Thursday, April 30, 2009

Origin of our Species

There's some cool tid-bits from Sixty Second Science. They can now pretty much pin point where we came from.

A massive new genetic study proposes that humans originated near the border of modern-day South Africa and Namibia, a far more specific understanding than the vaguer picture of African origin that previously reigned.

Read the rest here

Owl People

I was out for my morning ride yesterday. There is a group of us that ride our cycles first thing in the morning, leaving our meeting place around 5:30 and riding down the Atlantic coast as the sun comes over the horizon. Most of the other guys out there realize that I have another side - the dark falconer side of me- and they will sometimes ask me bird related questions, or we'll talk about different aspects of hunting.

Yesterday, early in the ride, before the sun peeked above the Atlantic, and the skidding clouds were awash in brilliant oranges, a large black silhouette passed over our heads on its way from the coast. None of these pictures are mine - they are only to give you a better visual.

The guys all looked to me to see what it was. Definitely an owl, most likely a barred, maybe a great horned. I wasn't quite close enough to see, and we were moving along at about 20 miles an hour, so I couldn't stop to stare.


Here's the question. Why would either of those owls be hunting on the beach overnight? Owls wouldn't eat sand crabs would they? Would there be other prey overnight on the beach? I've never seen rats or mice there. What else could it be? Any ideas?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I traveled up to Maryland yesterday to go digging for groundhogs with Patrick (Terrierman). It was a perfect day - though maybe a bit warm. Gracie, the mini schnauzer, went along to see what she could do.

Gracie is a great little dog. She minds well, she likes to sit with you on the couch, and rarely wanders out of the yard. you can go anywhere with her off lead, and she won't go too far. But Gracie has very little prey drive, and she is too big to fit in a groundhog hole. I will give her an A for effort though.

I met up with Patrick at a little mom and pop store and we headed off to a nearby farm field. i'd been here before and there is usually plenty of game on the land. The dogs seemed to get along fine, though Patrick's dog, pearl, stayed home for this one. Mountain and Gracie started exploring the creek which meandered through the bottom land. It wasn't long before Mountian found in a hole near the edge of the creek. It was actually two holes, one went into the bank along the edge of the creek, and the other wormed its way up into the ancient root system of an old tree.

Mountian went from one hole to the next baying it up in both places. We heard the groundhog whistling in the root ball, and saw the groundhog in the other hole, but Mountian couldn't get to either one. We dug a bunch of holes and worked up a sweat, but Mountian just couldn't get them.

We ended up closing the holes and moving on. Gracie started to get into it, but she still wasn't sure what it was all about. Then Mountian found a Whistlepig above ground. He nabbed it and Gracie got a chance to see what it was she'd been smelling.

We moved up into the plowed field and came across another nice hole. Mountian popped in, and this time Gracie wiggled her way in and started to dig. Go Gracie!

We had to dig a bunch of holes, it looked like a mine field when we were done, but Gracie got in there and tried to pull some fur. We ended up pulling two hogs from this set of holes, and I can truly say Gracie enjoyed herself.

We moved spots and walked some fields. Mountian bolted a fox from one set, But we didn't get the occasion to dig again. We ended the day around one as I had to drive back home that night.

Will Gracie ever be a great Groundhog hunter? No, probably not. We had fun though and hopefully we'll do it again.

Thanks for the ice cream Patrick. Next time, I buy the Subs & Pizza.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Barred Owls

Barred owls
are a large owl that live over most of the eastern US. They have recently taken the blame for the decline in numbers of spotted owls in Northwest.

One of the threats to many raptors are car strikes. There are a bunch of raptors that hunt along the edge of the roadway, and they sometimes forget to look both ways.

I found this guy on the side of the road. I thought he was a lost cause, until he turned his head to watch me pass.

I turned around and went and picked him up. His left side was broken. Broken leg, broken wing. He looked up at me, and then lay back. I made some calls and found a rehabber in the area I was driving ( I was on my way to Maryland), and dropped him off.

Neither one of us was hopeful, but it was still important to try to do the right thing for the bird.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The (other) Baby Birds

I'm waiting on my Harris' hawks to get busy. Nothing has happened yet.

