Monday, November 28, 2011

Rubbin' Brakes Ryan in Kansas

Rubbin brakes Ryan.....What does it mean?????  I have no idea. We pulled over to watch a potential Prairie Chicken field and as the sun came up I noticed my name on the road.  Weird....thought it might be fate but it was not.

I got into western Kansas on Tuesday afternoon and spent a couple of days looking for what looked like good chicken habitat.  Beautiful countryside was seen from the get go but it took some time to home in on where those elusive prairie grouse were hiding.

On Thursday afternoon Daniel rolled into town and we took in some dirt hawking with Randy, a Kansas falconer who apprenticed under a friend of ours a number of years ago.  Randy's 2nd year passage Harris' Hawk and first year chamber bird were really with it.  They chased hard everything we flushed; pheasants, Bob-whites, dickey birds, bunnies and even a Great Horned Owl.  The younger of the two birds managed to nab a cottontail that was just inches from the impenetrable fortress of a rock pile, and the older bird connected with a bunny as well in some very thick cover.   Quite the showing considering the wind was easily blowing 30 mph!

Friday morning we finally struck gold.  While screwing around trying to trap a prairie falcon, we met an old timer by the name of Francis.  As he slowly crept up behind my truck in his late model Chevy pickup, Daniel and I prepared ourselves for what was surely going to be him coming up to bitch us out for acting weird near his property.  However, as we rolled down our window to acknowledge him, he cheerfully asked, "you boys pheasant hunting?"  We told him that we had guns in the truck and were interested in pheasants but what we were really looking for was Chickens.  Upon hearing this, the old farmer's eyes twinkled and he got a slight smile to his face.  He then informed us that he had just flushed about 40 Prairie Chickens about a 1/2 mile back from where we were sitting and he would take us there!  No one had asked him about Prairie Chickens in years he later informed us.  So we followed Francis on down the road to the cut wheat field where he claimed to have seen them.  Not fulling trusting this old guy yet, we opted to pick up the shotguns and walk the field with my pointer, Lulu.  

We walked for about 10 minutes without seeing anything too promising when a single bird exploded from just upwind of Lulu!  She quickly snapped around and locked on point.  As we approached the dog, another 12 Chickens flushed well out of gun range but we had found what we came for!  

We watched the birds put in into the CRP about 400 yards way and marked the spot using a house on the horizon as a reference.  We emptied the shells from our guns and hurriedly made it back to the truck to pick up my hybrid.  We instantly got the bird in the air and set out to get another flush.  With the falcon above and the dog and Daniel below, we made our way out to where we had marked the Chickens down but unfortunately they had snuck off to elude us for another day.  

Another day was not meant to be though with the wind blowing up in the 40 mph range for the next few days so I took a couple of nice photos of the sky and we bid western Kansas fairwell.  Where are the pictures of the Prairie Chickens?  In all the excitement of course I left it in my bag so the only pictures I've got are in my head.

As luck would have it and with some help from a friend I also found a flock of 41 Greater Prairie Chickens on the way home and about an hour from my house.  So looks like I've still got a chance before the end of the year...

Now that I am back and settled I got the birds in the air again yesterday and this morning.  Yesterday there was a very strong north wind and neither of the birds flew all that well, although the Gyr flew markedly better than the hybrid.  

Today, both birds flew much better.  Mongo, the gyrkin, took a commanding pitch and when the ducks were flushed he put in a great stoop just missing a hen Gadwall, sending her hightailing it back to the pond quacking in her boots.  Tulsa flew better too, but still not taking a very good pitch.  He was pumping and away from the pond so I went ahead and flushed.  For some reason he chose a duck that was dead center over the water and guess where they both ended up......   The duck pulled loose and flew away, leaving the the falcon to do his best Olympic breast stroke to the shore.  At 22 degrees this morning, his feathers froze instantly and he sounded a bit like a rattlesnake as he shivered on our way back to the truck.  

The frozen feathers also revealed some feather damage on his primaries that I had not noticed.  Looks like I'll be imping in a few feathers later this week. 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gyr's are just different...

...or at least mine is.  Mongo has been flying great.  Aside from a passing goose that he just couldn't convince himself to let pass unharrassed, he has been a model bird so far this year.

His first flight on ducks this year was a good one but he seems to always like to choose the ducks to the rear of the group.  He had a great pitch and I flushed but rather then taking on one of the lead ducks, he chose one of the rear ones that hadn't quite cleared the edge of the pond and knocked it back to the safety of the water.  After a single pass to make sure he couldn't juuuust maybe grab the duck off the water, Mongo leisurely flew over and landed at my feet.  Casually looking up at me, like a confused puppy with his head slightly cocked to the side, waiting for his lure.

This falcon has always been a one shot wonder since I started flying him.  One of the most frustrating parts of flying him has been that he absolutely will not remount after a miss.  After talking with several who have flown imprint Gyrs in the past, I've been told that is kinda par for the course and many do the same thing.

Duck flight 2 for him this year, started out much the same.   The falcon was mounting in a very gusty north wind and with a good amount of effort made his way up into the sky.  Once in position I flushed around 50 mixed species of ducks downwind off the water.  Mongo instantly folded into his drawn out stoop and picked out a couple of Gadwalls that turned away from the group and back towards the water.   The Gyr matched their move and fell in below and slightly behind them.  Then he put on move that I can best describe as a wobble back and forth.  This caused the ducks to feint each way matching his "wobble" and seemed to make them nervous about bailing into the water.  They made another move away from the pond, went about 50 yards out, and then turned to come back and Mongo struck down the leading bird with a monster hit at a crossing angle.  

I've never seen a move like that out of a falcon and it looked too deliberate to not have been intentional.  One of the best flights I've seen in a while if for no other reason than it was different from the standard smash and grab of the hybrids I've flown for the past 5 years or so.

Tulsa continues to catch ducks as well but he has been more of a pain than anything this year.  He just doesn't have the excitement in his flight that he has had in the past.  Ducks have just gotten to easy for him and aside from his first couple of duck flights this year, he hasn't missed since.  He's got another thing coming to him next week when he meets a Prairie Chicken for the first time.....


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Come on weather!

The wind just keeps messing with us.....we either have too much, or too little. On the few days a week that we do have nice weather though, she has been doing pretty well, and we are starting to get some nice height under us. We had a fly off the other day, because I decided that using my brain was over rated (got to know when to say no on the flight.....), but other than that, not too bad. Her focus is starting to get better, and I'm still having a stinkin' blast this this girl! We are supposed to drop down to a 9 or 10 mile per hour wind this evening, and I'm hoping to get a good session in.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Week One of Duck Season

Here we are a week into the 2011-2012 duck season and Tulsa finally scored his first duck.  It's been hard to convince him that he needs to go up so far this year.  I suppose having a few dozen ducks under your belt, combined with warm weather makes a bird a bit lazy.  Oddly enough he had decided on his last two slips to try stooping the ducks on the water.  Just as in his first two seasons, all he caught were splashes to the face, and he ended up landing next to me in field soaking wet.  Nothing spectacular in his flight today but considering his goofy start this year I'll take it. 

One week til we head out to find some grouse....