Monday, November 30, 2009

The Undiscovered Country

One of the odd jobs that I have assigned myself, now that cooler temps are here, is to build a bridge. I need a way to cross this thin barrier between me and the prime squirrel habitat across the way. This is what I find right out my back yard and I need to explore.

Rabbit hunters Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner. I don't know you nor how you hunt, but one thing you need if you are in the field a lot is a good set of chaps.

I don't claim to be an expert in the field of quality chaps, but I can tell you what I have learned over the last few years; quality counts when it comes to chaps and rabbit hunting.

When I first started in falconry, I was determined to catch rabbits, I did not at the time realize how far in between my rabbit kills would be and how few of them I would actually see. I also underestimated the pain.

Briers here are prevalent and thick. Without a good dog, I became the beagle. I had to thrash the thorns. I tried it with just jeans.

My legs got ripped to shreds. I would come home bleeding and torn, then I would pluck thorns from my knees for days (they pop right out if you leave them a couple of days). I've ripped my legs and shins on barbed wire and scraped through fence posts. Thank god for tetanus shots.

I tried bargain shopping for chaps. I did the pants with the canvas fronts, cabelas, light duty chaps, everything, and what I learned is that you get what you pay for.

I have had myy chaps now for three seasons and they are awesome. I can wade through briers and thorns that I wouldn't even attempt in anything else. And I hardly feel what I'm wading through.

They are made by Filson and are called Tin Cloth chaps. It is like wearing armor, and definitely worth the money.

If you are going to hunt rabbits on the Eat Coast I highly recommend them for Christmas.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You see

"There, up high. Can you see it?" I bend down and point towards the sky. My son lines his eye with the curve of my arm, his sight tracing out and past my extended finger.

"In the tree?" He asks.
"No, up higher. Do you remember what it is?"

"You mean that bright ball in the sky?"
"Yes, that's the sun. It heats the earth and dries up the standing water."
"You mean the water will dry out?"

So we have seen the sun, and the temps are dropping. But he wind has picked up to 20+ mph. If it calms down I'll take the birds out later. OH - and my computer is fixed, but I've lost everthing i didn't have backed up. Hp did a good job of taking care of their responsibilities.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Raptors killing in the wild

Hat tip to Terrierman for this one. It is a good read from the DC Birding Blog about raptors, talons, and how they kill their prey in the wild.

Given the prominent role that a raptor's feet play in seizing prey, it makes sense that the shape of their feet might vary with how a raptor uses them. This is in fact the result reached by a team of graduate students after they photographed and measured the feet of hundreds of bird specimens, both raptors and non-raptors. (Most specimens were held by Montana State University; others were from the American Museum of Natural History.)

Give it a read.

Car hawking - some NC guys

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Out with Andrew

Andrew and I went out the other day. We went to my "Easy Walking" hunting spot. It was the first time I'd been out there, and I wasn't disappointed. It was cool, the perfect day for a hunt.

The hawks performed brilliantly, and reinforced everything I think about these two birds, and so far, this species. They are pure fun to fly. They transfer perfectly, their manners are great, and they hunt with reckless abandon.

The chases were phenomenal; the catches spectacular. I was running, laughing and falling.

All and all, a good day.

Good news, bad news - why I hate rabbits

Bad news - The hard drive in my computer has crashed and um. It doesn't work. The good news, of course, is that my hard drive crashed and you don't need to listen to my senseless blather.

I've been out hunting a few times in the past few days and had some great flights. I will post more pictures soon (when my real computer is working, I lost all of my pictures as well, so I need to start updating my library).

We had a few moments this morning to get out and hunt. It has continued to rain, so any hunting that I am doing involves a whole lot of sloshing. I hit a spot that I usually go to when it gets colder. It runs along the edge of a major tourist destination, and I always fear that my hunting will interrupt their visit.

Anyway, after flushing a small flock of geese and finding that Tess and Gonzo were not interested, I waded into the briers. Yearling pine trees hid the ground and my boots sloshed through much and needles as I slashed and beat my way through the underbrush.

I saw the flash of a tail. That was it, the only time I saw the rabbit.

The birds launched themselves from the branches, crashing and crashing again. I followed them in a blind frenzy, trying to crash my way through the tangles and briers and swamp. Water seeped into my boots and I thanked my maker with every step for my good Filson chaps.

I finally gave up on the rabbit. The hawks couldn't punch through the underbrush and I knew that the squirrels were a little deeper into the trees.

