Saturday, November 27, 2010

Feeling special

It was a perfect morning for a hunt. Weather was in the 40s with clear skies and a light breeze. The habitat was good, mostly live oaks, bay ,and mixed pine. Too many holes, but plenty of squirrels.

Like many of my other spots, the habitat here has expanded due to drier conditions. It was still marshy in many areas, but the hawks didn't seem to mind.

The first squirrel I thought was a rabbit. It was hiding in the edge brush. I never saw it, but the hawks were diving and recovering, only to dive again as I struggled through the briers. Eventually the squirrel made a break for the trees, disappearing into the root bundles that had been uncovered by the receding water.

The hawks perched low, indicating that the squirrel had gone to ground. I can usually trust the birds. I started to poke and prod as Gonzo checked the holes. The squirrel bolted. Tess swooped in, closing the deal in the damp leaf litter.

It ended up being one of those days where we lose many more squirrels than we catch. Two losses were completely my fault. The birds had both catches on the ground. I stumbled and fell and took too long to secure the squirrels - the hawks adjusted their grip, and the squirrels broke free. It was my slow bumbling that lost those catches.

I often wonder what the squirrels are thinking as I chase on the ground and two birds bombard them from the air. What is the squirrel wondering as it dodges and scurries?

Today, as I fumbled through the marshy undergrowth, hoping from small island to log to hummock, and slipping into the muck, I wondered something different.

In the wild, Harris hawks hunt in loose family groups.

Wikipedia says it this way:

While most raptors are solitary, only coming together for breeding and migration, Harris's Hawks will hunt in cooperative groups of two to six. This is believed to be an adaptation to the desert climate in which they live. In one hunting technique, a small group flies ahead and scouts, then another group member flies ahead and scouts, and this continues until prey is bagged and shared. In another, all the hawks spread around the prey and one individual flushes it.[15]

So now, as the sound of bells diminishes into the forest, and I am stuck on a tiny island, muck up to my knees, I wonder instead what the hawks are thinking of me.

Am I part of their pack? Am I like a flightless brother that can only slip and slide along the ground? Am I that brother that no one likes to talk about. The one that slows down the rest of the pack.

Am I the "special brother"? Today, as the hawks lost me in the marsh, I surely did feel "special".

Friday, November 26, 2010

When snakes fly!

Rather than a smooth, even glide (known as equilibrium gliding, as executed by airborne birds), these snakes seemed to slither frenetically through the air. But all of their thrashing worked to reduce their fall speed (from about six meters per second to four meters per second) and gliding angle (from 32-48 degrees to 18-32 degrees).

"The snake is pushed upward—even though it is moving downward—because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake's weight," Socha said in a prepared statement. The new research suggests that the snakes' soaring might be due to specifically tuned undulations which could create vortex-induced lift, Socha and his colleagues noted in a study, to be published November 24 in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. The research was also presented Monday at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

"Hypothetically, this means that if the snake continued on like this, it would eventually be moving upward in the air—quite an impressive feat for a snake," Socha said. Models show, however, that the unexpected upthrust is only passing—at least in the experimental setting, in which "the snake hits the ground." But in the snakes' native forest habitat, where trees are much higher and distances longer, the oscillating ophidians might remain airborne much longer.

But those with a fear of flying snakes needn't worry unless their travel plans will take them into a South Asian forest—or reruns of the 2006 film starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Check out the whole article.

Sheep hating wolves

My terrier Gordon loves to chase the critters in the back yard. Lizards - yum; frogs - yes, sir. Sometimes he even likes to munch on a toad. Every time he does he drops the little guy and he starts to salivate and foam at the mouth. This is the toads way of training dogs to keep back.

Natural aversion therapy.

Aversion therapy is often used with dogs to convince them not to do this or go there. Really, all your shock collar is is aversion therapy. Can scientists use aversion therapy to convince wolves not to eat sheep?

It is being tried on the reintroduced Mexican wolves of the Southwest.

Reintroducing critically endangered Mexican gray wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) to the U.S. Southwest has never been easy. It hasn't helped that livestock owners hate the wolves. Every month livestock deaths that might have been caused by a wolf must be thoroughly investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). If any wolves are found to be a problem, they must be caught and returned to captivity. With only a few dozen of the predators left in the wild, every animal counts, and these removals hurt the long-range hopes for the species.

But now two psychologists have an idea to ease that human–wolf conflict: teach Mexican wolves that eating sheep will make them sick, so they stop predating on livestock.

