Sunday, May 31, 2009


Every so often, one of the kids in my class will ask me what I am afraid of. There’s not much. Sure I fear for my children, but that is not truly fear; that is more a constant worry that they will come to no harm. I don’t fear lightning, or tornadoes, or sharks.

Scary movies do nothing but startle anymore. Being startled is not fear. Fear is something visceral that creeps up from the pit of your belly causing your body to freeze, your breath to become shallow, your head faint.

I talk to the kids about it. Usually fear is caused by ignorance. If you don’t understand something, you are more likely to fear it. Sharks, snakes, bears, bugs, whatever it is, usually you fear them because you don’t understand.

One of the reasons I like to bring snakes to school is because I want the children to see that snakes are not scary, they don’t normally bite people, nor do they want to. For many people, getting bit by a nonvenomous, common snake would be the best way for them to get over their fear. It hurts less than a shot, or a bee sting.

What causes the children to fear them is not knowing what a snake can and will do. Respect is healthy. If you see a cottonmouth, give it the space it needs, respect it. Bears, respect them and you’ll be fine. There is no need for any irrational fear.

That is what I thought, until today.

In the summer I clean pools. It’s a great summer gig. I work shirtless and barefoot. No one bothers me when I’m working. It is quiet.

I had to do some work in a pump room today. It is a small, cramped room off to the side of the pool. Equipment hums inside, and all of the extra space is cluttered with other stored items.

My feet whisper across the threshold of the little room, and it takes a second for my eyes to grow accustomed to the dimness. I am all business. I lean forward, glancing down as my legs brush through some cobwebs, and begin work diverting the water from the main drain. My balance is a bit off, as I lean over the jumble of PVC pipes, and I have to put my weight heavily on my left foot. That is when I see it.

It stands on all eight delicate legs, one foot poised up, just off the ground, as if it is feeling the air with that one hairy foot. The abdomen looks huge, and glossy, and black.

There is no other spider quite like it; the black widow, and this is a big one. It stands no more than six inches from the soft side of my foot.

My breathing suddenly stopped, and I could imagine the spider inching closer to me, that one leg slowly caressing the outside of my foot as its fangs move closer. There was a knot in the pit of my stomach, and my legs froze. I couldn’t move.

I know all about black widows. They can’t even actually kill you, but the fear was real and inexplicable. In the sunlight that invaded through the half open door, I could see the cobwebs I’d scattered on the way in. They were the classic, haphazard web of the black widow. I mentally scolded myself for not being more careful.

The spider never moved. It seemed to draw in on itself, crouching down closer to the floor.

Then I shifted my weight, sliding my foot away from the spider. It regarded me coolly. As quickly as I could, I left the pump room.

Spiders don’t like filter cleaner. I retrieved my pump bottle from the cleaning bucket and emptied it on the spider. It wriggled and writhed, climbing higher in its web, until it curled up and fell to the ground, a lifeless lump.

Friday, May 29, 2009


On a daily basis I check the chickens.

They live in a small 4 x 4 coop with an attached wire run off the side of the shed. Most days they spend sunning themselves on their perches or rolling in the dirt to rid themselves of parasites. Right now I have about five full grown chickens and a bunch of babies. Only four of the chicks were actually hatched by the hen that laid them. The rest of them were incubator babies.

The peepers that hatched in the coop are being raised by momma and I worry about their progress. They are pretty well protected in the coop, but there are always things that can get at them, including the other chickens. I went to pick up the eggs yesterday. I usually get one or two a day, which is just the right amount for our family, but today there were no eggs.

I opened up the side compartment. Inside there are two small nest boxes. Perches line one wall, and the whole area smells faintly of hay and chicken guano. To be honest, it smells like my grandmothers farm.
I pull the door aside, and the dusty interior of the coop is filled with the mid day sun. ‘I need to clean out this house.’ I think to myself.

That’s when I saw it. It was black and slick and coiled up in one of the chickens nest boxes. A black snake. Crap.

I walk back to the shed a retrieve a garden glove. Generally, black snakes are pretty docile, but you never know what you are going to find. I reach my hand inside the box and start pulling. The thin tail stretches out of the box, and I can feel the muscles of the snake contract in my palm as it tries to pull away. I reach in with my other ungloved hand, trying to keep the snake from getting tangled up in the structure of the nest box.

Foot by foot it pulls out until five feet of snake stretch between my hands and the chicken coop. I slide my hands forward and untangle the head from the uprights of the nest box. I extract the snake the rest of the way out, feeling the lump in its midsection, which I assume is the egg that it has already eaten. The snake is docile, harmless. He lets me handle him like he’s been a pet his whole life.

