Lots of finishing work to do yet but plenty done for a Prairie Chicken hunting trip this week to Kansas.
Oz has been flying pretty darn good lately. Taking really good pitches for the most part and has managed a few more ducks in the bag as of late. I've also had some great flights with my daughters along for the ride as well; always a treat for me. Everything is going right for once leading up to a hawking trip, and this time I am cautiously optimistic.
Not a whole lot more progress lately. I finished building the tongue-box and stained the whole thing gun-stock brown. Cold weather and a busy schedule have slowed me down a bit.
Managed to make a trip to Kansas to find some Prairie Chickens. Oz flew off the other day and when I got her back she did not want to put any weight on her right leg. I have no idea what happened to her but I took her in for an x-ray and everything checked out ok. Just severely bruised on her upper thigh. So even though we saw chickens, a flight was not to be. I'm hoping she'll be back in the saddle by the end of next week. She has been putting more weight on the leg over the past couple of days, but she still is treating it a little gingerly. He's some pics of the birds we saw.
Hopefully this group and others will continue to do well through the winter.
Hope everyone's molt went well, and you and your birds are out there tearing it up right now! The dog is coming along, my son has a new loft full of homers, the prairie is out doing her thing, and I picked up a new blond beauty to top it all off. We are flying 1000 or so feet to the kite right now, and I'm having a blast with her. All of that goodness, combined with work and family was/is just too much to do the aplo any justice, so she is flying with a good buddy of mine this season. I got her out for a month or so early on before Aviva (the new peregrine…son named her after the girl on his "as of today" favorite TV show Wild Kratts) was trapped, and if that time was any indication of how the rest of the season is going to unfold for them, they are in for some VERY good times. Here are a few good ones from the summer/beginning of the season.
Well the weather over the past week or two has been poor at best for flying falcons. When we did have good weather Oz has flown poorly, for which there is no reward. The next few weeks we will be mixing up kiting and hawking and some days maybe both together to get her off the lazy train and back into form. I really can't blame her for wanting to do the bare minimum to catch her prey. I mean, there are ducks and she can see them right there on the pond and she knows that she can catch them anytime she wants. Except when they are on the water. The only hang up for her is "when will that tall skinny guy go in and flush?" And therein lies the standoff between falcon and falconer.
A couple of weeks ago she caught a drake Wigeon, and in the process did very little damage to the outside of it. A perfect candidate for a taxidermy mount. Since the weather hasn't allowed for falcon flying, I started this project yesterday as a Christmas present for my brother.
I'm self taught at doing taxidermy and am not a taxidermist. I've seen a lot of birds my life and have a hint of artistic ability and that seems to be just enough to do a pretty decent job at these. One thing that I have learned is that using artificial heads makes the job of mounting a bird leaps and bounds easier.
Thawed duck and artificial head painted sculpted and ready to go. Far easier than cleaning out the skull, packing it with clay and trying to get the eyes just right. Much sturdier bill as well for the long run
This might be the longest part. Separating the feathers down the keel bone on a duck is a time consuming task.
Main body out, but still needs the fat taken out.
Wrung out duck after a couple of Dawn soap baths. Not the prettiest step...
Fake head installed. Wings and feet wired.
Nearly finished product. Still needs pinned and some feathers moved around.
And yes, the counter almost always looks like that. Between me and my wife we always have a million projects in the works with several dozen waiting in the wings.
Opening of the duck season is an exciting time for a longwinger in Oklahoma. Ducks are the main quarry of falcon flying falconers in the Sooner State, and when the season opens and there are actually ducks on the ponds, all the better!
The first duck flight of the year couldn't have been better. Osprey, "Oz" for short, is just beginning her second season, coming off an ok first season for a young bird. The 2nd and 3rd seasons are the time to shine. We found a group of Gadwalls on a small pond and off she went. After a long run out, Oz came back with a good pitch over the water and I flushed. She poured on a stoop over the group of ducks, cutting them off from the pond. They were not going down easy and they turned into the wind with the falcon in hot pursuit. I watched as she chased them over a line of trees and out of sight. Her telemetry signal told me that she was coming back, though, and when I finally saw her she was way up. I headed back to the pond, and sure enough one duck remained. He was flushed and Oz promptly smacked it to the ground 40 yards from the pond. Very good start to the new season.
The next day the season opened in my local waterfowl zone (it was open earlier to the west of us) and went to my local hotspot pond to find another group of Gads. Hoping to start the year two for two, Oz was cast off to start her climb. Today she was not nearly as high as the day before but still a respectable pitch. When the ducks were flushed she put on a half-hearted stoop toward the flock. This was too much for one of the ducks, though, and it separated from the group and high tailed it back to the pond. Oz broke after the loner curving to the right and the duck hooked in from the left, leading to the head on collision right over the middle of the pond. The duck splashed down seeming unharmed as it spend the next few minutes dodging as splashing the falcon as she fruitlessly buzzed it on the water. After several minutes of this the bird was soaked and I called her to the lure on the side of the pond. As she ate on my fist, the duck casually swam to the middle of the pond and suddenly died.