Hunting rabbits in this part of NC is hard, and you never see the flight. One of the reasons I love squirrel chases so much is that it is up above and all around you. It is pure eye candy if you can keep up with the squirrel.

I can call the birds by name and they will come. They pulled off the rabbit and followed to the other side of the small grove of mixed hard and soft woods. Crows bombed us from overhead, cawing their displeasure at our passage. There was probably 20 or more in this particular murder of birds. The hawks stayed close in as I waited for the birds to pass.

Soon, I trudged on. The hawks spotted something and pinged on it. Tess dove for the ground as I ran to catch up. The birds worked their way up higher, as the squirrel had obviously made it to a tree. They circled the tree hopping past one another as they climbed branch to branch.

This is a new trend, both birds actively seeking. On of the birds made it to the top of the large pine, tussled with the squirrel there, and parachuted down with it.

It was Tess that made the kill at the top of the tree. Will wonders never cease.

Gonzo came in for the assist.

It was a one kill day, we'll be out more in the coming days. This is number 8.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It is a trend

Making animal waste into energy just makes sense. I mean, seriously, we have an endless supply of it, why not put it to some good use?

It seems that the more time that goes on, the more we see poop being converted into a useful energy source. The latest nation to jump on board this new green trend in alternative energy is the Netherlands with the opening of a cow dung powered plant this Friday.

The plant is located in a more rural area where there is a big farming industry, including a dairy plant which is already making its own contribution to local sustainability. Now, it’s really making a contribution to the community, since the dairy cows’ dung is being converted into biogas that will provide heat to approximately 1,100 homes in the area. The manure, which will be fermented with grass, will also fuel the new thermal plant’s wind turbines.

Hat tip to Cool Green Science for this one. You can read the rest here.

Cow picture comes from here.

A Sunday in the field

With everything here flooded, and all of the kids soccer stuff canceled, I headed out of town and up to Maryland to meet up with Patrick.

We met up a local mom and pop store and headed off to one of the many nearby farms that had enlisted the Terrierman to get rid of their groundhogs. The problem is that the whistle pigs will break down the river banks and undermine the soil so that the farm equipment will get bogged down trying to do their work. They want to get rid of these pests.

We gamboled along the river bank looking for the tell tale holes, Mountain ranging ahead and Gordon and pearl close by. It was the perfect day. The sky was clear and the air was cool and calm. A thick dew covered the grass and deer grazed nearby on the hillside. Red tailed hawks flew overhead, and a cooper's hawk made a quick appearance.

The dogs were reveling in being out and about, tearing this way and that until Mountain finally pinged on the first groundhog.

He was intent on getting into a hole along the edge of a riverbank. There was definitely something in there. Mountain seemed to be caught up so we decided to dig a hole into the pipe. We figured out that some large rocks were blocking the dogs progress into the hogs den, and then Patrick started excavating himself, breaking through a wall and into the chamber where the groundhog was hiding. The dogs dug the rest of the way in.

While all this was going on, Gordon made the first kill of the day. He'd sniffed out a mouse nest in a tube around a sapling that the farmer had planted. The mice were frantic, moving up and down the tube as the dog tore at it with his teeth, until all three of them popped out of the top and scrambled into the grass.

Meanwhile, Mountain was traded off with Pear who finished up this little groundhog. Patrick was able to tail it out and dispatch it. Gordon played with it a bit to get familiar with the smell, and then we moved on.

We crossed the stream again and tried a spot earlier the dogs had been interested in earlier. They investigated, hole after hole, popping in and out like one of those smack the mole games. then Mountain opened up under ground.

We dropped in one hole, and Mountain moved through it, so we had to drop another. The groundhog was between one hole and the next with the dog growling and barking. I tried to tail this one out, but it was strong and wasn't having any of it. Eventually, it pulled out of my grasp and Patrick went in with his pole snare. He snagged it on one end, and Mountain was pushing from the other.

He finally pulled it free for our # 2 for the day.

It was a good day for the dogs and the people who followed them.

Thanks Patrick.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can't hunt here

So I got Gordon and did a bit of traveling and hooked up with Terrierman to catch us some groundhogs. It was the perfect day. Weather was great and the dogs knew their jobs. Patrick's dog, Mountain ,was in charge, but all the dogs had a great time.

I am spent, as I just walked in the door, but I'll write more about it later.

Pearl with Groundhog #1.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Cup is Half Full

I've been whining and complaining for the last few weeks about the squirrels having too much cover. Well I think that problem has been solved.

