Monday, November 30, 2009

This Past Week Mostly in Pictures

(Click on Pics to see them bigger)
This past week started out with Raul, Jonathan, and I heading out to the NAFA meet in Woodward.  We arrived there on Monday morning and got a quick flight with the Hybrid after hiking in the Gloss Mountains for an hour or so.  The flight was unsuccessful but the backdrop for it was great.  An hour later we arrived at the meet hotel and Raul did his talk on Aplomado Falcons in Falconry which was a huge hit.  Raul may be young but he is an excellent falconer and has a wealth of falconry knowledge from hawking in two countries and being exposed to the sport at a very high level.  The next day we made it out to watch Mitch Wishon fly his Gos then shot back to see Harris's Hawks being flown by Arkansas falconers.  Grabbed a bite to eat and then lead Jason Childress and some foreign falconers out for a duck flight with Jason's Hybrids.  The last part Raul really liked because he made a friend (see pic below).  I unfortunately lost my voice that day so that night I did a lot of listening, first to George Allen of the USFWS about the new regs that Oklahoma will be one of the first states to get and the Andrew Bullien about passage Peregrine take in the U.S, and then the rest of the night was spent listening to hawking stories from the day.  Wednesday we had to leave to get Raul back to the airport but before we left we went out one last time to see a Merlin flight.   One of the best I've seen.  This little female Merlin was in the air for probably 15 minutes and stated right above her falconer at about 300' the whole time!  Cool way to end the meet in my eyes.

After arriving back home I got a call from Brian Bradley, a New York falconer, who was looking to trap black Red-tails in Oklahoma and Kansas.  We chatted for a few minutes and he decided he would just come on down to Bartlesville for the morning and we would go and see what we could see.

Thanksgiving morning we first went out for a flight with my falcon.  He climbed really nice over a pond.  At about 1000' we flushed the ducks but they hugged the edge of the pond and my bird would not commit eventually ending with the ducks escaping upwind and a fly off.  After a few minutes we tracked him down and were off to look for black Red-tails.  At first we did not see any at the spots I usually see them but it didn't take long for that to change and we started seeing them all over.  I bet we saw 6 dark birds in an hour and a 1/2 but all that were trappable were haggard and the possible passage birds were a long ways from the road.  But we did see them and Brian left knowing that I actually can find dark birds.

Then it was time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my wife, daughters and brother-in-law, which was great.  I don't know how she does it but my wife makes the best turkey year after year.  We slept off our food coma that night and the next morning I spent cheering on my wife and Tari, my falconry friend Kent's wife, on in the Turkey Trot in Tulsa; both posted good times.  Got home loaded the birds, brother-in-law, and apprentice and hit the ponds.  Ending a long week with a duck in the bag.  We also took my brother-in-law trapping so that he could see what that was like, and I happened to trap a bird that on the inital glassing looked like a passage Krider's because of it's yellow eyes and I could not see the tail from my vantage point but once it was on the trap it was obvious that it was indeed a hag, but a beautiful bird none the less and we released it.

NAFA was a great time.  Most everyone that I have talked to who was out hawking caught game.  I've since heard of people not going to the NAFA meet because "there was not game" or "you had to drive all day to find game" but then those same people wrote about how they went to other places and drove 45 minutes here or an hour there to find game anyway.  I think the Oklahoma meet went great and not just because I live here.  Good times, good accomadations, good people and good falconry.  Not to mention the non-resisdent hunting license for the week was cheap compared to most states!  You can beat that!  I definitely had a great time and I can't wait for next year!

Lastly, today is finally the final day of Movember, and I can finally shave off this goofy mustache.  Thanks to all who donated on-line or sent me a check!  (I wish I was really as young as I look)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quick Post

The past 4 days we've knocked ducks to the ground but hadn't finished the job until today.  My good friend and great falconer Raul is in town visiting for our annual hawking before Thanksgiving and we will be heading out to the NAFA meet tomorrow where he will be doing a talk on falconry with Aplomado Falcons.  We've had a pretty good time with hawking the past couple of days.  Yesterday we went out with local falconer, Scott, and knocked down a Widgeon with a beautiful nice tight stoop, but must have slightly missed the "button" because that duck got his facilities back and scrambled back into the air leaving my hybrid tearing up a cow patty.

With light fading fast we got Scott's Gyr x Peregrine, Bullseye, in the air over a pond holding a single Gadwall.  After taking a nice pitch and long stoop the duck was pummeled to the ground but did make it back to the pond on the wing over.  After remounting the duck was reflushed and in the bag just as the sun set.