But the other birds have been very busy! When I went away for spring break. The chickens were able to amass a nest full of eggs. One of the chickens decided to get a bit broody, so she is now sitting pretty on the nest. Additionally, I brought back a bunch of eggs from my brothers chickens. His are white, while mine are mostly dark. I think some of his birds would add a nice contrast. So I don't know how many chicks I will have running around.

The pigeon babies are getting bigger, but boy are they ugly - I'm sure someone will disagree - but they are some homely birds.

And in the meantime, another one of the pigeons has been laying, hidden, down in the corner. I'll be keeping an eye on her.

Ulrich, unfortunately, is still too fat after I fed him up. I've started bringing his weight back down.

Any harris breeders out there who can give me some advice on getting two inexperienced birds going?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


After being away a week, it is nice to get home. The animals are all alive and seem content. Still no eggs in the hawks nest though. It is frustrating but at least the pigeon babies are growing fast, and as work tomorrow looms, I reflect on the week. I took a bunch of pictures, most of them from when we were hiking. I don't want to bore you with a bunch of repetitive trail shots, but here are some samples from the trip.

When I was nine and my parents told me we were moving from Illinois to New York, all I could envision was concrete and neon as far as the eye could see. Even then I was devastated. How could they?

I've lived many different places since then, and I've decided that upstate New York is really a great place (if it weren't for the taxes).

We spent most of our time outdoors, hiking and exploring. The kids had a blast, I had a blast, and the whole time I was able to regroup.

I'm looking forward to going back.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Releasing Ate'

Andrew let his red tail Ate' (rhymes with Latte') go the other day. He was a good sized male (tiercel) bird that hunted around 36 oz. His first season he was killer on squirrels, then this season his motivation seemed to be lagging a bit.

Andrew fiddled with his weight, but Ate' just hasn't seemed like he has been interested in the game this year. So, after two years, he's fed him up and let him go.

Many falconers in NC will fly their birds for just a few years and then return them back to the wild. I know that I've done it a bunch of times. That is one of the cool things about falconry, you can take a wild bird and borrow it for a few seasons. The bird gets a chance to learn how to hunt in an environment where it isn't going to die if it misses its next meal (avoiding that 75% mortality rate in the first year statistic), and you gt to participate in its life for a few short years. Then you can release a breeding age bird back into its population. No harm, no foul.

Both of you are better off for it. Yeah, its cool.

We'll be out looking for a new bird for Andrew this coming fall. I'm sure I'll be posting pictures. It looks like it may end up being a busy trapping season.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Orienteering 101 - continued

Today we found ourselves out at the farm. We took Dolan out to the outskirts of the property, back in the woods, intentionally trying to get ourselves turned around a bit, then he had to be able to find our way back to the farm.

There were a few specific things we were looking for. One was turkey sign. With the Spring season just around the corner, my brother Tim wanted to find where they were hiding out. The second thing he was looking for was coyote. There has been a sighting or two on his property, and he wanted to lay eyes on them himself.

It didn't take long before we found sign of the coyote. This was right in the middle of the trail where it cut from one rye field to the next.

We cut across the fields and entered the woods. It was warmer here and less windy. The early spring flowers were peeking through the leaf litter as we meandered towards the back of the property.

Luke, the younger brother, made it across the log just fine, but slipped as he was standing too close to the creek and it was muddier than he realized. Gracie made the crossing effortlessly, and I followed behind. We kept out eyes peeled for any sign of wildlife, but if you've never been in the woods with boys, they make a lot of noise.

The property was well marked along the edges so we made sure not to get beyond where we were supposed to be. Not as big a deal this time of year, but it is always a good idea to honor thy neighbor.

We did find some deer sign, lots of tracks and one nice shed antler.

A little further along we came on some prime bedding habitat for deer and kept out eyes out for a second antler, but never found one. We did find this cool honeycomb in a hole in a giant willow tree.

The kids broke off a piece to bring home. They want to melt down the wax to make candles. We'll see what momma says. We followed the stream for a while, always following Dolan's direction on which way was home. Invariably, he would check the compass and point us in the right direction. He really did a great job.

