Friday, February 27, 2009

WWDD - what would Darwin do?

As usual, Patrick has got it going on over at Terrierman. His quest is to spread the word about the problems with the kennel club and their history of breeding dogs for problems. Get the kennel clubs to see the light by spreading the word yourself and buy a shirt, or a bag.

Off Season

I was reading over at The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles about a comment someone had about the off season. It went like this:

I'm not a hunter (which you'll know if you read my first comment). But all of the hunters I've met in my life talk about how much they love the wildlife they hunt. And yet I rarely hear about hunters off-season going out just to appreciate wildlife the way many of us non-hunters do. I don't fully understand that. Am I just reading that wrong? I hate to make generalizations.

It is an interesting question. I never really think much about. I obviously cannot make generalizations about all hunters, but I can speak for the ones I know. I don't gun hunt, but I can speak for myself as well.

My brother, who is a deer hunter and lives on a farm, spends his summer months cultivating his property to better manage his deer population. He helps to clear trails through the woods, he works on deer stands, plants deer friendly plants, and then tends to his own garden and animals.

My father, who is now approaching seventy, likes to get out on the trails and walk with my mother. They don't move around as easily as they used too, but they like to walk the dogs, and have their labs work on retrieving down in the canal. He spends time working on his ponds, raising Koi.

One thing I have in common with both of them is that we like wildlife to feel comfortable in our own backyard. We have ponds and bird-feeders. Domestic animals, as well as wild ones, abound.

I have an ongoing feud with the local raccoons. They like to kill and decapitate my chickens. I had one kill a hawk of mine in the middle of the night. So I trap them and donate them to the local SPCA.

I teach kids every day about the outdoors. I spend time with my own children hiking the trails close by, and scoping out potential hunting sites for next year. I spend a lot of time watching the birds. I plan.

A lot of my outdoor time is spent planning. What to fly, where to trap, where to hunt. What can I do better this year than I did the last. and I think this is often true of many hunters. They've just spent the last six months in the wood, when summer comes, it is often time for reflection.

Of course, this year, I will hopefully be tending to the offspring of Tess and Gonzo.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Murphy Needs a Home.

I hate to say it, but I need to find a better place for Murphy. She is a great dog; house trained, crate trained, great with kids, fantastic personality, and full of high energy, terrier spunk. She's a rough coated fell terrier, that doesn't shed.

She loves to hunt, loves the outdoors. She'll go to ground, though she is on the big side for a hole dog. Would be a great barn dog. She will climb a tree after a squirrel. She is almost too smart for her own good.

I need to find her a new home because she can be dog aggressive. We keep our dogs in the house, and all together. Right now we have three, and Murphy tends to beat the crap out of our older dog.

Never in the field, only in the house.
Murphy needs a home where she is the only dog, or she can be separated from the other dogs. We can't provide her with that. Ideally, we could find her a home somewhere fairly close. I hate to have to ship her, but I would prefer someone who could work her.

I'll probably get another dog to work under my birds, even though this one hasn't worked out for me. I need one that is more suited to the way I keep my animals. maybe a dachshund.

Anyway, if you are looking for a way cool terrier, you could hardly beat Murphy.

I'm all bent up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More News

Wooduck, who comments here from time to time, sent me the link to this article about a woman who hunts with a red tail in Virginia. She uses a feist to tree squirrels, and her husband is very tolerant. It's a good read when you have a chance.

Diary of a Falconer

Monday, February 23, 2009

In the News

I got a nice little write up on falconry in the Daily Advance. Nothing fancy, just some guys tagging along to watch the birds fly. They got most of the details pretty close.
The article can be found here:

I already had written about the day. That post can be found here.

It was a fun day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spotting Hawks

I went to my training today, and met up with a friend of mine from work. He knows I'm a falconer and is fascinated by the birds. His first question for me as I sat at the table was whether I had seen any birds. I ticked off the eagles, the red tails, kestrels, etc. He nodded his head, and then let me know he hadn't seen a single bird.

