Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Three Times the Fun!

The day after Festavis, all our grievances have been aired and it was time for fun.  Scott Dillon invited Daniel and I out to his family's ranch for a couple of flights on Christmas Eve.  I was a nice cold morning with temperatures in the low 20's coupled with a fairly stiff north breeze.  

The Mighty Falconer

Scott's 6 year old hybrid was first up.  We had a pond full of Gadwalls and a falcon ready to hunt.  No one was overly serious this morning except for the birds.  After Scott cast his bird off, coupled with some minor theatrics, we were treated to an excellent flight.  Bullseye mounted over the pond then proceeded to climb to well over 1000' feet while holding the same position in the sky.  Flap, flap, flap, flap, glide, flap, flap, flap, flap, glide and so on and so forth.  Making his way higher and higher in the strong breeze blowing up top.  Once Bullseye was just a dot we were treated to a nearly 90 degree vertical stoop. The chosen Gadwall didn't stand a chance as the tiercel cut it down in a flash, just 40 yards from the pond. 

Bullseye with his Gadwall

Next up was Osprey.  She was wound up from the second I took her out of the truck.  Immediately upon striking the hood she was off and flying .

She started out well, making a run out to the west and climbing in the crosswind.  I should have controlled myself a little better and stayed near the truck giving her more time to mindlessly eat up some sky before giving her the hint of where where we were heading.

The second we started the 70 yard trek to the pond she quickly made her way over the water and happened upon the single drake Ringneck nervously paddling around the tiny pond.  This was almost too much to bear for her.  She couldn't seem to decide whether to fly or drop down and attempt to grab it on the water.  

Ringnecks have been her nemesis for much of this year.  Osprey will commit fully to them when they are flying away from the water, only to have them turn back when she is coming full speed causing her to overfly them.  After a few minutes of indecisiveness she finally started to fly upwind of the pond and was pumping her wings again so I decided to flush.  

Instead of making a direct stoop this time, she effortlessly dropped in behind the fleeing duck and easily overtook the drake; plucking him right out of the air.  Seems like this time she realized what was going to happen and altered her plan of attack.  Unfortunately in all the excitement of getting three birds flown we forgot to get a picture of her on the duck.  The Hybrids were two for two and now the pressure was on for the Dan and his wonder Prairie to finish the triple...

After some recent injury related set backs lately, Daniel's Prairie Falcon is back in business and has been cleaning up on ducks.  But a triple doesn't happen all that often.  We found a group of several Gadwalls and a couple of Ringnecks on the south side of the ranch.  Daniel made his way through the crowd of cattle gawkers and lifted the Prairie in preparation for her flight.  She took off in a downwind direction, quickly turning upwind and gaining altitude.  

As she came over the pond at a decent pitch she showed us that a Prairie can hang with the Hybrids.  Not a second after the ducks took to the air she was hot on their tails.  The Prairie closed in on the ducks a little too quickly though, causing then to dump in the water up in the neck of the teardrop shaped pond.  

She quickly remounted and with Scott and myself in a prime position to flush downwind, things where looking promising for the reflush.  Only the ducks outsmarted us.  They flushed on there own into the wind when the falcon was slightly downwind and climbing.  She did make a solid attempt at them but the Ringnecks used the wind to their advantage and beat her to a pond a 1/4 mile away.

The Gadwalls were not quite as smart as the crafty Ringnecks, however, and they put in to a much smaller pond just 20 yards to the west of the initial pond.  We patiently waited for the Prairie Falcon to make her way back to us and as she was just upwind of the little pond, Scott got the Gadwalls up into the air.

This time it was game over and the Prairie Falcon laid on a hit like only a Prairie Falcon can.  The duck was dead on arrival and the triple was complete.  

Daniel with his slightly defiant Falcon.

We finished off the morning by bagging the Merlin on a starling, which also went off without a hitch.  So the Merlin stories should be on the near horizon as well.  Great morning with a great couple of guys.  Looks like we are gonna get blown out with high winds over Christmas and the following day or two.  I'm definitely chomping at the bit to keep things going though.  Osprey has caught two in her past two flights now and things in general seem to be coming together.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The World Didn't End, So I Went Hawking

I woke up December 22nd, realized that the world didn't come to an end (was there any doubt) and packed up the birds to enjoy the cold weather before everything freezes up.  The weather app read 18 degrees with a 1 mph wind out of the south.  Looked good to me so off we went in search of ducks. 

Found about 20 Gadwalls and a dozen or so Canvasbacks on the perfect pond for the day.  The dam wall is on the south side of this pond so the flush would be down wind.  All was going perfect until my bird reached about 500-600 feet in the air.  That gentle 1 mph south breeze, was quite a bit stronger up top.  Osprey was pumping for all she was worth to stay over the pond and to gain altitude. 

