Sunday, January 31, 2010

Full day of Hawking

With my mother-in-law in town, my wife had help with the kids and I managed to get a full day of hawking in with my friends.  Kent arrived at my house first and we took the Kestrel out for a spin.  Unfortunately we got 10" of snow the night before and it was hard to find starlings on the ground.  We did end up with one good slip though.  Gizmo (yes I know its probably the most common Shih-Tzu name in the world, but do those kill stuff?) shot out the window without even thinking and just missed as the starling ducked down into the snow.  So the K-bird and I finally got skunked.  

About this time, Scott, Daniel, and Jonathan were pulling into Bartlesville and off to the bunny fields we went for some dirt snow hawking.  Kent's young Harris' Hawk was up first.  He was following as a young inexperienced bird does, low and behind, but was very focused after about 10 minutes of flushing and not seeing anything we make a turn to one of the better spots and see mister cottontail hopping along the bunny trail about 50 yards ahead.  The hawk saw it took and shot off in that direction.  With such a head start the rabbit easily made it to cover, but we marked the spot and after some shuffling to get the hawk in a good position we reflushed the bunny.  It ran directly toward me and about 2 feet from my legs made hard left, scramble two steps and was nabbed in the rear by the Harris.  I had a front row seat as I saw the hawk quickly reposition his feet from the rear to the head and it was over.  Kent's new Harris' Hawk had it's first rabbit!

Next up, Jonathan and his passage female Red-tailed Hawk that was trapped the first day of trapping season this past fall.  Jonathan is a 2nd year apprentice and has become an extremely efficient game hawker.  He and his bird had caught 27 rabbits coming into this hunt, and the majority of those were caught in extremely thick greenbriar, I'm talking over my head in some cases and I'm 6'3".  Jonathan's bird quickly took up position in a nearby tree and we went to work flushing.  I'd say 2 minutes in she nails her first rabbit on her first flight at one.  After hearing Jonathan say, "we got done quick today," Scott and I decided to apply the peer pressure and convinced him that we needed to try for a double.  

So the bird was traded off and went right back up into the trees and we started walking.  Ten yards later the Hawk slams the ground again and we hear "she got it" from Daniel.  At this point Scott and I realized that we created a monster because Jonathan chimes in, "lets try for another."  Well we've only been hunting with the bird maybe 7 or 8 mins at this point so we all agree that another would be fun.  Back in the trees she went and again we started flushing.  

This time we made is about another 50 yards before she dove into the grass behind us and sure enough, rabbit #3.  We've still been out hunting with this bird less than 20 minutes and yes Jonathan wants to try for 4.  

This time we don't flush anything for a while and we decided to cut across the field to another spot.  The Hawk follows along power pole to power pole until we reach another good spot of cover which Jonathan and myself quickly work our way through.  Fortunately though, the much younger Daniel toughs it out in the thick stuff and flushes another rabbit.  The Red-tail launches herself off of a high power pole folds into a stoop, levels out about half way down, repositions, and recommits to her stoop, smashing into rabbit #4!  Four flights at rabbits and four catches!  28, 29, 30, and 31 for the year and there is plenty of season left.  About as good a year as I have seen out of any apprentice and its not over yet.   Before Jonathan can even think about #5 we all let him know that we've had just about enough walking in 10" snow and I'm pretty sure that he was relieved.  Of course now we are probably close to a mile from the car, but I can assure you that the walk back was far easier for the group than it was for Jonathan, because I held his game bag went we got back to the car and it had to be over 10 pounds.  That may not sound like much when when you have to carry through all that snow it adds up and I'm sure he slept well last night.