One of the things I've come to realize is that most people live their lives half asleep. They are so busy worrying about what comes next, that they don't realize what's happening right now. On a perfect day to view hawks, with a nice long drive, it is almost impossible not to see them. You just have to look.

When you become a falconer, one of the first things you learn when you become an apprentice is how to spot hawks. It's a side effect of America's falconry system. Apprentice falconers are required to trap their first bird out of the wild. Therefore, it is important for the new falconer to learn the new hawk's habits and needs. You look for ducks on water because they find the things they need there. Hawks too need certain things.

I took some pictures with my point and click on the way home, I hope they help.

First off, we'll focus on red tailed hawks. They are common and easy to see. They sit up tall and they are large. Their chest is broad and white and has a distinct belly band.

Now, what does a red tail hawk need? Large tracts of land from which to hunt. An easily accessible perch. A broad view of the surrounding countryside.

Good place to look? On the side of the road. Start by looking at that tree close to home. You know the one, it sits away from the other trees. Maybe it's off by itself. Look in the top of that tree. Now as you drive down the road, there are hundreds of those trees. Peek at them as you drive, way near the top. Look for a large black shape near the top, sitting up.

Not there? Check the power lines, tops of poles. The higher the better. Remember, we are looking for a commanding view.

Flat land? What about those billboards. Maybe on top, maybe on the rail. Look real close, remember they are big.

(look next to the one)

Those big black birds circling way up in the sky? Forget 'em, they are vultures. Sometimes a peregrine will sneak in there and circle with them, or a merlin, but that is getting pretty advanced.

Keep your eyes open, they are there, if you know where to look.

Friday, February 20, 2009

On the Road

Here I am again, on the road with just Ulrich. I left work late in the afternoon, stopping by Alligator River Wildlife Refuge along the way.

Patrick over at Terrierman wanted to know if there were any groundhogs to be found. According to the rangers, there are no groundhogs, and if the terriers found a den, it would probably be one of a Red Wolf, a coyote, or a bear.

Very bad for the dogs. Sorry Patrick.

The fact of the matter is, the water table this far east in North Carolina is just too high for groundhogs to den consistantly. If you look at a distribution map of the state, groundhogs just stop an hour east of I-95. And you don't see them at all to the south of us, which stinks if you enjoy terrierwork!

I then cruised down 17 towards Jacksonville, NC. Hawks were everywhere. Harriers were cruising low and slow over the uncut fields, and redtails sat in pairs, scanning everything from their lofty perches.

I saw three bald eagles. Two were mature, White heads and all, sitting on the ground next to a large lake, another sat perched in a tree watching the water of another pond.

A coopers hawk flew in front of my car at an intersection .

I didn't get any pictures, as I was driving, but I did come across a band of black vultures working over some roadkill on a side road.

These birds are less common than the turkey vulture, but can be easily identified by their greater likelyhood to flap while they are soaring.

We got to the hotel around 8:00.

So now it is Ulrich and me, sitting in another hotel room, practicing our flying.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What now?

So here I am, my squirrel season over, the Harris' gorging themselves on squirrel and rabbit all day, and my blog is called Harris' Hawk blog. What do I write about?

I have built a nest for Tess, and have provided sticks and twigs so that the birds can supplement the structure that is already there.

Well, soon, I transfer the birds onto my propagation permit, open the door that connects the cages and hope for the "magic" to begin.

In the meantime, I'm going to start focusing more on Ulrich. I had him flying free outside today. He was a little hesitant, but I think that his weight is a tad high. I won't drop it until I check my scale, as I don't think that it is accurate.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

End of the Road

Well, today was it. I had to stay home and wait for the plumber who was coming over around 9:00. Which worked out well, since I had to take my son to school at 7:20, leaving me over an hour and a half to finish off the season with Gonzo and Tess.

We found ourselves back at Nags Head Woods. I considered trying the ridges, but as this was my last hunt, and I only had a limited time, I opted to hunt the bottoms where I was pretty sure I would find some squirrels.

We've been here before, and it has been fairly reliable. There are squirrel nests dotting the trees, low down where I could see them. The sky was dark gray, and the temperatures were warming up. We were expecting rain. It was a great day to sneak in a hunt.

