Sunday, March 29, 2009

Passing It On

I spent the day with my younger son today. It started off easy enough. We had to run to Ace to get some keys made and pick up some rabbit food. He wanted to tag along and help out. All three of my kids are great at helping around the house, but Luke is the one who will stick with it after the others have lost interest.

It started off that we needed to relocate an opossum. He's done this before, but he wanted to bring the camera and take pictures. No big deal, I thought. I released the critter and he clicked away.

This one had been pregnant, and I felt pretty good about letting her go, even though I am not a big fan of opossums. On the way to Ace, we saw some osprey, and Luke wanted to see if he could get a picture. We followed the bird to a spot where I knew there was a nest. He couldn't get a picture of the bird flying, but we could just see the head of the adult female peeking over the edge of the nest. It seemed obvious to both of us that she was on eggs, and Luke decided that we needed to check on her every two weeks or so and see how the chicks were coming. I wasn't going to complain.

We wandered down the nearby nature trail, looking for a water moccasin. I wanted a picture. They have got to be the most common snakes that we have on the Outer Banks. But it must not have been warm enough. It was around seventy today, and the turtles were out in force, but the water was still cold, so I'm not sure where the cotton mouths were hiding.

Luke was perfectly happy to follow the progress of one of the many geese that we have been seeing in the area.

He loves animals, and he loves being outside. All my kids love to camp, they love to hike and every one enjoys a good day of fishing for bluegill.

I think spending days outside like this is really important to kids. Let them know what they can find if they just spend some time outside. We finally made it to Ace and picked up the things that I needed, but Luke wasn't done. At our house we do a lot of things with our natural resources. we can fruit and vegetables, we make wine, we grow fruit on our trees, but unfortunately, we are failed gardeners. Luke decided that that would no longer be the case. He had started an herb garden in the window earlier this winter, but now it was time to try vegetables. He doesn't even like vegetables.

So we pulled some wood around from behind the shed and put together some raised boxes. We dug up the soil from the bottom of the compost pile, mixed in some rabbit poo and chicken scat, and swirled it all together into an effervescent pile of dirty goodness.

Then started to plant.

That was Luke's job. He got a shovel and trowel for Christmas and this was his chance to use them. He read the directions on the seed packets, dug some holes and planted the seeds, labeling each row with a neatly written post.

We got one box done. Seeds are in and labeled. The second box has a bit more chicken scat in it, so it needs a bit of time to mellow. We'll be planting that one in a couple of weeks.

My kids, like most, still enjoy the TV. They like the occasional video game. But, they love to be outdoors. I don't think that it come by accident. Next time you take a walk. Next time you plant, or can, make jelly, or hunt, what are you teaching your children about the outdoors?

Whatever it is, make sure that you take the time to make them realize how important time outdoors really is, like these guys did.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Isaac reminded me that I haven't Written about Ulrich lately. So, just for an update. Ulrich is doing well. I've had a time finding his right weight for hunting, and that seems to be right around 96-98 grams.

He will fly across the yard to me without a problem, though he is never quick to respond, regardless of weight.

We've been working on some baggies.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Outdoor Bloggers Summit

In case you haven't noticed, there is a little box on the right, there, that carries the same name as this post. I've been thinking a bit about the Blogger's Summit and why I include it in my links.

I don't hunt, at least not in the traditional sense. I don't get outdoors as much as I would like. I don't track, and I fish for panfish using a bobber and worms with my kids. Do I even belong in the Outdoor Bloggers summit?

I have to think that I do. Blogging for me is about writing and reading to people who "get it." When I talk about hawks, and spending time in the woods, and watching for squirrel sign, or raccoon, or fox. The people I work with, much of my family, they don't "get it".

When I have my two birds, working together overhead, herding a squirrel to one another. One stoops, while the other moves the critter around the tree towards the first's waiting talons, people nod their heads and smile like I am one of those slow witted folk.

But when you talk to people who are actively involved in the outdoors, they get it. They understand the variable tapestry that is the woods. They understand the flux and flow of nature. There is a connection there.

Even if it is with someone who keeps bees, or raises chickens, or pigeons, or farms their own land - there is a connection there with beings other than ourselves that need to be understood, that needs to be queried.

I don't agree with everything I read within the Summit, I'm not even interested in all of it, to be honest. But I appreciate where they are coming from. We share a common bond that much of this country no longer understands.

I also think that people who are like minded, especially people who voluntarily spend their time outdoors, fighting to keep it sacrosanct need to be united in a common voice.

There aren't as many of us as their once were. Too many people choose not to know where their food comes from, or they believe they are above it all.

