Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't Read While Eating

Came across this sight while checking ponds last week.  Not the prettiest of views and nearly every falconry blog has a post similar to this, but it is important to show the dangers of powerlines.  Every year a number of falconry birds meet their end by touching uninsulated electrical wires.  And being that there is a very small number of falconry raptors in the United States, one could only guess how many wild hawks meet their end this way across this country and around the world.  

I've seen several raptors get killed in this way.  Sometimes it's a quick zap and they fall and other times the are locked to the wire as the current literally cooks them from the inside out.  Unfortunately for this guy it looks like he got the later.  On closer inspection you could see charred tissue on back side of his legs. Unfortunate reality for the hawks that use power poles to make their lives easier.

Here is a link to some more raptor electrocution info:


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!!!!

Hope everyone got to spend a lot of quality time with their families, and stuffed themselves to the point of not feeling well! If ya didn' missed the whole point of the holiday :)!!!! Last year was my first Thanksgiving as a falconer, and we had a great session. We flew for the first time at the Lowe's field, and we caught a rabbit pretty quickly. I decided that this had to become a yearly tradition, so after stuffing my face this afternoon, I headed out for a quick hawkin session. I only got the kitchen pass for an hour (because after that, it was time for pumpkin pie!!!!!!), so I jumped over to Rosa East, and tried to slip in a quickie. Anyways, I havn't hawked this portion of the field before (and it's actually accross the road, so it's technically a new field....I have ran the dog through it, but that's all....), but since I can pretty much pull my car right into it (and time was of the essence), I decided to give it a go. Cleveland Jr was spot on at 915 grams, and he powered right up to a high pole, to kick start the hunt. The edge of this field is bordered by a ton of head high Johnson grass, but once you pass through that, there are a ton of briars, and a bunch of crap that people have dumped, to kick around in. Well, I made about fifteen or so steps through the Johnson grass, and CJ came hauling off of his perch STRAIGHT at me. He was coming in hot, and his angle was putting him on a direct course for my feet. About five yards infront of me, he suddenly checks off, and lands on the power line running directly above me. I take two steps, and then Cleveland drops off the pole in a perfect bullet shape, and slams the ground right in front of me. SQUEEL!!!!!!!!!!! Whoop, Whoop! Thanksgiving comes through again! New field, and a score quickly....just like last year!!! I think I'm going to like this tradition :). It got super cold last night, and it should be cold again tonight, so I fed him a little bit extra (fed to 1010 grams), so we will be at weight tom, for another afternoon session. This works out well, because Adam is in town for the holidays, and wanted to know if I could put some rabbits under his bird. I told him we would give it a shot, so we are going to have a session with his bird in the morning. Maybe the stars will align, and Shaung will be at weight after that, and we can get in a session with Jonathan as well. Fly CJ after that, and it will all add up to a full day of hawkin. Can't beat that with a stick, and I'm psyched for a good day.
Best Wishes everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(Not a) Good Day for a Swim

I knew I shouldn't....The morning was crummy for flying.  High humidity, high temps, and few ducks.  But it was the last chance I had to get a flight before heading off to visit the families for Thanksgiving.  So I pushed my luck.  The only ducks I found were four Blue-wing Teal a farm pond.  I knew it was a bad idea... Teal are very hard to get off the water and my bird hasn't exactly been flying stellar lately.  But I did it anyway and the flight ended as expected.  Ducks dumped in the pond, falcon got splashed and the flight was over.  

So I called the bird down to the lure, put in his equipment, and went to take his transmitter off when I realized that it wasn't there.  I put the bird away in the truck and pull out my trusty receiver to find the missing tracking device.  

The first signal I get is across the pond and pretty close.  I trek over to the other side of the pond to triangulate, and much to my disappointment the signal was exactly back where I came from.  The transmitter was in the pond........

So off came the boots, socks, and pants, and I waded out into the muck bottom pond in nothing but my boxers.  Around waist deep water I found that the transmitter was somewhere below me using a trick I learned long ago of detaching the antenna from the receiver.  So here I am, water up to my hip, leaning to the right up to my shoulder with my hand fishing around in the muck to feel for the transmitter, left hand in the air trying to keep the receiver dry.  As I'm in this compromised position, a local sheriff comes putting along  and stops on the road several yards away.  Him and I have talked before and he knows what I'm usually doing out there, but looked a little perplexed when he stopped this time.  As I explained what I was doing, I brushed my hand across the antenna.  The officer had a laugh about my situation and went about his day.  

Satisfied that I wouldn't have to buy a new $250 transmitter, I spend the next 30 mins sitting on the dam wall drying off wondering how do I get myself into these situations......

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Well its Official

We are on a streak!  Ducked out of work at 4:00 yesterday, and Cleveland was sitting right at 915 grams.  We headed over to the Lowe's field, and the wind was blowing pretty good.  Started out kicking through the open section (the "flag pole" if you will....see earlier posts, if you don't know what i'm talking about.......), but it seems that the rabbits have bailed on that area.  Good to know for future reference.....I can stop wasting my time there!  That must be their summer hang out, but now that the cover is lower, they have vacated for more secure areas.  Anyways, after kicking through there some, I gave up, and started heading through the head high Johnson grass, that borders that portion of the field.  CJ took off after a rabbit that must have scooted out the side, but it made it to the third tree clump, and he was left empty footed on the ground.  Hopped him back up, and he took his perch up on the power pole again.  Continued on, and I pushed another one out, that promptly made it to the second clump of trees, just as Cleveland arrived.  These rabbits are going to have to figure out a new game plan, because it won't be long until the cover dies back more, and I will be able to get into those clumps for reflushes!!!  Yesterday though, they were smart moves, and CJ was getting a little bit amped.  He took off into the air, and soared up about 70 feet, and followed me around for a good 10 minutes or so.  He has started doing this more (when he has had a few misses...), and I would like to think that it's because he has learned that game appears when he does this.  It's still too early in the behavior to know if he has that solid connection or not, but I'm hoping the light bulb is at least flickering!  I tossed out a couple pigeons to him, and though he made some good attempts at them, wasn't able to snag either one. 

After a bit, he landed back on his power pole, and I took off toward the back portion of the field.  I was hugging the tree line, and made it about 50 yards from the pole, when CJ took off in a pretty level flight from the power pole.  This wasn't his normal 45 degree downward angle that I'm used to, but he was flying with intent, so I knew he wasn't just going to a new perch.  I stopped to watch, and he was gradually getting lower and lower.  He disappeared from view after a moment, and then guess what.....yep............................SQUEEL!!!!!!!!!  I started running over there, but quickly stopped doing that when I realized how far I was going (no jokes Ryan!!!!  That run, after the duck flight the other day, almost killed me!  I HAVE to start getting into shape!), and since I didn't really have a specific spot I was going to, didnt't want to accidentally step on them!  Wandered around for a minute or two, before I found him on the ground.  He had made it all the way to the the back corner of the front section (if that makes sense), and was crouched low in some cat tails.  I looked back at the power pole, and my best guess, is that the flight was a good 200 yards or so!  Pretty psyched, because if he is willing to take a slip that far out, it must means his confidence is going up.  Finally starting to like this bird (it's funny how that happens, once we start catching stuff!!!!!), and it seems like I have his weight down now.  He has been doing well at 915, so once this 70 degree weather goes away, I'm going to push him up to 920 for a few days, and see how that goes.  If he stays consistant, then we will go up another five grams.  So that's it for the update....number 11 in the bag, and it's on to number 12!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Digits!!!!

