Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Duck #4

I had the opportunity to get out with my good buddy Mark again today. He was kind enough to put me on a great pond with 20 or so hoodies, and we ended up catching a drake. We have been having some focus issues over the past week or so, and I was REALLY itching for a duck today. Though she was only four hundred feet or so, I was psyched that she came back over, and was happy that I got to enforce the behavior. I gave her a little extra time on the kill today than I usually do, and I was rewarded with a really crappy trade off. Serves me right though, and I'll stick with the routine next time :-) .


Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Great Day In a Wet Way

Had to brave the cold and go for a minor swim, twice.  The things I'll do to help these falcons.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Prairie Flight EVER!!!!!

I hear it quite a bit........."Prairies are slow." I generally respond with something like "Your mom's slow," but up until recently, I sort of had to agree. When one has been sitting around watching hybrids, or some of the other speed demons fly around, prairies do come off looking a bit sluggish. Maybe it's the wing beat, maybe it's their overall shape....whatever it is, it's pretty darn deceiving. After this weekend though, I have come to find out that it's all just an illusion :-)! This new found epiphany didn't come from my bird though (unfortunately), but from a beautiful little haggard prairie, and a drake mallard, that almost got away!

This past weekend was my sister in law's birthday. Edmund Oklahoma was the weekend destination, and we had a little family get together planned for her. As is my usual custom, I headed down there early in the morning, to meet up with my good hawkin buddy Mitch, and we were out on the road by sun up. We were out looking for ducks, and had just found the perfect pond, for a bird that is still in the process of getting started. We knew that there was at least one diver on it, but I hadn't stuck around long enough, to see what else was there. The peregrine was ready to role, and he blasted off the fist pretty quickly, and started mounting up nicely. We crouched down below the damn wall until he came back over, and then we went in for the flush. The pond erupted with duck wings, and a group of seven or eight ducks tore out of there, followed very quickly by a hungry falcon. His bird keyed in on the lead duck, and you can imagine our surprise, when he comes down and power binds to a drake mallard! I'm the closest to the bird, so I'm running as fast as I can to get to them, but I see the duck kick the falcon off, and start scrambling toward the water. That peregrine wasn't detoured in the least bit though, because he instantly got back up, and bound to it again right on the water's edge. I was still running like crazy, and my heart just sunk, when I saw the little guy get kicked off again! The duck sliped into the water, and Mitch and I dropped to our bellies.

While we are sitting their waiting for his bird to get back up in the air, a haggard prairie came cruising over the pond, and I signal to Mitch, to make sure that he saw it. About the time that the prairie got out of sight, Mitch's bird left the pond bank, and started heading back up. He was climbing strong again, and around the time he hit a couple hundred feet, that prairie came cruising back in, to do a little crabbing. None of it was too intense though, and eventually, it looked like the prairie had lost interest, and was heading on out again. It wasn't but a few moments after that, that Mitch gave the signal to flush, and we ran in on the duck. That mallard was still tucked up in the reeds on the ponds edge, and it wasn't but a few wing beats before he had cleared the pond's edge, and was flying off over a wide open pasture. Since the peregrine wasn't up that high this time, he didn't have the angle to come down and pound it, but he quickly pulled in right on the ducks rear, and was mirroring the ducks every move. They were hauling butt, and we could see the gap between the birds slowly getting smaller!

All of a sudden out of no where, that prairie was back, and was just hauling balls!!!! She came in from way behind, but caught up to the peregrine and duck within two or three hundred yards almost effortlessly. Instead of pulling in right behind the birds though, she started angling up a little bit (the tail chase was going on maybe 25 feet off the ground at this point in time....). The peregrine had been closing the gap during this whole process, and had finally gotten close enough to make a slash at the duck. He gave it all he had, and the duck pulled a crazy sideways move, in order to miss getting hammered. The last thing Mitch wanted, was for his bird to grab that duck, and then get smashed on by the prairie, so he started twisting the lure, and the peregrine broke off the chase. This though, is when it got REALLY good! When the peregrine made his slash at the duck, and it had to make his move to escape, I guess it lost a lot of speed. The prairie went from angling up, to pretty much standing on her tail, and started gaining height like she was pulling out of a stoop. She pumped like this for maybe 50 yards, and then tipped her wings, and folded into a stoop! She brought down the whole darn sky on that green head, and she took it straight to the ground! So ya....prairies are slow? I don't stinkin think so!!!!!!!!!! :-)