I choose otherwise.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saying goodbye

The people came today.

They were an energetic young couple. One recently back from Iraq, the other bubbling over with excitement. They had come by yesterday to meet our dog, my dog, Murphy.

She performed perfectly. Murphy was bubbly, outgoing, and mannerly. I had a wrenching, twisted feeling in the pit of my stomach. The couple and Murphy were a good match.

We packed up her things; her crate and leash, bones and toys. And the people came. He smiled, she laughed. I walked the three of them to their car. First they wanted to get her a new collar, then they wanted to take her to the beach.

I'm sure Murphy is doing better than I. They really were a good match.

So I went out to see the other animals. Gracie went with me. Graci is our schnauzer, the one that Murphy would take down.

She is a good dog with very little hunting instinct in her at all. She wouldn't hunt, that's why I got Murphy in the first place.

We visited the pigeons.

She checked on the chickens.

Saw to the bunnies.

The cat watched all of this with his normal air of indifference.

Then she went and sniffed around the base of a tree a little way off. I looked at her askance. What was she doing? Then I heard the barking. Up a ways on the trunk was a squirrel, voicing his displeasure.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Kinda cool

The discovery of a one-month-old tuatara, a rare reptile descended from lizard-like dinosaurs, has conservationists in New Zealand celebrating. The critter is the first baby tuatara to be spotted on the mainland there in two centuries....

To read more cool stuff, check out 60-second science.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chicken lovers unite

I bought the variety pack from Murry McMurry. Most of the birds have made their way back to the hawks cages, but I kept a few.

My hens are mutt birds, but the Rooster should be a pure bred.

Anyone know what kind it is????

Crows in the Trees

When I got home from work this afternoon, there was a ruckus in the trees near the hawks cage. The birds have been fat, their crops full. I hope that the birds were okay.

I rounded the corner of the shed and verified that the hawks were fine.
Blue Jays were calling back and forth and I could see them swarming around the top of a live oak.

Two crows swooped in and circled the center of the commotion. It looked like the crows were possibly raiding the jays nest.

I moved closer to get a picture, but the birds were obviously more afraid of me than of each other and fell silent.

The crows secreted themselves away, weaving low through the trees. One of the jays giving a final kak as he gave a brief chase.

I know that there is a crows nest some where back in the woods. I would love to find out where it is.

Crows are cool creatures. They are right there at the top of the list for intelligent creatures. They have been observed using tools, they are believed to have a culture of sorts, as well as their own language, that goes beyond simple vocalizations.

Keep an eye on your local crows. There are myriads of stories of people who have raised orphaned crows to become cool pets. I never have, but would love to try. Unfortunately, in the U.S. this is an illegal endeavor.

The battle rages on

And so it goes. We haven't seen the sun for close to seven days. The rain has fallen in a steady stream, like that old Winnie the Pooh movie.

Three Raccoons in that time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is it worth it?

I have been hearing a lot about invasive species and how this should be introduced and that be eradicated. Here on the North Carolina coast there has been some controversy about the help that the Outer Banks Wild Horses should receive.

When is an invasive species no longer invasive? The horses here have been around for over 400 years. They are more local than even the oldest locals, but they will not be protected by the FWS.

...physiological features of present day horses, and historical data lead strongly to the conclusion that the ancestors of these horses were escapees from Spanish stock brought to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the first part of the 16th century.

These horses were left here by some of the original Spanish explorers who either became shipwrecked or who deserted their horses and left. In the absence of large predators and other large mammals with which to compete, the horses thrived. They have become successful, and the herd needs to be periodically thinned. So if these large mammals are this successful, when are they no longer considered exotic?

Red Fox have been in this country since the English imported them, Wild boar were brought from Russia, nutria from South America, all horses came from somewhere else. The process of change has increased exponentially since humans began moving animals from one place to another.

Over at Cool Green Science they write about the same thing tossing around the research of Darwin.

that is exactly how evolution works. The ancestral Darwin’s Finches once landed, completely exhausted, on one of the Galapagos Islands. They thrived, adapted, evolved and probably displaced quite a few of the species that had arrived before them.

Here in Southeast Asia, I see the same. Every few hundred thousand years, a wave of new species has arrived in the lands that now make up Indonesia and Malaysia, often driven by climatic change. They displaced the original species, which either died out or survived on mountain tops, offshore islands or other unusual places, where they are now rare endemics.

In conservation we are trying to change this. We are eradicating or controlling the invaders, and protect the natives. But that introduces a paradox.