I'm almost too tired to type! We got number ten today, and I'll tell you what.....we freakin earned it! Cleveland Jr must have caught a mouse when out weathering yesterday, because when I got home four hours after I left, he had gained 25 grams. This ruined our duck chances again, but it is what it is, and we ended up getting into the field around 11:00 AM. Hit the Wilson field first, but it's cover was still really high. That, combined with all the wind, had the rabbits sitting tight....we didn't manage a single slip, and this is my honey hole field! Bailed from there pretty quickly, and we headed over to Rosa South. Like I have said before, I don't like hitting the same field two days in a row, but I wanted number 10 BAD, so we went for it.
The rabbits weren't popping today like usual....probably because they remembered being terrorized yesterday! We managed the same number of slips as usual, but the only difference was, that instead of hawking for 35 to 40 minutes....we hawked for 4 hours!!!! I had given up by this point, and was making my way back to the car, when I kicked up a final bunny, and CJ gave a half hearted chase, and then perched up WAY infont of me. He normally flips back to where I am, so I knew that he had the rabbit marked. When I got there, he was looking down pretty intently, and I managed a reflush farely quickly. CJ came screaming off of his perch, and crashed the brush hard, and I heard that glorious squeel! Normally, it's a "YES!!!!!!" Today though, it was a "FINALLY!!" When I got to them, I found CJ pinned against a leg on the ground, and the other sticking out the other side of the bush, barely holding onto the screaming rabbit. To be honest, I'm not really sure how he held onto it, so I made my way to the otherside as quickly as I could, and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief, once I got a secure hold on the rabbit. I had to then, cut CJ out of the bush, which he wasn't to thrilled about. I kept snipping more and more briars, but he was STILL stuck in there....Finally, I found a vine going right under his wing (that had been hiding), and was able to get him out. Snapped some hero shots, traded off great, and it was back home I went. Ate a huge bowl of soup, and now it's time for some chillen! GOOD DAY!!!!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jay's on the Board

Jay Tuttle (he's interning for me this winter at the center) and I met up this morning for a couple of flights.  The conditions were not great today, warmer weather and heavy wind up high, but we managed to get out and get the birds up.  

Jay's bird took a nice pitch on the first pond that held ducks and seemed to pull up short on a pair of Gadwalls that we had flushed clean off the water.  The falcon was called down for little reward with the intention of flying again after a rest.

First Green Head of the Year.

Several minutes later we found another small pond holding a pair of Mallards.  We put Tulsa in the air and he started off pulling the same bologna he's been doing off and on the past few weeks.  He started climbing strong then set his wings and coasted down to about 200 feet.  Since there was two of us, I had Jay stay just under the dam wall and I walked away from the pond.  It didn't take long for the falcon to follow me and he quickly regained pitch.  I yelled for Jay to flush when Tulsa was wide of the pond and climbing.  The drake was struck about 20 feet off the water into a small stand of shrub trees.  And my bird quickly secured his 1250g+ meal (nearly 2x his weight), duck #3 on the year

Jay's First Okie Duck of the Year

After getting my bird back in the truck and getting on the road, we found another pond that was loaded with Mallards only minutes away.  Time to give Jay's bird a second chance.  His falcon quickly gained a good pitch, quite a feat considering he just flew less than an hour before.  Jay and I came up over the dam and flushed probably 30 Mallards off of a postage stamp sized pond.  The falcon locked on to a hen Mallard that was trailing the group and, with the precision of a surgeon, cut through the duck's wing.  I saw the wing break right in front of me and it was obvious that Jay had got his first duck of the year.  Not the Gadwall that he's been hoping for but a nice start.  And if there is one duck we have in northeastern Oklahoma, its Gadwalls.

Now for a nap....


Back to Back

I was on daddy duty this morning, since the boss needed to catch up on some sleep, so I kicked it around the house with Parker most of the morning. I finally got around to glancing at my phone, and I had FIVE different hero shots sent to me! Apparently, today was the day for some falconry goodness! Most notable though, was Perry's, whose kestrel caught her first starling this morning! There is nothing like that first kill, and I'm super psyched for him! I was eagerly anticipating my chance to get out and about, and the bird finally hit weight, around 10:00AM.
Rosa South was looking extra nice this morning, and CJ was sitting right at 915 grams (though he hadn't cast yet....). Got some quick flushs right off the bat, and I could tell right from the beginning, that today was going to be good! We kicked around through the front portion of briars first, and got a few reflushes on the same rabbit. He ALMOST snagged it on a flight through the trees, and I saw him shoot his foot out, and just barely missed sealing the deal, about five minutes into the hunt. Had he scored, I probably would have had to go for a double, so it wasn't all that bad that he missed. Continued on, and we quicly approached one of his favorite dead tree perchs. He headed straight there, and we got a couple slips under him, which he chased with enthusiasm. The second flush, he remounted after his intial crash, and just barely missed it, as it made it to the first HUGE patch of briars. There are four of these that run along the tree line....they have grown up around patchs of sumac, so until recently, they had been too thick to get into (not too thick for the bird....too thick for me!). Brush has been getting thinner with every passing day though, and today was the first time I could make it inside for the reflush. I discovered a nice big hole right in the center of it, so I gave up pretty quickly, and began to move on. As I exited the back side of it though, CJ left his favorite perch, and landed in the tree growing right out of the center of the patch. It takes something moving to get him to leave that perch, so I decided to work the backside of it, to see if the rabbit was dumb enough to skip the hole. Well, about 30 seconds later, the rabbit busts from my feet.....and heads straight back into the woods!!!! This was a BIG mistake, because there is hardly any ground cover back there now, and he was completely exposed. He pretty much ran parallel with the tree line, and though there were a couple times it looked like he was going to head back toward the cover, he just kept going! I heard CJ's bells singing over my head, but kept my eyes glued on the fleeing rabbit. About a hundred yards from where the slips started, CJ closed the gap, and I got a PERFECT view, as he slammed into the back of the rabbit! I did my happy dance, and headed over there for the dispatch. Got a little excited, and popped the whole head off when I made in (which I hadn't done with CJ yet), and I was interested to see how he would do with that. One foot on the head, and the other on the body, and I was thinking that he may jump off the rabbit like normal, but bring the head along with him. This would not have been good, because I'm planning on flying in the morning tommorow, and I def didn't want him to over eat on this bunny. My fears were unnecessary though, because as soon as I presented his lure, he jumped right off of both, and latched onto the lure like normal. We had a nice big back leg on the lure, so I only hopped him up to a front leg, to put him at weight.....but this pissed him off! He started doing the irritated chirp noise they make, and after I had him all jessed back up, he actually tried to foot me when I was hooding him! As we all know though....I have ninja reflexes, and he didn't connect, but he was fired up! Hind sight....I didn't really let him calm down on the kill, and these behaviors were because of it. Always, always, ALWAYS let the bird calm down before the trade....this is what I have been taught, and I know this very well. You all know me and my brain goes RIGHT out the window when I get excited, and that's just exactly what happened. It is what it is, and today was a good refresher of that lesson. Got home, and he was at 970 grams, so I fed him the goodies, and he is chillen outside on his block as we speak. Psyched about the's the first time I havn't screwed up my weight management, and we put one in the bag two days in a row. I'm gunning to hit double digits tommorow (unless we catch a duck that is!!!!), and I'm thinking we just may do it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

#8 in the Bag

Wednesday, we flew at the Lowes field. It was SUPER windy, but that gave me the opportunity to enforce some soaring behavior. Nothing epic transpired, but he flew around a TON, and got a really good work out because of it. Had a few chases, but I just didn't get that many slips (bunnies hold TIGHT in the wind!!!!) Thursday was a fun filled day of hawking. Like Ryan said, we got out for some early longwinging, and I was rewarded with a nice duck flight to kick start the day. Flew a couple tails in the morning at the usual spot (I almost scored a wood cock all by style!!!!!), and after a quick lunch stop, Jonathan and I headed over to a new field. Ryan and I have driven by this one a number of times, and we always comment about how it looks pretty good, but had never taken the time to stop. Well, Ryan had some free time at some point last week, and went and checked out the parking situation. There is a housing developement that is going up in one corner of the property, but the rest of it has been left untouched, and there is a nice pull out in the back of the neighborhood (for parking). A huge water tower sprouts up in the middle of this field (which is I will probably be refering to this field as Ol' Blue or something), and there are TONS of briars. They are thick, thick, THICK, and sprawl out in HUGE patchs all over this field. I finally got the camera back from Lindz, and would have taken some pictures to show you all just how freakin huges these briars are, but the batteries died right after I got pics of the hybrid, so it just didn't work out. We were kicking up rabbits left and right, but ended up chasing the majority of them from one side of the briars, to the other....and then back again (we need a doxie gang or something!!!) We got a few flushes out in the open, but just couldn't manage to put any in the bag. Busted another wood cock, and a covey of about fifteen or so quail, but other than that, not much else exciting happened.