This morning Tulsa was right on weight so we went out to give it another try with my apprentice Daniel in tow.  Again my falcon was climbing well and for the first time shifted his mount over the pond instead of over me.  At 700' or so we flushed a group of Gadwalls off the pond and the bird quickly put one on the ground.  As he pulled up for the wing over the duck made a break for it and was knocked down again but not out and it slipped the final three feet to safety of the water.

Tulsa quickly remounted to a decent pitch and I guess he was tired of not finishing off ducks because this time he really put it on a drake Gadwall that had no chance of getting back to the water.  Lucky for Daniel he was standing not 20 feet from where the final impact was made and he got a front row seat for the action.

I gave the falcon a full crop of warm duck and off to
home to finish packing to head to Woodward tomorrow.

Raul and I

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


1000+!  Except I'm not talking about a falcon's pitch.  This blog has been viewed 1000+ times since its inception last year.  Now I know that is a piddlely amount, and "real" blogs get that every minute, but I'm surprised that any have come this way.  Thanks to all who are interested enough in what I've got going on falconrywise.  I started this mostly for me to have a kind of online journal for myself with no intention of ever having 1000 hits, let alone from 34 different countries!  I guess I should probably stick to the topic at hand....

The past couple of days, Texas (Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, Idaho, New Mexico, South Africa, etc., etc., etc...) falconer Therese stopped in to see if we could get a duck flight for her little tiercel Anatum Peregrine, Cal. Therese has been transient lately going back and forth between schools in Texas and Illinois and it appears that wherever she goes the ducks head the opposite way.  Since she has been passing through here anyway I offered up some of our northeastern Oklahoma waterfowl.

It didn't take long for us to find the first pond with ducks on it, about 1/2 dozen Green Wing Teal, just the thing for a small Peregrine.  We quickly came up with our flushing strategy and Cal was in the air.  Teal are know to hug the edge of the pond on the flush and quickly put back in the water with or without pressure from a falcon.  So when Cal missed the initial flush I was confident they would quickly return to the pond and we would get a reflush.  But as nature likes to do, I was made to look like a idiot.  The Teal flushed and flew straight away over the horizon never to be seen again, at least by us that day.  So Cal was called down and off we went to the next spot.

After checking a few more ponds down the road, we had another shot.  This time for my Hybrid.  There was a raft of about 15 Ringnecked Ducks lazily floating along on a long skinny pond a mile or so south of where we had just flown Therese's bird.  I already had Tulsa ready to go so I jumped out of the truck and turned him loose.  He was climbing really well when at about 600' feet I see him shift his attention.  Looking over at Therese I commented "oh great he sees something."  And sure enough he folds into a nice stoop at some unforeseen prey item off in the the distance.  Almost right away he come back up over the tree line and was stooped by what appeared to be a Prairie Falcon from my distant vantatage point.  They seemed to dogfight for a minute or two and finally it appeared that my bird was heading back my way to get serious about the task at hand.  But, that was not his intention and off he went in the opposite direction of where I was set up to flush.  After monitoring his progress for about 10 minutes by telemetry signal it was finally time to track him down.  This lead us about 5 miles east and then north to find him balling up a merl of Blackbirds.  Out comes the lure, down comes the bird, and its, again, off to the next spot.

After making a quick run back to the house, we went back out in the field to see if our luck would improve.  I flew the Jerkin for several passes to the lure to have him finished for the day.  Then decided to go back to the last pond where my bird had flown off just an hour before.  Sure enough, the Ringbills were still there and we decided to give my Hybrid a second chance.

This time he was locked onto me (probably because I flashed a pigeon at him) and started to climb.  His flaps were nowhere near as strong as earlier though, and it was starting to drizzle a bit, seemingly effecting his flight.  At several hundred feet the little ducks couldn't resist the urge to make a break for it.   This broke Tulsa's fixation on me and after a quick bank and short stoop, he clipped one of the Ringbills out of the sky.  It was a strange impact though; I could hear it clear as a train wreck from across the pond but it didn't appear that he had made contact.  A thought that was reinforced by the fact that the falcon pitched up off the blow to the duck and slowly parachuted to the ground with zero urgency.  I was half expecting to find him sitting on a cow turd, as can happen when a young bird thinks he injured something worse than he really did.  But as I got closer to him on the ground I found that he did indeed have a drake Ringbill in his feet and it was severely severed down its neck.  It was a fairly clean cut so it mostly likely happen on the initial impact and would explain why the falcon had little urgency coming down to his terminally crippled prey.

