Friday, December 31, 2010

Breaking 40

I was able to hunt twice over the last few days. The first time I took out my brother and his family. We went to a spot I hadn't hunted in a few years, but the last time I was there, there were big, plentiful squirrels.

To make things more interesting - It was just a day after the snow had stopped.

Unfortunately, the kids who were with us didn't have appropriate shoes for hunting in snow, but it was still fun. After tromping around without much action, we finally found some squirrels, and impressive chases ensues. The squirrels here knew how to use the pine trees, scrambling straight tot he top and them working their way across the forest using the limbs as their highway.

The hawks climbed, circling around the trees, branch to branch. Sometimes one hawk would rake off to another tree close by to gain more height.

At one point, right in front of me- about ten feet up - a wild passage red tail came screaming in, white chest blazing and talons up and ready. Tess was able to dodge the attack, and I ran in hollering. The red tail Broke off, and Gonzo started to give chase, but circled back.

We bagged two squirrels, bringing our total to 39. My brother was able to videotape, I hope he can get some good images of the chases.

I then got our again yesterday.

We went back to the airport. It is really just an airstrip that is bordered on two sides with small stands of trees.

The first chase, I was sure was a rabbit. The cover was thick and the hawks repeatedly crashed into the viney impenetrable, undergrowth.

They kept coming up blank, but I was sweaty and breathing heavy as I tried to keep up with them.

Finally, I saw the squirrel scamper up the pine, hiding behind the vines. I shook and yelled. The squirrel crossed to another trees, jumped to the ground, then got nailed as he tried to race to the next batch of cover.

Both hawks piled on. As soon as I got control, Gonzo let go, waiting for his tidbit.

Good bird.

We kept hunting, but didn't find anything. After close to an hour of not finding anything, the hawks started losing focus and flew over to the landing strip to harass the pigeons feeding there.

I called them back and we headed to a new stretch of woods we hadn't been in yet. Tall stands of pine with very little cover. We shook a nice, tightly packed nest. Squirrel popped out and ran to the tops of the trees.

Tess was able to snatch it in the tree tops, but it wasn't a good grab. Squirrel and hawk tussled in the pine boughs, talons pistoning out like a boxer. The squirrel must have gotten in a few good digs, as he was able to break free and dart to the next branch.

The chase took us all the way across the tree tops. Feint, move, dodge. The squirrel avoided every attack, always keeping the trunk or a branch between himself and the hawks.

Until the pressure got to be too much. He lept from the top of a pine. One bird folded, then the other, and all three dropped like missiles.

The squirrel bounced on the pine floor, Tess barreled in, but the squirrel was too fast. Tess Smacked the ground, bounced herself and flapped, hopping, flying and running across the ground after the fleeing squirrel.

Gonzo had anticipated the squirrel better, pulling off of her tuck early and angling off at full speed. He rammed into the fleeing squirrel, tumbling across the forest floor.

Tess bowled in, helping to secure the struggling squirrel.

Two more today - bringing the season total to 41.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fighting the break

Our little strip of land has been having quite the roller coaster of weather, limiting my hunting time. Wind, Wind, wind.

fortunately, we have had time to get out and do other things.

Took the dogs for a jaunt through the woods. I don't do this enough - let them off lead to just run (and smell, and mark). You can see the elation in the way they act.

We found all kinds of holes - mostly in logs - and they were all thoroughly investigated.

No one home.

Later in the week the wind whipped even harder, and that storm that whipped up the east coast decided to settle in.

The storm died down leaving about four inches of snow. Haven't had this much in ten years. I finally was able to get out hunting.

That will be a story for another day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Air Firce Falcon goes AWOL

From Yahoo:

The Air Force Academy's live mascot, "The Bird," took advantage of his usual pregame flight around the stadium to flee the premises ahead of the Falcons' 14-7 Independence Bowl win over Georgia Tech, leaving Independence Stadium behind for a quick tour of the Shreveport nightlife – bars, casinos, eligible swallow-tailed kites on the town. According to the ESPN2 broadcast, The Bird eluded his handlers for the better part of three quarters before finally being spotted downtown, corralled and hustled back to the stadium for the victory party as the final seconds ticked down on the Falcons' win.

Read more here:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Days Off

Since Wednesday the wind has whipped up and it is supposed to be blowing 25 - 35 for the rest of the week. I won't be able to fly the birds, but will be finding other ways to spend my time.

We built this bridge over the creek that runs along our property. We can finally easily cross to go exploring.