Today, found the bird at 908 grams. I fed him the usual to put him at 915 today, but it ended up getting a lot colder last night than they had predicted, so he burned too much. He was geeked out when we hit the field though, and he made some nice chases right off the bat. The number of slips at the dumpsite has been gradually decreasing each session (just like last year), so after only a couple of slips, I decided to head toward the back section, and see if the brush had cleared enough to hawk. It was still pretty stinkin thick, but that's where all the rabbits have headed to apparently. I kicked up 7 or 8 REALLY quickly as I walked through the woods, but the thick layer of honey suckle lining the ground provided a lot of escape routes for the bunnies. Continued on, and my goal was an open section tucked back in the back, that has some really short biars sprawled out through the center of it.

There is a big cedar posted up right in the middle of this section, and he went straight to it, as we were making our approach. He started looking HARD right down into the middle of it, and I started to get a little psyched. The cedar he was on, was where I caught my first squirrel last year, and I was thinking there may just be another one chillen inside. He stopped looking into it after awhile, so I started kicking the perimiter of the open section. I pretty much did circles the whole way around his cedar, getting tighter and tighter with each one I made. About half way in, a rabbit busted from my feet, and booked it straight for the tree line. He didn't even make it half way there, before CJ sucked him up. It was not a spectacular flight by any means, but it was in the wide open, so I got to see the whole thing! Trade off was perfect like always, and then the fun began. Hopped him off the lure like normal, but for some reason, he grabbed the fist on the lower portion of the glove. One foot landed fine, but the other one grabbed onto my wrist, and he sunk in DEEP! He latched down, and then proceeded to chow on his rabbit leg. Everytime he tore a piece from the leg, he squeezed harder, which SUCKED! Rotated the fist to try and get him to step up (which was good in theory), and he grabbed the leg in his mouth, and stepped back.....well....with one foot. The foot on my arm was "locked" (you all know what I'm talking about.....), and it took him four or five jerks, before it released. Well, that pretty much brought me to my knees, and I was bleeding pretty stinkin good, by the time he was hooded back up. Darn thing bled for like 30 freakin minutes!!!! Those jerks turned the punctures into long scrapes, and I now look like I attempted suicide or something. Pretty lame, but it is what it is.

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, I had big plans to go slip ducks with Jonathan in the morning, but the bird won't be at weight till later in the day. I'm not sure if I will get the opportunity to fly in the afternoon (the boss (wife) has plans for us, but maybe we can do them in the morning instead....), but if not, then I will feed a little more tonight, and we will be spot on for Sunday (with 36 hours between feeds....). If that doesn't get him going balls out on ducks, then nothing will (other than a bag of course), so this weekends session(s) will tell a lot. Gary gave me the heads up on a perfect slip (that has been holding ducks regularly), so we will check that out this weekend as well. Fingers crossed for some goodness!

(PS I know!!! Sorry........the camera is on the charger as we speak, so the next post will have pictures, I promise!!!!!!!)

Little Better

So things went a little better yesterday.  I took the morning off as an apprentice falconer was coming up from Oklahoma City to buy some old telemetry equipment from me.  Daniel and Jonathan also took the day off to come and fly, so we were set to have quite the crew here.  

Daniel came up a little earlier than the rest to come along for a quick flight at ducks.  I've been back to the kite for a few days with my hybrid to try and get him on track as far as pitch is concerned.  Looks like the kiting was a good reminder for him.  We found a bunch of mixed ducks on what I've named the Bull pond (the rancher keeps about a dozen large bulls in this pasture when they are in between fulfilling their role in life).
I got Tulsa in the air and he instantly went over another pond the other way from our intended target.  Not such a bad thing as it turns out.  

He wasn't terribly high over the wrong water but as we made our way toward the Bull pond he realized that he was off track and came roaring back gaining pitch the whole way.  Just as we reached the pond edge he was coming up right behind us in perfect position.  We flushed dozens of Mallards, Gadwalls, and Ring-bills off the water and.......nothing.  

Several seconds past as I watch the fleeing ducks waiting for impact.  It was probably on 5 seconds or so but it felt like a minute or more.  Finally out of the corner of my eye I catch movement and see a hen Ring-bill cartwheeling down into the pasture.  The falcon throws a lazy wing over, a sure sign that the duck it down for the count, and lands gently on the duck.

Today he actually let the ducks get a little ways off the water before he really turned on the stoop.  Definitely an improvement over the past 3 or 4 flights.  Hopefully this will be our turning point.

I just looked over my notes and last year I caught my second duck on today's date.  So technically I'm one day ahead of where I was last year.  This is the start of year two of hunting with this bird and it's pretty obvious that he still has a lot to learn on his way to be great from just a barely mediocre game hawk.

Afterwards we met up with the others and did some bunny hawkin'.  Quite a few were flushed and a couple now have bald spots but in the end nothing was brought to bag.  I'm now all cut up by the thorns that made it above my brush pants and worn out.  Falconry season must be in full swing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quick Session

Monday, we only had about thirty minutes to fly.  He was still fat (925 grams) from the rabbit the day before, and we saw it in his performance for sure!  He was chasing, and crashed a little brush, but if the slips were hard at all, he would just check off in the end.  It had been raining all day, and was sprinkling a little bit when we got to the field.  I took the route that I have been taking, but it seems (which makes sense) the rabbits like to be in heavier cover in that type of weather, and I only got a couple slips in that area.  Ended up bailing from that route, and took one of mine from the year before.  Headed back south, through an open portion of the field, and we got a nice slip that went up and over a big hill, and ended with the rabbit making it to the clump of briars on the other side about 200 yards from where the chase began.  These briars were only a few feet tall last year, but must have gone on steroids or somethings, because they are HUGE this year!!!!  Kicked through the back portion of the field's briars, and like I some slips, but he wasn't willing to go balls out.  Called him down to the lure to end the session, and he only got a little bit for his lame effort.

Tuesday found him slightly lower than I had wanted.  Luckily though, I had gone to work early AND worked through lunch, so I ducked out at 3:00, ran home and got the bird, and was walking into the field by 4:10 or so.  He was at 908 grams, which is right around were we caught the original rabbits.....I had just been pushing him up since then, hoping his strength would improve, and we could get a lot more speed, dedication to the chase, intensity, etc, etc out of him.  Well, he must have thought he was starving, because he didn't take the far perch like normal, and then move over my head....he instead, just went straight up, and started staring at the ground waiting for something to pop.  Kicked the first briar patch, and a rabbit went scooting out the side.  The bird took off, but pulled up into a tree pretty quickly.  I moved in that direction, and got about half way there, when CJ took off pumping hard, and slammed into the ground about 25 yards from me or so...................SQUEEL!  Total hunt time.....45 seconds.  Seems like he understands the program now!!!  BUT.....he needs to stop doing that, or else I'm not going to get my hawking fix taken care of.  I did a few doubles last year, but just don't really have the desire to anymore.  Hopefully, he won't do this too many times, or else I may be forced into doubles, just so that he gets enough air time and I get my fix.  Going to have another short session tonight, and he will be fat (I need to start making my lure pieces a consistant size....that's where I keep screwing up.....I have figured out what it takes to put him at weight the next day depending on if I put a front, or a back rabbit leg on the lure, but I keep switching it up with spine, pigeon, squirrel, etc, etc (none of which i weigh...just eye ball it).....gonna have to stop doing this, so that we can start becoming consistant in the field....).  He will probably be around 930 grams or so, so I'm not expecting much.  He will get a work out in the wind today though, and who knows.....maybe he will do some soar hawkin, and I can toss some pigeons for him.  Fingers crossed for SOMETHING good to happen today


Sunday, November 14, 2010


Saturday we slipped on some ducks, but he didn't really go for them. Went to Rosa South afterwards, and he chased his butt off.....probably got 15 or so slips! Had we had more time, he probably would have connected, but Saturday was Parkers 1st birthday party, so I had places to be. He did catch a Wood rat, and though miscellaneous nonsense doesn't normally make it into the blog, it gets recognitions because we traded off, and kept going. Up until now, the session ended when he caught something, but Saturday marked the end to that. I stuck a tidbit on the lure, and he jumped off the rat like he does everything else. Once he realized that was all that was on there though, he started talkin a little bit. He got over it quickly, and I hopped him up for another tid bit. Hooded him till he roused, then off we went again. He chased harder after the trade happened, so I'm pretty sure it was a success.