At this point Jonathan and Daniel had to head back to Tulsa and Kent, Scott and I loaded up the longwings and went searching for ducks on the ranch.  We found a good setup with about 50 mixed ducks on a small pond and Scott insisted that I fly first.  We put Tulsa in the air and he stunk it up from that start.  He had a pretty slow wingbeat, would climb for a bit then fly around losing height then climb a bit, then tool around some more and when the ducks were flushed he buzzed them and landed on the ground.  I called him to the lure and put him up.  Today was the heaviest I have ever flown him, 722 grams, so I'm pretty confident that todays shenanigans can be attributed to high weight since I'm usually flying him around 685-690.  Surprisingly two ducks stayed on the pond through all of that and Scott put his bird up for a shot at them.  Bullseye climbed really well in the perfectly calm evening.  At 1000' or above we went in for the flush and a Gadwall was hit but not solid and she bounced of the hill leading down to the water and returned to its safety.  The falcon was called down and this time the peer pressure was applied to Scott to fly again.  He decided that we would try one of his new ponds and sure enough there was probably 100 or more ducks on it.  After a bit of a rest Bullseye was in the air again quickly climbing in front of the truck and toward the pond.  Not quite as high as he was on the first pond, but still at a very respectable pitch, he stooped the fleeing ducks from a near vertical position.  We could hear the thud of the impact from probably 100 yards away and knew that there was a dead duck behind the dam wall of the pond.  After watching Scott run to his bird (there are eagles that hang out here), Kent and I made our way down the hill to find the falcon happily munching on the neck of a drake Wigeon as the sun went down.

Overall a great day of falconry.  Of course I was the only one to draw a blank, but it was a blast just hanging out with like minded people and watching some great birds doing what they were made to do.

*update*  Back in the Game

Took the K-bird out this morning with my wife tagging along, her first time car hawking.  Made one turn out of the neighborhood, saw some starlings, turned right, one slip one grab, back home in less than 5! Finally some falconry she enjoyed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Drake Mallard

Work has been taking up all of my daylight for the past week or so and I haven't been able to get out as much as I would like but I did manage to slip away a little early yesterday to get the birds in the air.  I checked my training field ponds first as they are the closest to the Center and found a pair of Mallards paddling around on the back pond of the three.

I put the Hybrid up first and he promptly took a terrible pitch of about 500' and was setting wings.  This was the first time that he has done this so I was waiting him out.  The ducks had other ideas though and tried to break on their own while I was behind the dam wall and he slammed a hen who bounced off the ground and back into the water.  He then remounted to a great pitch, closer to the 1000' mark and hit the drake on the reflush, trying to powerbind going full speed sent them swinging and whipped him off the duck!  But the drake bounced hard on the ground and the falcon was on him.  Pretty neat flight and first drake Mallard.  700 gram bird beats the 1300 gram one!  

Next up, the Gyrkin.  I found a great setup on a pond with a bunch of Gadwalls.  The Gyr was cast off and began to fly off up wind climbing well but as soon as he turned to come over head he saw the ducks on the water and could resist and started stooping them as they were still just floating there.  The ducks would simply dive underwater after each pass splashing him as he zoomed by.  I knew this would be a good lesson for him and just let the whole thing play out on its own.  It really was pretty funny and I found myself laughing my ass off standing on the shore.  After 15 mins of chasing ducks to no avail he finally was tired and soaking wet from the splashings and landed at my feet.  So I picked him up and off we went.  

I finished the day off with my "little project."  During the big freeze I passed the time trapping kestrels using a bc with full grown Courturnix Quail for bait.  I found out real quick that when it is cold, Kestrels are brave; catching 21 of these small falcons using the large quail and there were even some male K-birds trapped as well in that bunch.  Number 19 looked a little different then the rest when I picked her up off the trap.  She was passage!  I now realize that passage Kestrel females actually do look quite a bit different than the Hags and by trapping so many I now can see it. 

I ended up keeping this bird and after an extremely quick train I got her hunting.  In fact I only did two bagged Starlings with her.  One off the fist that she just pounded instantly from 20 feet away and one out the car window where she had no hesitation.  Then I took her hunting.  I have only hunted her a couple of times now but she has caught a starling on every outing so far!  Hopefully we can keep that streak alive if everything doesn't freeze solid for the next week.