I don't know if you have seen the weather for the East Coast, but that big storm was smashing into my backyard for the last few days. Leaves and branches are littering everything, and finally the cover that the squirrels have been hiding in is mostly gone.

Of course I still can't go hunting. Everything is under water.

But the cover is gone.

Congrats to Steve

He has his new red tail and they had their first kill. They were after bunnies but it seems he has a natural squirrel hunter there. I'm looking forward to more stories from him.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hypocracy in the chain of command

It is sometimes almost too easy to write about PETA. they present such a huge target. I have previously known about their killing of animals. I knew that they were wackos that assault clowns at birthday parties. I also knew that they were vehemently against animal testing.

Click here to view the ad, which highlights PETA President Ingrid Newkirk's comment: "Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it."

But apparently the organization only feels this way if the medicine being developed helps OTHER people.

PETA vice president Mary Beth Sweetland has diabetes and injects herself daily with insulin that was tested on animals. Yet she campaigns against experiments on animals -- making her a veritable poster-child for hypocrisy. She concedes that her medicine "still contains some animal products -- and I have no qualms about it ... I don't see myself as a hypocrite. I need my life to fight for the rights of animals."
So, she is essentially saying, "I can use medicine tested on animals, but anyone else who might benefit should not get that chance, Wow.

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hunting with the birds

For the last two days we have been lashed with 50 to 60 mph winds and torrential rain. Many of our the roads in our little town are under water and school has been canceled. The front yard is littered with leaves and twigs and sticks as this nor' easter works it way up the coast line.

It has forced me to get some things done around the house that I have been putting off. Hunting is out of the question. But last weekend was different.

Before the storm, and before we got skunked on Tuesday, I spent a good afternoon hunting with the two hawks, my wife, and younger son. My wife piddles with photography and takes some pretty nice pictures, so she brought her camera along to see what she could see.

We checked out a new spot. It was land owned by an older farming couple who I came to find out owns unused acreage all around the area, and many new hunting opportunities have since opened themselves up.

Anyway, this spot was great. Tall mixed woods surrounded by corn fields. There was food o-plenty with the corn and the hickory, as well as the pine nuts, and plenty of cover.

The day started slow as we waded into the woods, but it was the perfect day, high fifties with a slight breeze and cotton ball clouds skipping across the sky. I couldn't ask for better.

Along the edges, Gonzo wanted to hunt those giant flying grasshoppers. It was fun to watch, but I didn't want him to fill up, so we moved deeper under the canopy.

We shook trees and pulled on vines and shook trees, hoping to get something moving. I was told by the farmer that we would see squirrel, possibly rabbit, and probably turkey. I wasn't after turkey, but it would be interesting to see if the birds would try for one.

The birds both, suddenly darted into the distance, Tess first, with Gonzo close behind. I lost them in the canopy, and by the time I found them, Tess was on the ground with the first squirrel. It was great that she had one, but there had been no chase. It was over before I got there. I finished the squirrel off and we moved on looking for number two.

We made a circuit of the woods, following the edge, until we finally got another squirrel moving, no wait, two squirrels. But I couldn't see either one of them well as they were high up in the tree, still covered in leaves. I had to trust the birds. I listened to the bells and judged what was happening by them. Soon, I saw one squirrel bail for the ground and dart across the forest floor. Tess dove at it, but the squirrel jinxed at the last second and Tess came up empty handed, the squirrel bolted behind a tree, and was gone. Either up or past, or in a hole. I don't know. My son was chasing squirrel Number two, but soon lost him in the forest as well. We bumped around a bit, but couldn't get the squirrels to move

Soon after, we lost two more in the same fashion. Up and down trees, scurrying across the canopy, leaping through the air and dashing through the leaf litter on the ground, only to be lost in a hole somewhere. It was exhilarating to watch. The birds would leapfrog over on another, covering ground, scanning the canopy. One would dive, and the other would corkscrew around the trunk of a tree, both intent on their quarry.

Finally, one squirrel made it into a hole and I had had enough. It was an old tree, but not overly large. I tore down a nearby sapling, leaving the leaves on, and fashioned a 10 foot poker out of it. I pushed the leafed end into the hole, scraping it back and forth. Out of a higher hole popped the squirrel, who attempted to leap to the ground. He hit, and the birds were on his tail, he ratcheted through the underbrush, two hawks high, and me running in pursuit. He scampered behind the trunk of a tree, only to be startled by me. He bolted for the next pine, and then Tess had him.

