Thursday, May 20, 2021

Full Circle


In 2015 I coordinated a trip to just West of Corpus Christi with the purpose of trapping a Texas Harris Hawk. The quest was successful, and Wyvern entered my life. She has been a good game hawk, and we have slayed many Minnesota bunnies, and a few squirrels, although I stopped focusing on the tree rats with her after she lost a toe to an injury from one of her encounters. 

Wyvern has always been a bit aloof. She really does not like to be handled on the fist. I got her comfortable with a T-perch, but over the last 6 seasons her stand-offishness has only become worse. I'm sure the fault lay with me. If I cranked down her weight I would probably have gotten better field control. The last couple seasons have been a bit stressful after each hunt, wondering if she would come back to the car, the lure, to me, to whatever had been caught. In her own way, she was communicating that she really was just DONE with this whole falconry thing. Returning her home became a realization, a goal of something that I should do for her. However, returning her to where her species is native is far more of an undertaking than just releasing a red tail. I can't just toss her out the front door with a map, and tell her to fly South. I would have to take her home.

Over the last few years I have become increasingly fond of the Corpus Christi area. I don't know if my life's path will ever make it possible for me to live there, but I am pulled to vacation there frequently.  This last October  Rich and I had a wonderful little stay. It was filled with all the kinds of activities that I so very much enjoy on an adventure: beach, bird watching, food. On our journey while out looking for migrating hawks, we found the Hazel Bazemore County Park. It spoke to me! I had found the home that Wyvern should be returned to. All the requirements to get her there would entail a big dump of money. It was the least I could do in thanks for the years I have enjoyed her as a falconry bird. It was now time to let her have her own wild life back.

I contacted all the necessary authorities to ensure her release would be legal. Texas did not care that I brought her and released her, as long as she was healthy. Minnesota didn't care as long as what I was doing was OK with Texas. She had a final visit with the Raptor Center to secure a health certificate needed to travel across state lines, and to ensure she was healthy per Texas' requirements. She was! She has started her molt, so looks just a little rough, but otherwise is way over hunting weight. I ensured in the months up to this release date that she had reserves of body fat to sustain her as she regains her wild life.   

As when she was trapped, it was a road trip, because transporting a bird through the airlines is just more trouble than I want to navigate. I rented a car, not wanting to put all these miles on my own, now just paid off vehicle. Rich was the primary driver. We hit the road a couple hours after I got off from working. I snoozed through the drive across Wisconsin and into Illinois. We dropped Gryphon off for a week stay at Darla's DD Birdranch. It was then a quick one-hour drive to stop by my niece's home in Bloomington to deliver some auction treasures Rich has scored recently, then back on the road, with a goal to arrive at my sister Jennefer's new home in Missouri. We would roll in around 3 am.

The bed she made for us was super comfortable. We caught up over coffee and then breakfast the next morning before getting back on the road. This second day of driving would also see us arriving at our destination very late. I had coordinated a series of AirBNB reservations. The first night just outside of where Wyvern would be released was absolutely the best. It is a nice Texas ranch. We arrived at 4 am, and mostly slept the remainder of our hours booked there.  I really will keep this in mind for any future visits. It offered some nice last day pictures with Wyvern.

The morning of Wyvern's freedom dawned quite stormy. I had planned to pick up a picnic brunch at a Mexican restaurant just outside the entrance to the park. While waiting for our order to be made it started to downpour outside. Our picnic brunch became a sit down brunch. By the time we were done eating it had mostly stopped, but I still got rather wet in all the puddles on the way back to the car.  At the park we waited, and within a half hour, the clouds parted, and a beautiful Texas day ensued. We took the paved drive around the park, but settled with the observation deck, used as a Hawk Watch site. There were no other people in attendance, so it was the perfect location.

Rich recorded the event with the GoPro, as well as took pictures with his camera. I started to remove her equipment, beginning with her Federal marker, while she sat of my fist, but cast her in my hand for removal of anklets, jesses and hood, as I did not want to risk her bating away before being fully freed of her equipment. At this point, this girl would not come to me for food or loyalty. I had not handled her much in the previous two months, and she was already returned to her wild nature, just waiting to be returned to her wild location. Upon being freed, she flitted over to the railing, and then spent several minutes just looking around. Her vista was stunning. So was she! A little bedraggled from being in molt, but still a very pretty girl. Now she was a free girl, her own mistress.