Lowell Nicolaus, a biology professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, and Dan Moriarty, a psychology professor with the University of San Diego, tried their idea in September 2009 with several captive Mexican gray wolves. According to a report published in the November 2010 issue of Monitor of Psychology, the researchers laced ground mutton with a nausea-inducing chemical called tiabendazole. The chemical has no taste or smell, so the wolves were not able to detect it. But after eating the contaminated meat, the sickened animals later refused to eat more sheep flesh.

Read more here.

The Squirrel Hawk

I never intended for Gonzo to hunt squirrels. He was going to be a car hawking bird, then a rabbit bird. But that didn't work out.

I kept having to chase after Gonzo as he would wander from the field edges into the forest after squirrels. I eventually gave up trying to stop him and instead I got him a girl friend to help out.

This first female came from a varied history, but most of her time was spent with a rabbit hawker in another state. When I got her she was already eleven years old and pretty set in her ways.

She was always looking down.

You can't hunt squirrels when you are always looking down.

So I hunted her on squirrels solo for a while. She was perching too low, and never saw the squirrels as soon as they were over her head. I had to come up with something better.

I hunted hills. I would start on the side of a steep hill and throw the bird into the tops of the trees down in the valley, then I would slide down the hillside and start shaking trees and tugging vines. The hawk had good height so her vantage point was great, now I needed her to start spotting squirrels.

If you spend enough time in good squirrel habitat, it will happen.

Squirrels forage on the ground. The hawks will spot them there. The trick is to get them seeing the squirrel moving up the side of a tree. So I had to hunt in areas with little ground cover, that way the squirrel can't hide in the brush. The squirrels have to run up the tree.

There is usually no need to beat at the ground cover. Squirrels will naturally move to the tree tops when a large predator is bumbling through the underbrush. Also, we don't want to reinforce rabbits here. Pull on vines, shake saplings. I want squirrels to move in the trees. When it gets colder (below 45 or so) especially pull vines going up to squirrel nests (dreys).

When you see the squirrel, get to the tree quickly and beat on the side of it while giving the game call. Even if the bird did not see the squirrel, he should come over to investigate. With enough exposure, the hawk should start laddering up the trees and finding those greys.

This harris finally figured it out. Her first solo kill came after only three hunts. After her second, I had her hunt with Gonzo and they became a pretty good team.

We tried another trick with Andrew's red tail who reluctant to look up. After a few weeks in the field, the bird just didn't seem to be seeing the squirrels, though we were in target rich environments.

We ran a line from the brush on the ground, across open space, up a tree and onto a branch about ten feet off the ground.

Remember the key here is to get the hawk to see the squirrel go up a tree. We tied a freshly killed squirrel to the end of the line and called the hawk over to a nearby tree, so that he could observe the squirrel from a distance. Andrew gave the game call - hohoho - and I pulled on the string. I had to get the squirrel across open ground quickly, so the bird would not nail him on the ground.

It worked like a charm, the squirrel made it halfway up the trunk and the red tail moved over to the right tree. He lost the squirrel for a bit, but we kept twitching it with the string, and eventually the hawk grabbed it off the branch.

I have never had a red tail (or a harris) that did not take to squirrels. I prefer male red tails on grey squirrels ( I don't hunt fox squirrels). Yes, their feet are smaller, but they are also more acrobatic flying through the trees. They gain height more easily, they chase better. That being said - females have better feet for the job, and they can catch them, their hunting style is different. I would prefer a smaller female - though there are plenty of hawkers that would disagree

They need to get out in good habitat. They need to see squirrels, and soon - you the rabbit hawker - will be hooked.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grey Wednesday

I don't generally celebrate Black Friday. Instead, I celebrate Grey Wednesday.

I had to drop my daughter off at the movies at 3:00, I had to stop by work and I was in the field at 3:20. I needed to pick up my girl again at 5:00 so time was a premium.

I hadn't hunted this patch of woods since last season. Then it was marginal habitat. There was plenty of food for the squirrels as the area was edged with live oaks, but the interior of the wood was often wet and swampy. I could walk it in boots, as the water was never deep, but it wasn't good for squirrels to forage.

This year, with less rain, it looks much better.

As I entered the woods I had to wade through a boarder of yearling pines. And the hawks were off. I had flushed something along the ground. I chased after them, but couldn't keep up. All I saw was the something flashing along the ground, the hawks diving.