Seemed like as good a place as any to set up the trail cam. If we see deer - we may try to set up a stand and bag one before the end of the season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Big one

First Real Bite

Three days, three hunts.

I've been out every morning this week for both eventful and uneventful flights.

The weather has been cooler, 30's and 40's. Perfect weather for hawking. as the days have been wearing on though, the winds have been picking up, so I need to be done by mid morning.

It works, as I have been home before the rest of the family really starts moving.

Day one ended with a triple.

Day two was interesting in that we didn't catch anything for a long time. The wind picked up earlier, and the spot where we were hunting was riddled with live oaks (read "thick cover") and lots of holes.

We had some good chases as the hawks waved in the tops of the trees, but the squirrels kept escaping into bowels of the trees.

Not much I can do there. Some people will try to flush squirrels out of holes using cigarette smoke, or smoke bombs. If I can't poke the squirrel out using a stick, or my hands - a squirrel in a hole has gotten away - fair chase and all that.

Cooler temps are great to teach the bird to follow, squirrels tend to hide in their nests more often and the hawker can pop them out with a tug on the vine.

This was the case yesterday. I pulled the vine that led up to the nest and out pops a squirrel. the hawks were off, chasing to my left. I turned, saw something flash past my field of vision - then it was gone and the chase was on.

Tree to tree, until the squirrel bailed from way high up. Tess was grabbing at it as it plummeted to the ground, the squirrel facing her, falling backward. It was like the scene where Gandalf fought the Bulrog.

She nails it on the ground. I make in, take control, but Gonzo never joins us. Usually he waits on the wings for his tid-bit, but this time he wasn't with us.

I look up, thirty feet from us, Gonzo is parachuting to the ground, his own squirrel dancing in his clutches.

That was our double for the day.

Today was the bite.

It started out normal enough. I went back to the spot where we got our four squirrels last month.

I waded into the trees. Both birds were heavier than I like, but not ridiculous. I wasn't long before I found a nice tight little nest, just above head height on a spindly pine.

I shook it..... hard. A big squirrel blasts out and makes for it. Jumps to the ground and sprints across open ground. He squirts through grass tunnels, and briers, and under logs, shaking the hawks with every jibe.

I bumble along behind. When I finally catch up, Tess is up high, and Gonzo is on the ground near a root bundle with some holes in it.

I knew the drill - I was the flushing ferret.

I started poking into holes with my stick.
I wear two gloves - my thick hawking glove and a lighter leather work glove. I soon realized the dirt was soft and loamy, so I began tearing it apart with my hands. Dirt and loam went everywhere.

There was the squirrel, plastered up under a root, pretending to be invisible. The hawks didn't see him. I reached in with my right hand and pulled the squirrel out. I called in Tess to come get him, but the squirrel squirmed and sank his teeth right through the leather and into my biggest knuckle.

I admit, I screamed. the little bugger wouldn't let go until I had choked him out and pulled him off.

I cleaned it up the best I could, and it was time to let the hawks catch a squirrel.

On the very next catch, I waded in again to secure the squirrel, and I got another bite, through the glove, on my pointer finger. Not nearly as bad, but I couldn't believe it happened again (plus a talon puncture through the pad of my thumb).

My right hand is a mess, but I have already surpassed my seasons' goal of 35.

8 squirrels in three days - 37 squirrels total for the season (so far). Time to reevaluate my goals.

Killing the owls

I love owls - especially barn owls. Do I want to train one? No. Been there and wasn't impressed by their intelligence.

But I think they are cool - and necessary. I love that owl boxes are going up across the country to help control rodent populations.

But owls have a new twist on an old predator.

Working in darkness, with the quarter-moon obscured by clouds, these two scientists are trying to figure out what an elusive, radio-collared owl is eating along this country road just beyond the suburbs that ring Vancouver. Their mission is to determine whether the decline of Canada’s barn owl is tied, in part, to super-toxic rat poisons.

Scientists know that at least some owls are dying under gruesome circumstances, bleeding to death from stomach hemorrhages in an agonizing and days-long decline. The culprit: An extra-potent class of rat poisons that has flooded the market in recent decades, designed to more effectively kill rats, a food source for the owls.

Six of 164 dead barn owls, barred owls and great horned owls in a 2009 western Canada study had rodenticide levels high enough to kill them outright, causing the fatal stomach hemorrhages. Pesticide readings in 15 percent to 30 percent of the others appeared toxic and seem likely to handicap owls in a variety of ways, scientists say.

