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.


Albert A Rasch said...


Sounds like you had a good day, even if things didn't go as planned, or at least more convenient.

I've been keeping a much sharper eye out here in Florida, trying to ID any raptors we bump into. We did find a Red Shouldered Hawk, but the pale Florida form. That took a bit to identify.

One that I would like to see is the Merlin, so I'm keeping the binoculars handy and the camera around the neck!

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Doug said...

Red shoulders are beautiful raptors. They tend to stay close to swamps and marshes. I don't see too many of them by the roads, but i have seen them mating in the trees near my yard.

Merlins are tougher to find. I only see them during the fall migration, and this year, we saw fewer than ever. Thanks for reading. I've been keeping an eye on your blogs too.