She muscled through it and ended up in the 800' foot range, but was having trouble holding that pitch.  When she worked her way crosswind, and a bit upwind, I pushed the ducks off the water.  While flushing the ducks I had to take my eyes off the falcon to avoid slipping down the steep dam wall and into the water.  I watched the ducks leave for what seemed like a long time, but after about a 7 second count I saw the ducks panic and turn back toward the water.  Osprey singled one out and just nicked it on the way down from her stoop.  That duck fell off balance, but regained its composure just before the ground and sprinted to the water.  The falcon kept up her momentum and continued full speed across the water after the rest of the flock.  As the ducks went over the shore on the far side of the pond, one turned broadside at the last moment in a desperate attempt to get to the water. 

Wrong move at the right time.  Osprey hit that duck full on in the side and drove it into the ground near the edge of the pond.  The force of the impact drove the duck through the crust of ice on top of the mud leaving a small crater and threw the falcon across the ground with a tumble as well.  The falcon found her bearings about 15' from the duck and snapped back to the KO'ed Gadwall.  This quick turn around proved to be unnecessary though as the duck was lying on its back, only one leg kicking the air.

It was still early in the morning and there was time to get a quick training flight with the Merlin.  Now that the the Hybrid is starting to do well consistently I've been able to put a little more time in trying to get this imprint jack rolling.

Just a flight to the lure today.

Not super psyched about he cold.

Merlin in flight.  Still flying like a baby, but constantly improving.

135 grams of imprint fury.

Finally a break from work for the holidays.  Hope the weather will corporate and I can get some serious hawkin' done.  My wife and I have also gotten a new camera for Christmas.  A large step up from the the Iphone or "point and shoot" that we've been used too.  I'm not sure how much I'll get to use it in the field but I'm pretty excited about the Canon T3i at the moment.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

High Five

High Five, or four in this case.  Also the 4th duck caught

Great day to fly a falcon.  About 14 degrees and a baby blue sky with ducks on the pond.  Osprey took her sweet time leaving the glove this morning, but when she did, she went.  I watched her run out to the north in my binoculars and saw her begin her turn back.  I took my eyes off of her and headed down below the dam to get ready for the flush.  With my eyes on the sky I waited for her to come over in position.  She is not much for ringing.  Usually a long run out and then she comes back high.  I waited and waited but couldn't see her.  After about 6 or 7 minutes I decided that she had probably flown off to check out something else in the world.  I pulled out my receiver and clicked it on.  The signal was banging on near!  So back to the binoculars, and sure enough there she was dead over head and just barely visible to the naked eye.  Awesome!  "This is the pitch I've been waiting for."  

I flushed the ducks and.... nothing.  She wasn't stooping.  Several seconds went by before she finally committed. Almost a 90 degree stoop down and WHAP!  Only she didn't hit it solid.  It looked like she just clipped the outside of the wing.  The duck wobbled but didn't go down.  Osprey righted herself and began her pursuit.  The duck headed to the nearest stand of trees and the falcon when right in after her.  I heard a crash and bells, so I hurried my way on over.

Where's the falcon in this picture?

I had to use my receiver again but quickly found her in a dry creek bottom under a branch.  After a non-graceful trade off, she contently ate on the lure, and I got a chance to look over the Gadwall.  What I thought was a missed meaningful hit on the stoop, was actually a deep gash in the breast of the duck.  The duck probably tried to dodge to the side and the falcon got just enough foot on it to do the job.  That probably explains why the duck flew into the trees instead of around or over them.  

I've got to do a talk for the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission tomorrow so Osprey will get a well deserved day off.

She began her rest before we even left the field.

I also flew the Merlin free for the first time today too.  It went off without a hitch.  A great day on the prairie....


Friday, December 7, 2012

Double Double

Things are moving right along with bird now know as Osprey (See a couple of posts ago).  She now has two ducks under her belt.  Both taken in the air, not off the water like her first duck grab.  Both days also turned out to be doubles with my friends 6 year old hybrid also catching on those days.  Neither catch from my bird was from a great pitch, but that I can work on.  The duck season has been closed for the past couple of weeks so I have been focusing on training, but duck season reopens tomorrow.  I'm itching to get back to hawking but some more work to the kite is still necessary.

The landowner of the property where I train also came out for a visit on one of the days I was kiting.  She's a good photographer and checks in from time to time and takes some pictures.  She got a great one of my oldest daughter and a nice close up as well of Osprey.

Things are starting to come together...