My wife’s mantra is the only good snake is a dead snake. I don’t agree. The boys and I have a program for visiting snakes. They can come and live in our garage for a time, and then we let them go again. This snake was a prime candidate. I placed him in an aquarium where we could observe him.

Then I took him to school to show the students.

We spent the day talking about snakes, their habitats, and how they are good for the environment. The children touched and stroked this perfectly mild mannered serpent. I hope I made an impression on some of their little minds.

On the way home, I let him go.

He was no worse for wear, but he ended up doing a lot of good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let them Roam

As urban sprawl continues to become a larger problem for wildlife, scientists have found that leaving small corridors of natural areas can be greatly beneficial for those animals that need to spread out.

Animals are born to roam. So when they find themselves living on small patches of land surrounded by housing developments or cornfields, their movement is unnaturally confined. They may never find that other patch a mile down the road that is full of food, nesting grounds, even mates with differing genes (a very good thing for the health of a species.) What’s more, the plant seeds and pollen that naturally hitchhike with them are also stuck.

When you are clearing your land, or your field, think about how the natural areas is affected. Maybe leave a corridor.

“The spillover effect with corridors gives a larger conservation bang for the buck,” said study co-author Nick Haddad, associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University, in a statement. His team found that adding habitat corridors more than doubled the resulting area of improved plant biodiversity.

Read the rest here at 60 second science.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Can't see the forest

Live oaks.

Pigs love them. They root around under the low slung branches, tearing up the earth, looking for acorns. Squirrels love them, and snakes.

They are cool looking trees. My kids love them as they are easy to climb, and you can never get too high. But they are a bear to hunt in. The canopy is so thick that the sunlight can't get through. This makes for easy walking, but the branches are low, so you always have to duck. The squirrels make the most of this environment. They run horizontally and vertically. They pop above the canopy, and then disappear below, like a fish jumping out of the water. The hawks have a heck of a time following as they can't sneak through the same holes as the squirrels.

But the chase is right there, right in your face as both predator and prey struggle through the low twisting branches. If the squirrel disappears in a nest, you can almost walk up the tree and poke him out, just watch your head.

pointless pictures

There is no real reason for this post. I had some pictures backed up so now I am going to post them. The first one is of the turtle that my brother left in the back of my pickup. It's a yellow bellied slider. They grow huge in this part of the south. This is a medium sized one.

The chickens have been hatching for the last couple of weeks. They don't ever seem to hatch all at once. Usually, I'll get one or two, then one at a time for a few days until they are all finished. This one was part way through the process.

I am always amazed at how hard it is for a chicken to hatch. Sometimes, they get through the whole process, only to die just out of the shell from exhaustion. Those are the ones I get most sad about. This next picture is of the mutt chickens.

They all seem to develop basically the same, starting out yellow and then developing brown stripes along their backs. I don't know for sure how they'll look full grown, but it's fun to watch.

Sample picture

This is a picture of the two birds on a kill. My youngest son is sitting next to me. He enjoys being outside, hunting with dad. Notice the two hawks on the ground. One is holding the squirrel that she just caught, while Gonzo looks on.

Tess is the more dominant, and generally she is the first on any game caught. Gonzo will sometimes join in, but I try to keep my body in between the two to prevent squabbling.

It seems I have this picture thing figured out, so I'll be putting up a new post soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I don't seem to be able to post pictures right now. I'm wondering if there are any others who are having the same problem.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How it starts

When people find out that you are a falconer, they respond in many different ways. You get everything from curiosity to disdain. My favorite response came from a gentleman from a nearby town. It came up in casual conversation that I trained hawks and falcons to allow me to hunt with them. He looked at me incredulously,
“That’s so..” He searched for the right words, “old school.”
He nodded approvingly, and we continued to discuss the ins and out of falconry.

The question I get asked most often is “How did you get started with falconry?” I think the answer to that question is different for every falconer. Some are involved in wildlife rehabilitation, some love hawks. Some are lucky enough to know a falconer with whom they can tag along.

I like to think that people often get to see the birds up close in some educational venue and then get interested. For me it wasn’t like that.

See, I like to write.
I was trying my hand at the great American novel. It never got finished as I was side tracked. The main character in this story hunted with a hawk. It would have been similar to a red tail, had I known enough at the time to make the comparison.

My wife commented that it would be smart to research falconry if I wanted my main character to be true to life (and to this day, I blame her). So I started looking. I found the North Carolina Falconer’s Guild and attended a meet.