At the end of they day yesterday we caught a Starling on the second slip that was about a foot off the ground. Awesome!  The day before was slightly more interesting though.  I was out with my apprentice Daniel in Tulsa and we had a few slips with narrow misses and one grab that pulled loose.  Then we pulled up to a stop sign and there was a single milling about on the edge of the road.  Three or four cars drove by and without disturbing him so we decided to go for it.  The little falcon jumped off my fist and instantly folded up into a stoop slamming the starling down without even flapping his wings.  Daniel jumped out to help my bird while I pulled out of traffic and we had one in the bag!  We noticed that this Starling had a stripe down the middle of its head so I guess we killed the leader (Gremlins reference).  So now the kestrel has earned the name of Gizmo and we will be hunting as many Gremlins we can from here on out.  And that is why I won't name a bird till after it's first catch.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thawing Out

I hadn't flown my birds in almost three weeks, aside from Scott and I's Pheasant hawking trip.  Finally this past Sunday we found a little open water with ducks on it.  Granted these were big ponds, some might say small lakes, but we were itching to fly and this is what we had so we did it.  My Hybrid, Scott's Hybrid, and my Gyrkin all got flights on ducks and all managed to make contact but none of the birds commited enough to finish the job.  Ducks were knocked down in unseen creeks, back onto the ice, and not hit with enough force that lead to a tail chase all ending with falcons called down to the lure.  In the end we had a good time getting back out into the swing of things.

The next day I went out again.  This time there was quite a bit more water open and I quickly found three Hoodies on a small pond.  My Hybrid took a good pitch, after sitting on a round bale for a few minutes, and slammed the Merganser right back into the middle of the pond.  I thought that we were past knocking birds back into the water but after nearly a month of not catching anything he must have been a little too gun ho.  I called him down to the lure and did try to fly him again a little later but he wouldn't take a pitch so he was called down and put away.  His wing beat has been really slow over the past couple of flights and he is landing so I will be watching him closely and raising his weight up a bit.  Hopefully this is just from not being in the air much and he will snap out of it quickly.

From there I went down to visit Dr. Welch with the Gyrkin.  He has had a bump just above his foot for several months now.  It doesn't seem to bother him, as he has caught and hung onto two Gadwalls in the past month, but I thought I would have him check it out to be sure.  After examining the bump, Dr. Welch was confident that it was a Caseous Abscess.  Basically the bird had a small infection and his body walled it off.  The encased infection eventually dehydrated and became a hard "bean" and that is what caused the bump.  He advised that we could quickly cut it out and give the bird a little time to heal or just leave it alone and there is a chance that it might go away later on it's own.  I decided to just leave it for now and take care of it at the end of the season if necessary.

Yesterday we finally fully got back on track.  The Hybrid took a nice pitch, although his wing beat was still slow, and cleanly struck a drake Ring-neck as it cleared the dam wall.  Ring-necks are the perfect confidence booster when a bird hasn't killed in a while.  They fly fast and in more importantly straight, most often giving the falcon a clean shot.  After this simple "pitch and catch" I made my way down the road to another pond that was holding a dozen or so Mallards for the Gyrkin to fly.  He mounted up okay but chose the wrong duck on the flush, stooping hard at a duck who was obviously not leaving the safety of the water.  After intimidating it into a splashdown, the falcon continued to stoop the now diving duck until the Mallard had splashed enough water on his attacker to dampen his flying ability.  Eventually the Gyrfalcon could not stay on the wing any longer and he landed at my feet soaking wet.  A good lesson for him to learn and one that I'm surprised didn't happen sooner.

I'm now working on another little project but more on that to come....

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pheasant Hawking

Since we have had single digit temps for the past two weeks everything has been froze up and the ducks are hiding on the reservoir and the rivers.  So another longwinger buddy, Scott, and myself decided to head out to western Oklahoma and try our luck on Ring-necked Pheasants.

Driving through Pawhuska we took a look at the temperature gauge on the truck which read a balmy -2 degrees (not including wind chill) as we began the drive across the prairie.  Upon reaching our destination we met up with Jere and Eric and decided to head north to begin looking for a slip.  We didn't even drive 100 yards after deciding which way to go when we saw 3 birds put into a narrow row of weeds along the road, with a plowed field to one side and a cut corn field on the other.

Scott's Gyr/Peregrine was ready to go and he flew first.  "Bullseye" climbed up very fast to a respectable pitch of 800' and was still climbing when the first bird broke.  The falcon locked onto this bird and started his stoop when two other birds broke out over the plowed field.  Unfortunately the Hybrid was already too committed to the first bird and that pheasant narrowly made it into a small thicket on the other side of the road.