We finished the morning by driving another hour and a half to only find one more pond with ducks on it and it was surrounded by wild cattle.  On the plus side though, duck #3 in the bag, my bird flew 2x on one day without major problems, and we did get a flight for Therese.  A couple of more kills and it will be time to start focusing a bit more on pitch again and introduce the third element that I love about falconry....
My dog BEP, the duck busting Weimaraner.... Coming Soon....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Specn' Out and Other Stuff

I had a couple more days of the Hybrid pulling feathers and knocking ducks down but nothing he held onto.  Today the weather changed and we had a real cold snap.  This morning the thermomator read 39 degrees but the wind made it feel colder.  We went through the normal routine and got the bird in the air while I began to approach the pond.  I saw my bird climbing into the wind and shifted my attention to the water making sure the ducks didn't flush early.  I had only taken my gaze off the falcon for a minute or so and when I looked to find his position before the flush and I could not find him in the sky.  Now I'm getting mad, here is the perfect set-up and this bird flies off on me.  So I get out the reciever to get his location and I have a equal signal all the way around me.  Automatically, I point the yagi up and the needle starts banging!  "So he didnt fly off he is just above me."  Now I'm looking all over straight up and just cannot find this guy.

Out come the binoculars.  I'm still looking all over above me and finally I think I see some movement as I'm scanning through the binos.  I lock on to the movement and it sure enough is my bird, but he's just barely even a wiggly spot up there.  I've kited birds at 2000' and I could still see them with my naked eye but this bird was almost out of sight through binoculars!  Definitely the highest one of my birds as ever gone.  So I make in for the flush.  The ducks leave the water cleanly and pretty soon I see the feathered missle hurtleing down, but by the time I see the falcon so had the ducks and they turned back to the pond just in time for the falcon to pull feathers out of a hen Mallard as she crash landed safely back into the water.  When the falcon turned to regain pitch the Mallards high tailed it out of there and quickly burned my bird into the wind.  He remounted as he came back overhead and there were still 1/2 dozen teal on the water. So I waited for him to be in position and flushed the teal, to which he didn't even dip a wing.  This is about the 3rd time he has refused to stoop teal, seems a little odd to me.  Called him down to the lure and he wasn't even breathing hard.  It was pretty amazing to have a bird dissappear in the sky that high up but really it was too much to effectively hunt ducks.   Guess I'm gonna have to rein him in a bit, never thought I'd have to say that with a falcon.

I also have been flying my jerkin again for the past few days.  He is still pretty weak after being in the mews for most of the summer and fall (I did fly him for a couple of weeks a month or two ago but it was just too hot).  I'll have him on the kite later this week and hopefully hunting a couple of weeks after the NAFA meet.

Jerkin on lure

Also my former apprentice, Kent made a pretty nice video from the Oklahoma Falconers Association's Field Meet last month.  It was held in Woodward (the location of the NAFA meet next week) and in conjunction with the Woodward outdoor expo.  I was not able to be there but I heard it was a good time.  Enjoy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From Bad, to Worse, to Awesome!

As predicted the past several days have resulted in fly-offs.  Tulsa (the bird has been named now and his band # ends in 918, Tulsa's area code) has been flying well but he is a baby as far as hunting goes.  I got him at the end of last season after my previous Hybrid died.  He was hatched last summer and was the only bird not sold from Steve Sherrod's breeding project.  Basically the bird had lived in a huge flight chamber untrained from fledging till the end of January when I acquired him.  The interesting thing to me about this particular bird is that his mother is an anatum Peregrine who was taken from an eyrie in Wyoming as an eyas.  So her parents had survived natural selection and, at least the Peregrine, genes that this bird possesses have not been diluted by captive breeding.  So I got him at the end of the season last year, flew him to the kite for 2 weeks, tossed him a Pigeon or two and put him up for the molt, which he only completed half of, and we got a fresh start this year with no real hunting experience.

Now that we are back up to speed, Tulsa caught his first duck last weekend and has been doing the typical baby stuff.  He flies well, mounts nicely, but has been missing the initial stoop and chasing the ducks to the horizon over the past few days.  Baby birds have to make baby bird mistakes, so I guess I have to be grateful for the telemetry refresher course and the exercise these fly-offs provide.