I traded the birds off, and we wandered a bit longer. But nothing else presented itself. I couldn't complain.

It was my first twofer of the season. And more importantly, it was a ton of fun for me and the family.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heat, holes, and fair chase

I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes "fair chase" when it comes to hunting.
Jim Posewitz, a leading authority on hunting ethics and author of the book Beyond Fair Chase , describes fair chase as “a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken.”

The anti hunting lobby would attempt to lead one to believe that hunters are the ones that hold all the cards. The little deer, the turkey, or the squirrel, really has no chance against a hunter's high powered arsenal. So when a hunter chooses to hunt, his prey has no chance.

If that were the case, why do we spend so much time and money on hunting? If you believe the antis, it only takes a hunter walking into the woods for an animal to be as good as dead. If that were the case, we would only need to sharpen a stick and we would be good to go. Instead, hunters spend dollar after dollar trying to tip the scales of fair chase in their favor.

I was poking around some numbers and came up with how much we spend on hunting. I found these older numbers, but they will give you an idea of what kind of money I'm talking about.

Over 82 million U.S. residents 16 years old and older fished, hunted, or wildlife watched in 2001. During that year, 34.1 million people fished, 13.0 million hunted, and 66.1 million participated in at least one type of wildlife-watching activity including observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife.

Wildlife recreationists' avidity was reflected in their spending which totaled $108 billion in 2001. This amounted to 1.1% of the GDP. Of the total amount spent, $28 billion was for trips, $64 billion for equipment, and $16 billion for other items.

Did you read that? $108 billion, with a B. And still hunters regularly come home from their hunts empty handed. We look for that product or service that can level the playing field and create a truly fair chase. New guns, new guides, deer pee to rub on ourselves are all things that might be the ticket to help us to become more successful hunters. So we spend our time and our dollars.

By definition, hunting is the pursuit of a wild animal with the intent to capture or kill. Pursuit, the actual chase, precedes the kill; without it, hunting is merely killing. The chase, then, authenticates the hunt and, in turn, the kill puts an end to the chase.

Understood this way, hunting, particularly sport hunting, is about how we, as hunters, engage in the activity—the chase—leading up to the kill. Without restrictions on how we pursue game, the “hunt” loses meaning, ceases to exist. So the question remains, what is a fair chase?

So I got skunked today and that is what got me into this mode of thinking. We chased a ton of
squirrels, but we were hunting in a mature forest with lots of holes and high heat. The cover is still heavy and poison ivy vines thicker than my arm climb the trees. The squirrels have a million escape routes.

If nothing else, hunting with hawks teaches someone to appreciate the quarry. The squirrels we chased today knew every nook and cranny of their territory. They knew where the holes were, where the cover was, as well as how to get there quickly.

I estimate that, on average, for every squirrel we catch, two or three get away. Today that estimate was out the window. We chased a dozen; up and down trees, across the canopy, through the swamps, and on the ground, we couldn't touch any of them. So was that a fair chase?

Even though I have tried to stack the odds in my favor (I use two hawks instead of just one), we never had a chance today.

Tomorrow may be different. We are expecting three days of high winds to get the leaves off the trees. maybe then the chase may be more fair, maybe then we, the hunters, will have a better chance of catching something.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Making me a liar

Got Gonzo out today and working him with Tess for about an hour and a half this afternoon. Rush, rush, rush to get to the woods only to slow way down because of the lack of game. Again, high temps in the mid 60's, (still too hot) and way too much cover for me to be slogging through.

It was good to have Gonzo back in the game and the two birds assumed their roles as if we had never taken a break. Gonzo hunted high, Tess hunted low. Tess would move first and Gonzo would survey the situation to see if it changed when Tess moved into a new area.

Thinking, always thinking.

We saw no game for the first hour as I waded through the underbrush. I picked tics off me as I went. Thankfully, they were slow moving.

The birds finally pinged on a squirrel. It darted straight to the top of a towering hickory. I only caught a glimpse of its ascent, but the hawks were on it, circling, limb to limb, climbing towards the canopy.

I pushed trees closer to the ground, pulled vines, trying to get the squirrel to move again. But it was gone. The birds moved to the next tree, intent on something in the dense pine needles. But there was nothing there. We bumped around for about 20 minutes, but nothing moved. It was the ghost squirrel.

We moved on.

Gonzo spied something in the distance and rocketed to investigate. I tripped along after him. They targeted a squirrel that was ratcheting up an elm whose base was surrounded by an almost impenetrable thicket that was growing over a jumble of broken logs.