Almost immediately, a pair of mockingbirds took notice and had issue with the arrival of this hawk. They probably had a nest nearby.  They would continue to harass her as she moved from deck rail, to deck awning, to tree behind the deck, to tree in the golf course behind, then sky beyond.

Our final site of her was as she winged above the golf course, catching a thermal, with mockingbird in tow.

Be Free Beautiful Girl!  Thank You for all the fun hunts, and sharing your first years with me, albeit perhaps not by your willing participation. Reclaim now your wild life. Prosper under the Texas sunshine. Go find a place to call your own.

Our task in Texas complete, Rich and I moved on down the road to enjoy our road trip.  He had spotted a sign and wanted to pose for a picture on the Texas "Highway to Hell".  All his friends on Facebook joined in his sense of humor.

Because we were in the area, I wanted to see the beach, but also because I had already shown Rich North Padre Island on previous visits, we took the two hours and drove down to South Padre Island.  We won't do that again.  I had grown up with relatives in the far South Texas area. Going to the beach in South Padre Island was something very much looked forward to as a child. I found it to be very commercial and crowded. I have come to enjoy better the undeveloped North Padre Island, and any future visits will be there. We only stayed on the beach for an hour before leaving. I even opted to skip the fish meal I had hoped to score while on the island. Nothing looked authentic enough, so we picked something to eat closer to our AirBNB.

The next morning, being in South Texas, I wanted to try to see a Green Jay. They are like Blue Jays, only tropical, and can only be seen in South Texas.  A search of the Internet found the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge right on the border. The Internet listing describes it as: "Strategically located where subtropical climate, gulf coast, great plains and Chihuahuan desert meet. Here, next to the Rio Grande, you will find Sabal palms growing alongside prickly pear cactus." At this particular location the border would only be crossed by traversing a tangle of marshy swamps. We walked a couple trails, but would not go swimming or mud mucking, as there were many of those puddles to avoid. We heard many birds, many that I do not know the call for. It was not until we worked our way back to the refuge headquarters that we met up with some people sitting next to a feeding station. Here we would volunteer some oranges we had in our car, and wait about an hour until the star species would show up. We did get a very good look at them, just not fantastic pictures. Still, Rich did catch one to prove we saw them.

We also saw several Great Kiskadees.

I think this is a flycatcher of some kind, or kingbird, but I simply cannot identify with certainty. Perhaps a female hooded oriole. We saw other male orioles in the area. It almost glowed orange in the sunlight. In fact, doing a bit more searching to make this posting, now I am leaning pretty heavily on it being that female hooded oriole. The range is right. The size is right. 

A Plain Chachalaca crossed our path while we were walking the trails. 

At our AirBNB there in South Texas Rich caught a stationary picture of a Mockingbird. They really are nice birds, if not annoying to their neighbors. At one of the rest stops on our journey, late at night, I heard one singing, which they will do during nesting season, ALL NIGHT LONG.

We finished up our South Texas trip by grabbing some fresh tamales from an authentic tamale store for our lunch and taking some frozen ones home. I wanted to get out of the area as soon as possible, a mile from the border, in my rental car, as a preponderance of the billboards were advertising lawyer sharks looking for business from car accidents.

Our destination after South Texas was a final AirBNB at a little town just outside of Killeen/Belton, Texas, where I was born, a loooooong time ago. The following morning was my birthday, and I thought it humorous to go and take my picture at the courthouse to Bell County. Somewhere in the basement of this building my birth certificate may be located.  

It was a quick trip, but I am happy that I made and executed this decision on behalf of my bird. We take responsibility for them when we trap them from the wild, to care for them, to provide them with a good life, an interesting life filled with hunting. But sometimes the day comes to return them to Nature.  

She is in Mother Nature's hands now!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Post Bulletin Article

Anna's Apprentice Feature by Post Bulletin

I am not sure how long this video will be accessible, but for now, here it is.

Anna (and I) were the subject of a Lifestyle focus article by one of our local newspapers, the Post Bulletin. The video is quite nice!

Friday, January 22, 2021

What's Anna Up to?

Anna has a really fine hunting partner this year!  Her bird, Minokawa (Mino for short) only needed about two free flights before she caught on to what we were doing. The picture above is her first bunny catch, which she did in fine style and quickly that day.

On a different day she showed us that she knows what to do with squirrels.