Of course, things are happening much faster now that humans have come onto the scene. We are not talking about millennia or even centuries anymore. Our changes happen in a few years. And few species can adapt to that speed.

Still, there seem to be a disconnect between conservation and natural evolution. Come to Borneo in a few thousand years from now, and quite likely the tree sparrows here will have started to develop some useful traits that allows them to exploit new resources.

When does a species stop being a dangerous invasive and become a wonder of nature worth protecting?

Of course, being an educator, I have to be careful of what I say. Here in North Carolina, I still get a lot of flack about teaching evolution. I can only teach it as a theory, never really proven. Even though the evidence is all around us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eagles making eagles

They are out there, as I have said before, if you care to look. Where ever you find large (or not so large) bodies of water, you can find eagles. If you don't know where to look, ask any of your local wildlife people.

If that doesn't work, there is a pair in California that is performing for the camera. Two eggs in the nest and an incubating mother. If you want to see the eagles raising their young, watch the link from Cool Green Science.

Biologists have spotted two eggs in the bald eagle nest on Santa Cruz Island — and web users around the world can watch the nesting parents via a live camera!
To read the article check it out at:
Cool Green Science.

Of course we have our own eagles. I haven't seen the mature ones yet, but their nest is just around the corner from my house.

Their nest was originally about a half a mile away, but it was blown down during a hurricane. They've been nesting in the new location for about two years now.

We see the eagles flying overhead as we sit on our back porch over the summer. This winter I had one bald sweep down from its soaring and knock Gonzo out of a tree.

Sometimes, they will accost the passing osprey and steal the fish from them in mid-air. It is worth watching the fight. This video didn't happen here, but it is still worth a look.

Terrierman goes Public

Hats off to Patrick over at Terrierman whose message has finally hit the limelight. It seems that over the last few months, Patrick's mantra has been taken up by some of the news agencies across the pond. Then it exploded with pedigree dogs exposed. Now it has hit this side of the ocean with a major report on ABC's night line in a segment called "Best in Show?".

Not only is Patrick the smartest guy I've met, his message is worthy. Take care of the dogs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Never Ending Feud

Spring is in the air. It's been in the 70's and 80's for the last few days. We rolled forward the clocks and it's starting to feel like spring. My never ending feud with the raccoons has swung into full gear. Generally, I will set up one trap by the chickens and bait it with some of the cats food. It is a simple set up that rarely goes wrong and I haven't lost a chicken since I started.

Late last summer, just before falconry season, I missed a raccoon. It had found its way into the food chute in the hawks cage. Now this is a small opening, not much larger than a mail slot on the front of a door. But this particular raccoon had forced it open wider, squeezed himself in, and found his way to the hawks perch.

It was the middle of the night, so my then female Harris, never saw it coming. I found her laid out on her shelf perch, spread eagle. Her head was gone, and her chest cavity had been stripped of all of its flesh and meat.

I was devastated.

I buried the bird.
I fixed the food chute with a lock, then I moved the trap from the chicken cages, over beneath the food chute. I peppered the trap with cat food.

There was a raccoon there in the morning. I was pretty sure that this was the perpetrator of the previous nights crime. I wanted to be mad at the coon, but even as angry as I was, I couldn't hate the creature. It was just doing what it does.

I called the SPCA the next morning and they came and picked up the raccoon.

Since that time - the war rages on down by the hawk cages. I get about one or two raccoons every week and about the same number of opossums.

The coons are given to the SPCA to be euthanized.
I relocate the 'possums.

I would kill the coons myself, but I don't have a gun. I've been meaning to get one, but I've never owned a gun. I'm thinking maybe a little .22. Something inexpensive to plink squirrels in my backyard, as well as shooting raccoons. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The history of falconry revolves around the peregrine falcon. There are few other animals who better epitomize the conservation efforts of the American people. It is the majestic bird that was flown by the kings of Europe in the middle ages.

And then in the 70's, the use of the chemical DDT caused the extinction of this great bird in the eastern United States. Through the efforts of falconers across the country , and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink and is now thriving across the nation. There are more peregrines now than there ever has been.

Isaac, over at Another Falconry Blog, puts out the call to action to help Florida falconers. The very same group of people whose efforts brought the peregrine falcon back need your help.

Isaac writes:

For many years falconers have been prohibited from capturing wild peregrine falcons to use in falconry due to their endangered status. Any peregrine falcon that you see used as a falconry bird these days is from captive bred stock. However, now that the falcon has been delisted and their population is stable, even increasing, falconers may have the opportunity to once again fly their wild counterparts.