As far as my bird goes, the weather worked out last Thursday, and I was able to get a flight in with some buddies......she ended up setting her wings like a dork!!! She started pumping for a moment at one point though, so we flushed, and the gadwalls bailed back into the water. Saturday I flew her in Edmund pretty late in the morning, and after pumping up well over a thousand feet, she set her wings, hit a thermal, and went up to where she was fading in and out of binocular view. She came back over, and though her wings were set, I flushed anyways, and she almost snagged a duck about four hundred yards from the pond. She missed, whipped back up, and almost sealed the deal, but the duck made it over to the next pond. She remounted over a thousand feet, which was incredible(and I REALLY wanted to enforce it!), but right as I was turning to go flush the ducks, she set her wings, started dropping pitch at a crazy rate, and once she saw that I wasn't going to flush, took off chasing black birds. I would have flushed way before she set her wings, simply because it was the first time she had really remounted, but she was so stinking wide, that I kept waiting for her to come back over......I tried to fly her later in the evening after we had met up with a few other buddies, and she ended up sucking, and almost got killed by a red tail. We went out Sunday evening though, and put duck #3 in the bag. She was WAY wide and down wind, so I didn't really think she had a chance when I flushed, but she turned on the after burners, and ended up snagging another ring neck.

The weather was lame yesterday, and chances are, it won't work out for a flight tonight either, but the next couple of days are looking really nice......we will see how it goes I guess :-)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

And Boom Goes the Dynamite

After my last post about the Gyr, I was sliding into acceptance that this falcon was just "being a Gyr" as some of the old timers have implied about them.  However, my brain finally put together something that I was missing.  Pulling off of ducks while stooping, raking feathers off their backs, not stooping....All signs of too fat.  After a miss one morning last week where he should have easily knocked a Ringbill out but instead just knocked a few feathers loose.  I called him down to the lure for nothing, took him home and put him on the block.  Something I would do for most falcons that I assumed were overweight but somehow I had convinced myself that this bird was at the "perfect" weight.  Later that afternoon the bird was nearly an ounce lower than I had ever had him before and I went out in search of another slip.

Located the ducks, put him up, and lo and behold he blasted off the fist with a ton of energy, ate up the sky, and at about 800' I flushed for him.

No screwing around this time! Teardrop stoop, fell in a little behind an unlucky Gadwall and without loosing an ounce of speed, cut through the ducks wing, smashing the bone inside.  There wasn't much of a wingover, more like a quick pit stop on the ground just past his target, followed by the falcon springing back in the other direction to get to eating. 

I had this bird's weight today at nearly 100 grams lower than I started flying him last year and he didn't loose an ounce of energy.  In fact having a little more edge on him seem to motivate him more to really show what he is capable of doing.

Two days later he was back to weight and ready for more.  I found a pond with 3 Mallards on it, he had blinked these larger ducks in the past but being that he was at his new better weight my confidence that he would take a shot at these was much higher.

Again he took off with a new-found determination and began to mount.  And mount he did, after a brief check over the pond, he turned into the wind and took a long run out.  When he returned he was well over 1000' in the air.  Just a dot to the naked eye.  I allowed him to make one more run over the pond and as he turned and made his way up wind, I flushed. 

I could hear the "sizzzzzzzzzzzzwhouuuu" from way up and I knew that the velocity he was bringing was going to end violently.  After several long seconds, the end came, and I instantly got that sick to my stomach feeling that one gets when seeing a football player get hit and go instantly limp.  The Gyr hit the duck hard and literally bounced off and to the side.  The duck never moved after hitting the ground.  I gathered myself and ran over to the point of impact where I found the duck laying on its side with a compound fracture to the wing and saw Mongo sitting about 20 feet away, leaning back on his tail staring into the sky.

This instantly brought back memories of my black hybrid, Rhythm, and one of my first few blog posts.  Rhythm hit his last duck hard, killing it instantly, but in the process caused himself terminal damage and he died several hours later.  The necropsy showed that he had ruptured his pancreas in the impact.

I picked up the duck and tossed it in front of Mongo.  The falcon just looked at it for a couple of minutes while still acting dazed but eventually did snap out of it and began to pluck feathers from his prey.  After another flew minutes he was back to his old imprint self.  I set him up for a picture and then took him home to put over his crop and relax.  I think I'm gonna give him a couple of days off just to be sure. The amount of force these falcons can endure and survive (most of the time) is simply amazing.

I'm definitely more excited about the future with this bird.  And to think a little over 20 grams made all this difference...


Monday, December 12, 2011

2 for 2!!!