For Anna's birthday, we went out trapping, as that is something we both enjoy doing together. We saw no juvie birds, but this adult came to our trap. She was a very pretty bird, held by a very pretty young lady.  Hawk was quickly released.

At one of my favorite hunting spots for new birds she caught bunny #2.

As the snow came in she has taken bunny #3.  Way to go Mino!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Hot Tamale required Mucho Dinero

This is going to be a rather technical and possibly tedious blog entry, but I think overall useful to include here.

Falconry can be seen as very glamorous, but it can also have its share of heartaches and disappointments. The incredible highs are all too often balanced with devastating lows. At the time I'm putting this finally in order and publishing it still remains to be seen if I have a falconry bird on my hands.  At least, I believe with the help of an excellent vet at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center (UMRC), we saved his life.

Shortly after trapping my little hawk for this season, who I named Tamale, and settling with what I could find as the trapping potentials were few and far between, I noticed something was just not right about him.  Sure, he was under weight at just 800 grams off the trap. As I have been working with him through this illness, and started back his training after, I have determined his approximate hunting weight is about 960 grams. We are usually shaving weight as we train, but I had to start our relationship by feeding him up.  Still, something just didn't seem right, and then there was some blood in his mutes.  I got him in to be seen by a veterinarian at UMRC where it was determined that he most likely had Aspergillosis.  This is a devastating fungal disease for birds, usually fatal. I lost my second hawk way back in 2004 to its ravages.  With this in mind, treatment was started with hopes he could be saved. 

11/2/2020 Initial visit medical notes

Interpretation: Tracheal culture on Sab-Dex plate: Results pending. Fecal: No parasites seen, clostridium overgrowth 2+. CBC: Mildly elevated total solids at 4.0 g/dL. Moderate-severe leukocytosis at 62,750 characterized by a heterophilia and monocytosis with normal morphology, low level leucocytozoon infection, 2+ anisocytosis. Rads: VD and lateral whole body radiographs available for review, adequate positioning and technique. On the VD radiograph there is severe increase in soft tissue opacity in the lung and air sac fields; the left side is almost completely filled with increased soft tissue opacity where there should be air opacity with very little to no air opacity visible; the right side has moderate patchy increase in soft tissue opacity in the right lung fields and extending to the area of the R caudal thoracic air sac. On the lateral radiograph there is diffuse increase in soft tissue opacity overlying the proventriculus and liver in the caudal thoracic air sac and increase soft tissue opacity dorsal to the heart base in the cranial thoracic air sac. No musculoskeletal abnormalities noted.

Describe: Severe lower respiratory tract disease, likely aspergillosis - increased respiratory rate and effort, inspiratory wheeze, radiographic abnormalities, leukocytosis characterized by a heterophilia and monocytosis. Other differentials include other fungal pneumonia vs. bacterial pneumonia vs. viral vs. neoplasia vs. other. Clostridium overgrowth, loose fecal output, one episode of frank blood in mutes - possible GI parasite infection, no eggs seen on todays fecal float, does have bacterial imbalance, will treat later with metronidazole if needed and deal with aspergillosis infection first, as this is not the birds most pressing medical problem. Thin body condition - improving.

Specify: Meloxicam 2 mg/kg PO BID for 14 days then as directed (7.5mg tablet, 1/4 tablet) - anti-inflammatory to decrease inflammation associated with aspergillosis infection. Voriconazole (50 mg tablet, 1/4 tablet) 14.5 mg/kg PO BID for at least 14 days (likely 21 days) then as directed - anti-fungal medication to treat suspected aspergillosis. Enrofloxacin (22.7mg tablets, 1/2 tablet) 13 mg/kg PO SID for 21 days - antibiotic to cover for possible secondary bacterial pneumonia given severity of respiratory disease

Client communication: Discussed exam findings and results as outlined above. Bird is more sick than he appears externally and has a pretty advanced case of respiratory disease, likely respiratory aspergillosis. Unsure if the bird will survive or not. Have had birds at this stage respond well to medications and recover, and have had some birds get worse with treatment and either die or elect euthanasia. Guarded prognosis. Will need to monitor closely and see how he responds to treatment. Offered hospitalization and told client that would be the ideal treatment if possible - hospitalize for intensive care and oxygen support - quoted ~$50 per day and 3-5 day hospital stay to start treatment. Since bird is still eating could try treatment at home as well with close monitoring. Client declines hospitalization and elects to treat at home. Recommend recheck exam in about 2 weeks if doing well at home to see how his bloodwork and x-rays are improving with treatment to help direct the duration of treatment. If discontinue the voriconazole too early risk the infection coming back. Monitor closely at home - if respiratory rate or effort worsens, bird stops eating, or other abnormalities noted contact TRC - might require hospitalization. Discussed that bird has a bacterial imbalance in GIT but will treat primary problem first and sometimes the GI signs will sort themselves out after the systemic disease is treated. Can address later if does not resolve and if bird responds to treatment