Today was a great one. Went trapping all morning (Sorry!!!!! I left the camera at home.....), and once we called it a day, headed out to do a little rabbit hawkin at the dumpsite. CJ was at 915 grams, and Gary's presence in the field had no effect on him. He flew well, was pretty focused, and we ended up putting another bunny in the bag. Neither of us got to see anything other than the bird leaving the perch, so it wasn't that exciting of a score, but we had good times none the less. His manners on the fist were not perfect, but the five gram adjustment def made a noticeable difference. I think we will stick at this weight for a few days, and if we score a few more rabbits with good manners, then we may give 920 another shot. Posts are not cool without pictures....I know. I will try and do better next time!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

On the Board....

Well pics are nice but this was not a day to write home about, at least not for my bird.  I went out hawking with Scott on Saturday morning trying to scrounge out a duck flight or two.  This season has gotten to a slow start quarry-wise.  There just have not been many ducks yet and when there are they have been on bigger water.

Scott was up first on a pond that was holding several Mallards and a couple of Ringnecks.  As usual Scott's bird rang up to a really nice pitch, we flushed the ducks and a drake Ringneck got his bell rung.  A perfect falconry flight by all accounts.

Scott Dillon's Bulleye with drake Ringneck

Then it was my bird's turn and the day went to hell. It has been pretty up and down with my hybrid so far.  We had some pretty nice flights early on this season, but none ending in a catch.  But between those pretty nice flights we all had a fair share of nonsense.  The bird has stooped ducks on the water, knocked them back in the water of number of times, stooped all manner of other hawks, sparrows, larks, possibly a rabbit at one point, etc.  None of these are desired quarry and luckily he hasn't caught any of these to reward his wayward efforts.  

Saturday was more craziness.  We found ducks on a reasonable pond and I got Tulsa into the air.  Within seconds Scott and I lost sight of him and couldn't find his silhouette.  It turned out that was because he ran out along the ground several hundred yards and decided to land on an old hay barn.  So Scott and I sat on the back of the truck to wait him out.   A minute or two passed before a Kestrel made her way in to harass the falcon for I assume sitting in her territory.  She stooped him over and over again until he finally had enough and took flight, but that didn't stop her onslaught.  She kept attacking him for several more minutes until he finally decided to start climbing and leave her behind.

So now I think we are past the nonsense and we can get on to the task at hand but I was wrong.  Tulsa climbed to around 400 feet and then saw the ducks at which time he decided he would set his wings and float on down to maybe 100 feet or so.  Not acceptable, so I walked away from the pond several hundred yards and call him over to hopefully remind him that a pitch is required before the flush.  On the way over, a herd of cows must have flushed some sparrows or something because he turned and stooped hard all the way to the ground.  Waited him out for several minutes and he took off again. I thought that maybe now his nonsense was over, but I again was wrong.

Now he is following the cows, I assume hoping that they will flush some more stuff.  When the falcon had followed the cows 100 yards north of me, the pigeon that I had in my bag, worked his head out (my fault for not checking my zipper) and made an unexpected escape attempt to the south.  Instantly the hybrid was in pursuit and just as he pulled feathers the pigeon flew through the trees and the falcon was blocked.

At this point I have had enough and with the bird a long ways from the pond by me, I radio Scott and tell him to flush the ducks.  This would give the falcon no chance of catching up to them and hopefully reinforce that you screw around and you don't have a shot.  As soon as he caught a glimpse of the ducks flying he roared back to the pond in his last ditch futile effort to catch one.  

Only it didn't work out that way.  As the falcon reached the edge of the water, a lone duck that Scott didn't see in the lilies made a break for it.  Tulsa changed direction and cut through the hen Ringneck from a dismal 300' pitch.  

My Tulsa with hen Ringneck

I just can't be too proud of this one.  To much craziness that resulted in a catch, and definitely has resulted in some pretty poor flights the past few days.  It looks like I'll be back to kiting for a few weeks.  Hopefully this is just early season shenanigans and it will get worked out before it becomes to much of a problem.

Morning's catch


Friday, November 12, 2010

Lowe's Field

Went to one of my "oldie but goodie" fields on Wednesday.  I call it the "Lowes" field, and it has a lot of Johnson grass in it.  It doesn't REALLY start poppin until later on in the year (at least that's what I'm assuming...I hawked it for the first time last year on Thanksgiving day, so it's another one of my "new" fields that I don't have early season experience with....), and because of this, I hadn't flown it yet this year, and I was pretty psyched to see how the conditions were going to be.  Construction had been done near the east side of the field, so I had high hopes that it had concentrated the bunnies into a smaller area.  Parked at my normal spot, and the woods were still THICK!  That is where we get the majority of our slips, but I wasn't ready to dive into something like that yet, so we headed over to the east side, where it's more open, to check and see how the johnson grass was looking.  Still super high, but I kicked a rabbit within a minute or two of getting there, so I decided to keep at it.  CJ crashed for it HARD....something he has been reluctant to do recently, so I hopped him up for a tid bit reward, and we continued on.....he was sitting at 910 grams like normal, and I was liking his intensity.

Now, directly south of the johnson grass section, there is a peninsula of land, that runs between the parking lot, and the highway......which dead ends into more parking lots (invision a flag and flag pole....the "field" would be the flag, and then the "peninsula" jutting out, would be the flag pole).  This portion of the field is not tall.  Not sure why, but the grass is short, and it is full of little head height trees scattered everywhere.  For some reason, I have never kicked through this section....I guess I just wasn't confident enough last year to hawk in more "visible" (to the public) areas, or maybe it was just that I had a routine in this field that would consistantly give slips, and I never deviated....whatever it was....I hadn't ever kicked around in it.  BUT, part of that peninsula was where the construction was, and the cover was short, so I decided to give it a shot.  Running the length of the bottom of the "flag" is a string of T-poles that (lets say it was a wall), would seperate the field, from the peninsula.  These are pretty much the only perchs for the "peninsula" until you get to the very tip of it, so this is where Cleveland Jr. headed up to.  Long story short, but there were TONS of rabbits in there!!!!!  What's cool, is that so far this year (with the heavy cover), I usually only see the rabbit for about two seconds before it disappears, and then I'm waiting for the squeel.  Since this is so low....I could see the rabbits running for a LONG time, which made for some great flights.....especially since he had to come pumping from those poles everytime, which translated into a ton of 100+ yard flights.  We got probably eight or nine of these long slips, and this is when the red flags started popping up.  The first couple of flights back to the pole were fine.  Pumped up there no problem, and he was ready to go.  After that though, it seemed like he started struggling more and more everytime to get back up there, and he started checking off of rabbits the more tired he got.  Makes sense....I brought him pretty low to get him started, and I guess I just stripped more muscle off of him, than I had realized.  Suffice to say, by the time we finished hawkin, he was breathing hard, and had gotten a really good work out.  He has been eating a lot of rabbit lately (about 70 grams will put him at weight the next day), but since he caught that pig the other day, I had also brought some of that along.  I decided that after that work out, he needed to get some richness in him, so I fed him about 85 grams of pigeon, and we called it a day.