The bottoms were wet, slick , and foul smelling. I had to be careful to stay out of the muck as it could suck me down rather quickly, but the squirrels have no problem traversing these treacherous grounds. Often, we surprise them on the ground here, and the hawks follow them from above as I crash through the cane and briers.

Early on we flushed a screech owl, and then a snipe. The hawks gave chase, but the smaller birds were both more maneuverable in the thick cover, and we soon lost them.

At one point I saw something launch itself from the top of a pine and come soaring down. Tess reacted instantly, nailing it as it hit the ground, killing the pine cone dead. I just shook my head and had to laugh to myself

We saw lots of animals, or at least animals' sign.


paper wasp


But what we did not see today, were squirrels. We shook lots of nests, we found squirrel sign, and good habitat, but today was one of those days that we just couldn't seem to locate any squirrel.

There were two casualties.
My hunting hat got knocked off my head and fell into the water and instantly started to sink. I was able to retrieve it, though I don't think I'll wear it until it can be cleaned.

The second casualty was this half mummified squirrel. Gonzo found it on the ground as we were working our way back to the truck and killed it - again.

I can't complain though, the hawks followed close. The weather was great. It has been a fantastic season. My head count is just two shy of my all time high and I'll be hunting almost a month less than I did for that record. The hawks have worked well together, and their techniques have melded nicely. This was my first season really putting two birds together and really making a go of it, and it was a resounding success!

Funny story

This was a great post over at Another Falconry Blog. Apparently, Isaac's kestrel found an ingenious way to cover his approach on quarry. Give it a read when you get a chance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Getting to know you.

A little while back, Patrick, over at Terrierman, had a really good post. You can find the whole thing here. Basically, it boiled down to the fact that hunting takes time. It takes knowledge. It takes a willingness to learn about the game you want to hunt. It is easy to kill, anyone can do it with nothing more than a sharp stick. But what takes time and energy is the hunt. Finding the right habitat, learning how your quarry moves, works, lives. Where does it den, how does it get to its feeding grounds?

Around here, squirrels will often build their nests in one place, and go to another to forage. you see sign of them everywhere if you care to look. A grey squirrel lives in a leaf nest, called a drey. Sometimes they will build nest, either alone, or communally, in a hole in a tree, a birdhouse, the roof of a barn. They line their nests with leaves, needles, fur.

One of the most obvious signs of squirrel habitation are the middens they leave behind. Around here, squirrels will often eat pine cones, stripping them in an attempt to get at the pine nuts whithin. They leave the empty shells behind.

Often times there will be one male, who lives alone, but will travel as much as a mile radius to visit all of the lady squirrels that live in the area.

Squirrels are one of the few animals that can descend a tree forward. This is because they can trun their wrists around backwards so that they can hold on. Squirrels are not afraid to drop from dizzying heights. It happens all the time when they are being hunted by the birds. They leap, spread their legs like a flying squirrel and guide themselves, using their tail as a rudder. And squirrels are dangerous. I know they look cute, and are furry, and frisky, but they have teeth like razors. They fight, and they fight hard. One wrong bite and and the squirrel can slice a hawk's toe off. Already this year, Tess lost half a talon to a squirrel chomping it off.

We had some guests with us a while back, and they were surprised at how smart, and tough, and tricky, that squirrels could be. They learned to appreciate the quarry. If you learn nothing while hunting, you shouldn't be out there. Every time I hunt, I see, or learn something new.

If you deer hunt, or elk hunt, or pig, or fish, it doesn't matter - you need to learn about your quarry. Most people won't take the time. They will be all the richer, if they do.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

So it Goes

It seems like whenever you have visitors, a hunt is less than spectacular.

I had some folks tag along on our hunt this morning. Two guys from the Daily Advance, a newspaper from nearby Elizabeth City. They wanted to know what this falconry thing was all about.

I took them to my "easy walking" spot.

