Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting ready games

I don't remember who coined the term, but it fits. These are the games one engages in whilst getting ready for the main event. Fly fisherman tie flies, bow hunters practice their shot, bird hunters shoot clays. We all have our things. My father is home right now making his own bullets in preparation for elk.

Falconry, of course, had its own games. Some would consider trapping one of those. I do not, I think trapping is an art all unto itself. So, what would an ancient art like falconry need to get ready.

Most of it involves making the supplies necessary to be prepared for the season. I am no artist when it comes to falconry supplies. There are many who are. My equipment is serviceable and that is about all. But I know what works for me.

Tonight I made some Jesses. These are the thin strips of leather that attach to the anklets on the hawk. These are large, as Andrew is hoping to possibly get a large red tail if the peregrine trapping doesn't work out.

I looked through my supplies and found that much of what I have is old. I need to make some more supplies.

Anyway - Here I took some leather and cut it into strips.

I fold over the edge and then punch a hole in it, then I thread the end back through to create a button.

I punch holes in the end so that I can thread a clip through it, and there I have two completed Jesses.

I need to make a few more sets of these along with the anklets, I could try to make a hood, but that seems silly as I don't use them. (Some people out there are gasping at that, but I've never had the need)

I also need to start thinking about what I need if I trap a merlin. Hmmmm So much to do.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trapping Peregrines in Georgia

It's not just in North Carolina. Georgia falconers now have the opportunity to trap first year peregrines on their coast.

With the comeback of the northern peregrine falcon along the East Coast comes the limited return of opportunity for hunters to capture the birds for use in falconry.

“We are restoring a prized opportunity that was taken away from falconers several decades ago,” said Jim Ozier, a wildlife program manager with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “We believe opportunities for traditional, regulated and sustainable wildlife uses should be permitted and safeguarded when possible.”

This week the Georgia Board of Natural Resources approved regulatory changes allowing the capture of no more than five migrating juvenile peregrines along the state’s coast this fall.

You can read the rest here.

Lapses in judgementor missed opportunities.

Have you ever had a situation that if you could do it all over again, you would? I had one of those recently. I was looking at a situation so hard from one side, that I completely considered it from the other, and maybe I had a lapse in judgment. More importantly, I disappointed a friend.

I suppose it happens to everybody. Not too long ago a friend of mine was bow hunting. He'd been watching this deer for quite some time and had been poised for the shot, but the perfect shot never presented itself. So instead, he thought that the shot he had was good enough - even though he knew he was too high, and the angle was wrong. He took it anyway.

It was the deer that suffered. The arrow hit it high on the neck and the deer was off. They trailed it for as long as they could, but the blood trail was minimal. Then they lost it.

They found it two months later, during gun season. It was shot with the arrow still hanging out of its neck. Taking the shot was a lapse in jusdgment.

He could have waited for a better opportunity.

When I discovered that Gonzo's anklets were riding high, I didn't think much of it. I thought that they would work themselves down. No harm, no foul. I hindsight, I should have investigated. Had I, then gonzo would have never suffered that leg injury last month from the abrasions.

Missed opportunity. I should have investigated.

I'm sure every one of you can look back and think of a time that, maybe, you should have thought a situation through more thoroughly before you acted. If you had - maybe you would have done something differently.

Working with animals is full of risk. It starts when you pull that first red tail out of the sky and ends only when you release it again. Risk, risk, risk.

The trick is to minimize it as much as possible. Use telemetry. Fly your birds at the right weight. Pay attention to their outward signs. I'll try and do the same.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A rare occurance

A cool thing happened to me today. Being that I live on the east coast, I see osprey all of the time. As a matter of fact I've posted on them before. I see them flying to a fro all summer long hunting in that particular way that they do. coasting over the ocean, hovering like a giant kestrel, then plummeting into the ocean. It reemerges, stopping as soon as it's airborn, shakes its wings briefly, then rows through the sky with its catch.

They are cool.

well I got a call the other night from a friend. They were trying to get a juvenile osprey from near my house to the Carolina Raptor Center. It was a young juvenile that was having a hard time feeding itself and had been losing weight. It needed better accommodations, and it needed to start eating - voluntarily - .

I received the bird last night at the house.

I had never been that close to one of these cool birds. His feet were blue! And he smelled -of fish.

I was to meet Andrew at my school and he was going to take the bird to Raleigh.
This one was a small male, about the size of a red tail, but his keel was sharp, and his wings were much longer than a red tail.

