pole and could not be bothered with my trap.  The other did come down and danced all over the top of it, twice, but failed to be snagged by any of the nooses.  I sat at a distance and just watched amazed at how my trapping, which is usually very successful, failed again and again.  I came on another day for these two, and arrived at dawn, when birds are hungry and more motivated.  They showed no interest in my trap.  They were, however, fascinating to watch.  They played with each other, which made me think they are probably nest mates who have not dispersed yet.  This makes them even harder to trap, as their parents are probably still nearby, and maybe supplementing their diet.  They were more interested in playing with each other than hunting.

I found another pair, on 74 North of Whitewater.  At first, it was only one juvie, but soon another came plowing in and engaged the first with what looked like playful aerial fighting.  These two were also not interested in the trap, and both took a good hard look at it.  I do find it rather interesting to have observed what looked like two separate incidences of what appeared to be nest mates, siblings, still in their natal territory.  We have only had one real good cold snap so far.  Maybe more birds will fly through when winter starts to get serious.

There was the one on the highway headed to Wabasha, on a busy road, with no turnaround for a mile, and no helper in the car with me to toss the trap out the right side of the car.

Just frustration after frustration!!  This year, trapping for hawks was like fishing.  It's fun when you are catching something, it is not, and aggravating when you are not.  And the clock is ticking!

Saturday morning, November 3, I was awake at 4:00 AM, when my husband gets up to go to work.  I had gone to sleep early, so was fully rested, and restless, "Hawk Stalking Fever" still gripping me.  I got up and did a little housework, then got myself into the car, with a plan.  I was headed to Stillwater, and north of the Cities.  I had report that juvies have been seen in the Cities.  If my theory of urban areas acting like a sponge to soak up hawks on migration was valid, a larger city should capture that much more birds.  I was in Hastings by dawn, trap loaded and searching.

Hastings was a bust!  Stillwater was a bust!  Some of the northern industrial areas were a bust!  I looped down to Shepard road near the airport, on a suggestion from another falconer whose observational skills I can trust.  No dice!  I swung by the Sportman's Guide outlet store area, which to my eyes would be a good place for hawks to hang out.  Nothing!  Disconsolate at not having seen much of anything, any hawks, let alone passage birds, I tapped into my GPS the coordinates for Red Wing.  I would drive down along the river.

Outside of Red Wing I found an abandoned, vacant building, and drove through the crumbling parking lot.  I did not spot anything.  However, as I pulled out of this location, turning right and driving down one of the main thoroughfares into Red Wing proper, out in the distance, almost out of the corner of my eye, on the left, in the back of an active factory but which right now was closed for the weekend, in a tree behind, I spotted the tale-tell white of a juvenile hawk breast above a belly band.  The traffic light at the turnaround seemed to last forever.

I love set-ups like this!  The parking lot was empty.  The grass was nicely mowed.  The hawk in the tree was just sitting there, at the back of the building, where the action of my trapping effort would be observed by NO ONE!  Out goes the trap, out my driver's side window, and off I go to a parking lot across from the one where I dropped the trap.  A convenient hedge of grass concealed my car from a curious hawk should it look back my way.  The bird took only a short time to decide to check out the situation, first flying over the trap and landing in a small tree nearby, assessing the situation, then jumping down and dancing with my rats.  I began to move a little closer to observe and watch for the sign that the bird was caught.  With baited breath, finally with a wing lift I could see the bird was snagged.  Quick seconds I was there, and bird was grabbed.  Finally.  FINALLY!  FINALLY!!

She was caught with both feet.  This is how I expect my BC to work.  I say "She", for once removed off the trap, secured and socked, I placed her on the scale.  1338 grams.  She is safely in the female weight class.  For my part, I did not care whether female or male.  I was just very happy and thankful to finally have a bird I could work with.  Her keel is appropriate, neither sharp or hog-fat.  Her feet appear battle worn.  Perhaps she has already been hunting squirrels, which would be a bonus.  Strangely enough, there was another hawk, an adult, who I spotted starting to fly in as I was observing and waiting to know this bird was snagged on the trap.  When taking my new partner off the trap, the adult was screaming and screaming at us, me, her, I don't know which.  I really don't know what to think about this observation.  Did the adult just realize there was an intruder in its territory?  Was this the offspring of the adult?  I don't know.  Either way, I took myself and the source of the commotion away.  I found a remote location to tuck my car and put some quick equipment on the hawk so she could ride safe and comfortable in the giant hood, home.  Later that evening my apprentice helped me put her permanent gear on, minus bells, as I messed up the measure for the bewit.  This girl has massive tarsus!

Now we begin the manning and training.  I have decided to call her Chimera, for the second definition.  She was a quest, a fanciful dream I hoped for, and finally achieved.

The cold weather can come.  I am ready!