It is a patch of woods that is choked with squirrels in the beginning of the season, but as deer hunters are not allowed, we hunt it hard during the beginning of the season, and by now, the squirrels are all pretty "hawk-wise".

The hawks posed for pictures, and followed like they should. At one point, both birds deserted us to go check out a flock of starlings in the middle of a field, but they got back to business in short order.

I kept our route to the easiest parts of the woods. The cameraman was lugging around about twenty pounds of gear, so I didn't think they needed to start wading through briars.

We saw one, maybe two squirrels, and hopefully they understood that it isn't about killing stuff with birds, it's about being a part of the hunt and having the opportunity to be a part of these magnificent creatures world.

After about an hour and a half of walking and talking, my guests left, and I decided to give it a try on my own for a couple of hours. We waded back into the thicker parts of the woods, the places where you have to wade through the tangles to find a squirrel nest. This is where all the squirrels had migrated to. The ones that were in the easy spots had already been culled from this patch of woods.

We had much better luck.

But this patch of woods is full of mature hardwoods so there are lots of holes for the squirrels to hide in. They kept getting away. At one point, we lost three different squirrels that launched themselves across the forest, leaping from limb to limb. Up the pine tree, across to the elm, the whole time, the hawks repeatedly tried to scrape them from the trunks of the trees.

And then they disappeared.
Poof, gone!

This happened over and over, until we saw the last one disappear into the top of a dead trunk. Both birds landed on the top of this broken off snag, and Tess tried to get at something deeper down inside. They were twenty feet in the air, and I couldn't see what was going on, but after twenty minutes of her trying, and nothing happening, we moved on, working our way around the patch of woods.

We chased a few more, but it was getting late. We started heading back when both birds slammed back into that dead snag. They had obviously seen something moving. I started beating on the tree with my walking stick, when I realized that the massive trunk was swaying every time I hit it. So I pushed.

It pushed back. I pushed again, throwing my shoulder into it and digging in with my boots. The tree swayed, then cracked. I pushed it further, until it slowly toppled, crashing though branches on its way down, until it whumped into the ground.

A squirrel squirted from the top and scurried across the forest floor. The hawks, slow to take off, gave chase, but quickly lost it again. I was tired.


I went back to look at the nest the squirrel had been hiding in. I pulled of bark from the side of the tree, and found leaves and pine needles. And squirrels. All curled up, and hiding in the leaf mass, was another squirrel.

The hawks had come back up and were sitting low in the branches nearby. I poked the furry mass with my stick and two squirrels popped out of the nest. The hawks slammed into the nearest one.

The other bounded off into the forest. It ended a good day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

They want to take your animals!

There are some new laws out there, and the legislation they are hoping to pass may outlaw some of the animals that you keep in your home. I don't involve myself a whole lot in politics, but this might be something you need to look into, and I will be posting more on it later, but here is a tidbit from The Other Mccain blog.

This article talks about snakes, but it doesn't end there.

Just got off the phone with Andrew Wyatt, president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, who says that the H.R. 669 ban isn't just about snakes, but will also affect other species of exotic pets. "There's all kinds of animals involved in it," said Wyatt. "It's an attempt to ban almost every animal that's not native to the United States."

And Andrew knows what he's talking about. This type of stuff is what he does. It looks like this legislation comes from a big push from the HSUS (Humane society of the United States). Again, get yourself educated.

UPDATE: I just checked the list of species that would be banned , according to the bill the list...

does not include any cat (Felis catus), cattle or oxen (Bos taurus), chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), dog (Canis lupus familiaris), donkey or ass (Equus asinus), domesticated members of the family Anatidae (geese), duck (domesticated Anas spp.), goat (Capra aegagrus hircus), goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus), horse (Equus caballus), llama (Lama glama), mule or hinny (Equus caballus x E. asinus), pig or hog (Sus scrofa domestica), domesticated varieties of rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), or sheep (Ovis aries), or any other species or variety of species that is determined by the Secretary to be common and clearly domesticated.

What about hawks, falcons, snakes, reptiles?

Eagles Eating Bears

I found this great article over at Querencia. The whole article can be found here.