As soon as she started eating on her first ducks head, Mark suggested I trade her off pretty quick.....apparently those ducks taste about as good as they smell, so not well i'm guessing :-). I took his advice, and when it was all said and done, she ended up getting about her normal ration of food. The next morning I glanced at her weight, and I thought maybe, just maybe, we are going to get to have another flight! I pushed that idea to the back of my mind though (didn't want to get too excited), and headed off to the Bartlesville area, for some early morning hawking. Good friends, and good times were on the agenda, and we definitely accomplished both of those things.....I even got to round it all out with a GOOD meal too, so I was sitting about as happy as a person could be. That's when the bird went back on the scale, and I darn near had a heart attack........it was time to go hunting :-) :-)!!!

715 grams, and though that's the highest she has been in a long time, I am now an addict, and just can't help myself. Got everybody loaded up in the Subi (dog, parker, bird, pigeons, etc), and it was down the highway we went. Glanced at a couple ponds on my way out of town, but it wasn't till I hit one of my training fields, that I pulled over to do some serious glassing. This field rocks, in that you can drive in from the backside which is a pretty tall hill, and you can look down on the whole field from there. There are two kill me ponds on one end, and a long skinny one on the other. I glassed both of the ponds, but didn't see a thing. Turned the radio back up, went bouncing down the two track through the field, and drove out the exit that goes RIGHT between the two kill me ponds (maybe, a cars length from the edge of the pond!) Right as I am exiting the field, I glance back at my rear view mirror, and I see a single, small, black duck, swimming away from the side. It had been tucked up against the bank that was nearest to where I was glassing from, and I just didn't see her I guess. Anyways, I'm not sure why, but it didn't bust, so I drove a little ways past, and pulled the car over. Got the bird beeped up, Parker took his sweet little time selecting the perfect duck flushing rocks (he apparently didn't realize that I was about to go crazy with excitement!), and we were finally ready to role.

She left the fist quite a bit quicker this time.......she didn't turn and start coming back either! I'm sitting there straining my eyes as she takes off to the east, and her silhouette kept coming in and out of view. I have played this game before, and any second I expected the stoop, and the cloud of black birds to come erupting into the air. I'm freakin out, so I pull my glove off, and just start waving it. You wanna know what stink in happened?!?!?!?! She started heading back my direction!!!! I couldn't believe it. She was climbing the whole way back too, and by the time she got back over the pond, she was at least 500 feet or so. She was a good two or three hundred yards upwind and pumping like crazy, so as soon as she hit the money spot, Parker and I went for the flush. The ring neck blasted off of the water, and cleared the edge almost instantly! The prairie just poured on the speed, and at the last minute, put this inverted angle to the stoop and just creamed the duck!!!!! It went straight to the ground, and I didn't see it move once :-). She did THE SLOWEST wing over I have ever seen......almost as if she knew that duck wasn't' going anywhere!!! Other than car hawking, this is the first time Parker and I have really "hit the field" if you will, and we ended up scoring a duck! That's probably the best part of the whole thing, and as you can imagine, that stupid grin has come back to my face. Next flush I hope to be at around 8 hundred, and then after that, the fun begins!!!!!!!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


So here is a long over due update on the prairie. Kiting was our main goal up until this last weekend. I got her to the point where she was going a thousand plus feet to the kite, but realized pretty quickly, that she didn't really have any focus on me. We were pretty inconsistent on the kite there for a while.....she would go up a couple days in a row, then take off chasing black birds.....another perfect day to the kite, then back to chasing birds. There were a few days where she actually connected with the black birds too, and as a result, stayed out over night a few times....it definitely took a few years off of my life by the way :-). I had to bring that focus in on me, so I brought her pitch down quite a bit, and started tossing her bags. I failed pretty miserably at this to begin with, and it took tossing out a pigeon on a line to get her looking down, which I pulled back in quickly, and tossed her a homer. Once we got the "game call=birds flying" concept down, I slowly started working her pitch back up on the kite, and tossed her some baggie homers periodically, to keep her keyed in on me. I am the luckiest guy in the world also, in that I have quite a few buddies that are out there flying long wings as well, and I was fortunate enough to be able to mix some good bagged ducks in there too (which I think were pretty clutch....).