I waded in, beating at the brush, knocking on the trunk of the tree, trying to keep the squirrel up high. Normally, I don't mind if a squirrel tries to make it on foot. I know Tess is waiting for just this opportunity.

The squirrel squirted up and down the trunk, the birds scrabbling to rake it off the side of the trunk. Talons ripped at the bark of the tree as bits of debris rained on my head. The squirrel had had enough. He bulldozed his way down the trunk and lept over my head to land in the brush and sticks on the ground. Tess bulleted through the undergrowth, but was stopped short by the piles of logs under which the squirrel was hiding.

The squirrel bolted for the next nearest tree, corkscrewing up the trunk and diving off a limb for the next tree over. My closer, Tess, was on the ground, in the brush and out of the fight. Gonzo grabbed the squirrel, snatching him in mid air, and spiraled with him down to the ground. His feet shifted for a better grip, and the chase was over. Gonzo was the closer.

Tess watched from nearby as I traded gonzo off to a tossed mouse and inspected the two small bites to his feet. Nothing to worry about there. Clean and bleeding like a champ.

It is good to have Gonzo back.

Here's to number 3.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A time and place

One thing that I severely lack, now that we have set the clocks back, is time. By the time work is out and I get to anywhere that I can throw the birds up into a tree, daylight is bleeding from the sky.

I did have time to get Tess out for just a bit today and we saw one squirrel chase. It was short and sweet, but we needed Gonzo. One of the cool things that happened last season as these two birds worked together is that they meshed and assigned themselves certain jobs. Tess is my closer.

Tess watches low for the squirrel to squirt down the trunk, or to make good his escape on the ground. Tess can dive from on high and crash bushes. She can sprint on foot and catch many squirrels in a foot chase.

But Tess doesn't climb.
Gonzo is my chaser.

Gonzo will climb to the top of any tree and pick the squirrel right off the top and drop it to Tess, or chase it back down the trunk to where Tess is waiting half way down. Gonzo will stalk a squirrel, round and round the trunk, up and down, while Tess waits for her opening. They are a tag team.

Today we needed Gonzo. Tess spotted the squirrel running along the ground and she was off like a shot after him. The squirrel found refuge in a brier tangle and snuck behind a tree. Tess pulled up at the last second and landed in one of the branches about midway up the trunk.

I waded into the briers and the squirrel scampered the rest of the way up. Tess caught sight of it and followed until she lost the squirrel a little further up. Tess stood there, ten feet from the top, watching me pull vines trying to get the squirrel to move. But it was sittin' tight about five feet above the hawk's head, frozen.

Tess waited for me to do my job, but I couldn't get that squirrel to move again. And daylight was fading fast.

We came home empty handed. We needed Gonzo.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


After work today I had about an hour to get Tess out and hunt with her before it got dark and I had to resume my child taxi'ing duties.

It was still warm, high sixties, and even with winds over 20 mph for the last few days, the leaves are holding fast to the trees. Thick, hot, and hard to see, but it is the best I could do. Tess was a tad higher than I would want her with it being warm and early in the season, but she is still very biddable. Gonzo is ready to go, I just need to get them together when I have a bit more time (maybe Saturday).

We flew on the edges of a small airstrip where the live oaks grow close, and all of the recent rains have made the ground soggy. We wandered for a bit beating at the brush and pulling the vines. In here we could find either rabbit or squirrel, though squirrel is more likely.

It didn't take long before the sweat was flowing and the daylight was waning. But no squirrels. Tess followed from tree to tree, her manners perfect. Then she put her foot down, set her shoulders, and was off, obviously after something.

I sprinted to catch up. I found Tess spiraling down the side of a tree, hot on the tail of a gray squirrel. It lept from the side of the tree and Tess grabbed it on the rump. They hit the ground, bounced, tusseled, then the squirrel was free. It bolted for the nearest tree, Tess, Talon over talon, half running half gliding, on its heels.

The squirrel cut left, leaping for the trunk of another small elm. Tess cut the corner, her talons out front. She snatched the squirrel from the side. The squirrel squealed and the two tumbled to the ground.

When I found them, Tess had it securely held by the head and back.

I finished off the squirrel and traded Tess to a tossed mouse. Then we kept hunting, looking for a double.

We didn't get in another chase. The sun was going down and the squirrels were holding tight, so we called it a day. If this is a shadow of what is to come, I am looking forward to a great season.

Here's to number 2.