The study is the latest evidence amassed by researchers that poses an unsettling question: Are we willing to poison owls and a variety of other wild animals in order to fight rats?

“We’re finding this stuff all over the place,” said John Elliott, an Environment Canada scientist who co-authored the owl study published last year. “There’s a lot more rodenticide in the food chain than we would have ever thought. We’re surprised that there’s that much of the stuff kicking around.”

Studies in Canada, the United States and Europe show that this newer generation of rat poisons is killing a variety of wild animals, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, deer, squirrels, possums and raccoons, along with bald eagles, golden eagles, owls, hawks and vultures.

There are better options. okay maybe not more efficient options, but options with less collateral damage.

And that is what its about - the least amount of collateral damage.

Try ratting with your terrier.

What do you do if you don't have a terrier?

Try it with any dog.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why dogs are smarter than cats

One reason I love harris hawks is because of their social nature. They learn quickly, they communicate, and they allow me to be a part of it.

Researches have found that social animals, in general, are more intelligent than their isolated peers.

For the first time researchers have attempted to chart the evolutionary history of the brain across different groups of mammals over 60 million years. They have discovered that there are huge variations in how the brains of different groups of mammals have evolved over that time. They also suggest that there is a link between the sociality of mammals and the size of their brains relative to body size, according to a study published in the PNAS journal.

The research team analysed available data on the brain size and body size of more than 500 species of living and fossilised mammals. It found that the brains of monkeys grew the most over time, followed by horses, dolphins, camels and dogs. The study shows that groups of mammals with relatively bigger brains tend to live in stable social groups. The brains of more solitary mammals, such as cats, deer and rhino, grew much more slowly during the same period.

Previous research which has looked at why certain groups of living mammals have bigger brains has relied on studies of distantly-related living mammals. It was widely believed that the growth rate of the brain relative to body size followed a general trend across all groups of mammals. However, this study by Dr Susanne Shultz and Professor Robin Dunbar, from Oxford University's Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (ICEA), overturns this view. They find that there is wide variation in patterns of brain growth across different groups of mammals and they have discovered that not all mammal groups have larger brains, suggesting that social animals needed to think more.

Read the rest here.

I could've used a Red Tail

Yes, I said it. A big hen red tail would have been nice today. It ended up alright though.

I spent last night oiling up my most expensive piece of clothing - my Filson Chaps. I knew today was going to be a big day. I was going to hit a new spot that should be really good for rabbits.

I used to have a little honey hole where I consistently could catch rabbits. It was a small tract of land, maybe an acre. A few years back half of the land went under the tractor, roads were laid out among the rest.

I haven't been able to find another spot like it. But I got permission to hunt a tract of land close by, next to the courthouse. The area looked great - briers, scrub trees, cover.

I let the hawks out and bam, they took a squirrel. No chase, no excitement. He was just sitting and the hawks nailed him.

Okay - not what I was after today, but I'll take it.

That was the last living thing I saw in this new spot. I was terribly disappointed. I loaded the hawks back into the truck and went to leave.

Instead, I headed for my former honey hole.

I hadn't been here in years, and in that time, no construction had taken place. No houses, no roads. The cleared land had all grown into briers.

He,he,he,he - perfect.

I had my good chaps on. As I pulled the jeep in, I jumped a rabbit.

Since this little plot of land was so small - I decided to only fly Tess. The idea was that she would have more crashing power. I tossed her up to the nearest tree and started wading into the briers. It didn't take long before Tess was moving her head like she saw something down below.

She switched perches, bobbed her head. I waded in closer and she dove.

Wham. Squeeel. Rabbit one in the bag. I have historically been terrible at dispatching rabbits. But this one went off without a hitch. Stowed him, moved on.

Tess flew up to a nearby tree and I waded into the next patch. Tess moved, then moved again to the other side of the lot. Hmmm - that was strange. I started to head over when Tess Dove again.

No squeal this time.

I hurry over and Tess definitely is mantling over something. I rush in thinking squirrel - no. Grackle, taken on the ground. That is odd.

Transfer, move on. I wandered deeper into the brush. There were no trees here, and this is where I needed that Red Tail. That and a big T-perch, and some children to beat the brush.

But it was just me.

I waded, Tess crashed, and crashed, came back up, soaring low over the brush.



We ended the day with quite the mixed bag. Good day for rabbits, and I'll give this little honey spot some time to recover.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New hobby

I took my youngest boy down to the firing range the other day. He and his friend have decided that they are going to join the shooting team at school.

I'd never been there before, so I watched the boys as they worked on their marksmanship and decided it was time for me to join the club.

