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.