Thursday, April 25, 2019

Spring Begins

Waiting for Spring

In mid to late March I usually get very tired of the long winters that sometimes happen here in Minnesota.  It is then time to make a trip up to the Cities to the Como Park Conservatory and enjoy the Spring flowers in the Sunken Garden.  This year I was going to share this with our friends Foxfeather and Roman when we were in the Cities attending a museum attraction (see later in this posting), but we failed to notice the times the park is open in the winter, and were too late after our lunch.  Well, I made up for that mistake and returned the following weekend, catching up with my niece and her boyfriend.

Como Park's Spring Show can always cheer me up, even if there were a whole hoard of people there getting their early flower fix on.  I was not the only one tired of Winter.  My niece Sarah and her boyfriend Sam joined me, having shown them my favorite Mexican Food restaurant there.

Of special note I am going to conduct a little experiment.  Every year I seem to get a late start on the fall hunting because my Harris Hawk is just not done with her molt.  Her window to hunt is limited as she can no longer be safely flown once it gets below freezing.  Well, because our season ends at the last days of February, I set up her mew's lights to come on for 14+ hour days, and this year added a "happy light", a full spectrum lamp to simulate the Summer sunshine.  Let's see if all this extra light will kick off her molt early so she will be done in August for conditioning to start the hunt when the small game season opens.

I don't plan to weather Wyvern outside as she is just wild crazy in her mew when her weight is normal, never mind when it is high.  It is just easier to bring the light to her, than to take her outside to the light.  Hopefully this will work.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Like a Phantom - and the Blizzard of 2019

On Saturday, February 9, 2019 I accepted the invitation of Molly Kelly, the Wildlife Coordinator at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, to come and fly my hawk(s).  The snow is deep, although not nearly as deep as it is going to get before the end of the winter.  We had a nice day out, and the folks who came along did get to see some good slips and hawk action, thanks to Chimera.  Nothing was brought to the bag, but a good day was had by all.  They have extended the invitation to allow me to return in the future.  I think next fall would be a better opportunity, before the snow is too deep.

Pictured above on the right is Molly Kelly, Wildlife Coordinator, in the middle Colleen Foehrenbacher, Education Director, and to the left Mason Keel, Environmental Education Fellow.

Sumi was also given a chance to fly.  She followed well and came back to the lure.  I'm afraid I am not going to be able to actually get this girl on game this season, mostly because I have had some health challenges with her, and have had to coddle her some.  It is my plan to intermew her and try again next year.  I so want to see what her adult colors look like.

Unfortunately, I must report that, just like the phantom for which she was named, Chimera has slipped from my life.  I flew her for the last time on Friday, February 22, in a field just across from where I live.  It is good for a bunny or two, but was picked this time for the possibility of squirrels.  I had to use my new snowshoes to get around the already deep snow.  At the very back of the field, far from my car, I looked up and saw Chimera at a distance, her very bad habit of not keeping near me, as a resident hawk came in to bump her.  She flew and disappeared beyond my view, North, over I90.  By the time I got back to my car, to my receiver and yagi, I confirmed she was no longer in the field I was in.  Swinging the lure did not bring her to me.  I then spent the next two hours trying to get a triangulation on her, made difficult because where she flew has few roads.  I had to give up the search, needing to get home and get a little sleep, as I was scheduled to work that weekend.

She picked a very bad time to take her freedom, as over the weekend we were hit with the worst blizzard I have experienced here in Minnesota, second only to the Blizzard of 2014.  If she survived the storm, the battery in her transmitter probably did not.  Once I could get back out on the roads I picked up no signal.  Hopefully she did survive and will just pick up her wild life again.

As for the blizzard, I did return home on Saturday morning, prior to it kicking off, to sleep.  It began in earnest on the Saturday evening and overnight.  I should have packed extra clothes, but did not.  I watched the road condition site here in Minnesota, MN511, as the conditions were slowly changed from Partially Covered to Completely Covered to Travel Not Advised.  They had not yet been changed to Absolutely Closed when I attempted to go home on Sunday morning, which was a very stupid move on my part.  I was just lucky I too did not get stranded.