I'm glad that this one is going to get better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Change in the air

The seasons, they are a changin'. It doesn't take a glance at the calender to tell that the clock is winding down towards trapping season. The weather is still hot, and the air uncomfortably muggy. The tourists still circle like sharks, leaving their blinkers on and generally not knowing where they are going. I would compare them to lemmings, but that whole lemming thing is a myth.

But change is happening. The osprey that have been busy flying back and forth from ocean to nest, laden with their catch, have stopped.

Now the osprey take the time to play, and wheel, and circle. The nests are deserted.

Crows are gathering up into groups, no longer spending time in pairs and threes.

The mornings are darker.

School starts tomorrow and my children are giddy with excitement.

We had our first hurricane.

Bill roiled off of our coast over the last couple of days throwing giant surf our way. The air smelled of debris and decompositions, and salt covered everything.

I could hear the crash of the waves from my house when I walked out of the house in the morning, my coffee cupped in one hand.

Mist hung low over everything, shrouding the trees like the mists of a rainforest.

Birds stayed perched, not flying, just watching.
The waves rolled in, relentlessly pounding against the dunes that protect our little island.

The surfers did their best to take advantage of the situation. They were funny in their excitement. But they weren't the easiest waves to catch.

Notice the two parts of the surfboard.

So now we wait, and we watch the weather channel. I'll be watching for cold fronts moving down, pushing the migrating falcons. I have some paperwork to fill out to get our trapping spot.

It'll be soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The names were drawn by lot

It has finally happened. The winning names have been drawn. We now have three falconers who will be the first to trap peregrine falcons in the state of NC in over 35 years. Two of the falconers hail from each end of North Carolina, and one falconer is a resident of Pennsylvania.

Wild trapped Peregrines are considered by many to be the holy grail of falconry birds, and the time has finally come. Falconers are only allowed a few weeks in the fall to trap these birds, and they all must be trapped on the eastern-most coast. Only three birds can be taken in the entire state, so trapping will have no effect on the wild population. There are myriads of regulations in regards to this particular take.

I will get to be there on the front lines.

We have been planning this trapping trip since last fall. We knew we'd be after merlins this fall, but to be able to take peregrines as well is huge. And.. The first name drawn was Andrew's. You have seen his name on this blog before, and he is the guy who hunts with me most weekends and a picture of his last redtail is on the right side near the bottom. We would have been beach trapping together anyway.


Then I got a call just yesterday from the guy on the other side of the state. He wants some help. He's going to come all the way out here to trap. But he want to try using a bow net on the beach. We usually trap with Dho Ghazzas (nets stretched across the dunes with bait birds behind them). So working with a bownet will be a new expereince for me.

We also have some of the same crew from last year tagging along to witness the event. It should be a lot of fun.

We'll keep you posted as things progress.

Test your skills

Getting ready for migration, I was checking out the Hawk Mountain site. There is a cool Hawk ID quiz on there that you should try.

I missed one.

Check it out and see how you do.

Raptor ID quiz - click here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are you busy the second week of September?

Do you live in the North East? If you are one of those who is fascinated by raptors but have very little first hand experience, there is a place for you to be.

Wildlife rehabilitators and experts from across the Northeast will be showcasing a wide variety of these extraordinary birds of prey at the largest raptor celebration in New England. Eagles, falcons, owls, vultures, and hawks will be featured in live flight demonstrations and educational programs for bird enthusiasts of all ages.

Join master falconer Laurie Schumacher from Hamilton, New York, for Talons! A Bird of Prey Experience on September 12 and 13 – Gyr Falcons, European Eagle Owls and American Kestrels are just a few of the raptors featured. Breath-taking free flight demonstrations highlight this program focusing on falconry, raptor biology, and conservation.

This unrelated image came from here.

Read the rest here, and if you are in the area, check it out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

You read this?

I was at work today when a coworker asked me if my summer was as good as it seemed from reading the blog. It always seems strange to know that real people, people from work, might actually read my blog.

Though I can't wait for fall, and my hunting season, the short answer to "was my summer great" is yes.

I'm going to post just a few sample pictures.

Off road Hummer tour outside of Moab

Checking out Arches National Park.

Traci takes pictures.

We rode horses out West. The scenery could not have been more appropriate.

And the view from the hotel was spectacular.

Then we took rafts down the Colorado, through Cataract Canyon. We camped along the edge, and jumped from the cliffs.

In some of the biggest rapids of the trip (Big Drop 2), We flipped our raft and had to swim down the lower part of big drop. It was thrilling, amazing, etc, etc.

Before now the kids had never been west of Pennsylvania. The best part of the trip was seeing the kids experiencing things that they had never imagined before. They knew what we were doing, yet they had no concept of what rafting meant, or class 4 rapids, or what a desert looked like.
even the flight out of the canyon was awesome!