I was amazed the first time I saw video of eagles hunting Roe Deer on the other side of the Atlantic. Khazak Eagle hunters targeting wolves, simply amazing, but this is even cooler.

Apparently, eagles have been witnessed harassing bears in the past, but just recently a golden eagle was found to be actually hunting a bear's cubs. The eagle grabbed the cub as it fell behind it's mother and flew off with it into the clouds.

On further investigation, it was found that more people had witnissed similar behavior over the years.
During spring 2004 an adult female brown bear (Ursus arctos) and her 3 cubs-of-the-year were observed outside their den on a south-facing low-alpine slope in central Norway. They remained near the den for 8–10 days and were, except for one day, observed daily by TotsÃ¥s and other wardens of the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate. On 25 April, as the family was moving along the edge of a steep, treeless slope and down a snowdrift, the smallest cub, at the back of the group, was attacked by a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). The cub vocalized loudly as it was lifted off the ground and carried away. The eagle was still carrying the cub when it flew into cloud cover and was lost from view. Although no remains were found, it is probable that the eagle killed the cub. This paper describes the circumstances of the incident and relates it to other observations of attacks by eagles on young bears in Europe and North America.

Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Problem with Dogs

If you don't follow Terrierman's blog, I highly recommend it. He's got more great information on there about what is wrong with the dogs in the world of closed registry systems. A new report was just released that exposes much of what is wrong with many of today's pedigree dogs.

Some of the main points include:

  • "All objective studies which have compared average age at a death have found that cross breeds, and in particular small cross breeds, live longer than individuals of most of the pure breeds. .. there is also considerable evidence that cross breeds dogs have lower veterinary bills."" (p. 7)

  • "Much of the suffering which some pedigree dogs endure is unnecessary and a substantial part could be avoided with revised practices." (p. 8)

  • "Typically, modern dog breeds originated from a relatively small number of founder animals .... For the last 50 years, dog registration rules in the U.K. have stipulated that out-crossing (breeding with another breed) is not normally permitted .... One of the outcomes of this approach ... is that purebred dogs are genetic isolates. in this way, the Kennel Club, breed societies, and the pedigree dog showing community have formally endorsed the inbreeding of dogs." (p. 19)

  • "The link between inbreeding and increased disease risks in purebred dogs has been noted by many authors and comprehensively reviewed ..." (p. 20)

  • "There is direct evidence that many pedigree breeds have undergone a good deal of inbreeding. In a study of 11,384 Portuguese Water Dogs in the USA, all of them were found to originate from only 31 founders, and ten animals were responsible for 90% of the current gene pool. Similarly, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed, which is mentioned in this report in connection with both mitral valve disease and syringomyelia, was established in 1928 and is believed to have descended from just six dogs." (p. 21)

  • In 10 breeds studied (Boxer, English Bulldog, Chow Chow, Rough Collie, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, German Shepherd Dog, English Springer Spaniel, Akita Inu), nine had effective population sizes of less than 100 individuals, despite actual populations of 1,060 to 703,566 animals per breed.

  • Among the priority recommendations, supported by over 94% of respondents: "Open stud books to allow more frequent introduction of new genetic material into established breeds in order to increase genetic pools." (p.40)

If you want to know more, a summary of the study can be found here.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Apparently, the comments on the blog weren't working. Thanks Albert R. for letting me know, and helping with the fix. He's blogging on The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.

A Lillington Afternoon

We had McDonalds for lunch. I actually really like McDonalds. We talked hawks and terrain. We discussed kills, and hunts. Then we organized our afternoon.

A bunch of us headed off to a farm on the outskirts of town. There was a lake and a sloping green lawn with a log cabin in the distance. A line of trees stood sentry along the edge of the property, and we could hunt from the line of trees, back.

There were three of us there, all with Harris' hawks, we decided, "what the heck," and we put all four of them up together.

There was my two birds, Pee-Wee the tiercel, and Rudy (Chip's first year tiercel, who had never hunted squirrels). It started out as chaos. Rudy and Pee-Wee kept crabbing with one another, and Gonzo flew off towards the house. The briars were thick, the birds were fighting, and we decided the best thing to do was to get some game moving to keep their interest.

