Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Chapter

has come to a close....I fed the bird up really well on the lure, was hopping her from the lure to the fist, and she bolted. She stayed out over night, and when I went to ge her in the morning, discovered she had pulled her transmitter, and had bailed at some point during the night. I have had everyone and their moms out looking for the past week, but it seems as if my season has come to an end. Pretty bummed, and I don't really have much else to say. Until next time my friends

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

He's Finally Done It!

He's finally done it!  Two and a half years in the making.....this Gyr finally hit a duck while stooping.  He's caught some ducks, but he has always put in a huge stoop, leveled off and overran them or flew them down.  Today it finally clicked that making contact in the stoop in advantageous.  It was a heck of a hit too.  The duck landed on its back, legs straight up in the air, and never moved.  This was also the first time that he caught a duck in back to back days.  All this just in time for his season to be winding down.  I'll be putting Mongo in the mews this weekend and feeding him up.  The next two months I have a lot of travel to do for work and there just will not be the time to fly two birds.  I will be keeping the Hybrid going with the hopes of getting away for a chicken flight or two.  It may not seem like much but this is a major accomplishment for this bird and a long time coming. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blue Skies = Big Dives

Finally we are back to some good duck hawking weather.  40 degrees yesterday afternoon, 18 this morning.  Warm enough to melt ice during the day and be cold enough for Gyrs and Hybrids by morning.  High pressure days don't hurt either.

My hybrid was fed up the day before and was to high in weight for a morning fight so the Gyr was up.  He took a great pitch over around thirty ducks.  On the flush, the Gyrkin singled out a Ringneck and made solid contact with the duck from behind which sent the little diver to the ice hard and he continued to slide a good 30' from where he crashed.  On the wing over, a gadwall flew a little to close and caught the Gyrkin's eye.  Impulsive as he is, his attention turned from his downed prey to the wayward dabbler.  He met this duck at a 90 degree angle and sent it cartwheeling out of the sky.  Forgetting about the Ringneck he initially hit for the larger Gadwall, Mongo had his meal for the morning. 

That evening Tulsa was at weight and he caught a drake Ringneck that decided to make a break from the main flock of 30 or more ducks from a nice stoop.  Second double of the year, something that I had hoped to do a lot more of but things haven't quite worked out as well as I would have liked.  We're getting there though....


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wind and Ice and A Lot of It

We've been froze out for much of the past week, but some how we still have been finding a slip or two a day. Tulsa is fully in the groove at this point.  We've taken 16 ducks in the last 19 flights.  The last three days in a row he has been successful but the cost of which remains to be seen. 

Tulsa seems to be learning some bad habits from flying with ice all around.  He is the first bird that I've had that will readily drop the hammer on a duck that he has knocked to the ice.  Other birds that I've flown will knock them onto the ice and then remount as if the duck is just on the water like normal, but not this guy.  He seems to have found that the ice is advantageous and once the ducks are on it they are done for.  Lucky for me (so far anyway) he has hauled every duck he's caught in this fashion over toward me on shore and I haven't had to test the ice myself yet.

Today gave me a little insight as to how this may be a problem.  I found a 1/2 dozen Gadwalls in the open corner of a larger, but flyable pond.  The falcon had a pitch of around 800' and I went in for the flush.  The ducks cleanly left the water and went a good 30 yards or so out over the prairie with the falcon stooping fast behind them.  When the ducks saw the falcon coming they began their turn toward the water and one should have met his end then, but Tulsa pulled out of the stoop 30 feet above them and seemingly herded them back over to the pond.  The ducks passed over the water initially only to be herded back again by the falcon.  When the Gadwalls finally decided that they were going to make an attempt to get back to their swimming hole, the falcon chose the straggler and hammered him down into the water.  The duck lay in the water with one wing held up, this often happens when a duck takes a big hit, and Tulsa returns skimming the water toward him.  Then, like a Bald Eagle grabbing a fish,  he throws out his feet and snags the duck in the water, makes it a few more flaps, and then crashes into the water as well still holding the duck in his talons.  Luckily I decided to wear my muck boots today and I ran into the knee deep water to grab the two of them and toss them up on shore.  The 13 degree temp froze up the falcon's feathers immediately and he sounded like a rattlesnake as his primaries and tail vibrated against one another while he shivered in the process pulling apart his meal.  

I suspect that this stemmed from him grabbing ducks off the ice for the past few days and am guessing that this will happen for a time or two after the water opens up again.  Hopefully it is something that he will unlearn as fast as he learned it. 

In the meantime he's gonna get at least a couple of days off, because he has, once again, bruised his toes and seems to be keeping weight off of that foot.  Hopefully it will heal up quick just as the others bruises have.  I should add that each time he has bruised them, the injury has been on a different toe, if the same one kept reoccurring I would be giving him much more time off.  Also, the blood on his leg is not his. 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Falconer's Other Half (no not the birds.....)