I have tried to explain the trip to others, but you can't explain it to anyone who hasn't been there. Go. If you get the chance - GO!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Does use of tools define humans?

For a long time, one of the defining tenants of humanity was that humans were capable of planning, for-thought, and the use of tools. Since that time there have been discoveries that other animals are capable of using tools without being trained to do so.

Chimps have been observed using sticks to probe for grubs and ants, and crows have been seen fashioning hooks and probes as well.

So, using tools to manipulate other tools could be considered a higher level of thinking. One article states:

...[U]sing tools to make or retrieve other tools has long been considered a hallmark of human intelligence, and has often been interpreted as evidence of advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning.
They then go on to state:

Experiments by researchers at Oxford University show that New Caledonian crows in captivity spontaneously used up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal — a feat never before seen in non-human animals without explicit training.

Five out of seven birds tested figured out how to extract different lengths of sticks from tubes so they could ultimately get one long enough to fish out a morsel of food at the bottom of the deepest tube.

In all, the crows needed three sticks of different lengths to achieve their objective of reaching the food — and four of the five successful birds came up with the sequence needed on the first try.

Raven, a close relative to the crow.

The conclusion? Well, they aren't quite sure, except that these birds are smart, scary smart.

"It seems that there might be something about this family of birds that is a little bit more similar to our own problem-solving abilities," acknowledged Wimpenny. "But obviously much more needs to be done in terms of experiments."
Maybe we need to take a closer look at what makes us human.
Hat tip to Terrierman for this one, and you can read the rest here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

White hawks in New York

Something I have never seen.

Danby seems to have its very own white hawk. After numerous sightings over the years by Sherry Clements, Margie VanDeMark, Asher Hockett and others, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this lovely bird.

Pat Leonard from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells me they are aware of the bird, and have identified it as red-tailed hawk that is either albino or leucistic, which means there is a reduced presence of all pigmentation. Dr. John E. Parks, professor of animal science at Cornell, wrote to tell me that he believes this hawk is definitely leucistic. He says the hawk is a long-standing resident of the Danby area,and that there are possibly two more in the Ithaca area.

On a purely selfish note, I kinda want to go trap red tails in upstate New York this fall.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Weight watchers

One of the most common questions I get about the hawks is "how do you get them to come back?"

It is pretty simple really. Like most animals, hawks respond well to food, and training a hawk is mostly about weight control. If you are told that the birds are starved, that is simply misinformation and would be counterproductive to the aim of falconry.

Falconry is an active sport. The main goal is to have the bird catch prey. An underweight bird cannot fly at its strongest.

When I was in high school I was a wrestler. We had to occasionally cut weight for a match. there were always those who tried to cut too much weight in too short of a time, and their performance suffered. The aim in wrestling is to be at a weight where the athletes strength is maximized with as little excess body fat as possible. You want a wrestler to be lean and strong, just like most athletes.

Hawks are the same way. You want the bird to be strong and lean. Just like a runner never does as well when he feels fat and lethargic, the hawks are the same. They need to be motivated to get of the perch and move.

Over the summer, the hawks gain weight and grow their new feathers. Yesterday, I noticed that Gonzo's anklet was riding high, and on closer inspection, I realized that it was rubbing his leg funny, requiring a bit of doctoring.

We brought him in the kitchen and sanitized the raw spot. I'm putting on a small dose of Betryl to make sure the raw spot doesn't get infected. It should heal just fine.

While I had him out I weighed him. He's at 760 grams. He will start hunting this season at around 630 grams. In about a week, I'm going to start trimming his weight by dropping a bit of his daily food ration and weighing him regularly. With the temperatures still being hot, he will lose weight very slowly, but that is the right way to drop weight.

Additionally, I need to start bringing the birds together with Gordon, hopefully, they will mesh into a great hunting team. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Horse groomer injures hawk with slingshot

Hat tip to Another Falconry Blog for the link to Falconry Today, a falconry news source.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A horse groomer has paid a $250 fine for illegally shooting and injuring a red-tailed hawk with a slingshot last month at Saratoga Race Course.
Stock photo of Red Tailed Hawk (Wikimedia)

Stock photo of Red Tailed Hawk (Wikimedia)

The groomer, Carlos O. Aguilar, 28, of Guatemala, was arrested by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after an investigation of the bird’s injury at the track on July 18, the EC said in a news release.

A rock fired from a slingshot hit the bird, breaking one of its wings, the DEC said. The bird was located and captured by a wildlife rehabilitator.