I know this image is hard to read if you have no skill at x-rays, and even if you do it can still be difficult. This is filmed with the bird anesthetized and laying on his back. Mostly, just note that in the middle and to the side on the left as we see it is a darker area. This is lung above and air sac below (birds have many air sacs throughout their body). Open air space on an x-ray is dark. Note on the right there is NO DARK SPACE. His entire left lung and air sac is opaque. He was a very sick boy! However, other than getting out of breath easy, he was not showing it. I elected to begin treatment at home, fully prepared that he could get worse and die. He began anti-fungal treatment, the most important drug, as well as an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic in case of opportunistic infections.  He did well for the two weeks. I even mixed up a 3% saline solution and gave him breathing treatments like I would do for my human patients. He did well and was seen in follow-up in two weeks.

11/16/2020 Follow-up:

 Interpretation: CBC- Improved. WBC count is now WNL with a normal differential and normal total solids. Within reference interval for the species. Radiographs- VD and lateral whole body radiographs available for review. Adequate positioning and technique. Bird has gained weight since first set of radiographs so intra-coelomic fat stores and increase overlying musculature make interpretation of the coelomic cavity and comparison to images obtained on 11/2/2020 a little more challenging. BCS 3.5/5 - improved from previous. Static increased bone opacity within the medullary cavity of the right humerus compared to the left - same as previous radiographs. Respiratory tract on the VD radiograph is still abnormal but has improved - increased soft tissue opacity in the right caudal lung fields has improved compared to previous, now minimal mild residual increase soft tissue opacity in that area on today's rads; the severe diffuse increase in soft tissue opacity in the left lung and air sac fields has improved but is still moderate-severely increased, there is more air space visible than previous both cranial and caudal but is still moderately increased soft tissue opacity on the entire left side of the coelomic cavity including all lungs and air sac fields. On the lateral radiograph there is significant increase in soft tissue within the coelomic cavity caudally compared to previous images - likely intracoelomic fat. The poor serosal detail and increased soft tissue opacity overlying the heart base and overlying the upper GIT and liver has improved - the heart base appears relatively normal now. Still some air sac lines visible overlying the proventriculus on the lateral radiograph. No other abnormalities noted.

Describe: Severe lower respiratory tract disease, likely aspergillosis - Improving with treatment. On 11/2/2020 resting respiratory rate was 60 b/min, today was 28 b/min; on 11/2/2020 auscultation was abnormal both awake and under anesthesia, today auscultated normally under anesthesia; CBC has returned to normal; radiographs have improved but are still abnormal and still have evidence of moderate persistence lower respiratory tract disease. Bird still has increased respiratory rate and effort and wheezes when stressed. Other differentials include other fungal pneumonia vs. bacterial pneumonia vs. viral vs. neoplasia vs. other. Clostridium overgrowth, loose fecal output, one episode of frank blood in mutes - Normal mutes in giant hood today, no additional blood in mutes reported. Did not repeat fecal cytology today. Thin body condition - resolved

Specify: Complete 21 day course of enrofloxacin as previously prescribed (21 days total). Decrease meloxicam to 2 mg/kg PO SID until gone (10 more days). Continue voriconazole (50mg tablets, 1/4 tablet, 12.5mg) 12.5 mg/kg PO BID until further notice. Recommend recheck radiographs in 3 weeks. Recommend continuing BID voriconazole until bird no longer has increased respiratory effort/wheezing with stress and/or until radiographs return to normal, or until radiographs do not show any signs of active respiratory disease. In general, the recommendation for treating respiratory infections is to continue antibiotics/antifungals until 2 weeks past normal radiographs and/or past resolution of clinical signs. Bird may have permanent respiratory abnormalities on radiographs if walls off an area and makes a chronic granuloma. 