In Florida, regulations are being considered to allow falconers this chance but are facing significant opposition from the Audubon society and their "look but don't touch" mentality. Comments are still being accepted regarding the regulations and I urge any and all to write a brief email supporting the idea of allowing falconers to utilize this resource. It seems a very small reward compared to the tireless efforts of those falconers who worked to bring the bird back in the first place.

Below are some talking points (forwarded by the Florida Hawking Fraternity) you could consider in your emails:

The residents of Florida should not be denied access to a natural resource, which harvesting of the Peregrine falcon should be considered as.

Management of peregrines for use in falconry should be based on sound biology, not politics.

Healthy raptor populations are not affected by the practice of falconry, it has been proven on more than one occasion that falconry has no impact on raptor populations.

Peregrines were delisted (no longer requiring special protection) by the USFWS in 1999, 10 years ago. Now that their populations have been restored, restrictions on the use of the peregrine for falconry should be no greater than those for any other raptor with a healthy population.

The peregrines who were being held for falconry in captivity were used as breeder birds to repopulate the wild population. Falconers designed the current methods used to breed raptors in captivity to helps repopulate peregrines.

Falconers went to wild Peregrine nest sites and removed the un-cracked eggs to be incubated and then returned chicks once they were hatched to the nest sites.

Since 1999, when the peregrine was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the peregrine population in the U.S. has more than doubled and is now several times larger than the recovery goal and the historic pre-DDT population.

Migration data suggests that the population of arctic (tundrius) peregrines has increased almost 10x since the 1970s.

All subspecies of peregrine populations in North America are healthy, self-sustaining, and require no special management for falconry. The peregrine falcon populations in the U.S. have continued to increase and show no sign of having reached an upper limit.

A fair estimate of the North American peregrine population is 20,000 breeding pairs. Being healthy, this population produces 40,000 young per year. Using the USFWS's conservative allowable take of 5% of the young produced per year, a take limit of 2,000 peregrines per year for falconry should be permitted. [It should be noted that with the number of licensed falconers in the U.S. at around 4,000, only a small fraction of which would be interested in flying passage peregrine falcons, nowhere near that number of falconers would actually be taken...]

The take of passage (first year and fully independent of parental care) peregrines for falconry should be permitted in all 48 lower states and Alaska.

No special considerations, limits, or quotas are necessary to protect the peregrine beyond those in the falconry regulations (i.e. only immature raptor may be taken and only two raptors may be taken per year per permittee).

Studies have shown that passage raptors taken for falconry and released the following spring have a better chance for survival then if they had been left in the wild.

Please send comments by April 15th to:

I've already sent in my comments. I hope to have to ask the same thing of all of you for the state of NC very soon. Take a minute to write a note to the Florida wildlife commission.

Thank you - Doug

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Indicator Species

Most of you know what an indicator species is. If you don't, its an organism that can be used to gauge the health of an ecosystem. Amphibians are often used as their health can give scientists an idea of how the other species in an area are faring.

I have my own. Ospreys are an indicator of the beginning and the ending of my falconry season. If you have never seen one, They are described as;

The Osprey is a fish eating hawk (also known as a buteo) about 24 inches tall with approximately a 6 foot wingspan. It's about the size of a small Bald Eagle, the Osprey's fishing competitor. People tend to confuse the two, but the gull-like crook in the wing, the dark brown line through the eye and on the side of the face of the osprey are good hints for identification.

They leave our area in mid October and you will not see them until the very beginning of March. When the Osprey leave, I know that it is time to start getting my own hawk
s in shape for hunting.

Where the osprey go, I was never sure. It turns out that they, like most migrating raptors, head for South America. But what is really cool is that University
of North Carolina has begun tracking all of the movements of the osprey. They then can track them with GPS all over the globe. Check out the maps here.

Well. My osprey are back.
They frequently fly over our backyard, fish clutched in their talons. There are nesting pairs all over, which is a blessing, as it wasn't that long ago that they were threatened with extinction.

Once the Osprey were threatened with extinction because of the wide-spread use of pesticides like DDT. With its long term and accumulative effects this pesticide was particularly devastating on the egg shells of this and other birds high up in the food chain. But with the ban of DDT at least in North America the population is recovering, especially where aided with nesting structure provisions and good fishing habitat.
They are fairly common here now and today, two of them sat in a nest over a nearby canal.

One took off and flew low lazy circles over the water, calling to her mate.

In response, he launched from the nest and landed directly over my head in a loblolly pine.

He called back to her until she faded out of sight, only to return later. Then they circled each other over head until they disappeared over the treetops.