I'm often asked how I can get away with flying birds all day on the weekend and so much during the week with a wife and small kids at home.  Well the answer is that my wife is a craft-a-holic.  She is always coming up with things to do to keep herself entertained, and the kids busy.

She's decided to start a blog about her projects; sometimes a how-to and sometimes just to show off to family and friends.  If you're a falconer who needs to get out and fly and have a family who needs something to do, then maybe her blog will help with some ideas to get them started.  A win/win for all.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Forced Bath

Had a low cloud ceiling day but running out of days to fly. The hybrid went up to the clouds I'd say maybe 700'ish. When he started getting hazy I flushed. The ducks started down wind then turned up wind and put back in the pond (The only one open for miles due to them being frozen). I ducked back behind the dam wall and watch the falcon begin his remount. At about 200' a duck must have thought he could make it on his own because I saw the falcon stoop and jumped up to see what was going on. He cold-cocked a drake Gad into the water about 4' from the shore. It was just twitching on the surface. What happened next was crazy; the falcon did a wingover and pile drove the duck and himself down under the water. WTH. I've never had a falcon even try to get a duck in the water after they've gotten past the baby stage. So he then was floating on top of the dead duck in the pond and eventually rowed himself close to shore where I could pick up him and the duck and move them to higher ground. The duck never even stirred. Sucks that he was only 200' up with the duck decided to break but damn, dead on impact from 200'!?!

I don't know whether to love or hate this bird from day to day. If this keeps up its only a matter of time before he does himself in.....


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moving right along

We have been having good sessions lately. We are flying the full length of the creance, and am having pretty darn good response to the lure. I'm going to do a couple full length calls to the lure today, and another couple tommorow. If we have instant response the whole time, then we will have our first hunt Saturday. If she hesitates at all, then we will push the first hunt off till Sunday. We are ALMOST there!!!!!!! About darn time right?!?!?!?! Still havn't decided which field to start her in....the BEST fields for rabbit slips don't have very many perchs, but the "ideal" starter fields arn't popping at the same level. Going to have to ponder on this one for a little bit....I will probably go with the most possible slips, and maybe bring a T-perch. Who knows though.....


Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's finally happened!!!!!

Yep....22 days off the trap, and it happened!!!! No, we didn't catch a rabbit, which is what one would expect after this amount of, I'm talking about getting our first hop :). Yep, that's took her TWENTY TWO DAYS to loose weight, so we have just been twiddling our thumbs, and playing the waiting game. She started "acting" like she was ready to do some work a few days ago, but it took up until this morning, before she made the leap. It was all over after that though, and the light bulb came on! Had another quick session at noon, and I had instant response the whole time. I didn't even give her the opportunity to start hesitating, and put her back out to weather after four leash length hops. Gathered her up for another session around 4:30 this afternoon, and we stayed outside for this round. I only need the bird hopping the distance from the lure to my fist, so I keep the "calling to the fist" portion of training short. We did 15 or so 5 to 8 yard flights on the creance, and she was instant the whole time! Flying to the fist....CHECK! On to the next stage of training!!!! Introduced the lure to her, and she did well! I had to fiddle it around with my fingers a little bit, but she eventually jumped down to it. She got a front leg for her effort, and hopped back to her perch immediately when finished. I left it out there for another hour or so afterwards, just to make sure it was out of mind, and then I took her inside for the night. We will do calls to the lure the rest of the week (hopping from the lure to the fist to end each session), and unless something crazy happens, I'm aiming for our first hunt to be on Saturday. Of course, behavior will have the final say, but I'm thinking it will happen. We are FINALLY moving! :). Now, we just have to hope that she didn't get too out of shape, during her three weeks of rest and relaxation.........I wish I got a three week vacation from life :). You can only look at so many pictures of a bird sitting on a perch, so instead, I added a picture of Ryan's dog (Lu Lu) doing what she does best.......sure is an ugly thing, isn't she ;)!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


On the way to work I glassed a two Ringnecks on a small pond.  The hybrid took a huge pitch over them and as he was pumping away from the pond, I flushed.  The two Ringnecks flushed in a typical Ringneck fashion, straight and away, and I looked up to see the falcon stooping over heard.  Only I didn't see a falcon. I had only enough time to think "where in the hell is he" when I heard a powerful *thwack* behind me.  I turn around to see a drake Mallard bounce off the ground not 30 feet away, promptly followed by the falcon's wingover that finished the deal.  The only thing I can figure is that the Mallard was in the neck of the pond to my left in the cattails and I just never saw him flush.  One of the coolest flights I didn't get to see, but it sure sounded great!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sunday/Monday & Hooding

I've held off posting lately because I didn't want to interrupt Daniel's story of the new bird, but now that things are in holding position until the bird is flying here's an update.  