Scott called his bird down so I could have a shot at these birds with my Gyrkin while my hybrid was still on the high side.  We quickly got this bird in the air and proceeded to beat the brush.

A little ways from where we saw the Pheasants put in, we flushed birds again.  The Gyr was in hot pursuit and pulled feathers from a Pheasant that he pressured into the corn stubble.  He got dodged however on the wingover and the Ringneck took off for a pile of round bales with the falcon on his tail.  I arrive to find the falcon running back and forth trying to locate the hiding prey.  As I walked around the hay the Pheasant made another break for it.  The Gyrfalcon was closing in on it fast when it dumped next to a fence line that had virtually no cover, yet the bird dissappeared leaving the falcon hovering above the spot that it had went down.  I called down my bird and once he had his equipment back on, we went to find where in the world that bird went.  As I approached the fence I could easily see that the Pheasant had made his escaped down a badger hole.  Hopefully for him the badger wasn't home or he would have met the same fate that he would have in the feet of the falcon.  By this point I can't feel my fingers or any other exposed skin and we retreated to the truck.

The rest of the morning was spent driving around looking for birds, which we did find, but they were always near heavy cover.  (I assume the reason that these areas haven't been harvested is to allow the gun hunters to practice their craft.)  Finally we decided that the winds were getting stronger and we put my Hybrid up in the air in the middle of a cut winter wheat field to fly him on a Pheasant baggie that Scott had brought along.  He climbed up ok in the heavy south wind but was only about 1/2 as high as I would have liked.  We served him anyway and he came down in a pretty stoop, power-binding to his target.  So I guess we at least caught a Pheasant in a sense.

We then made our way to town where we grabbed a bite to eat and started on home.  Not a mile outside of town, Scott hits the breaks points to the south and says, "ducks, wanna fly the Gyr again?"  Sure enough there were a handful of Gadwalls on the 3 foot wide hole in the ice of a small pond.  So again we again put the Gyrkin, Mongo, up in the air.  He too was struggling in the heavy wind and not real serious about climbing, but he did go up a little ways and started back over the pond.  Scott and I both ran in shouting to get the ducks up, but they saw aerial death in the sky and decided it was gonna take a lot more yelling to leave.  Eventually I made it to the edge of the pond and no sooner did one duck decide to flap his wings, he was hit!  I don't even think the duck's toe was completely out of the water yet and he was blasted off onto the ice and quickly subdued by the falcon for the Gyrkin's second duck.  Now I had to decide "do I walk out there to get him or try and drag him and duck to shore with the lure?"  He hadn't killed the duck yet and I did not want him to let go and loose it so I decided to risk falling through and riding home with wet cloths.  Luckily though the pond was frozen a good 6" deep and I easily walked out to retrieve the bird and prey without so much as a crack beneath me. (Which leads me to wonder how the hole was open in the middle?)  So we did end up leaving with some wild quarry caught.

The final highlight of the day was seeing a passage male Prairie Falcon on the way home that we did throw a harnessed pigeon for, but after smacking the pigeon 30 times or so, a passage Red-tailed Hawk cruises in and binds to our bait bird.  We bumped him off, but I think the damage had been done and the little falcon was never really serious about coming down again.  Surprisingly however the pigeon survived without a scratch.  I guess the harness provided some good protection.

A great day despite the fact that we didn't catch any wild Pheasants.  The only bummer is I forgot all about my camera after the first couple of shots of Scott and his bird and didn't take any more pictures throughout the day.  So to make up for it I've embedded a link from Discover Oklahoma about Oklahoma Falconry and the NAFA Meet that Steven Olner found and posted on his blog.  A few short clips of footage I shot is in there as well so I think it has a place on my blog too.  Thanks Steven for finding it though, I had forgotten they even made it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 7th, 2009

The new falconry regulations went into effect today in Oklahoma! For those that are interested they can be viewed at

Everything near here is frozen, so I'm gonna head out west for some pheasants this weekend and see how it goes.