Spring is here.

Great Argument

I found this blog last night. The author puts forth a nice argument for harris hawks.

There are two types of falconers in this world; those that love Harris Hawks, and those that don’t.

If everyone loved the same things, if everyone agreed on everything and thought the same the world would be a less colourful and interesting place, so this surely can only be a good thing.

Since the first Harris Hawks were introduced into the falconry circle just a few decades ago this species really has taken the world by storm, shouldering aside the Goshawk and the American Redtail to make a large space for itself in both Irish and world falconry. It is by a long stretch the most commonly flown raptor today. People that could not otherwise have the time to put into a daily hawking regime can now have a bird that can fit into their lives; with an hour spare here and there and a morning out at the weekend People that do not have the time to train and manage the old traditionals like Goshawks and Merlins can now classify themselves as falconers and enjoy their time doing it.

To read the rest, see it at Woodlands Falconry.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Moment

Rebecca over at Delta Duck wrote about the moment that made her. She was able to crystallize one specific moment when she became the person she is.

I can't break it down that easily. There are many moments that have combined together, but one of the moments, actually, two of them helped to instill in me many of the thing that I hold dear.

I love the old movie "Stand by Me". I think that that movie really is a great representation of how it is to be 12 or 13 and discovering who you are and which path you are going to take. That movie reminds me alot of my early teen years. It was me and two or three close friends exploring the people and places around our homes in upstate New York.

Luke and I hiked a lot. We would leave home and be gone for hours doing nothing but climbing trees and following streams. One particular day we found ourselves wandering through and expansive field of straw that stretched as far as we could see. The sound of a mockingbird punctuated our conversation. We joked with each other and told stories as we trundled along, our hands outstretched and caressing the tips of the grass as we passed. We followed the natural trails, wondering who made them, and found ourselves descending towards a thick wood.

We continued along beneath the trees, the sunlight creating patterns on the carpet of fallen leaves. The sound of water filled water filled the air around us and the air grew moist. The ground fell off in front of us and what had been a trickle of a stream cascaded down the rocks in a thirty foot fall. At that moment, I heard a scream from over head. I looked up and through a hole in the canopy I saw the underside of what I would later find was a red tailed hawk. The image only lasted an instant, but it was amazing to me.

It was only about ten or fifteen feet above us and its wings were outstretched. It had pulled its bright orange talons forward, as if it was about to grab something. Its claws seemed huge. I pointed it out to Luke, but it was gone. The image of a hawk, its talons outstretched, burned in the back of my mind.

It would be years, almost two decades, before I knew there was such a thing as falconry. I drove five hours and attended my first meet. There were a bunch of these hawks. The sun was low in the clear cold sky. We had met at McDonald's and then split up. I followed at the back of the group, and parked my car. People milled about near their cars at the edge of the woods, talking and gearing up. One man had his bird in the air. I couldn't see it. I knew it was somewhere in the trees. Then, this one guy put his arm out and whistled. A hawk, big and brown, dropped from a branch in the woods. Its wings flared, its talons reached.

And I was hooked.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stealing Time

I read this post over at Eric Outside that got me thinking. Hunting season is over. I'm not outside as much as I would like anymore. I'm driving three, over scheduled kids here. I'm driving them there, but I'm not taking any time for myself.

But then I realized that that is not necessarily true. I steal bits of time.

When I go to feed the pigeons, I don't just dump the feed and go. I find myself stopping and peering back into the woods. I watch the squirrel as it scales the tree, barking at me as it goes, it's tail waving back and forth at me.

The chickens cluck back in forth, tirelessly, searching for a bit of grain. They pick their feet straight up, then the gently stretch their toes out, placing it gently on the cold brown earth. They are so different than the harris'.

I feed the hawks, and I watch the crow gathering twigs for its own nest. A pileated woodpecker knocks a hole in the tree above us, and the cotton clouds scud across the Carolina blue sky.

A two minute feeding can stretch into 15 to 25 minutes. Little intervals here and there, that if you gather them together add up to a lot more. I realized that I am stealing time to feed my own addiction.

I need those minutes. While I can't take an hour right now to hike down the creek that runs down our property, I can steal bits of time, and take them for myself.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Newest accessory

This is a great article from over at Falconer on the Edge. apparently, the newest thing is to have a barn owl (Tyto alba) at your wedding deliver the rings to the groom. I have always thought barn owls were one of the coolest owls out there. I have never had one. Nor do I know much about their temperament. I understand that some falconers have used them to hunt small birds and rodents off the fist.