Tess dove and missed, finding herself out of position, Gonzo went in.
Soon I heard the jangle of bells as Gonzo tumbled on the ground tussling with a squirrel.

I found him on the ground, squirrel attached to one anklet, both Gonzo's feet attached to the squirrels head and face. Nice catch. He got a flesh wound on one rear toe, it bled, but was really superficial. So fifteen minutes in and one squirrel in the bag.

The birds never made it up to their hunting height before we were off after our next squirrel. Tree to tree, the squirrel leapt, his destination was a large elm, another old pine leaning against it. And the squirrel was gone.

The birds knew it was there. They climbed and circled, flew off to a nearby tree for a better vantage point, then came back. Then they spotted the nest. It was hidden in the crotch of the tree, Tess pounced on it. Scratched and tore.


ripe, rip scratch - leaves flew. Nothing.

I gave up and started walking away. This one must have found a hole.

I turned back to call the hawks along. Tess was still scratching on top of the nest when the squirrel popped out the bottom. It was a big grey.

Gonzo launched from and adjacent tree. Gonzo grabbed the squirrel firmly on the rump, but this grey was having none of it. He spiraled down the trunk with Gonzo attached and flailing behind him.

Squirrel, hawk, squirrel circling down the trunk like lines on a barber pole, when Tess launched from the nest and snatched the squirrel by the head. The two hawks came helicoptering down with the squirrel between them.

Forty minutes of hunting, two squirrels, time to start heading home.

Tess launched off her trade off piece after a squirrel that was running along the ground. Another chase ensued. This one was quick as the squirrel bailed out of a tree early on and Tess took it on the ground, wrapping it up nicely by the head.

I was out of trade off tid-bits. I was down to two mice to call the birds back to the truck. Hiding from the birds, I cut these in half "just in case", and made a B line to the car. It was 4:15. I would be done hunting in plenty of time to get my daughter.

We didn't make it out of the woods.

A squirrel was frozen on the side of a pine as I walked underneath him, he moved. The chase was on.

I finally made it to the car at 4:35.

I got the birds away with plenty of time to get to the movies and pick up my daughter.

I'm wondering what my season total will be at the end of the month.

Happy Grey Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wind, weather, etc

November is quickly winding down and I have no excuses (that means lots) for not posting more often.

Around here the leaves have finally begun to drop and the wind has been blowing hard. I've been out a few times. Took out a gaggle of kids once and then with just my own boy.

Squirrels are out there, but competing with the wind and the leaves has been difficult. Throw in a dash of rain and sickness, and brew it up into a tough start tot the season.

All in all, my head count is ten going into the holiday.

A few pics;

Slogging through the woods.

Squirrel trying to eat my hand.

Gorgeous fall colors.

Latest catch. This is a good sized male gray.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An hour and a half

The clocks have set back and it gets too dark to hunt just after 5:00. If I can get changed and sneak out of work right on time, that gives me about an hour and a half to hunt. There is a great spot just across the street that I can get to quickly, thus maximizing my time in the field.

So on Monday I found myself changing into my hunting clothes in the bathroom at work, only to realize that I had forgotten my boots. Crap, I couldn't very well hunt in my work shoes, so I had to get home quickly.

Thankfully, I only live 15 minutes from work. But the construction slowed me down - they're installing new power lines along the highway, closing it down to only one lane.

My mind was thrumming - as I beat out a tune on my steering wheel - my impatience surging.

Home, change, check gear, back out.

I was in the field by 3:45. Okay, that's about an hour and some change, plenty of time for a good squirrel chase.

The hawks had fasted the day before and both their weights were right on. I tossed them into the trees and marched into the cane.

This area was flooded last year and much of it couldn't be hunted. It's all dried out now and makes this area ideal bottom lands to hunt in. It is still too thick to see much, but some color is starting to sneak into the leaves and I'm hoping they'll be falling soon.

It didn't take long before the hawks pinged on a squirrel. They' body language told the tale as first Gonzo dashed over to a distant tree, followed by Tess. Gonzo started to climb, circling the trunk and looking. That's when I saw the squirrel leap, from oak to pine, the squirrel scrambled up the trunk. Tess darted to intercept, but the squirrel was already across to the next tree, disappearing into the thick leaves of a live oak. I couldn't see anything, just shadows through the leaves. I listened for the bells as I pulled vines and made a commotion on the ground.

