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.
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".