Yesterday found him sitting at 920 grams (which means he got a REALLY good work out, for him to burn that much pigeon between sessions), and he seemed ready to go!  I don't like hitting the same field back to back....esp now that i have so many, but we kicked up SOOOO many rabbits on Wed, I just couldn't resist.  Knew the woods were thick this time, so i parked over by the johnson grass portion of the field, and we started in where we got the first slip the day before.  He looked like a completely different bird.....pumping hard and fast  to every perch he was heading to, and the slightest movement had him teed up, and doing balks, like he was about to go for anything.  Went in search for our little friend, and we found him pretty quickly.  He bailed under a clump of trees, and CJ took a perch up on top of them.  I went inside, but just couldn't seem to get a reflush, so I abandoned that bunny, and started heading toward the peninsula.  I got about 10 yard from the tree or so, and I guess the rabbit bailed.  CJ took off in the other direction, and crashed to the ground HARD!  I didn't hear a squeel, so I started back in that direcion, but couldn't find him anywhere.  Looked around for about five minutes, and then headed toward the car for the receiver.  I'm thinking he was on the ground eating a rat or something, and was in a hurry so that MAYBE I could find him, before he ate the whole thing.  I'm making a lot of noise as I'm heading toward the car, and I guess I just didn't hear his bells as he flew back off the ground.  Got to the car, and glanced up at the T-pole.  There he was, just chillen up top, staring into the peninsula.  Good times, so I locked back up the car, and headed into the peninsula.  The pole he was chillen on was right on the edge of the field, so as soon as I started kicking around, I was pretty much directly under him.  I probably hit brush for about 3 or 4 minutes, when directly next to me I hear a thud that had to have cracked the surface of the earth.  Didn't hear bells or anything.....just a crash about a foot behind me.  I LITERALLY, out loud, said "oh $hit" and jumped in the startled me that much.  I turn around to see the bird mantling on the ground, and I see a rabbit leg sticking out from under squeel or anything.  So I walk to the front side of the bird to help him with his bunny, but I was not needed in the least bit.  The rabbit was completely dead....blood coming out of it's nose and eyes, and it's mouth was COMPLETELY stuffed full of dirt.  He had hit the head with both feet, and just drilled it into the ground.  Dead on impact!!!!!  Now THAT is what I'm talkin about!  Finally...we are getting some aggression out of this little guy.  Trade off was perfect like always, but then the nonsense began. 

His first rabbit, was caught at 930 grams, and he didn't want to have anything to do with finishing up his meal on the fist.  What I do, is I let him get a little off the rabbit, trade him to his lure, and then hop him to the fist for the remainder of his meal.  That first bunny, he acted like a turd, and all he wanted to do was grab the leg, try and fly, and then hang upside down.  Since his weight was adjusted, we have had pretty good manners on the fist....not the best (which is my fault completely...his first rabbit was caught in the middle of some over head height briars, and I had to carry them out into the open....took me a while to get out of that tangled mess, and as a result I made a REALLY bad first impression with this is what it is, and I have learned a valuable lesson because of it......).  Anyways, manners have been pretty decent all things considered since then, but not today.  920 grams had him doing that same nonsense again, which was pretty darn irritating.  My new target is going to be 915 grams....hopefully, we will get the good flying like we had yesterday, but get those fist manners back.....we shall see.  Either way though, I won't know for a little bit.  Can't fly today (Friday), so I fed him up really good, and we won't be hawkin again till Saturday morning.  I will have him at 915/920 grams for our session, but with the duration of time between feeds, I could probably have him up to 960, and he would still have good manners....will have to have him at that weight for two or three days, before we will know anything for sure.  Sooooo, still dialing in his weight apparently.  I should be past this point by now, but I'm not.....would have been if temperatures never changed, but of course they do, and I'm having to re-figure stuff out.  Over all though, I liked yesterday's session.  He had a new intensity, he finally came off the bench and performed well from the start, and he was hitting HARD.  Hopefully, we can keep it up.  Saturday gives more time for hawking, so the day will be kicked off with duck slips!!!!!  Fingers crossed everybody!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bunny #4

There is just something about this spot!  I hawked the Urban Dumpsite a lot last year.  See, I wasn't planning on kicking my falconry career off with a Redtail, so when fate (or was it Ryan pushing?????) took me in that direction, I hadn't found any rabbit fields yet.  Being that I only had a couple by the time we started flying, I over hawked the crap out of them.  The dumpsite was one of them and I had pretty much figured out exactly where all the rabbits liked to "have their little parties," as Jonathan likes to say :).  By winter last year, I had over done it, and the rabbits just weren't poppin anymore.  By that time though, I had found a lot of other fields that were WAY better, so I didn't go back at all. That must have given the dumpsite enough time to rest, and since we are having a banner year for bunnies, it has recovered nicely!  

Well, as I have indicated previously, I had a hell of a time getting slips early on, so I reverted back to what I knew.  I KNEW there were rabbits at the Dumpsite, and I KNEW where they would be in the summer/early fall (unlike my new fields, where I only knew their "winter" hang outs).  Oddly enough though, most of my slips are in different areas than last year.  Don't get me wrong, they are still in their "usual" spots, but I guess the greater number of bunnies (compared to last year), has made them spread out a little bit.  Rabbit number 3 was near a spot that consistently held rabbits last year, but it was back inside one of the "wooded" sections bordering it (which for some reason, was about five times thicker last year, compared to this year, which made me not hawk it...which in and of itself is odd.  Everywhere else, the brush is thicker this year, except for this area....weird huh??).  Anyways, I believe that was the first rabbit I have moved out of there, and he caught it.  Well, we caught rabbit number 4 yesterday IN THE SAME SPOT!  I don't mean same general area....I LITERALLY mean the same spot.  I didn't have to crush the brush down around him or anything, cause he was sitting right in the middle of the area I had already trampled down. 

Not much of a story behind it.....I only managed 3 slips yesterday, which compared to lately, was pretty weak.  We had one part of the session, when he started soar hawking, and now that I have pigs, was able to enforce that behavior FINALLY.  He was looking down pretty focused, but was just a little bit out of position.  I tossed a strong flier, with the hopes of him getting burned (but still be enforced for his soaring behavior), and hopefully teaching him to stay in better position......if it brought him back over where I wanted, then i was going to toss a hindered one, and end the session on that positive note.  Well, my big plan sounded good to me, but he wasn't having any of that.  I tossed out the pig, and he came in HOT.  He just barely missed snatching it out of the air, so I'm not sure he learned anything about "position" if you will....but at least he put in a good effort on it.  Going to have to make sure I don't do too many of those though (without a confidence booster...), b/c he will either A) start thinking he can't catch them out of the air, and start refusing the ones that don't start from coming off the ground, or B) He will start catching them, and I will be teaching him that position isn't really that important (instead of staying directly over me).  I'll tell you one thing though....his rabbit flights are pretty unexciting (compared to the crazy brush crashing of the females).....his chases on birds though, make him pull out the moves!  Twists and turns, little mini wingovers, etc.....the good stuff!!!!!!  He may pull out the goodness when we start hawking squirrels, but our brush just needs a heavy bodied crasher (at least this time of year....), when chasing those rabbits.  Who knows his confidence gets higher, he may just turn it on after all.  We shall see!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1st Pigeon!?

Well, we are still crawling along at a snails pace.  I got spoiled with Dee Dee apparently, and compared to her, this little guy is pretty sucky.  He was pretty thin when trapped, so that may have been a pretty good indication of what his fate would have been, had he not been trapped.....we are pushing forward anyways, and I still have high hopes that he will turn into a semi decent hawk.  

Thursday, the day after our last rabbit, he was at 960 grams, and it was WINDY!  I had the afternoon free, and being that I hate wasting days, we went and flew anyways.  Surprisingly, he did great (for him....).  We got seven or eight slips, and he chased them hard, but just didn't seem to connect....probably weight related (too high...only giving part of it to the game), but at the same time....I can have him "at weight", and he will chase really hard, and still won't connect....he just needs to get better at catching rabbits!  Friday found us at weight though, and he sucked.  I had Judah and Paul along for the hunt, and he just wanted to fly off.  I realized early on when I got this bird, that he doesn't fly well with other people in the field......I would have thought that he would be over that by now....but he isn't.  There isn't really anyway to get him better, other than him sucking, and us continue to give him slips.  Eventually, he will pick up on the fact that having a bunch of people out there is advantageous, but until then, he is lame.  