At one point, I heard a flurry of activity, then nothing. Tess had killed it in the tree tops. Gonzo stood close by.

So I waited as Tess finished the job.

I hate it when this happens. The hunt is ending outside of my control. The hawks can sit in the tree and eat if they so choose. So I worry. But the good thing about having too birds up there is that they put pressure on one another, and it wasn't long before Tess launched, the squirrel dangling from her talons, and glided to a more secluded, "private" dining area a hundred yards away.

I found her and transferred her off. Little did I know that Tess's new spot was crawling with squirrels.

As soon as I had bagged the first catch, another chase was on. I missed much of it as it took place low, between cover and on the ground. The hawks followed, diving like missiles. Finally, the squirrel tried to spiral up the straight trunk of a loblolly pine. He made it about two thirds up when Gonzo scraped him off the side, dropping him. Tess caught him in mid air - adjusting her grip to his head and glided to the ground. I made in quickly, got a hold of the squirrel and Tess stepped off, waiting for her reward. Trade off don't go any easier. Gonzo honored, off to the side.

And there was still time.

So I took the roundabout route back towards the jeep. Two minutes and gonzo was off, after another squirrel. I stumbled, earthbound, after them. This chase took longer, up and down hills, from tree to tree. I shook the vines from the ground, keeping the squirrel moving. Gonzo circled up the tree, While Tess stalked from below. There was no lull in this chase, the squirrel felt the pressure from the two birds and never stopped moving.

The squirrel sought refuge in an old, poorly made nest. Tess regularly tears apart nests and she just plowed into this one. Their was a brief struggle, and she ended up killing this one in the tree again. It didn't take as long, and I wasn't worried, except that daylight was starting to fade.

She coasted down with it nearby, and I traded her a third time.

With three catches and two of those where she killed in the trees, you would expect that Tess's toes would be pretty well chewed up. But these hawks have been doing this for a while and know the game. A quick inspection of the hawks feet shows only one, superficial bite. A quick rinse and it will heal up so that you won't even know it was there.


Not enough daylight for another chase, so I made a B-line back to the care and put the birds away. What can you do in an hour?

Apparently, a lot.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mating not necessary

At least not in boa constrictors. Science daily reports:

In a finding that upends decades of scientific theory on reptile reproduction, researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered that female boa constrictors can squeeze out babies without mating.

More strikingly, the finding shows that the babies produced from this asexual reproduction have attributes previously believed to be impossible.

Large litters of all-female babies produced by the "super mom" boa constrictor show absolutely no male influence -- no genetic fingerprint that a male was involved in the reproductive process. All the female babies also retained their mother's rare recessive color mutation.

This is the first time asexual reproduction, known in the scientific world as parthenogenesis, has been attributed to boa constrictors, says Dr. Warren Booth, an NC State postdoctoral researcher in entomology and the lead author of a paper describing the study. He adds that the results may force scientists to re-examine reptile reproduction, especially among more primitive snake species like boa constrictors.

Great morning

Johnathan came up from Jacksonville yesterday for a morning of hunting. He brought his sharp shinned hawk and we started off with some car hawking.

I have always understood that accipiters are crazy, high strung, and often difficult to hunt. We trapped one last year and I considered hunting with it, but soon let it loose as I was not up to the challenge.

Johnathan's little girl dispelled many of these myths.

Johnathan is a hawkers - hawker. He maintains this little bird impeccably and hunts her everyday. After about 26 days, she already has 29 kills. Her primary mode of hunting; car hawking. And, once we figured out she didn't like my Steelers baseball cap, she was well mannered riding unhooded in the car.

We rode around looking for the right slip. It was later in the morning than we would have liked (Johnathan had driven up just that morning), the wind was blowing and rain was spitting off and on.

Conditions could be better.

We tried two slips on starlings. The bird missed, both times. Johnathan was frustrated. Then the bird flew and landed in a tree. It took a few minutes, while the restaurant manager, whose parking lot we were idling in, gave us dirty looks.

The bird came down to the lure, and we decided to give the sharpie a rest.

We went back to the house and loaded up the harris hawks. They were both fat, as I had fed them up a few days before in anticipation of a cold front that never came.

Tess was working hard, Gonzo - not so much. We had a few squirrel chases where the squirrel won by either getting in a hole, or scampering to the top of a giant pine. The hawks were not motivated enough to follow.

Suddenly, Tess cruised low, then crashed to the ground. I stumbled over, more curious than hopeful, and she was on a squirrel HA !