Client communication: Relayed information outlined above. Emailed client a copy of the record and radiographs (client is a respiratory therapist). Discussed that the bird may have chronic physical limitations due to scaring of the respiratory tract due to the severity of the respiratory illness. Given species and hunting style less of a concern than it would be for a bird like a peregrine or gyrfalcon. Will need to monitor progress and see how he responds to gradually introducing physical activity when the respiratory disease is resolved.   

As you may notice, there is some darkening of the left lung (on the right as we look at it), which is improvement, but still opaque, so not out of the woods yet. The medication for the inflammation was completed. He would continue to receive an antibiotic, and of most importance, the antifungal treatment was ongoing.

12/8/2020 Three Weeks and Two Days:

Interpretation: Rads- VD and lateral whole body radiographs, adequate positioning and technique. Significant improvement in respiratory tract compared to 11/2, and continued improvement when compared to 11/17 rads. On the VD radiograph the right lung and air sac fields have returned to normal (On 11/17 there was still mild diffuse increase in soft tissue opacity in the right lung fields on the VD radiograph). There is a soft tissue opaque mass effect present at the cardio-hepatic waist on the left side - appears to be consolidation and granuloma formation from the previous large, severe increased soft tissue opacity in this area. Significant improvement from 11/17 radiographs on the left side on the VD view - significant decrease in soft tissue opacity in the left lung fields, consolidation of the soft tissue mass effect in the region of the cardiohepatic waist, and decrease in soft tissue opacity in the right abdominal air sacs. The lateral view is now WNL - the mild air sac lines that were present on 11/17 have resolved and there is normal serosal detail overlying the heart base, lung fields are WNL on lateral rad today.

Describe: Severe lower respiratory tract disease, likely aspergillosis - significant improvement with treatment. Bird has a normal RR/RE at rest, and auscultates normally under general anesthesia; still has mild respiratory wheeze when exerts himself; radiographs have significantly improved compared to previous.

Specify: Decrease voriconazole to 12.5 mg PO SID (by mouth once daily) for 3-4 more weeks. At the end of this week, start gradually introducing exercise and monitor the birds response. As his cardiovascular and respiratory capacity gradually improves with exercise (meaning he is less winded with the same amount of exercise he did a few days prior), then gradually increase the intensity of exercise over a period of 3-4 weeks. Send DFK an update on clinical status at about 2.5-3 weeks; depending how bird is doing clinically with exercise and how quickly his respiratory endurance has improved will help direct how long to continue the once daily voriconazole to ensure that fungal pneumonia/aspergillosis airsaculitis is fully resolved prior to Next diagnostics discontinuing. : As long as bird continues to do well clinically, no recheck.

His final x-ray shows a good dark outline of both lungs. His doctor did indicate he has an area of most likely what is called granuloma, or essentially scarring in his lung. She outlined it below, which is good as I would not have noticed the difference. Because his species are ambush hunters, usually attacking from a sitting perch, and not so much on the wing like a falcon would hunt, this possibly permanent lung damage may not impact his ability to find food.  

It remains to be seen if he will hunt for me under falconry conditions. My little Tamale cost me Mucho Dinero. Hopefully his care will pan out for us both.

Above is one of his training sessions just prior to us reaching a good hunt weight. There is still some hesitation, but you can see he can fly just fine. He gets pretty excited when he sees the lure, just didn't fly in right away. Since this video was shot we've made progress.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Getting Hot as it is Getting Colder

On Thursday, November 12, Rich was able to join us for a hunt. He's my more advanced camera guy, and wears the GoPro for video capture. Many of our hunts he's not been with us, and I have enough on my plate to keep track of the hawk, so I don't wear the GoPro. Then, a lot of the time the action happens out of view.  Well, today we had a front row seat to the action.

We visited a farm in our area, the owners having allowed us to hunt there these last many years. There used to be a huge brushy junk pile just behind me in the picture below, but that is gone, gone, gone!! The family did some clean up over the summer.  The rabbits have moved off into the woods behind the house.  We managed to find one of them and kick it out. Wyvern make quick work of the situation.  Again, my silly girl does not allow me to move in quick to help her with her kill, so I just stood back and let her deal with the bunny. When I did slowly move to catch the bunny, she let go and flew up into the tree.  With some coaxing I was able to encourage her to come back for a meal.

It's a strange quirk this bird has. I just try to work around her quirk. The weather is starting to get colder, but Wyvern is doing well. We'll keep making efforts as long as it stays above 30 degrees.  Today was #4 for the year. All my hawks will have fresh bunny on the menu over the weekend.