Saturday was good though.  I had the whole day free, no previous hawking engagements, so it was all about the hunting!  Sunrise found me leaving the house, with the bird sitting nice at 900 grams.  We swing by the pigeon spot, and it was like someone was pulling the strings, b/c the setup was PERFECT!  I have described the setup on my blog, but since I'm over here now, I will give a little refresh.  There is a company who has a parking lot that is inset into the side of a hill.  Three of the four sides, are lined with retention walls, and the one on the east side, has a small road running along the top of it.  The pigeons like to get down on the ground, and eat down in this parking lot, which creates the IDEAL setup.  When I got there Saturday morning, they where all in "feeding mode."  because of the walls, you can't actually see the pigeons on the ground, until you are right on top of them, but there was a steady stream of birds going up and down from the powerlines, to the parking lot.  I crept up near the edge of the wall (but back about 10 feet or so), and unhood Cleveland Jr.  The pigs where going up and down, and we sat there and watched for about a minute.  Once he started head bobbing, it was on.  I got as low as I could, and started sneaking up to the edge of the wall.  Freakin ninja style, we crested the wall without the pigeons breaking, and I was yelling HO HO HO when they saw us coming.  CJ was off the fist like a bullet, and was pumping for all he was worth toward the pigs.  The mad scramble occured, and he made a pretty decent attempt, but just couldn't close the gap in time.  Called him down, and we headed toward the otherside of town.  

The falconry gods were smiling on us and I found five or six GREAT pigeon slips out of the car window on my way.  Though he has been bagged out of the window before (and has made some pretty decent attempts at crows early on), we have not tried any car slips for a few weeks, and he refused them all.  Ended up getting four or so PERFECT crow slips too, and he refused them all also!  He doesn't like the car as of right now, and it's going to take some work to get him back into the groove of things (work that I'm not going to put too much energy into right now, because we are working on other stuff.....).  So, we continued on.  The pig slip ealier (and the attempts from the car) were just because I couldn't resist, but we had a goal this morning.....we were looking for ducks!  

I have a few ditchs, that have consistantly been holding quackers recently, and that's where we were heading to.  Arrived, and I glassed the creek, and what do you know.....THREE seperate slips!  Two groups of two, and then a group of about 7 or 8 also.  The setup for these is, again, pretty sweet.  Park high up on the hill....sneak down as low as I can, and then it's on.  Up until today, we hadn't really had a good "chase" on ducks, but Cleveland was geeked this AM (I think the Pigs got him going!), and I was hoping for some goodness.  Anyways....I forgot to pick up rocks....I know, I know....I loose my brain when hawkin is involved.  Make the slip, and i'm yelling ho ho ho.  He takes off heading straight at the ducks, and they imediately bailed back to the water.  He buzzed them, and then did a wing up about fifteen or so feet into the air putting him in PERFECT position for the reflush.  This is where I screwed rocks, bird in the air, and these ducks didn't want to leave the water.  He makes his in-air turn, and is heading back toward the quackers, and this is where I failed as a falconer.  I should have just jumped into the creek and flushed them....with the wind direction, bird location and his speed coming in....he would have had one.  I was dumb founded, doing one of those...."I can't believe he is going for them with so much" sort of things, and just froze.  He comes haulin in, and tries to snatch one off the top of the water.  They both dove, but he got a foot on one of them.  He gets pulled down into the water, and quickly lets go, and flies over to the bank.  Suffice it to say....he doesn't even try on the other two slips.  I'm yellin ho, ducks flush (cause I get rocks for these slips), and he just flies up to a perch.  I blew it.......that's all there is to it.  First slip, he went for them hard, and I failed him.  Had he scored, it would have been all over but the cryin for the ducks the rest of this year.  Now I'm going to have to work on it....just like we are workin on catching rabbits, and everything else we are going for.  It's like, the first go is make it or break it.  

His first few rabbit slips, he was crashing THICK brairs left and he only half asses the briar slips, just waiting for an open one (and he isn't too heavy....if anything, he needs to go up in weight).  Anyways, we head to Rosa South after that, and get between 10 and 15 bunny slips that he tries for.  Misses them all, and we end the day empty handed.  Saturday night, I meet up with my good buddy Mark, and we go pig trapping.  I have tried to do this twice before, but my technique is lacking, and I needed to watch the master!  Had a good time, and Sunday found me with pigs in the loft, and a new game plan going on.  I didn't have much time to hawk, so I was hoping to find a pigeon slip out the window, and if he went for it at all, then I would follow it up with a confidence bagger, and hopefully, that would get him back in the car hawking mood.  Left the house, and OF COURSE, I had to check the pigeon spot.  Again, they where cooperating perfectly (why couldn't I have gotten slips like this with the Red Shouldered Hawk?!?!?!?!?!?).  I have car hawked the "pigeon spot" before, but have since realized that the torn up gravely road (and my car driving down it), is usually what causes the pigs to bust early, so I went for it off the fist again..... My main goal was enforcing car hawking today (and this was another one of those bonus, I just can't resist slips...), I didn't use caution like Saturday, and just parked on the edge of the wall.  Half of the birds busted, but the rest stayed on the ground, so I walked away from the top with the bird, and we watched the pigs, until they started coming down again.  Same thing as the other day....the head bobs told me we were ready, and I started to sneak up to the edge of the wall.  Well, I guess he remembered the slip, because he left the fist WELL before we got to the wall, and came in low kestrel style.  I was running behind him toward the wall, and just as he crested the wall before he disappeared below the edge, I heard the erruption of wings.  I'm yelling and waving, and I get there just in time, to see him snag one about a foot or two off the ground!!!!! 

 I'm pretty psyched about this kill.  It's a pigeon yes....not the most glamorous of hawking, but this is how I look at it......He flew off the fist (we normally hunt from trees, so this is different than he is used to), I made the game call, and he caught feather.  That is exactly what I was wanting.  Will this translate into him going for the ducks again without doing work....maybe..probably not....but who knows.  It definitely didn't do anything negative for his prey image of feather, that's for sure, so we will see.  

Yesterday, the wife had an interview, and I had to get Parker from day care.  Daylight savings time is weak, and I only had about 20 minutes before dark, by the time I got home.  Decided just to bag him out of the window, and he sucked.  Hopped off the fist to the car window.....sat there for a second, and THEN went and grabbed the pigeon....not what I wanted, and I don't think it enforced any of the car hawking concepts at all....the only thing I did was feed him another pigeon pretty much.  So that is were we sit.....came into work early today, and I'm working through lunch, so hawking is happening after work today.  Hopefully, we will get to hear the squeel, but we shall see.....     


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 36

Well, the skunk monkey has been hittin hard over the past few days.  Friday, he was still too fat from his last rabbit, but Saturday was some pretty decent hawking.  Ryan and the girls came to town for Boo Ha Ha (they close Brookside down to traffic, and all the stores hand out candy....all the kids dress up and trick or treat, there are inflatables, music, parade, etc, etc) and after doing the family thing most of the afternoon, Ryan and I ducked out for a little early evening hawking.  Cleveland Orenthal Brown Jr. (the bird is finally named) is still figuring out what all is going on, but we had some pretty decent slips.  None ended up with a squeel, but we did have one notable flight, where he chased one a good fifty yards out or so......The rabbit broke into the open part of the field, and an experienced bird would have sucked it up in a heart beat.....Cleveland Jr is just not there yet. 

 Sunday found me up in Bartlesville at the crack of dawn, trying to get my longwing fix taken care of....the stars ALMOST aligned for us, but a darn coopers hawk just had to go and screw everything up!  I swear, it doesn't matter what kind of bird you are flying....a coopers hawk will randomly show up, and mess everything up....either by eating your bird if you are flying little ones, or by being too irresistable not to chase around for the big ones.  On a side note, I think I'm going to fly a lot of coops in my area is just WAY to concentrated with them, to fly anything else that size (or smaller) do you keep your bird from getting eatin by a a bigger coops! :).  Anyways, after our first duck flight, we headed out to Scott's ranch to look for somemore quackers.  A few flights were had, and then it was time for CJ to fly.  Again....darn skunk monkey, but we had a really neat flight!  There is an old building out there that we were kicking around, and a rabbit got up and headed straight into it.  Scott has played this game before, and quickly yelled out that it was holed up in a pipe inside the building.  Cleveland Jr took a perch up on the roof, and Ryan and I posted up next to the wall (on the outside of the building)....hindsight....we should have placed ourselves a little more strategically to block some of the escape holes back into the building, but hindsight being 20/20 and all that.....Anyways, Scott shoots the bunny out of the pipe, and Ryan and I are yelling HO HO HO!  The bird hesitated just for a second, but then dropped off the roof, burning hard.  He closed the gap just as the rabbit bailed back toward the building, and they met up JUST as the rabbit scooted back into the building.  CJ SLAMMED into the metal siding, and I'm not going to lie, I was pretty surprised when he picked himself up off the ground!  He hit HARD!  Ran out of time, so we put the bird up, and headed back to Ryan's house for a little grub.  Flew again that afternoon, but he had come down a little too much, and just didn't have the energy he needed.  Fed him up well that night, and Monday found me out hawkin at the urban dumpsite.  