So that's sorta where we stood last week. Duck season had closed for a few weeks around here, so I used that time to get her pitch back up nice and high, and ended up pushing her weight up a tiny bit too in the process (we had been flying between 685 and 700 grams, but we were now flying between 700 and 710 grams......). The weather decided to stop being retarded, and I was able to send her up a thousand plus feet five days in a row (which was a record....I think the most I had been able to pull off by that point was one time, when I got three kite days in a row....). Her focus was perfect, her behavior was spot on, and she was flying super strong (AND staying in super tight!). I started to get really confident that we had had a "light bulb" moment, and I started relaxing and enjoying myself a lot more. I was thinking we may be over this black bird chasing deal, and all I had eyes for, was December 10th.......the day duck season re-opened back up!

So mid week rolled around, and I found myself back out in the kite field. She was down to 697 grams (which was slightly lower than we had been flying recently), and she was about ready to tear the car apart, to get out and fly! The kite was hanging up in the air nice and high, the wind was only blowing ten or so out of the north, and the bird took off climbing to the bait at record speed. She kept in super tight while circling up to the kite, and had made it to just barely below the bait. At that moment, a group of ten or so black birds decided it would be wise to fly DIRECTLY under the kite, and apparently, it was just too much for her. She tucked into her mummy stoop, and came down and smashed one out of the group, set her wings instantly (since she caught it pretty high off the ground), and glided over to a tree. A red tail came cruising in to try and rob her, and the next thing I know, I'm was watching her heading off for the hills. I jumped in the car, and started chasing her down, and I finally got to the point where I was getting a good signal, on near and narrow. There was a turn off going to a huge open field about 30 yards down from me, so I hopped back in the car with plans of going there to twist the lure, when guess what? Yep............car wouldn't start! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!!!! I call my buddy to come give me a jump, but by the time he got there, it was well past dark. She stayed out over night, and I ended up getting her back at sunrise the next day. Ryan was coming to town that afternoon, and since I wanted to fly her with him there (ya know, let him watch her fly, and maybe get some tips on what I should be working on....), I ended up only giving her a little bit of food when I called her down. She must have gotten cold during the night, because even though I had fed her to put her exactly at weight for our flight that evening, she ended up burning forty or so grams during the day, and was all the way down to 676 grams (the lowest she had ever been.....), when I went to pick her up that afternoon. I had no idea how she was going to act, but we put the kite in the air, and she took off chasing black birds :-). Luckily she didn't score that time, but as you can imaging, my new found confidence was all shot to heck.

We had poor flying conditions the next day, so I fed her on the lure at home, and re-opening day of duck season found us sitting with two pretty darn bad sessions in a row under our belts. I was nervous, had no idea what she was going to do, and to top it off, it was going to be the first day without the kite (and she was at 708 grams....usually, I like to have them a little bit hungrier for the first hunt....). Would she fly around daisy clipping? Would she just blast off the fist to go chase some black birds? I literally had no idea! Brand new batteries in the transmitter, new batteries in the receiver, a "good luck" from the wife, and out the door I went. I met up with a good buddy of mine, who had generously offered to take me around to some of his spots to look for that "perfect" slip, and to be honest, I wasn't my usual talkative self :-). I was about to pee my pants I was so nervous, and all I could think about was "please don't fly off!" To be honest, I'm not really even sure that I wanted to find a slip! By that point, I was thinking maybe we needed some more work on the kite, and maybe cutting her loose without anything in the sky to keep her focus was just a really stinkin bad idea. I casually had mentioned a few times "ah, no worries..........if we don't find a slip, we can always just stick the kite in the air," but Mark was on a mission :-). Next thing I know, we are glassing a kill me pond with a single drake hoodie on it, and he is looking at me saying "it doesn't get much more perfect than that!" What could I do? The slip was right there, the bird was in the car, Mark took the time to come help me out..........I had to take it!

So I grabbed the bird with shaky hands right, beeped her up, we hopped the fence, and I found myself in the middle of a field, striking the braces on her hood. Her head went up instantly looking for the kite, and you could tell she was a bit confused. Looked around, looked back up.....looked around again, then looked back up......She started raising her tail to mute, and I start thinking "$hit, $hit, $HIT!!!!!" Off she goes, and I am staring in disbelief, when she starts to turn, and come back over head :-). She just started climbing! Like a wave, the tension just melted off of me, and I darn near start doing the happy dance right there in the middle of the field. I was vibrating with excitement, and I kept looking over at Mark, and he just kept shaking his head, giving me the "hold your darn horses" look! When she hit about 200 hundred feet or so, her wing beat sped up, she sat back on her tail, and just started climbing. She seemed to be getting after it now, and that was when I looked at Mark................and I got the nod!!!!!