I needed to spend more time out here myself.

We spent the rest of the day flying the hawks in a wide open field nearby. I was hoping to see a rabbit, but honestly, we didn't see anything.

It was just a good day with the boys.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I was hunting yesterday, and all the while, as I wandered between chases, names for this post were popping into my head. By the end of the hunt, with one squirrel in the bag and me sweaty and breathing hard, I realized that all my possible titles boiled down to an appreciation of the chess match that was being played out in the tree tops.

I've managed to squeeze in a few hunts over the last couple of days since the wind has died down.

Unfortunately, the temperature has risen as well.

I had an hour after work on Thursday where I snuck out and hit a spot that was usually good for a squirrel or two last year. It was another habitat that has dried out this year and the squirrels were plentiful.

The more time I hunt, the more impressed I become with the quarry. This particular spot is dotted with giant, vine encrusted, pine trees. The squirrels know how to use these well.

At the sight of the bumbling, ground predator, the squirrels run for the trees. Then at the sight of the hawks they spiral straight to the top. Once there, they freeze, grasping at the branches as the wind blows them.

An inexperienced hawk will lose a squirrel once it is over their head. They just won't look up.

My bird know better and start to ladder, branch to branch, up the tree. Often they will climb in different directions, or one will take a better vantage point in a nearby tree and watch for movement as the other bird flushes.

I am no help at this point.

The climb until they engage the squirrel in the treetops where he can either fight, or flee.

One squirrel, at this point, decided to flee. He was in a pine that grew so close to another they were almost touching, There was maybe a hand-space between the two.

The squirrel came spiraling down the trunk with the hawk diving at him from all sides. He evaded by changing sides of the tree, then, in a dizzying array of acrobatic skill, he changed it up.

Instead of a simple spiral, he made figure eights. Around one trunks, then circling through and going around the other trunk. It was amazing. I was on the ground, and this is where the squirrel made its mistake. He bailed to the ground and made a dash across the forest floor for a nearby brush pile.

He never made it.

In another chase, the squirrel spiraled up the tree to a nest forty feet up in the tip top of a pine.

Nothing I could do from the ground. I never saw the squirrel. The hawks must have. taking turns, one would sit in a nearby tree and watch for movements while the other scratched at the nest.

After a bit, I sat down. But they kept at it. I was ready to give it up - it had been ten minutes that they had been working on this nest.

My sock had migrated in my boot all the way down to my arch, so I hitched up my chaps, and took off my boot to adjust the sock, and the squirrel squirts out. The chase is on.

We ended up losing that squirrel in the end - but perseverance of the birds was amazing.

Holes, briers, brambles and root bundles. Squirrels use them all. They know the location of every one, and they can gauge their distances to them. The number of escape routes they use is remarkable.

The more I hunt, the more I respect the quarry. The more I respect the birds. The more I feel sorry for the land-walker (me).

Three hunts, five squirrels.

Season total so far - 25

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Trade Off

With 20 plus mile an hour winds, no hunting recently, so I'll talk about something else.

I remember when I first got involved in falconry and I was in the phase where I would read everything I could get my hands on.

My first book on falconry was by Philip Glasier; Falconry and Hawking.

It is still one of my favorites. His writing is a bit stiff and very English. I loved the sound of the words, and the phrasing. There was a lot of good information in there as well, but as any falconer knows, falconry is better learned first hand than from a book.

Don't get me wrong - books are great. I love books, but I learn better watching and trying under the supervision of someone better.

One of the "techniques" that I could never visualize from any of my studies was the "trade off".

The trade off is where the falconer takes the captured quarry from the hawk and replaces it with something less/ smaller/ harder to eat... for the bird to snack on instead.

Some techniques you read about are whole elaborate affairs that would involve three people and a circus ring to execute.

Most common is the technique where the recently caught quarry is covered by the falconry bag, and the hawk is coerced off the game with another tid bit, or chicken wing.

Recently a well known hawker and author related his multi-step process to get his hawks of squirrels. It included at least three, maybe four different transfers.

Too much for me.

Early on, my sponsor taught me a quick, easy method to transfer the bird off of game.

Like anything else, it takes training, but it is not hard to do.

I want my falconry fun - too much baggage detracts from that. So I continue to use this method.

It might not work for all hawks, but I have used it successfully on quite a few Red tails, as well as Harris hawks.

It's simple.

First, in the weathering area, call your bird to a big, hard to eat piece of meat. Have the hawk pick for a minute, then blow your whistle, and toss a tidbit to the side.