915 grams was his weight, and he was keyed in!  Lots of nonsense, but I didn't get to the field until about 30 min before dark.  Life was smiling though, and I managed 7 or 8 slips before dark (did I mention I LOVE when the weather starts cooling off, and the brush thins out!!!!!!).  He was giving it all he had, but just didn't connect again.  

Sooooo, it was on yesterday to say the least.  I wanted one BAD, and the bird was actin like he was ready to go.  He was at 915 grams when I weighed him at lunch, and hung out in the car all afternoon hooded....I'm thinking he had to be somewhere around 910 grams or so, when we headed out to the field.  I was planning on going out to the dentist office, but Lindz' friend was being induced, and I had to go get Parker from his Nanna's house.  We needed to get in another quick session, so we headed back out to the dumpsite, to see what was poppin.  Tossed the bird up to a pole, and he immediately took off to his favorite dead tree (which is nowhere near where we were hawkin at.).  He knows we get slips in that area, but I wasn't ready to hawk it yet....There is a little creek that runs parallel to the two track that you enter the field on, and it makes for some really nice slips (the creek is dry right now...).  When flushed, the rabbits either have to cross the two track, or the creek bed....both of which leave them nice and exposed.  

Just like the day before, I managed my first slip within about 10 yards of the car, and my yelling HO brought CJ back to where he needed to be.  Managed to get a reflush on the rabbit, which enforced him sticking around, but he didn't close the gap in time.  Moved on, and we got another flush directly below the tree he was in.  He didn't even flap.....just dropped out of the tree like an anvil, and crashed the ground with a thud.  I heard a brief squeel, but he was empty footed when I made my way to him....I'm assuming he grabbed it by the butt or something.  

Continued on, and we got a few more slips here and there.  Rounded a fence, and I started kicking through the open portion of the field that lines the huge honey suckle patch on the side.....this is where Cleveland JR's favorite dead tree is that I mentioned earlier.  It sits there right in the center of that brushy area, and from his vantage point, he is in the perfect position for any rabbit that tries to duck out the side.  I started kicking through all of the normal places that hold rabbits, but i just wasn't getting anything to move.  All of a sudden, he takes off burning hard toward the tree line, and I see the cotton tail cross the two track, and head toward the trees.  CJ catchs up while the rabbit is still in the open, but gets the moves put on him bad, and he was left sitting on the ground, with a foot full of grass.  He took a perch up in one of the near by trees, and I continue poking around where I was at.  I don't even hear the bells until he lands in the big tree right above me, but he is looking down HARD.  There is a small patch of briars under that tree, and I start kicking around, hoping to get another quick flush.  Nothing moves, so I keep beating through it, and go around the backside of a tiny cedar.  I guess that's when the hidden bunny decided to break....he had been chillin in those briars somewhere, but held tight till I went out of view apparently.  I hear the bells singing, and look up just as he is crashing through the bushes.  

This rabbit FOUGHT compared to the first two!!!!  He was getting jerked all around on the ground, and I'm pretty sure my getting there was the only thing that kept him from getting bucked off....he had one foot on the butt, and the other one was around the shoulders.  I grabbed onto the back legs, and that's all it took.  He immediately shifted both of his feet to the head, and I gave the bunny the stretch.  SUPER psyched about how this went down.  I completely proved my purpose.....this was his first "adult" rabbit, and the only one he has needed assistance with thus he sees another advantage of having me around!  Who knows...maybe that little ride helped enforce the "goodness" of head shots too....maybe not though.  Maybe it taught him location isn't important when you have a human around....I hope that's not what we learned though :)!  

Anyways, this was the first time I traded him off with the goal of hawking tomorrow.  Not sure what happened to my brain, but I did my usual trade from last year......being that this bird is smaller, I ended up overfeeding by a TON!  LOL.  He is now fatter than when I "cropped him up" on his last rabbit, so I'm thinking hawking is probably out for today.  This is the last time this will happen though, and we are now in the "swing" of things.  On a plus note, he is starting to have eyes for squirrels now, so a couple more bunnies to solidify the following, and then it's all about squirrel hawkin!  I have to get this bird in shape for chasin jacks, and that just isn't going to happen chasing bunnies.  Don't get me wrong....we will still chase rabbits, b/c he has to learn how to chase them down in the wide open, and that will only happen from him getting juked out of his pants numerous times, but there is nothing like chasing squirrels up and down trees to bulk up your hawk!  Also, I still have ducks on the agenda for this year, and I'm going to need a turbo charged, confident bird for that.  So that's my update in a nut shell.....number three is in the bag, and all eyes are on number four!!!!  


PS  Sorry for the lame picture!!!!!  I left the camera at home, and my phone just takes crap photos.  Bad ones are better than nothing though....... 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Work Story as Promised

Here is a rough draft of my work story, a version of which will be published in the Sutton Center's newsletter.

My Side of the Mountain Canyon:
An Ultimate Fly-off Story.

The Sutton Center recently participated in the filming of a program for the Discovery Channel that two of our Bald Eagles, Bensar and Fiona, were filmed flying over sections of the Grand Canyon.   This upcoming television series and possible feature length movie will show how birds are involved and intertwined in many facets of life around the world.   Since this is a main focus of our It’s All About Birds! program we felt it would be fitting for us to participate in such a venture.

After several weeks of training the Eagles to fly over long distances we were off from the center in Bartlesville to the Grand Canyon National Park the first week of October to meet up the film crew that had flew in from England.  Work began right away even though the initial conditions were less than perfect.  High winds made that first day difficult as we got the birds desensitized to the scenery and flying short distances on creance from several different points along the canyon’s rim.  All in all the first day went well even with the poor conditions, and the weather promised to be nearly perfect for flying and filming over the next several days. 

Day two was to be the first day of filming.  The sun was shining and winds were light and we were set up and ready to film in the morning.  There were two main shots that we were trying to get from the birds; one was an “onboard” shot where we mounted a small camera on Fiona’s back via a backpack mount and the other was a flyby shot of Bensar flying along the rim of the canyon.   Both birds flew well this day.  The canyon seemed to distract the birds very little, if at all, and the first day of free flights and filming went off with hardly a hitch.

Day three started off much the same, a beautiful morning and a lot of confidence that the day would go smoothly allowing us to get many of the shots that we needed.  We made some adjustments to Fiona’s flight path that greatly improved the footage from the onboard camera from the day before and then moved on to the flyby shots of Bensar flying from one point to another on the rim of the canyon.  We went through our process of weighing the bird, getting his diet ready, and putting a radio transmitter so that we could find the bird in the case of a potential flyoff.  Everything checked out and his first three flights of the day were perfect. 

Just as Bensar was called for his 4th flight something in the crowd of onlookers spooked him and he took a wide arcing flight path away from the provocation.  Under common situations this would not be much of a problem as the bird would circle to a distance away from what made him uncomfortable and then come back to his target where there would be reward waiting for him, but being next to the canyon provided a different scenario.  Most likely the air movement in the canyon was different than what the bird was used to and he quickly lost his altitude from the rim.  We could only watch as Bensar causally circled lower and lower into the canyon. 

Of course we knew that there was always the possibility that is could happen but it still seemed unbelievable even as we watched it unfold right in front of us.  Instantly the focus switched to eagle recovery mode.  Since the eagle had on a radio transmitter it was first a simple matter of getting out the receiver, which has a directional antenna on it, and working to get a rough estimate of where the eagle might be in the canyon.  Through years of experience using this equipment we had a good idea that the bird was less than a mile away, down, and the basic direction of where he had landed.   With the help of a park ranger that had been assigned to help us for the day we learned that one of the park trails nearby led to the general area where we thought the bird would be.