Now I'm not one to talk about myself, and surely anyone who knows me would say I'm probably not the most athletic of persons, but I kid you not when I say I ran over that dam wall at well over a thousand miles per hour.....I would have put the whole darn USA track team to shame, and I wasn't even in my sneakers :-)!!!!! Somehow though, Mark was able to keep up with my very impressive speed, and we both crested the top yelling "ho" at about the same time. "HO HO HO..................HO?" I'm looking around frantically, and I see nothing! That tension that I had said went away......yeah....it was back :-). Where the heck did that duck go?!?!?!?!?!? My hand was on it's way to the hawking bag about as fast as my legs brought me to that pond, when all of a sudden, from the bank DIRECTLY below my feet, the duck busts!!!! My head snaps back like a yo yo, and I see my little girl haulin @$$! I flip my eyes back to the duck, and i'm screamin "make it to land, make it to land!!!!" in my mind. As you can see, the fates were smiling on us that day, and the hoodie cleared the water by about 10 or 15 yards, before my little girl brought the hammer down! She did a nice wing over, and quickly secured the duck, before it had a chance to scramble back to the water. The only thing that I could mange to fumble out of my mouth was "I can't believe that just happened.". Sitting here thinking back on it......I still can't believe it happened :-)! First duck flight, first score! Whoop Whoop! That was fun as heck from a nothing pitch...........I can't wait to see how big my smile gets, when she comes hauling out of the heavens!!!! Good times my friends.....good times!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Soaring To New Heights

I've had and seen some high flights in the past week or so.  Wednesday, I was in T-town running some errands and found a few minutes to meet up with Jonathan and his Red-tail of the year.  He was already out in the field when I arrived and was working some cover.  Shortly after we exchanged pleasantries the hawk took off from his perch and kinda half-heatedly chased something for a few seconds.  Instead of landing, the bird found himself in a thermal and since it was a calm, warm day, decided to ride that thermal up several hundred feet.  Jonathan and I causally watched the bird circle higher and higher for several minutes.  As the bird reached what I would call 500' or so, I mentioned, "aren't ya gonna get him focused a little more this way?"  Jonathan agreed that maybe it was time and as he reached for the lure in his bag a cottontail flushed from grass in between us.  The hawk saw this right way and turned his attention back in front of us.  He glided on over into position, keeping up at his same height, and when the moment seemed right, did his best falcon impression stooping toward the ground while gaining a ton of speed.  After the silent rush of the bird shooting past us we heard crashing of cover and the the squeal of success.  One amazing bunny catch.  I've had Red-tails that soared in the past but, 100'-200' tops.  This flight would have been respectable for a falcon!  Jonathan does it again....there is no such thing as a dud Red-tail in his hands!  The proof is in his continued success from year to year and from bird to bird.

This morning I got out with the Gyrkin for a little training flight, being that the duck season is closed until the 10th.  He took off from the fist as he normally would, took his run out, and started to climb.  And climb he did.  After just a couple of minutes he was touching the clouds.  Conservatively I would guess 1500' but experience and by my gut feeling he was pushing 2000' easily.  I could really only see him through binoculars.  When he came over heard I served him, but instead of coming down he started to drift off to the west and began a monster stoop to what I knew was a lake full of geese.....

This bird will just not leave geese alone.  He's taken a few to the ground, raked a few, and chased a bunch, but has never been rewarded for these efforts.  I figured he would grow out of it with time but that is not the case.  Ended up being a 40 minute telemetry hunt.  He really wasn't that far away, but was on the ground on the edge of a pond, which is a pretty common place for him to sit after missing on a stoop.  As I walked up to get him the geese flushed again and again he chased but only for a few minutes this time before he made his way back to me for the lure.  

This bird still acts like a first year Hybrid in a lot of ways.  Very impulsive.  I'll hang on to hope that the more we hawk the more he'll keep an eye on me but being that this is his 3rd season of hunting with me I'm not gonna hold my breath.  Good thing I'm good with telemetry....Knock on wood.

Just to round things out I added a picture of my hybrid with a Coot he caught the last day before duck season took a rest.  Nothing spectacular about the flight.  Flushed a bunch of Gadwalls and this stupid Coot decided that he would make a break for it too.  Legs dangling, this pseudo-waterfowl stumbled into the air and off the water.  Feeling the wind beneath his wings for a second or two before those wings were nearly knocked clean off!  Normally Coots are about impossible to get to leave the water around here, I don't know what got into this one.  

I've been told by some falconry buddies that this is a -1 on the head count.  I tend to agree, but in respect to the "quarry" I enacted my own let it lay law and let the hybrid eat his fill.  An act that I have grown to regret since he was too fat for the next 3 days.