There were hawks everywhere and they were amazing. Admittedly, most were red tails. The first one to fly was too fat and unresponsive. We didn’t even get it to fly out of the parking lot before the apprentice who was working with it called it down.

The second set of birds out was a pair of Harris hawks. We wandered through the woods looking for squirrels. We didn’t find any. But the birds, these large intimidating birds, followed us through the woods. I would find myself stopping and watching as they dated from tree to tree. I would lose them when they landed, but the bells would soon give them away.

That was it. I had to become a falconer.

Ten years have passed since then. I’ve had talons through my hand, blunt eye trauma, slips, falls, and multiple briar wounds. But I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunlight on the Hawks cage

We haven't seen much of it lately, so here it is.


That is Matt's word from over at Querencia. I liked it and I stole it. The recent rains certainly seem to be agreeing with my son's garden. We've already begun harvesting the radishes and the first green tomatos are beginning to bulge. The corn is almost knee high already - I don't know if that is good or bad, but all six stalks are growing fast.

The plum tree that is shading the garden from the late afternoon sun has begun showing its fruit as well. Right now the plums are green and about as long as the end of your thumb. They need to round out a bit and then, eventually, they'll turn, well, plum.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Babies everywhere

Just an update on all the breeding going on here. The birds have been been very busy, but not the hawks.

We had another new hatch of pigeons. Only one of the eggs hatched, but this guy is growing fast. I still think pigeons are some of the ugliest babies around.

We've got baby chickens coming out our ears. Some were naturally hatched, others incubated. These guys were hatched by one of our half banties.

And then this little guy is hanging around near the cages.

I don't hold any animosity towards any snake, even black racers. They can be mean, but they are just doing what they do. I'll need to relocate this guy away from the chickens though.

I still have hope that the harris' will breed this year and I'll just have a later clutch. But it is getting late in the spring. I'll keep my fingers crossed. Maybe they'll have it together by the end of the weekend.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The kids

It was a gorgeous day, and I had work to do. I'd been putting off the kids all day because I had the lawn to mow, mulching, and trimming.
The sprinkler system needed work and my car wasn't working right.

I had this and that to do, and...

Aw heck. It could all wait.

It was spring.
The sun was out...

I need to remember what is really important.

Luke had the biggest catch of the day. The fish weren't biting on our night crawlers, but it was great to be out, relaxing with the kids.

When I was a kid my dad would call this a "stick fish". We also caught leaf fish and junk fish. It was a good time, nonetheless.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The most wonderful time of the year.

It's that time of the year. Strawberry season. We spent the afternoon Saturday filling buckets with delectable little berries. We'll be making jelly and shortcakes over the next couple of days.

I don't know how many years you have to repeat a ritual before it becomes a family tradition, but we pick strawberries at a local farm every year since the kids were old enough to eat strawberries off of the plant ( I think they were around 1 and a half).

Good stuff.


There are a million instances when falconers have the opportunity to present their sport in a positive light. One of the biggest obstacles facing all hunters is that their sport(s) is constantly being barraged by the anti hunting groups. How many are out their answering the call to speak positively about hunting?

Every fall you hear stories about this hunter, or that guy, that shot a cow, or a horse, or his neighbors window. You see it in the news every season. But how often does the public hear about conservation efforts by hunters? How often do Joe and Jane suburban hear about the positive sides of hunting?

One of the initiatives that The North Carolina Falconer's Guild has been pushing is education of the public. They have programs every year to educate hunters about falconry, as well as vet schools and other groups.

This is Bobby C. from Goldsboro with a group of vet students.

I am in a great situation, as I am familiar with the local elementary schools and I can get out there and educate the kids. The students in my own class get used to having hawks and falcons in the classroom.

But others don't have that opportunity, so I try to get out of my room and visit other schools at least once a year to educate the children about my birds and what I do, as well as what they can do to protect these important predators.

Here I am with a group of second graders showing chickens, pigeons, and hawks.

I don't know what you do. Maybe you hike, fish, camp. Maybe you hunt elk in the mountains of Wyoming with black powder. Whatever you do, you probably know more about the environment and the natural wonders that surround us than any of your local school teachers. Take a minute and volunteer your time to talk to them.

The kids will always love it, and you will be doing something positive for your sport.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

Ulrich died today.

I fed him a mouse this morning. Just a little one. Smaller than many I had fed him in the past.

I called him to the fist and let him take his first few bites there. But it was morning, and I had to finish my chores before work, so I set him down on his block in his little outdoor weathering area to finish it up. I went down to the harris' cages to deal with the possum that we had trapped the night before.