I left from work on Sunday morning, taking 52 out of town, and did make it to the onramp for I90 heading East, but a truck and car were stranded, mired in deep drifted snow, blocking my path.  I was able to continue on 52 South so did so, for only about 3 or 4 miles before I stopped, due to the devastation in front of me.  I could see deep drifts, and about 5 cars stuck.  I turned around, deciding to try and make my way back to Rochester.  I did get stopped in a line of people, with some large tow trucks in the distance trying to free some cars.  Here too, I was fortunate that behind me a moderate sized tow truck came up and cleared a path down the exit ramp, and then back up onto the freeway beyond the bottleneck in front of me.  I took it and was able to get back to the hospital, where I stayed.

My employer had issued a weather emergency, which allowed for vouchers to local hotels.  Because I was a night worker I was able to snag one of those rooms on Sunday, where I did get some sleep and a shower and was able to easily report to work on Sunday night.  I had to work late on Monday morning until my co-worker was able to make it in.  Fortunately, the weather emergency was still in place, so I got a room again, same hotel, right across from the hospital, easy walking distance.  I was not scheduled to work Monday night, but because I was there and the roads out of town were still closed, I volunteered to work on Monday evening for a few hours.  After getting off, and my husband now confirming my path home was possible (still treacherous, but possible) I got home.  Rich had held down the fort, keeping all our animals warm and fed.

Here is a link the Minnesota Department of Transportation put out to demonstrate just what kind of effort it took to clear the roads.  This was West of Rochester, but our roads were no better.

Blizzard 2019

The next day I took pictures of myself and Rich around our home, just to remember this snow event.  Overall, I think we got about 12 inches of snow, but it is the wind that causes the problem, piling up the snow in some areas into incredible heights.

All over the front porch!

Up along our Pole Barn!

This path to my Hawk Shack was covered up to those piles you can see.

On the path to the goat and chicken out building.

Rich, in the driveway.  He got some help with these drifts from a friendly neighbor with a Bobcat.

Me, in our front yard, by the road.  Where is the mailbox??

Gryphon a couple days later, when the sun came out.  It is over her head.  She is thinking: "Where do I go poop?"

Rich worked very had to clear all these paths.  I was stuck at work and could not help.  Spring can come now, PLEASE.  Unfortunately, we still have possibly two more months to get more snow.

UNCLE!!  We Submit!!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sumi, Snow and a Great Niece Turns One

Sumi is ready to fly free!  Now I just need to find the time, and also not be right in the middle of a polar vortex that is plunging the nighttime temps down below the -20s.  She comes immediately to a fist call, and is very much wed to the lure.  She is ready!

She is a beautiful bird who I hope I can get onto game before the season ends.

Chimera has been flown many times, but has a habit of flying great distances from where I am kicking up bunnies, which makes her miss them.  She returns to the lure, thankfully.  Maybe a little lower weight will keep her closer.

Over the weekend of January 25 - 27 I traveled down to Illinois to join my sisters to celebrate the first birthday of my great niece, Audrey Nora.  Her mamma, Erica, is here with us.  The party was a tea party themed event, which is why we are all wearing hats.

The Birthday Girl!

Of course she got her own cake to enjoy!

Happy Birthday Baby Larkin!

Erica had the help of all her aunts and friends to set up and then clean up.  It was a fun little party!

Grandma "Gigi" with Audrey, and the gift her Aunty (me) brought her.

Grandpa with his little "Nugget".

Later that evening, we girls got together for a Mexican Food dinner, complete with drinks.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Minnesota Falconers Mini-Meet and Out on Our Own

It was pretty good weather this weekend for the Minnesota Falconers Mini-Meet in Mankato.  I decided to go ahead and go meet up with some of the club members, and after breakfast did go out to kick brush with a very large crowd (I think just about everyone that showed up for the meet).  I brought Chimera along, but did not feel comfortable trying to fly such a new bird with so many people, not knowing how she would react to the crowd.  I also brought Sumi along just so everyone could admire her.  I have Brynn Johnson to thank for taking these two pictures, and giving me permission to use them.

Sumi has been side-lined for the last few weeks.  I felt there was something just not right with her, and her training.  She always seemed to be ravenous, and burned through her food so very quickly.  I took her up to the Raptor Center, thinking she may possibly have some internal parasites.  They did a workup on her, fecal, x-rays and blood work.  They did not find any indications of parasites in her mutes, but advised that it is possible she was not shedding any eggs.  She was placed on an anti-parasitic as well as a round of aspergillosis prophylaxis.  She finished her treatment on this past Friday.  She has also been getting rather large amounts of food, which seems to have done her some good.  They scored her body condition as a 2.  The scale runs from 1 to 5, with 1 being very bad.  Feeling her keel now, she has a bit more flesh on her, and her attitude is improved.  She is interested in food, motivated, but not acting like she is starving.

On Sunday morning we resumed her training.  I'm happy to see she responds to fist call just as easily as if we did not take this three-week break.  Lure response was also spot on!  She is currently about 110 grams heavier than when I took her to the Raptor Center.  I feel the decision to get some medical attention was a wise one.  I have some time off scheduled this following week.  My goal is to get her flying free in that time.  She needs to become a falconry bird, and start adding some food to the freezer.

After leaving the club gathering, I traveled back to the Rochester area.  I went scouting for a place to fly Chimera, finding a few brushy spots in Stewartville in an industrial park.  Chimera got several slips but did not seal the deal.  I am happy to see that whereas she sometimes is very aerial, flying high up into the trees and sometimes taking far flights, she loops back to return to be near me.  I have had her out on several unsuccessful hunts, but she has seen me kick up bunnies for her, so she is learning to stay close, or return to me, as a good falconry bird should.

Still having some daylight time, I took her to a field I have not visited in Rochester for a couple years.  Getting out of the car I noticed a pair of bald eagles in the distant trees, but didn't worry too much about it as normally eagles don't bother with hawks.  However, after releasing her and encouraging her to follow me into the field, both eagles moved toward her double-time, and made it very clear she was not welcome in that field.  The pair must have a nest somewhere.  Thankfully, Chimera came to the lure without question, and we called it a day.  I gave her a good meal but not a stuffed crop.

Sunday, after a nice relaxing morning I got my act together and took Chimera out.  Driving some of the back roads in my area I was looking for hunting opportunities in some of the private properties. Passing what looked like a good area, and noticing a gentleman working in the back lot, I pulled in and went to say hello.  Tom was more than happy to let me poke around in his brushy lot, following along to watch and help us out.  Chimera flew high and active and took off after several things, bunnies, maybe squirrels, but quickly brought bunny #3 to the bag, chasing it as I pushed it out of a wild cucumber vine choked overgrown wood pile and smacking it hard up against Tom's deck and hot tub.  After letting her fill her crop we took some pictures.  I hope Tom sends me a couple that we took on his cell phone if he'd like to be a part of the blog.  Thanks Tom for letting us fly on your land!  We'll come back sometime, maybe even before the end of the season.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Chimera and Squirrels - First Hunt for those Tree Rats

Recently Rich and I took Chimera to my favorite spot for introducing squirrels to a hawk.  We've pulled a few over the years from this location, and also the occasional bunny, but it truly is a testing ground for squirrels. 

As you can see from the video, which is a little long, she demonstrated that she most definitely will go after them.  We didn't catch one, but will keep trying and presenting her with opportunities.  After about a half hour in the field she left us to go self hunt, which made me a bit nervous as I saw the direction she flew off in, but once we made it down past the creek and back up the hill could neither find her nor hear her bells.  Thankfully, she is well wed to the lure and she returned when I called her. 

Good Bird!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

First of the New Year

Saturday January 5, 2019 was a clear, sunny, warm day for Minnesota. It got up into the low to mid 40s, which is very welcome for this time of the year.  I was just about to get myself out the door and go looking for some hawking opportunities, when Justin Johnson called me and wanted to know if I wanted to hawk with him.  Well, heck ya!

We met up together just off I90 as he was coming from Lewiston, and proceeded on to Rochester.  We went to his "new" hot spot, which after today I think may not rank so high, as since the last time I was there just a couple weeks ago, someone has come through and clear cut a lot of the brush.  It is not obvious why this was done, but for whatever reason, a large swath of the rabbitat is now gone.  That said, there were still some bunnies to get pushed around under a hawk.