Right square in the middle of the damn pond. Of course there was no wind whatsoever on this day and there is floated, unmoving. Hoping that if I gave it some time it would drift over to the bank; I went off to fly the Prairie Falcon that I've been rehabbing to the lure. About forty minutes later I returned to the pond only to find the duck floating in the exact same place. By this time the air temperature had warmed up to a balmy 46 degrees and I'm not one to waste game so I decided I would "wade" out there and get it. I've never been in this pond before, but I always assumed that it was one of the shallower ponds around. I waded out about 4 or 5 steps then the bottom dropped out and I was swimming. It's amazing how hard it is to breath in cold water.....
Eventually I retrieved the duck, and some how had the forethought to record this stupidity. (At least my family would have known what happened to me if I had froze to death). After the swim I slogged my way back to the truck where my hands and legs promptly cramped up to the point that I could not open them for several minutes. At this point I realized that a cold swim alone was not the best idea I've ever had. Oh and "where was the dog," you ask? First time I had left her home in the month......
Second day of hawking, 2 for 2, but the downward slide had begun.
Upon reviewing my phone pictures I thought I had snagged a picture of a UFO in the sky. But upon closer examination.....
I just had the picture upside down and it was the duck. Clearly shows how calm the wind and water were that day.
46 degrees! Good thing I was wearing my polar bear boxers. (no I dont sag my pants, boxers just riding up from running around the field)
Flight 1, great, flight 2, so-so but everything was ok, flight 3, well, no so great...
The cold, frosty, morning held the promise of a great flight but it was not to be. After meeting up with Daniel, we quickly found a slip and got Oz in the air. She took a quick initial flight over the ducks then turned to the west for an out run. All appeared to be going well and setting up for a great flight. Out in the range of binoculars only we observed her circling and not coming back. It seemed that she had found another group of ducks that she liked better and was not coming back over. After a few minutes we lost sight of her but still had a good telemetry signal. I tried calling her back to the lure and at first this seemed like it was working and the signal got stronger for a time, but then again changed and quickly faded on all but the far setting on the receiver. So we hopped in the truck and after a few minutes had her location narrowed down. I swung the lure and she quickly appeared.
Upon getting her back on the glove I noticed that she had a broken primary. The shaft was crushed about 4" from the tip. I know that she was in perfect feather when she left the fist initially so something had obviously happened to her, and the fact that the feather was crushed was kind of peculiar as well. Upon closer inspection she had a secondary broken in the same fashion on the other side, and a small amount of blood under her wing.
After I got her home got the feathers imped and cleaned up her wound. Oddly it was only about 3/16" long and looked like a perfect cut, almost like it could have been done with a scalpel. Very strange....I had suspected that she has collided with a fence, but when I've seen those injuries before, the skin is generally ripped and jagged, not a clean cut.
My other thought is she may have caught a Cormorant. We saw several of them flying near her when we were watching though the binos. The long neck and fish catching beak on those birds could have easily smashed the feather shafts with a bite and the claws on the end of their webbed toes may have been what caused the small cut under the wing. I've never caught a Cormorant before so I don't fully know what they are capable of, but I have caught a Common Merganser in the past, which are similar to a Cormorant The Merganser flipped on its back when taken to the ground and proceeded to kick like mad in order knock the falcon off of it. I could see this same being true of the much larger Cormorant. Ultimately, only the falcon knows what happened. Luckily it seems that she'll be alright after a few days rest to heal.
Since I'll be out of the field for the next few days I decided it was time to release the Prairie Falcon that I have helped to rehab from a car collision that resulted in a broken furcula. He has made a full recovery and has been flying really well to the kite and lure. Today I cast him off into 25 mph winds and he instantly took a couple of hundred foot pitch above me. I tossed him a farewell quail and off he went to live on his own once again.
The count down has begun for the "real" opening day of duck season (we have already had a short teal season but that is about worthless for falconry). Daniel met up with me at the training field for some kiting and dog training. As we pulled in there was a couple of Mallards and a handful of Gadwalls on water, good sign for days to come.
Hybrid, Osprey, approaching the lure
Testing the zoom lens of my Cannon T3i with the kite out about 2000'
Bringing it down
Making sure the coast is clear after a buzz by from a Red-Shouldered Hawk and a feral cat jumping out of the grass.
Rehab Prairie Falcon finally progressing well after healing from a broken furcula. Hopefully his release will be in the near future.
Passing by on his way to the kite.
Jake, the German Shorthair, and V both a little startled by the flushing pigeon.
Daniel and Jake with a solid point
Nice hold on the flush
Rangle got in on the action as well, locking up on a couple of dizzied pigeons.
Pigeon/Dog stand off.
V proud of her first attempt at dizzying a pigeon
V and R giving the pigeon a pet before waking it up to fly home.
A good day of training, with the promise of an exciting hunting season just around the corner.