Read the rest here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bird fix

When falconry season is over and I hang up my gauntlet for the season, I try to stay involved with the birds in a variety of ways. generally, I will leave my own birds alone for the moult. Sometimes we participate in educational programs at summer camps and such, but mostly, the birds hang out by themselves, relatively stress free while they grow their new feathers.

Instead, I involve myself in the lives of other birds. I do this by checking out the myriad of web cams posted throughout the world. I often will put the live cams up on the big screen at school for the kids to watch during the school day in the spring. for many, this may be as close to wild interaction that they will get.

There are a few cams that are still operational at this late date as it seems some falcons are still hanging around the nest. Check out the Richmond falcon cam.

Here is another great site that has listings for all kinds of birds all over the world. Again, it's late in the season, but you may want to bookmark for next spring.

Rochester falcon cam.

New York Kestrel cam

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Casual Drive

On our drive through Rocky Mountain State Park the other morning, I was amazed at the amount of wildlife that we saw. It might be that I have becoming jaded to the wildlife in my home state. I get used to seeing herons, osprey, fox, and raccoons. (wild boar, bald eagles, deer, etc.)

Many of the animals may be common in Colorado, but I hadn't seen them myself before. So for many of you they may be common, but for me it was a thrill.

I have never seen a magpie before. They are a member of the crow family and reputed to be just as intelligent and man are they good looking. I am sure that there are those out there who can share horror stories about these birds as apparently, they are fearless.

Here we see a mule deer, a marmot, and a pika. I never thought I would actually see a pika (not my pic).

I tried to get pictures of some of the more exotic (read "ones I don't often see") species, but I couldn't get them all. I was also amazed at how close I could get to almost all of them. I don't have much zoom on my little point and shoot, so any pictures I get are amazing.

This is a ground squirrel, here is a young elk buck, and of course a chipmunk (not my pic), which we don't have on the Outer Banks.

I took the drive with my father, who is an avid gun hunter. His major trip every year is to go to Wyoming to hunt elk, so seeing so many was a huge thrill for him and got his adrenaline pumping. He can't wait for the season to open now.

Impressive, no? I could have hit them with a rock.

And there was more, all in a short, 2 hour drive around the park.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is at the center of the Solar System?

Almost 20% of Americans don't know that the earth revolves around the sun. Wow!

Probing a more universal measure of knowledge, Gallup also asked the following basic science question, which has been used to indicate the level of public knowledge in two European countries in recent years: "As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun or does the sun revolve around the earth?" In the new poll, about four out of five Americans (79%) correctly respond that the earth revolves around the sun, while 18% say it is the other way around. These results are comparable to those found in Germany when a similar question was asked there in 1996; in response to that poll, 74% of Germans gave the correct answer, while 16% thought the sun revolved around the earth, and 10% said they didn't know. When the question was asked in Great Britain that same year, 67% answered correctly, 19% answered incorrectly, and 14% didn't know.

This is astounding to me. read the rest of the article here. And a hat tip to Cool Green Science for the link.


After leaving Utah last week, we spent a few days in Estes Park, Colorado. It is so easy to forget how much of the world is out there when you live in the East. I haven't been out West for a long time and I had forgotten just how different and beautiful it really is.

The Rocky mountains, like the canyons around Utah, are indescribable. No picture can really convey the grandeur and beauty of either place. My kids have gotten the opportunity to expand their horizons, exponentially. What a great time.

But back to marmots.

Rocky Mountain website

The largest and stockiest of local squirrels is the yellow-bellied marmot. They can vary in length between 19 and 26 inches and can be identified by the dark head with a yellowish band across the bridge of the nose. Marmots can be found on the rocky subalpine slopes which are close to sources of grassy or herbaceous vegetation where they excavate networks of burrows to protect them from the freezing temperatures.

I've never seen one. There were lots of wildlife in the Rockies I had never seen and my total raptor count for the two days I was there was:
2 - peregrines
2- red tails
1 - prairie falcon (arguably)

Not a great tally, but it gave me something to look at in the sky, nonetheless.

But when we drove up into the Rocky Mountain National Park, there were marmots everywhere! On the hills, on the road, on the rocks, everywhere!. Now, I hunt for groundhogs occasionally with my dogs, but we always have a bit of a search to find them. Marmots, a close relative to the groundhog, were prolific! And I hate to say it - they were cute.

We came across a mother and her babies cavorting on the side of the road, and they showed no fear of cars or humans (as we got out to photograph). Terrierman might want to take a road trip - though the ground is ridiculously rocky.

I have read that the marmot is a prey item to hawks and eagles. I believe it would be to big for most hawks, though the young would be a good size. The hide would be tough to break into, and I wonder if it would be worth the trouble?