It didn't take long. We had squirrels running every which way. The hawks squirted in all directions. Every one yelled "ho, ho" and leapt after their birds. We were running, yelling, and tripping through the thick underbrush. I couldn't catch my breath as I was laughing so hard. It took a while but the birds finally started coordinating their efforts and focused their energy on between one and three squirrels in a single giant pine.

The hawks circled from branch to branch, climbing the tree. Rudy did great. He was the playmaker, moving around the tree, and getting the squirrels to move from the topmost branches. The hawks chased, the squirrels ran, but one by one the rodents were able to disappear, across the forest floor, with hawks diving from the air, and into the metal roof of the garden shed.

We moved on, finding more squirrels. some would move, some wouldn't, but the tangles were thick, the ground cover heavy.

It was hard going, but the hawks finally connected, three piling on all at once. We dispatched the squirrel.

The head count wasn't great on the day. We had a lot of new elements, and it was hard keeping up with four birds at once. But man, it was a blast.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lost Time

The weather, wind, and my daughter's soccer schedule have all conspired against me this week. I am currently out of town, sitting on the end of my hotel room bed. One son is camping with the boy scouts, and the rest of the family is here at the Beast of the East soccer tournament.

I won't be hunting this weekend. I fed the birds up before I left, their weight should be about right by Sunday. So to make up for this lost time, I can tell you about the other weekend when I took the birds to Lillington. I call the time lost - but it isn't truly. Any time I can be with my family is time well spent - but - I'd still like to be hunting.

It was a meet for the North, and many South, Carolina falconers. It was hosted by Chip G. with a lot of help from his friends and family in Lillington.

There were a bunch of birds.

There were Red tails.

There were falcons.

There were a bunch of old friends getting together to share what they love to do.

For me, it ended up as Harris-a-palooza. I hooked up with a couple of guys who brought their young harris' hawks. These birds had never flown with other Harris' before. We had a blast.

I put Gonzo and Tess up with the a another male, Pee Wee. This tiercel belonged to a South Carolina breeder, Chris. They flew together great. We chased a squirrel out of it's nest, across the tree tops but it disappeared into a hole.The birds dove into the brush at a bunch of rabbits, but never connected in the thick briars.

The nests can be thick.

Bill W. but up his pair of Harris, and they flew immaculately. They followed well, and chased a few squirrels admirably.

We tried another spot with one of Chris' juvenile birds. We were flying close to a kennel of beagle puppies, so I didn't feel comfortable putting up Tess. We got a squirrel moving quickly, and the hawks worked great. They didn't work together, but they took turns and chased the squirrel until he couldn't stand the pressure. He kept jumping from spindly branch to pine tree to treetop, and finally bailing to the ground. The squirrel took off for a better hiding space, the hawks flying low across the clipped grass. The squirrel made it to a hole in a root bundle, and the birds pitched up, landing above where the squirrel disappeared.

I got down on hands and knees, peering between the roots, into the hole where the squirrel was hiding. The birds couldn't see him, but his tail was there, sticking out from between the leaf litter and the root bundle. I reached in with my gloved hand, trying to dislodge him. He wouldn't budge. I pulled out a bundle of fur. The squirrel still wouldn't move.

The hawks perched above us, peering down, their heads bobbing in anticipation. I finally reached all the way into the hole, twisting my hand so it would fit. I grabbed what I thought was the squirrel and pulled it out of the hole. The little grey was curled up in a ball in my hand, trying to gnaw a hole in my glove.

Not knowing what to do, I pitched the squirrel back out into the field. Gonzo bolted from the branch and scored this one as he ran for cover. I pulled Gonzo off, and Chris was hoping his young bird could get some experience with squirrels. So we held Gonzo and released the squirrel. He was still in good shape, so he bolted for the trees.

Chris' bird dove from her perch, and the squirrel didn't have a chance. We fed up the young female and went back for our own lunch.

The afternoon would prove to be even cooler.