That brings us to today.  This morning I found 3 gadwalls on a nice small farm pond, the perfect set up for duck #2.  After the usual prep, the bird was in the air, but not showing any sign of flying seriously.  Basically, no pitch and flying with baby flaps and fanned tail.  A bit put off by this, I decided to make this a learning opportunity for the bird and flushed the ducks with the falcon way out of position.  This worked well, after a quick chase, Tulsa realized that he was fully burned by the ducks and was flying back my way.  Being that he had hardly flown I decided I was just gonna walk the field and let him fly for a bit before I called him down.  This seemed to motivate him to get in gear and climb he did.  If fact I have not seem him that high without the kite above.  I would feel confident in estimating that he was 1200' high if not higher, this coming from several years experience with seeing birds flying the kite.  He stayed directly above me while gaining altitude so I decided on a whim to head on walking toward a pond down the road that I have only seen ducks on one time in the past three years.  With the bird just a tiny spec in the sky, I jogged over to the pond without expectations and low and behold no less than 20 ducks had been hugging the bank of the pond closest to me!  A quick yell and the ducks took to the sky.  Three Mallards and a bunch miscellaneous came off the water, but I was watching the bird so I didn't get much time to id the rest.  Then came one of the top 10 stoops I have seen in my life.

Down came the falcon completely tucked into a falling cigar position, not 10 degrees out from a perfectly vertical stoop, pouring on the speed.  Without being a very experienced bird this could have ended badly had he hit the duck full on, but he wisely pulled out of stoop early and grabbed a hen Mallard, who had broken from the flock, squarely in the rear hauling her to the ground.  Not the prettiest ending to a fantastic stoop but effective just the same.  With time his aim and confidence will improve and I expect hard hits in the future.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Yesterday was the first day of the duck season in eastern Oklahoma, my new Hybrid caught the first duck of the year, and it was this bird's first duck ever.  After coaxing from my apprentice and another falconer friend I decided to fly even though I wasn't expecting much.  It wasn't a text book flight or ideal flying conditions with high winds and upper 60's but worked out all the same.

After bumping a duck off the first pond we checked by accident, things were not looking good as we scouted the next 1/2 dozen ponds.  We finally did find a group of Mallards and Gadwalls on the last pond we checked.  I figured what the hell, if nothing else I'll have the bird flown and we can move on to other things.  So after checking telemetry, the bird was unhooded and he was off.  He began to climb as he has now been brainwashed to do from weeks of flying up 1500' feet to the bait underneath the kite.  The bird was several hundred yards down wind and climbing when the ducks flushed before we had even pressured them.  The falcon had climbed maybe 500', if I'm being generous, at this point and turned into the wind with a long drawn out stoop.  From our angle the bird didn't even appear to be losing altitude.  But it was obvious that he was when the ducks turned cross wind facing the sun.  In the final seconds the drawn out stoop turned into a full on stoop and a drake Gadwall was the target.  The impact resulted in a power-bind and both birds plummeted out of the sky.  With the warm weather, high winds, inexperienced bird, fairly large pond, ducks flushing with the falcon out of position, and low pitch I naturally thought that the flight was a bust, but my brain only lagged a little before I was sprinting across the dam wall of the pond to assist my bird with the largest thing he had ever caught.

Gyr/Peregrine Hybrids are mutant superfalcons, there is no way that should have ended in a catch.  All the same, duck #1 in the bag.  Off to a good start, but this is a baby bird and I foresee several days of a falcon stooping ducks that are still on the water.  Gotta start somewhere...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bird ID?

While patiently waiting for the duck season to open in my part of Oklahoma I have done a little trapping to help pass the time.  This past weekend I came across a very dark colored bird on a power pole just east of where I was working in Woodward that I assumed was a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk.   After bumping the bird I saw that it did not have a red tail and it just so happened that I had a trap in my truck.  After some scrambling to get it everything together, I managed to trap this bird.  Definitely a dark, dark bird but I was puzzled by this bird's markings.  It didnt really fit what I would call a dark morph Red-tail, or a Harlan's, or a dark morph Swainson's Hawk, but I had narrowed it down to these three birds.

 The bird was Red-tail shaped and was an adult, but it lacked the any amount of red on it's tail tail, thus eliminating the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk from my options.  It also lacked the rufous coloring under its wings, lacked the light undertail coverts, the tail was too long, and it was very late in the year for it to be a dark morph Swainsons, but I hadn't ruled this species out at this point.  In fact I was still leaning toward it.  I didn't think that it was a Harlan's either, because of the multiple bars on it's tail and the lack of any white speckling on the bird's breast.  So in the end I took some pictures of the bird and released it back out on it's merry way.

Upon further review with some very experienced biologists at the Sutton Center, we found the answer in the book "A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors," by Brian Wheeler and William Clark.  On page 87, bottom right corner, there is a photo matching the bird that I trapped.  An adult Harlan's Hawk, that just so happens to lack the white breast coloring and also has a matching wide sub-terminal band.  The weekend mystery has been solved.  An awesome looking bird and a great experience, too bad it wasn't a passage hawk....