The producer from the production company, Steve Sherrod, and myself quickly mobilized the equipment we would need for a difficult hike that would last several hours down the park’s Tanner Trail.  We still had a strong signal from the transmitter and began our hike towards the audio lifeline.  The trail descended very quickly and within the first 40 minutes we had gone down nearly 1500 feet from the lip of the canyon.  The signal continued to grow stronger with every switchback we hiked and so did our hopes of getting Bensar back quickly.  Roughly two miles down the trail I was getting a very strong BEEP from the telemetry receiver indicating that we were getting very close.  I decided to climb up on a nearby boulder to take a look up that trail and there he was!  Nearly two hundred yards straight down the trail Bensar was perched in a small juniper tree lightly flapping his wings in the breeze.  I quickly pulled out my glove and called to the eagle, but it seems that Bensar was not quite ready for his adventure to be over and he took to the wing flying perpendicular to our direction and over a small red rock ridge with the signal from the transmitter quickly fading.  We hurriedly continued our hike down to the rock wall where we last saw him flying and realized that we were not even half way down to the bottom of the canyon and that where he flew was not going to be easy to access.  With light fading fast we decided that we needed get out of the canyon and made the arduous hike back up to the rim.
The next day we decided that we would get the gear that we need to spend a night in the canyon for our next attempt at finding our wayward eagle.  The signal strength from the transmitter had changed very little from our final reading from the rim the day before indicating that the bird had not moved any further, so we began our second hike down the Tanner Trail reaching the red rock ridge just before nightfall.  Here we made camp for the night with the intention of going backcountry the next day.  This involved hiking down a water shed that appeared to lead to the bottom of the canyon. 

Fly-off day three began with a granola bar breakfast and difficult task of trail blazing down a steep canyon wall with a lot of loose rocks and thorny plant life.   The steep path leveled out slightly into a dry creek bed that featured large boulders and several 10-15 foot drops gradually lowering us further and further toward the canyon floor.  Just when things were looking promising we dropped in over a large boulder that led down a smooth slide in the rock ultimately terminating in an 800 foot vertical drop straight down.  Even with Steve and myself being experienced in rappelling, there would have been no way to climb back out around this route especially if we located the eagle so our only choice was to hike back out and come up with a plan B.

The next day we met with the park’s backcountry office to find out what options we still had available to us.   The possibility of the Tanner Trail, what appeared to be the closest route, had been tried and ruled out, helicopters were not allowed to go below the rim of the canyon except in the case of an extreme emergency involving a life and death situations of humans, so our last option appeared to be a hike down the New Hance Trail to the Colorado River, up the river several miles, and then backcountry to where we believed the bird to be.  Estimated time: a 3 day hike down and back.

After careful consideration we decided that this may be our last option.  Luckily, three park employees, one from the backcountry office and two park wildlife biologists, volunteered to make the trip with me to help with getting the bird out of the canyon assuming that we found him.   So it was decided that the next day I would set out on the New Hance Trail with the park volunteers and attempt to make a day and a half hike in one day to get to the where we assumed the bird to be. 

The New Hance Trail begins near Grand View point and descends nearly 6000 feet over 7 and a half miles to the Colorado river.  We got our start around 10a.m. and by 2 o’clock I had reached the Hance Rapids on the river.  At this point the volunteers set up camp and I continued on another two and a half miles east down the river to the point where I could access where the Seventy-five Mile Creek emptied.   By triangulating the signal that we had gotten at the top of the canyon with my current one at that time, I deduced that, if I could get to the bird, going backcountry into this area would give me the best chance of finding him.  So I left the sandy shore of the Colorado and headed up the narrows away from the beaten path. 

The winding narrow path up the creek bed was walled by vertical cliff faces nearly 500 feet high for the first mile or so.  This caused the signal coming off the transmitter to weaken considerably often testing my belief that the bird was actually in this part of the canyon, but I continued on hoping that the signal would come back strong around each turn of the canyon.  After several miles of walking in the shadows of the rock face, the creek bed widened by several hundred feet and I decided that this was be a good place to again check the signal.  Beep, Beep, BEEP! As I turned to my left the signal went from very weak to incredibly strong!  In front of me was a small thorny tree, a slope of gravel that went up maybe 20 feet and a 20 foot wall that appeared to lead to a level area of rock that went back a ways until the next cliff started.  I assumed that Bensar would be up above the wall.  It looked like an easy enough rock climb, so I dropped my pack, picked up the eagle glove and some meat to call him with and started to psych myself up for what I would find at the top of that rock wall.  I started toward the small tree moved four steps to the left around the tree, stepped up on a small boulder, and there he was!  Just sitting there on the ground, nestled up right next to the bottom of the rock face!  I couldn’t believe it!  I had not seen this bird in four days and there he was plain as day not twenty feet from me!  After the initial shock of actually finding him, I started to put on the glove and before I could even get to his food he was flying toward me. 

I quickly put his jesses, swivel and leash on him and officially had Bensar recovered!  It was at this point I fully realized why it was called the Grand Canyon and not just canyon.  I still had to get back to the base camp where the rest of the rescue team was waiting for me and then get the bird back to the top.  After a quick snack for me and the eagle it was nearly 6 o’clock when I started back out of the Seventy-five Mile Creek and the sun was only an hour or two from setting.  Bensar was pretty manageable on my  fist while hooded as we made our way back to the river and west along  the shore until we reached the first  point that I was dreading, an avalanche rock slide that forced the trail away from the river and up and over about 300 feet or swim.  Since I was carrying several thousand dollars in electronics to find the bird, the swim was out , so up the series of climbs we went.  First I would lift Bensar up as high as I could and set him on a rock, then I would climb up, then lift Bensar and sit him down, then climb, and this process repeated over and over again as I made my way up to the top of this rock outcropping.  During this process the sun was setting and as it got darker the trail markers became very hard to see.  I soon realized that it would be too dangerous to continue on with this climb.  So I found a small cave that was recessed into the cliff face, tied Bensar to my pack and rolled out my sleeping bag for the night.  I couldn’t help but think about the book “My Side of the Mountain,” with the boy living in his hollowed out tree with his falcon, Frightful, but this romantic view of the situation quickly slipped away as I was kept awake all night by an Eagle that decided to be nocturnal.  Nonstop, Bensar remove water bottles out of my pack, pulled at the straps, jumped on and off and generally made a lot of commotion throughout most of the night.  At least it was a beautiful weather and a beautiful evening.  I laid comfortably on top of my sleeping bag and watched shooting stars until I eventually did fall asleep for several hours. 

I woke up in my cave just before sunrise, packed up my gear and eagle, and then went back to climbing on up to the peak of this section of trail.   The trek back down was not easy either as it was literally on a “trail,” term used lightly here, down an actual avalanche back to the final half mile stretch of the river  to the base camp.  Surprised, was the expression I saw on the faces of campers as I walked through rafting group’s overnight location to met up with the volunteers that accompanied me down.   After telling my story of the night before and some pictures with the eagle, the rafting group graciously offered me a ham, egg, and cheese biscuit with some coffee and bid us well on our final hike back  to the top of the canyon.

Being that the volunteers had no experience handling an eagle we decided that it would be best to take turns carrying Bensar hooded in a cradled position similar to a baby for his final ascent out of the canyon.  He was not overly happy about this arrangement at first but soon settled down and rode well for the next eight hours as we gradually hiked our way up through the twelve various rock layers that make up the walls of the Grand Canyon.  We took many breaks along the way to rest and make sure that Bensar had plenty of food and water, but made good time and reached the rim safe and sound around six o’clock in the evening.  After four and half days, nearly 30 miles and almost 20,000 feet of hiking up and down the ordeal was over.

I’ve been through a lot of fly offs in my years of training free flight birds but this was by far the most challenging.  Full of highs and lows, both literally and figuratively, this endeavor was something that I’ll never forget.  On the first day at the park I said “you know the view is nice but I would enjoy this place a lot more if I actually go into the canyon and experience it.”  Next time I’ll be more careful of what I wish for.