Things have gone from not ok to really good in the past couple of weeks.  After a dosing for coccidia my hybrid has been back to his old self.  Better wing beat, not landing and taking nice pitches.  I'm not sure why I didn't have him checked before.  But he was holding weight and I dismissed the possibility when I shouldn't have.  Since being treated he's caught 11 ducks in 13 flights and the two miss days he was ~50+ of his flying weight.  

I've also got the Gyrkin flying well, taking solid pitches and putting in monster stoops but still has trouble finishing the deal on ducks, often getting dodged at the last second.  He has had some success and this past Sunday was one of those days.  

Daniel, Scott and myself found some mixed ducks on a open hole in the ice on a 16 degree morning.  This was likely to be the only water open so we decided that we had better fly it.  Mongo was unhooded and cast off, immediately eating up the sky.  At a pitch of about 700' we flushed and his stoop immediately pushed most of the ducks back into the water.  After a minute or two to remount we flushed again and this time he leveled out from his stoop above the water and overtook a hen Gadwall over the ice.  Grabbing her out of the air and nonchalantly coasted over to the bank of the pond, much to my relief, I wasn't ready to go ice breaking in the freezing cold.  He got a good crop out of the deal and his second duck of the year was in the bag.

Monday was another good day.  Mongo was still overweight from the flight the day before, so only Tulsa was  ready to go.  Another crisp, cold morning a ducks were there to be had.  These high pressure, cold, cloudless days are great for these falcons and he effortlessly gained pitch.

Within minutes he was just a speck in the sky and I jumped the ducks from the water.  A Gadwall was singled out and took the full impact from the stooping falcon.  Upon inspection the duck's wing had be broken cleanly in half with a compound fracture.  It is the first "tactical" kill for this falcon, as opposed to the body shots he has delivered until now.  I'm sure this will lead to more "wing shots" in the future, since those must have far less physical impact to the falcon.

Hooding.......  We'll the way Daniel wrote it made it seem like I have a deep philosophical viewpoint on hooding, but his words were a bit of sarcasm and we just went over the basics.  Training a bird to the hood is, or can be, quite a process so in this case I'm only going to give my thoughts on hooding a newly trapped bird or a young one that has just been pulled from the chamber.

The most important thing is having a hood that really fits.  People stuff bird's heads into too small of hoods all the time and just as bad is hoods that are too big.  Small hoods rub the eyes and squeeze the bird's head.  Big hoods rub the eyes because they wiggle back and forth, allow the bird to still see, and the bird learns that it can get the hood off so even if a good fitting hood is eventually used the bird still thinks it can get it off and will constantly try to do so into the future.  Nobody wants to have spent $60+ on a hood and have a bird constantly scratch at it. 

Next the hood needs to be opened all the way.  It can make the hood appear less deep but that allows it to slip over the head easily.  

Finally, holding the bird as close to your face as possible is a huge help.  Your face distracts the bird a little and having it so close allows for finer tuning of your hand eye coordination.  This makes your aim better and quicker adjustments can be made if the bird does try to move to one side or another.  It's also important to roll the hood on smoothly, rather than "poking" it onto the bird's face.

Hooding a bird from the get go is a big help.  The initial shock they experience when trapped or pulled from the chamber allows them to easily assimilate to the hood.  Traditional manning of birds is of little use to me.  A fresh bird is hooded and equipped then put on the block/perch.  Each day the bird is unhooded and offered food.  If the bird is not interested, the hood is put right back on.  

Hood = positive because it makes the scary human disappear.  

If a bird is not hungry no progress is being made its just learning that it can't get away so it gives up until it thinks it can possibly get escape.  That is why a bird will sit calmly and just randomly bate violently in the first couple days of traditional manning.  I've found that birds will be trained and manned just as quickly or much more quickly by just not bothering with waking a bird.  Plus it allows me to get things done rather then just sitting around with a hawk.

When the bird is hungry enough it will eat when unhooded.  After eating a tidbit I'll instantly rehood.

Hood = positive because food is there when the hood comes off.  Human not scary because he now has something I want.

Early on I'll do 4-8, five minute sessions in a day and if the bird is motived then the same progress can be made in a day as in 4-8 days of manning.  Personally I don't think the birds understand time.  There is either stimulus or no stimulus to them.  So a whole day of manning is not much different than a 5 minute session of being unhooded to the bird.  The biggest advantage to this is that the situation can be controlled much better in a 5 minute window than in a multi hour day and all interactions are more positive than negative.  

Many won't agree with how I do things and that is ok with me, but the proof is there and I've trained a lot of birds both for falconry and for work.  I bet I've had my hybrid on my fist less than 2 hours total in the three years I've had him, Daniel caught his first rabbit with CJ 14 days off the trap, and not much longer than that with his first bird using his variation of what I do.  I guess this is a bit of a tangent off the hooding subject, but it does show how effective of a tool the hood can be other than simply "blinders" for your bird.

Hooded Jack Merlin