Score one - but wait. This squirrel was dead, and already partially eaten. That's when we noticed the red tail screaming at us from overhead. Apparently we had scored anther hawks kill.

Doesn't count (though it still goes in the freezer).

We waded on. A chase quickly ensued. The leaf cover was too thick to see any of it, but it ended with Tess gliding to the ground, squirrel in her talons.

We wandered a bit more, but it was getting late, so we called it a day.

On the way back to my house we noticed a flock of starlings across the street that looked ripe for the pickin'.

We switched vehicles and got the sharp shin ready for another try.

We cruised by slow, checking it out. The hawk was on Johnathan's fist, ready to go. But every time we passed, the flock flew. Johnathan, though good natured about the day, was frustrated.

We pulled into a parking lot behind the flock, and there was a single starling, hopping amongst some rocks on the edge of the blacktop.

Johnathan nudged the car forward,and dumped the hawk out the window.

It disappeared below our line of sight.


Then it creamed into the starling, grabbing it and carrying it into a thicket.
I could hear the starling yelling the whole way in.

Slam, park, run.

She was hidden amongst the leaves getting control of the bird. The starling screeched as the sharpie adjusted its grip.

Johnathan came in, pushing aside the vegetation and began tidbitting. The bird accepted the offerings greedily.

Johnathan let her eat, then transferred her off neatly.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eagle/ harris hybrid

I've never seen one, but this is a picture of a golden eagle- harris hawk hybrid.
I wonder if they hunt cooperatively? They're probably too big for squirrels.
If you live out on the open plains and hunt jacks - this might be the ticket.

Patrick goes on to write a great article about hybrids and hybridization. Take a look.

Found in the Mountians

This marbled orb weaver was found hidden in the leaf litter on the mountain. She was one of the coolest spiders I have ever found.

Mountians to coast

Last weekend was a busy one.

It started with an unsuccessful hunt. The cover here is still so thick, wading through it is tough enough, but the squirrels are able to just disappear.

We saw plenty, but Tess wasn't able to connect.

So I loaded up the car and picked up my coworker, Lee, and we headed west.

It didn't take long before we started to see signs of Fall. On the Outer Banks we don't get a real fall. Eventually, the leaves turn brown, curl, and fall. But many of the trees, the live oaks especially, don't lose their leaves. We don't get that spectacular change.

So it was nice to see some vibrant leaves.

Before long, the road began to undulate, up a hill down a hill, and there were mountains in the distance.

We were spending the weekend with the NC Museum of Natural Science searching for elk.

The experimental release of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in February, 2001 with the importation of 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2002, the park imported another 27 animals. All elk were radio collared and were monitored during the eight-year experimental phase of the project. In 2009-2010, the park began developing an environmental assessment of the program and a long-term management plan for elk. Project partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Parks Canada, Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Friends of the Smokies, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, and the University of Tennessee.

Elk once roamed the southern Appalachian Mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States. They were eliminated from the region by over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last elk in North Carolina was believed to have been killed in the late 1700s. In Tennessee, the last elk was killed in the mid-1800s. By 1900, the population of elk in North America dropped to the point that hunting groups and other conservation organizations became concerned the species was headed for extinction.

We were here to see if we could find them.

We woke the next morning to cold and frost. I could see my breath as I peeked outside the cabin to check the weather. 15 educators loaded into a van and traversed the switchback laden road over the mountain and into Cataloochee Valley.

The trees opened up around the road and there they were. One big bull elk and his harem of females. The were silent, munching on the valley grasses steam rising off of their frost covered backs. Then the male rose its head and bugled smoke rising from his snout. The sound echoed.

The teachers were giddy. we watched them for hours as they fought, bugled and the males tried to make their advances.

These elk were reintroduced from a Canadian herd and tend to be smaller than the elk out west. But they were still impressive.

We spent the day hiking and observing the herd. Turkey would wander the fields with impunity as we were involved in talks from the park rangers and educational staff.

The valley filled with tourists, there for the same reason.

We left late in the afternoon after being educated on terrestrial snails, lichen, and the blight affecting the smokey mountain hemlock trees.
Saturday night we celebrated elkoween; lame costumes and cheap wine. It was fun.

Sunday was more of the same - with the elk ever present in the valley.

It was a good weekend and I learned a lot. I will be spending more time traveling with the museum.

We left in the afternoon, our brains full and jiggly.

We spent Sunday morning doing the same