The hawk should jump off, snatch the tidbit, then jump back up to the fist.

Just like jump ups.

My hawks now will sit on the fist, waiting for a tossed tid bit.

After repeating this process, the hawk will be conditioned to look for the tossed biteful.

When quarry is caught, simply repeat the same process. With a squirrel, I pick up the squirrel, the hawk attached, and get the bird to hold onto the head, the rest of the squirrel dangling below the fist.

Once the hawk is mounted there and mantling, I blow the whistle, toss a whole white mouse near-by.

The hawk will dive after the mouse. Sometimes he will forget to let go of the squirrel, but a quick shake of the fist should get him off.

Stash the squirrel in your bag or vest. Plant another tidbit on the fist, as the hawk will come back to the fist looking for its squirrel.

The bird will suck down the tid bit and look around for his squirrel for a minute, but soon realizes that it needs to continue hunting. Toss him into the trees and move on.

I rarely feed off of the kill anymore. The hawks don't get possessive over their catch. There is never a tug-o-war. Often, when I start to pick the squirrel and hawk off of the ground, Gonzo will jump off and wait for me to toss his tid bit.

The bird now work for the tid bits, not the game.

It get slightly more complicated with two birds, but not much. Generally, Tess will wait for her tidbit on the fist, while Gonzo waits on the ground. I put my body between the two and toss to Gonzo first where Tess can't see, then I toss another tid bit to Tess.

My tid bits have gotten smaller now. Often I will just use fuzzy mice, or half a full grown mouse. Sometimes chicken hearts, cut in half. But start bigger than this, once the birds are conditioned, then your trade off pieces can diminish.

Remember, there are a million ways to skin a cat. Just like there are dozens of ways to trade off your hawk. This is one that has worked well for me over the years. I give total credit to my sponsor Chris. I've tweaked the process to suite my needs and my hawks, but the process remains.

I hope you try it. Let me know how it works.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Vengence and more

My house backs up to a little patch of woods.

Around my yard there are different critters in cages; the rabbit hutch, chicken coop, pigeon loft.
Additionally, I have three small dogs.

Apollo, the smallest, weighs in at a mere 5 pounds. Tess is semi dog aggressive. I don't think that she would think twice about grabbing Apollo.

Needless to say, I don't often hunt around my house.

The squirrels run rampant. They love the live oaks, and the pine nuts. They feast on the hickory nuts and scramble around the hawk cages with impunity.

In North Carolina, most of the falconers I know don't build a traditional mew, they go for the weathering area, jump box set up. My hawk houses are constructed in this way. The ceilings and walls are made of mesh. The hawks can see everything that goes on around them.

Squirrels like to taunt them.

They scamper around their weathering areas. They feast on nuts perched above the ceilings of their cages. They toss acorn husks at them.

I feel bad for the hawks.

Today we sought revenge. I had all of my gear at school, but I forgot my boots again. I had to run home to get them, when I decided that I would just hunt in the back yard. I shut all the animals up, covered the rabbits, and let loose the birds of war!

It didn't take long. the backyard squirrels had built up a disdain for the ineffective hawks, so it was almost like they didn't even realize they were supposed to run.


Gonzo took the first one, scraping off a branch, tussling on the way down, before settling into a head grip and landing. Tess piled in, wanted her piece.

Transfer, move on to the next. At one point my neighbor was watching as both birds landed on the eves of his roof, while he was stringing lights from his second floor deck, then we wandered deeper into the woods.

The second squirrel was quick. The temperature has finally dropped into the forties - perfect for hawking. The squirrels have started to hide in their nests.

The hawks were both close and in position. I yanked the vine that snaked up into a nice looking nest. A buck squirrel popped out of the top of the nest. Instead of running the rest of the way up the tree, he bailed. He set his arms and legs like a sail, stretched out his tail, and tried to fly.

Tess folded up, fell off the branch, and dropped like a stone. The squirrel hit the ground running. Tess set his wings, flapped hard, and tumbled over the squirrel, coming out on top.

There were more squirrels out there, but two was a nice start. Vengeance was mine!

Almost more important though...

Somewhere between Squirrel #1 and #2, the hawks engaged in a ground chase.

I of course assumed it was a squirrel, hiding in the brush, but first Tess dove, then Gonzo.

A flash of white.

then the distinctive squeal of a rabbit, caught.

I rushed up to see both Tess and Gonzo riding the bronco ride of a freshly caught cotton tail.

Nice bonus.