By this time, we had pretty much given up finding any turkey. With all the noise we were making there was no way. We found some spots where it looked like they had been feeding, but nothing positive. Along the way, Gracie had been checking out the local woodchuck holes. Some times she seemed interested, sometimes she would just pass them by. This one must have smelled really good as she tried to wriggle herself most of the way inside, but was blocked by some roots. So far she hasn't barked in any of the holes, but that may just be because she doesn't know for sure what is down there.

Just before coming out of the woods into another corn field, Dolan became fascinated by this old car and had to get himself a piece of it. He unscrewed the nameplate and it was a Fury III.

After several hours of hiking we came out into the corn field across from the farm (Dolan's compass skills had been right all along), and we found some definitive turkey sign in the mud. Tracks, tracks and more tracks. And if you look close, there is the track of a coyote right on top of them in the drying mud.

It was a good hike.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Orienteering 101

We took the kids and dogs out again today. My oldest needed to work on some of his boy scout stuff. We got out the map and the compass that we bought today at the store and started him on his orienteering.

To be honest, he got us a little lost the first time, not because he didn't know what direction we were going, but more because the map didn't jive with what we thought it should say based on the trails we were on. It took a bit, but he figured it out and we started the whole process over again.
His younger brother got the hand me down compass and verified every direction we traveled.

Of course the dogs came with us. It was a good up and down hike with hills and water, and a lot of mud, but the terrain changes made it more interesting.

We saw some wildlife, deer grazing on the hill, lots of little birds flying to and fro. We saw chipmunks for the first time this spring. Horses watched us from over the fence at the end of their pasture, and Gracie chased whatever she saw.

We found what we believed to be a leftover fox kill, all rabbit - no head.

The labs waded, swam, and sloshed through every bit of water we could find. If nothing else, Labs are predictable. They are great dogs!

Overall, it was a great hike, and some good time with the kids. Tomorrow we go back out to the farm and my oldest tries the compass without maps or trails. We're going to drop him off in the back forty and he needs to find his way home. Don't worry, I'll be with him. I think that is a good thing.

Gracie Goes to Ground - sort of.

One of the great things about spending time up in upstate New York is that we get to spend a bunch of time outdoors with the dogs. So far, we've been able to get the dogs outside multiple times a day, wandering through the woods.

The little dogs love it, and they hang with the big dogs. The schnauzer doesn't swim, but will hang out when my parents' labs. Apollo (the yorkie), is learning his commands, come, stay close, etc.

We don't get to walk in the woods this much at home. The tics there are bad. I realize that sounds wimpy, but they are really bad. It is hard to take a walk when you know that you will spend a half an hour picking them off of you when you are done. So the only time we hike is in the winter.

My kids love it too. They can hike, and throw big rocks into the water. I'm not sure why the big rocks are still a thrill, but they love to do it.

Today, we came across four white tail deer that let my son and I stalk in fairly close. I couldn't get a good shot, as they were hiding in the thick brush. We counted their numbers as they bound away, white tails flashing.

We've been encountering a bunch of groundhog holes since we've been here. Gracie wriggled her way most of the way into the first, but couldn't get past the first bend in the pipe.

I knew a groundhog was at home, as I saw it disappear into the whole as we approached, but Gracie is just too big in the chest to make it further in than the doorstep.

I did have to pull her by the legs to get her out.

Since that first hole, she's been checking other groundhog holes we come across.

It makes me smile, and sad at the same time. Hopefully, I'll get up to Patrick's after the break to get my fix. I wonder if I should bring Gracie? If nothing else, she can stake out one whole to keep the groundhog from bolting. I'll talk to him. The hole below was dug out under a pile of slate, refuse and plastic buckets. I would have hated to break into this pipe

In the meantime, if you know of an adult terrier/ dachshund mix, with a wire coat, that likes kids and other dogs, and has a spannable chest - give me a holler.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

HR 669

We had the Action Alert the other day, I've written about this bill before, and now there is a great video about it on You tube. Take the time to watch the video, get informed.

Video is here:

The link on how you can help is here: