Sunday, January 31, 2010

Problems with Interconnectedness

One of the main tenets of understanding the natural world is interconnectedness. I teach this to all my elementary school kids in science class; interconnectedness and more often than not - unintended consequences.

Even the most well intentioned actions can go terribly awry when you are dealing with real animals in the real world. Often times, there are simply too many variables to measure.

In a recent example - we need to decide which of two rare species is more important.

In many areas there has been a decline in fish species. This decline is effecting the predators that eat them, so those predators turn to other things to eat, in this case, each other.

Great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), while not endangered, are quite rare in Maine, with just 80 breeding pairs left, down from 250 pairs 15 years ago. One of the reasons the birds have declined in the state is that they are being predated upon by bald eagles, which appear to be turning to seabirds for their food supply as fish populations in the area have shrunk.

"These young eagles are harassing the bejesus out of all the birds, and the great cormorants have been taking it on the chin," Brad Allen, wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, told USA Today.

And it's not just happening in Maine. USA Today cites examples of bald eagles eating other birds in Alaska, Illinois and other states.

You can read the rest of the article here at Scientific American.

Eagle picture comes from here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Trailcam Troubles

So last weekend I set up my trail cam. I had high hopes about all the activity that was going on in my back yard. But it turns out, my set up had a bit to be desired. I set the camera up on a game trail that ran right next to the hawks cages. It came up through a low area (read swamp) and then entered the woods. I didn't take into consideration the surroundings very well. The camera was aimed near vegetation and a vine that was hung up in the trees. Then the wind had to blow all week.

Needless to say, in the last week I captured about two thousand pictures of a wiggling vine.

I did get a few pictures of the new fallen snow, and my cat.

What was most interesting is that sometime during the windy week, a large tree fell right across the trail that I had set up on.

The question for the ages has now been answered.

I didn't hear a sound

I need to find a better place to set up - and if you have suggestions for setting up in a windy area, I would love to hear them.

Why Northern Animals Grow Larger.

If you are a hunter, and you want to hunt large animals in North America - Go North.

It is a pretty common observation that as you move away from the equator, the body mass of animals tends to (on average) get larger. Historically, this change has been explained as a difference in the need to retain body heat. Larger animals are better able to regulate their own temperature. This line of thought refers back to "Bergmann's rule".
Wikipedia read this way:

In zoology, Bergmann's rule is an ecogeographic rule that correlates latitude with body mass in animals.[1] Broadly it asserts that within a species the body mass increases with latitude and colder climate, or that within closely related species that differ only in relation to size that one would expect the larger species to be found at the higher latitude.

But there may be another explanation.

Science Daily reports that experiments show it may be as simple as nutrition.

ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2010) — New research suggests that animals living at high latitudes grow better than their counterparts closer to the equator because higher-latitude vegetation is more nutritious. The study, published in the February issue of The American Naturalist, presents a novel explanation for Bergmann's Rule, the observation that animals tend to be bigger at higher latitudes.

The big question for me is does this translate to carnivores. Do those animals grow larger as well? I think about the larger northern wolves, the polar bears, the lynx as compared to the bobcat.

The larger gyrfalcon.

I think it must translate.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

45 minutes

It was one of those days.

The birds were loaded up in the car and waiting. But work was long, we had a meeting after work that went over time, but I scurried out of there as fast as I could and cruised to a nearby hawking spot. We hadn't had a kill in over a week, and last Saturday we hadn't even seen a squirrel. I was anxious to break the streak. The hawks seemed to be ready as well.

I had to get the birds out quickly as my sons soccer practice was over in 45 minutes and I had to pick him up, trade him off with mom so that I could take our other son to wrestling. I'm a coach, so I needed to find time in there to swing by the Y and catch a quick shower.

45 minutes.

I didn't expect a whole lot in 45 minutes. Every squirrel in this part of the country is a hard fought success, and you appreciate every one. Maybe it would be enough time to get something in the bag.

Tess was on the low side and highly motivated. Gonzo was within striking distance of his hunting weight - so he was willing.

They were hot. First squirrel flushed and crossed to a new tree. He didn't like the heat high in the trees with both birds closing in, so he bailed quickly to the ground for a short foot chase.

Both birds barreled in, crabbed, lost it, chased - then closed the deal.

I waded in and traded off. Quick kill - awesome.

We went for two. Flushed another one from a hole in the tree and the birds were off. We lost it briefly in a hole, but it must not have liked it there and bailed. Both hawks plummeted down like guided missiles, but the squirrel jigged, then jagged, and the hawks had to abort.

The squirrel found sanctuary in a rotted log on the forest floor, but I closed in and shook him loose. The squirrel bolted, but didn't make it to the next tree.

Two in the bag, fifteen minutes to get back to the car.

We didn't make it.

We flushed two more squirrels on the way back, lost one quickly but followed the other into an old, hole riddled tree. The squirrel disappeared, but there may have been another squirrel in there because he popped out the top, then quickly disappeared into another hole.

It was like Whack-a-mole. Squirrel in, hawk nails the hole, squirrel pops out another hole. Hawk nails that hole - squirrel squirts our somewhere else.

The pressure got to be too much and a squirrel made a break for it. Like F-15 fighters, the hawks strafed through the trees after it. The both piled on. 3 in the bag, two minutes to get to the car.

We made it. And had time to pose for a jeep ad.

With a closing shot for Isaac. (7 t0 go)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Intro to Harris Hawks

If you are unfamiliar with harris hawks - this short video is a good primer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

African Bullfrogs free babies!

This is a cool video that I found over at Retrieverman's blog.

Bridging the gap between birds and dinosaurs

The missing link between dinosaurs and birds may have been found. It is a dinosaur with not two, but four feathered wings.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 29, 2009) — A fossil of a bird-like dinosaur with four wings has been discovered in northeastern China. The specimen bridges a critical gap in the transition from dinosaurs to birds, and reveals new insights into the origin evolution of feathers.

Read the rest here.

For Better or Worse

We live in a global age. That won't change anytime soon. The ability for people and goods to travel in a short period of time from one end of the globe to another will continue to effect the way in wich we all live.

Pythons in Florida is but one example. I have been reading the hype - every one is a giant killer that is after your children. I'm sorry I don't buy it. Are they out there - sure, but no one really knows their numbers. Could they kill a child - maybe, but only at their largest. Often their sizes and numbers are exaggerated by the news media. It is sensationalistic and sells papers.

There are others examples of species traveling to other parts of the globe. English sparrows, nutria various bugs and insects have all found their way to our shores in recent memory.

I found a new one in a story on Cool Green Science. A hippo was recently killed in Australia - but not any hippo - an extremely rare pygmy hippo, native to Africa.

I would love it if they began breeding in other parts of the planet. I often wonder what would happen if Harris Hawks were introduced to other parts of the country. Would they succeed?
Could the hippos? The Pythons?

Who knows. Chances are good though, as nature has a way of adapting. It is going to keep happening - for better or for worse.

So it goes

It has been one of those weeks. Rainy, windy and nasty. I hunted on Wednesday, but the wind was blowing and the squirrels weren't straying far from home. I went out again today after two days of torrential downpour. We have had so much rain that even the high hunting spots are becoming inundated with water.

I had to wade through the woods in parts today. But Andrew and I spent a good two hours in the woods without seeing a single squirrel. We didn't even see one, let alone chase and miss any. By the time we were done, I could tell that the hawks were getting bored. They were migrating towards the edge of the field to try mousing, or the chase dicky birds unsuccessfully.

We did bust a couple of big coveys of quail - but the hawks were too slow. Andrew began wistfully talking about when his falcon is healthy and ready to fly.

We ended with nothing in the bag, but a nice slosh through the woods.

Went home to find everyone curled up against the cold.

I had stuff to do.

I got out the camera trap that I received for Christmas and finally got it set up. There is a game trail that runs right next to Tess's weathering area and I wanted to see who was using it.

I have seen plenty of deer back in that area - but I am wondering about fox and raccoon - maybe weasel. Plenty of water down here - maybe we'll see mink - who knows.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Birds Eye View

Hat tip to Terrierman for this video. He has a wide variety of topics on his blog - I'm glad he talks about raptors, in addition to cool hunting with terriers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Conserving Hunters

Hunters are in decline. Most of the countries inhabitants live in cities. Who will speak for conservation?

This is a great article from National Geographic.

The great irony is that many species might not survive at all were it not for hunters trying to kill them. All the wings provided to Norman Saake and his colleagues throughout the country come from hunters, who fold them into prepaid envelopes, record the date and place of harvest, and mail them in. It is but one example of how the nation’s 12.5 million hunters have become essential partners in wildlife management. They have paid more than 700 million dollars for duck stamps, which have added 5.2 million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System since 1934, when the first stamps were issued. They pay millions of dollars for licenses, tags, and permits each year, which helps finance state game agencies. They contribute more than 250 million dollars annually in excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and other equipment, which largely pays for new public game lands. Hunters in the private sector also play a growing role in conserving wildlife.

Many anti hunters try to downplay the importance of hunting to the conservation effort. But it the facts are there and they cannot be denied.

Hunters of more modest means contribute to conservation in other ways, giving 280 million dollars annually to organizations such as Pheasants Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, and other nonprofit groups, which sponsor scientific research for particular species and maintain important habitat. Since its formation in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 11 million acres (4.5 million hectares) of wetlands and associated uplands. Hunters also focus public attention on conservation issues in state legislatures, in Congress, and in the marketplace. When you buy a camouflage camisole ($24.99) from the Ducks Unlimited catalog, a portion of the proceeds goes to conservation projects. If you visit Bozeman, Montana, and buy a pair of Schnee’s Pac boots, you will find a tag dangling from the laces, along with a promise that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will receive some of your money for elk conservation projects.

It is an article with everything; ducks, dogs, bears, elk, wolves, and birds - The beauty of the land and the need for hunters to be ethical. How it is as we get older, and how our hunting changes. Take a bit and read it through - it is long, so put some time aside - but it is poignant.

Watching clouds of ducks circling overhead, he suddenly cracked a smile. The birds had banked sharply, changed direction, and come our way again, splashing down practically at our feet. “They can’t stay away,” he said. “They know they’re safe here, just like those teal you see over there.” He pointed to a knot of the fast-flying, chunky little birds. “Look. See them?”

O’Connor stood on his tiptoes and watched the teal disappear over the trees and off toward the north, where they would be breeding soon.

He doesn’t hunt many teal these days.

Why not?

“I got so I like having them around too much.”

So often, hunting is about love of the land and your quarry. Who could make a better conservationist?

Read the rest of the article here.

Group Hunting II

I had a great time at the NCFG meet the other day. I've already posted the mornings events.

After the morning hunt we all met back at the restaurant for lunch. More time spent with old friends, swapping stories about our morning.

People had been flying all different types of birds. Harris, red tails, gos hawks, kestrels, merlins - and I don't even know what else. Spirits were high at lunch and it sounded like everyone was having a good time.

My plans for the afternoon was to hook up with Chip and put his two harris hawks up with my two and really gang up on those squirrels. We'd done it in the past and had a great time. The running, screaming, and chaos can be addictive!

We got out to the woods and launched all four of our birds. There were some face offs at first as the birds established a pecking order and then we started walking towards the woods. It ended up that there were about 16 people hunting with us all together. That was too much for Gonzo - he held back by the truck as we trundled off.

We quickly jumped a rabbit. The birds dove from the trees like kamikaze pilots. The rabbit jinked, avoiding the stoops, darted onto the dirt path and was off. Another bird angled in from the side and grabbed the rabbit, tumbling across the ground, but lost it. Then the rabbit was gone.

We kept walking. There were people everywhere and the birds had a hard time figuring out who to follow. We jumped a squirrel and the chase was on. The chase led around and up a giant pine, across the tree tops - then the squirrel bailed 60 feet to the ground. A barrage of 3 hawks followed, but they all missed. There was a short foot chase with a legion of spectators following.

The squirrel escaped in a small hole.

I'm thinking he won this one - but the rest of the group had other plans, they worried at that hole until the hawks got bored and wandered off.

The squirrel never appeared, but I don't think he had a good time of it inside that hole.

We finally gathered all of the birds and the spectators wandered back to the cars. No game on this trip, now it was time to watch the falcons fly.

We stopped by chips house to see his education birds.

Chip and Ben both got out their falcons later on to show us how the whole thing worked. The birds were amazing.

I had a hard time of it when it seemed the falcons were winging for the horizon, but they came around and started circling.

The spectators would fan out across the field until quarry was served. Both falcons connected - Whack. It was cool.

In the end, it was a great meet. I've got plenty of memories, and it is always good to see old friends. I even learned a thing or two.

Pretty cool

Camera Trap Codger has been staking out what he thinks are badger holes with his camera traps. He has been at this for quite some time, but hasn't been able to photograph the elusive creature. Instead he has begun to catalog the number of animals which use these holes. The burrowing owl is only one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Group hunting (Part I)

I believe that it is important for falconers to get together and exchange ideas. Falconry meets can be a good place to do this. Anytime you can get together (off of the internet) to talk about issues and techniques can only make you a better falconer.

If you are new to the sport - it is a good way to have your eyes opened to what it is all really about. Hunting.

Now - any ideas or techniques you see or hear - you take the good with the bad and use what will work for you and your situation. Some people make their falconry more difficult than it has to be. That's not for me. I'm not saying it's wrong - it is their thing.

Andrew and I headed out for the falconry meet on Friday night. We drove four hours and met up with some fellow falconers for dinner on Friday night. We talked about issues and politics. Hunting stories and our birds. It was a good time.


We met in the morning to get organized. There were lots of old friends in the room and everyone took a minute to get caught up. We were assigned hunting guides and headed out to the field.

My group had three people flying birds including myself. There was a first year apprentice with us who got out his passage red tail and threw him up into a tree. There were six of us following along and I believe the hawk was put off by all the people.

We ended up chasing him through the woods at first, and the apprentice decided to put him up to try him again in a bit.

Bill got out his pair of Harris. They are a similar pair to Gonzo and Tess and extremely efficient. First squirrel we saw, flush, chase, grab - all done. It was nicely done.

Gonzo and Tess came out next. We'd already been through this patch of woods twice, but we took a different route. It took a bit before we rousted a squirrel, but when we did - the chase was on. Through the hardwoods, the squirrel got snatched from the treetops by Gonzo. As Gonzo was parachuting down, the squirrel nipped his talon and Gonzo dropped him. the squirrel bounced and ran for cover - Under a brushpile, through a vine tangle and up a tree. He crossed to another tree and disappeared into a leaf nest.

The birds know he's in there. First Tess, then Gonzo pounce on the nest and dig tentatively in the leaf ball. Gonzo jumps off and Tess gives it another go. The squirrel squirts out and leaps to the next branch. The hawks were on it.

Tess snatches it off a branch and glides down with it. Sweet chase!

We decide to get the red tail out again. Right off the bat he is doing better. We quickly jumped a rabbit and he dove after it, slamming the briers but missing. We were able to reflush, but the cover was just too thick.

We moved on. The red tail made a big move across the woods. He saw something. We ran to assist, but the bird folded up and rolled off the branch, slamming into the brush at the base of the tree.

Squirrel! The apprentice managed a nice trade off.

We got Tess out again, but she wasn't too keen on hunting again and it was lunch time so we packed it up to meet the group for lunch.

We had three squirrels for three hunters. Not a bad morning in Carolina, where every kill is hard work.

The afternoon deteriorated from there, but I'll save that for post number II.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Birds, Reptiles, and Dinosaurs - Oh my!

Ever since Jurassic Park, I have been fascinated with the link between dinosaurs and birds. But when I was a kid, my teachers insisted that our friendly neighborhood allosaurus evolved into today's Geico, gecko.

I had pretty much made up my mind that those scientists and teachers of my childhood knew nothing.

But evolutionarily - they may both be right.

It seems that crocodilians - some of the most ancient reptiles, and birds may have sprung from the same source. And the key? How they breath.

Scientific American has reported that an ancient link in the breathing apparatus of birds and alligators may have been a survival strategy - as well as the key that links both of these species to their common ancestry - dinosaurs.

Avian dinosaurs—aka birds—have a streamlined way of breathing. Instead of sending air in and out of tiny sacs in the lungs like some other animals do, their breath flows in a single direction through a series of tubes. A new study reveals that birds are not alone in this adaptation: alligators also rely on this one-way inhale/exhale, suggesting that this form of respiration emerged a lot earlier in evolutionary time than had been previously thought.

These findings, published online January 14 in Science, indicate that this method of breathing likely emerged more than 246 million years ago, during the Triassic period, before the lineage that gave rise to alligators and birds split—rather than in later bird relatives.

Read the rest of the article here:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


It was the perfect day for an after work hunt. The temperatures were in the low 40s and the wind was still. It had been freezing and windy all week, so this was a welcome respite.

Tess' weight was still on the high side, Gonzo was too fat to fly at 710 grams - I like to keep him between 640 - 660.

I launched Tess into the scrub and started heading towards the thicker woods. It felt wrong. Crap.

I ran back and let Gonzo out of the giant hood. What is the worst that could happen?

He started following way back, but as soon as I started pulling vines, both birds were hop-scotching over top another as they followed me through the thicker pines. We worked our way up towards a ridge. My sponsor, Chris, was with me in this spot last year when my birds got the four kill day. I popped a squirrel out of a low nest and the chase was on. These woods are an interesting mix of hardwoods, mature hickory and oak, along with pine and live oak which the squirrels love for cover. Vines are abundant and snake into just about every nest.

The chase took us down a giant, steep hill, and then back up again. I couldn't keep up and was panting and gasping for air. The squirrel bailed - and both birds were hot on its heels. Tess got him and they rolled, with Tess landing on top.

I paid close attention to how Tess was holding it - as I just wrote that long post about chaps and how my hawks always grab the head. Tess didn't that time.

She had the squirrel by the scruff with one talon, and the throat with the other. It was curled up and immobilized.

Sweet. Traded off both birds and moved on. We quickly found another squirrel in the same vicinity. This one took longer. The birds had to move up and down a pine, with me banging on the bottom,then the squirrel climbed and jumped to an ancient live oak- still with leaves. It was massive and sprawling. The squirrel had plenty of places to hide. So the chess game began.

Move, twist, hide. Dive, scrape, adjust. Reposition.

Climb for height. Freeze.

This went on for a good ten minutes before the squirrel found himself in checkmate. Nowhere to go and Gonzo scraped him from the side of the tree, dropping him. Gonzo folded up and barreled into the squirrel with Tess piling on.

When I got to them Tess held the squirrel firmly (by the head) and Gonzo stepped off when I grabbed on, waiting for his trade.

We took the long way to the truck, hoping for another flush. I wanted to take a picture of the birds sitting together, but the new camera that I got for Christmas (notice the clearer pictures?) was broken. Gotta check the warrently.

Good day.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Natural Cure

I have read about vineyards and farms putting up owl boxes to encourage owls to move in and help control the vermin population. This community is using the same concept to help with squirrel control. While I would tell them to hire a falconer - they are going to try to encourage wild hawks to take up residence and put a dent in the ground squirrel population.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Top End

While it is important to know your birds bottom weight - it's not a bad idea to know their top end as well.

I found out Tess' this weekend.

One of the beautiful things about harris hawks is that they have a large weight window in which they will fly. For instance, Gonzo will fly between 575 and 675. Not only will he fly - but he'll hunt. I've never tried to fly him higher, but at 675 I start to lose responsiveness. ( Read that as he don't come back as quick). I'm not afraid of losing him - but I like instant recall in my birds.

When I acquired Tess two years ago, I was told that her flight weight was around 800 grams. Seemed like a good place to start. I flew her most of the first season between 800 and 850. That weight has migrated higher and now she flies mostly between 940 - 960. She hunts hard and her response is great. The birds will both fly at slightly higher weights if they are hunting together. One will egg the other on, and as my catch per outing ratio tells me - I'm doing well at these weights.

But Saturday was different. Gonzo was way too high, so he stayed home. Tess was high - awww, but what the heck. It was cold, cold, cold. She hasn't been eating as much as I had rationed her food. She should be motivated.

She was at 1020. She followed, she chased - but she never really connected. There was a classic chase - the squirrel scampering across the ground, Tess hot on his tail. It should have been a gimme, but Tess aborted, pulled up early, and the squirrel went on.

At one point we found a spot where something had been hoarding what it must have thought were eggs, but I believe these eggs will be very hard to eat.

Later, we got a squirrel moving through the trees, it shot up, above the canopy. I could see Tess coming down from above. There was a tussle in the tops of the trees. I could hear the bells and see the branches rustling.

Tess raked off to a nearby tree.

We continued on Tess finally committing to a chase off in the distance. I chased her through the cane brake to find a squirrel racing down the side of a tree with Tess hot on his rear. The squirrel corkscrewed around behind the trunk and disappeared where the trunk met a large, partially frozen,vernal pool. The next thing I know, Tess is following something that is swimming across the water.

It was a nutria that had been hiding under the base of the tree.

She followed it intently, from
tree to tree through the swamp, me tagging along on the shore. It was like she was trying to figure out the best angle from which to grab the thing.

But it soon disappeared under a root ball.

It was time to call it a day. I'd found the weight at which Tess didn't chase with abandon - And she is still rationed until she gets lower. I also found a small bite on her toe - the bottom of her toe, beneath the talon. I don't think chaps would have stopped it, but that explains why she stopped the tussle in the tree tops.

It's good to know that she does have a high end.