I had flown Chimera the previous day.  She followed me very well, but the location I picked, which has usually been pretty good for rabbits, and has a lot of sign, simply did not give up a single slip.  They must be all underground.  A lot of this location was also under water, as the unseasonably warm days have melted the snow.  I was frustrated in not being able to reward her for her good following behavior.  On this day she was still a bit higher in weight than I would normally have flown her, but she greeted me when I went into the mew with a lot of enthusiasm and appeared to be excited to hunt, so I took her along.  I am glad I did.

She picked up right where she had left off the previous day, following very well.  We kicked up a few rabbits for her, and she was captivated immediately.  It did not take long for the perfect opportunity to be set up for her.  A bunny flushed and ran down along the building the brush is alongside, and cut left as the building ended.  Chimera was stooping from a very tall power pole.  I did not see the actual catch as it was around the corner, but "Woweeee" I heard it!!  She slammed that bunny so hard I almost felt the thunk of her impact.  Bunny did not squeak either, as she must have knocked the breath out of it.  She also lacerated it's belly, as some of the intestines were popping out.  I dispatched bunny, secured her, let her eat some, then picked her up, hooded her, and returned to the car to get Wyvern.  I'm not quite ready to try for doubles yet, and had a second bird to fly.

Wyvern was a perfect weight today.  I have been flying her several times, but her being kept in a heated mew, because she is a Harris Hawk living in Minnesota and has to be kept warm, her weight is not always ideal for hunting.  She is flying and makes efforts, but not great ones.  We have had many unsuccessful hunts in the last few weeks.  This location gave her several opportunities to be successful.

Her first catch was a vole.  Always, she is a prime mouser if she gets the chance.  She also knows to not let me approach her if she has a small prey item as I will take it away.  She wants to eat it, so will keep her distance to do that.  Now I just let her eat it.  After that first little meal, and after a few more dives into the grass, we kicked out a bunny that she chased.  Initially she followed it into thick cover and raked away from it, but it busted out of that cover heading to the parking lot by these same buildings mentioned above.  She got back into the game, which is a move I have seen her do several times and is very admirable for a hunting bird.  She overtook her bunny and slammed it in the middle of the parking lot.  Justin got around the corner first and said the bunny was dragging her along some.  It was actually a larger rabbit than the one Chimera caught.  I approached her carefully as I felt pretty sure she could possibly release the bunny when I made in to help her with it.  Sure enough, within inches from my grasp she relinquished the prey.  Fortunately, bunny was hurt pretty bad so could not run away, allowing me to recaptured it.

What followed was a silly demonstration I told Justin we were likely to be subjected to.  She flew up into a tree and proceeded to sulk.  I moved the rabbit out of the public view of the parking lot and back into the brush.  Dispatched and gutted, I offered her prize for her to come back and have a meal.  She remained stubbornly up the tree.  I put bunny away and told Justin that we would just walk back to the car. She would follow, which she did.  Thankfully, whether in a snit or not, she does come back to the car fairly reliably.  However, we only made it a part of the way back before Justin got a phone call and we stopped for him to talk on his cell.  I then offered Wyvern some of the bunny liver, tossed away from me.  She came down to snatch that up, and then was easily lured in with the whole rabbit laid out for her.  She got a crop full as I secured her jess to the leash. 

After returning to the car, and stopping by a local convenience store to wash my hands, we went to check out a different location that Justin has hunted.  We walked the field for just a short while with his two Jack Russell Terriers, Lucy and Ricky, working the grass and the brush.  A couple more bunnies were flushed, but his gos was just no longer in a prime hunting frame of mind, as she had already caught 5 other rabbits earlier before Justin had joined me.  So amazing!!  I don't even know what it would be like to catch so much game.  I really seriously want to get one of the puppies from his pair if they are successful breeding this year.  I really don't need another dog, but could use a good hawking dog.  Justin has assured me he will help me train one if I get one.

It was a great day for falconry, made even better by hawking with a friend!