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. 


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