I pulled the possum trap up the hill and loaded into the back of my pickup for relocation. Then I wandered back to to check on Ulrich.

He had fallen off of his perch. He lay on his side, one eye closed, the other pointed towards the sky. The mouse was lodged halfway in his mouth., it's tail end hung out.

I'd been gone maybe 15 minutes, and he was long dead.

I took the time to bury him beneath a live oak on the edge of our property before I left.

When I got home this afternoon, I went around checking on the animals like I always do. I make sure they have water, and food. When I checked on my broody hen, she gave me the mean - get away" look. But on closer inspection there was a little black peep sitting next to the hen.

This would be my first ever chicken that I didn't hatch from an incubator. It is kind of exciting - though the chicken could never replace the falcon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

questioning Bees

I've always been fascinated by the prospect of beekeeping. I know virtually nothing about it, but the idea intrigues me. There are a number of bee keepers on the recommended reads to the right, and I have been following along. I understand the basic concept. I understand the need to feed, and winterize, tap and scrape - but I need a book.

There is beekeeping for dummies, which will probably work just fine for a beginner. But I never enjoy the writing in the Dummies books.

Some of my favorite falconry books are Bodio's books. Technically, they are not "how to" books, but I love them because the writing is so good.

Equinox, by Dan O'brien - is another great one. Just good writing about falconry.

And I can't forget Mullinex. He creates great imagery with his words.

Again, I realize that these aren't manuals on how to become a falconer, but I like how they write.

So here is today's question. If I could pick one good book - that is a pleasure to read - that can help me learn how to set up my first hive (maybe next summer, not this one). What would it be, and why?


Sunday, May 3, 2009


I was given a plinker the other day. It's one of those guns that has been in the family for a while, and has been handed down to me so that I can work on my target shooting. I'm pleased with the gun. Let me remind you, I have never had a gun and know very little about them. It is a Smith and Wesson K22. It shoots .22 longs, and it's accuracy seems good.

Here is a bit that I have read about it.

..The K 22 was an immediate success with well-heeled sportsmen as well as police and military training programs. Supica –Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson records that an Army team took several K 22s to the 1932 Olympics providing an early launch into the mainstream target circuit. By 1940, shooters or agencies had bought 19,500 of the first model and a second model was in the catalogues as “A replica of that favorite, the .38 M&P Target Revolver” (Stoeger-Shooter’s Bible). By this time, it had become the K 22 ‘Masterpiece’ and was firmly identified with organized target shooting.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Are we Normal?

I like to consider my family "normal". Yes, we have our idiosyncrasies (I mean, I have them), but we lead fairly normal lives.

I have three kids, and a wife of seventeen years. We spend time together, both inside and outside. My kids help with my animals - chickens, rabbits, pigeons, dogs, cat -etc. and the kids have their own little pets. They've had parakeets, rabbits, gerbils.

In the spring and summer we walk with our kids in the evening. Sometimes the kids ride bikes, and we walk, or the kids play in the golf course pond, then catch up, and play in a tree, then catch up, etc.

The kids love to throw rocks.

But we spend time walking together.

I camp with the kids a few times in the summer and they sometimes hunt with me and the birds in the winter. Both boys are in scouts. and as you know, we spent a lot of time taking casual hikes over Easter break. The kids do well in school, and we spend time every evening dealing with homework issues.

Here they are when we went hunting with Patrick.

But just recently at school, the students went on a field trip to a local ecological preserve that covers a large portion of the Outer Banks. I've blogged about Nags Head Woods before as it was a favorite place for me to take the hawks this season.

These students didn't even know the woods were there. I was astounded. By the end of the day, we had walked about four miles studying the different ecosystems whithin the large maritime forest.

The students were exhausted. They'd never walked that far, let alone had to go up and down hills. They had never sat silently and listened to the birds or the wind in the trees. They didn't know to look under logs for salamanders, or how to identify even deer tracks.

We did the best we could to show them everything. Hopefully, they learned that the woods can be better than the video game. We didn't see much wildlife (you never do when you bring 85 loud children into the woods), but they learned a lot about ecosystems.

But all you parents, I beg you, take your kids outside. Teach them about the woods and fields around your house. Lacking that, try the vacent lot down the street. You would be amazed at what you can find there.

Just yesterday, we counted turtles spotted in a drainage ditch. We lost count around 200. Go find a ground hog hole, or fox hole.

See if you can wait silently, for something to appear.

Get out of the car and walk, or bike. Stop and smell the roses.