Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Times they are a changin'

Went out with the birds - and something was different. The birds weight was in an acceptable range and I went to a spot where I knew there would be plenty of squirrels.

I was out early but the day was quickly warming up. There had been a soaking rain the night before and everything was moist, muggy, and dripping. The forest had started greening up and every little bird was letting loose in song. After so many months of cold silence when I hunt, this was a surprising change.

I waded into the thick vine tangles with the birds close behind. It didn't take long before the birds were on a squirrel. It went straight up a huge pine. Up and down and around.

It was the longest single squirrel chase I can ever remember having, lasting close to an hour and only spanning three huge pines. Gonzo was up and down, but it seemed that Tess's heart wasn't in it. She would engage, but not with the abandon I'm used to from her. At one point she actually aborted the chase and flew off.

Eventually, the birds pinged on something in the distance and started a long slow descent, grabbing at something on the ground. It didn't look like there had been a chase and then the birds started squabbling on the ground. I hurried over and found them fighting over a decomposing skull. Not sure what it is, at first i thought 'possum, but it is missing the ridge across the top of the skull - and it has too much brain space. Definite canines, snout seems too long for cat. Maybe raccoon?

What do you think?

We wandered the forest for a while, chased a few squirrels, but the difference was palpable. I called it a day and decided it was time to put the birds up. Time will be cramped for the next week anyway. I'll fatten them up and then see if they are in a lovin' mood.

Final count for the season.
Rabbits - 1
Squirrels - 29

I met my goal - and have had a great time doing it. I'll be keeping you all posted about what happens next. Spring is in the air after all


I've said it before. The single best thing an outdoorsmen, hunter, fisherman, can do to further the cause of outdoor recreation in today's society is to educate the masses. Get out and talk about your sport in a positive light. It is really important for the public to be able to see real sportsman and ethical hunting. Then they can put a face to oppose any misinformation that is out there.

Let's face it, non-hunters don't read hunting blogs. Most farmers don't think too much about the hawks that are worrying their chickens - they often just shoot them. It can help if we bring these issues out into the open so that people can see them.

I spent the other day at the Williamston, Farm Show. It was a good day. I got to speak to a lot of every day folks about raptors, falconry, and conservation. These were real people who work in the dirt with their hands and judge the passing of time in growing seasons. Good people.

I spoke with old farmers, young kids, and even got to do a quick radio interview about falconry. Fun stuff, and I'll definitely do it again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eagles and Goats

Not for the faint of heart.


Sharp shin flies across my wife's van as I followed behind. It landed in a small tree right next to where I was sitting. It held a small bird, limp, in its talons as it flew (maybe a finch). It started plucking where it landed at the corner of a middle school parking lot.

We edged the car closer and snapped a picture.

Pine vs. hardwood

It reminds me of the old Rush song.... I spent the day today working the old growth hardwood bottoms. It was great habitat for squirrels. There was food-o-plenty. Pig nut hickory nuts literally littered the ground from where they were discarded by years of squirrels.

the problem with the old growth hardwoods are the holes. We had chase after chase - maybe a dozen, two dozen. I lost count, but everyone was short and ended with the hawks perched next to a hole and a squirrel conspicuously absent. So, note to self, while hardwoods are great habitat - there is simply too much cover and the hawks have a hard time.

Yesterday I hunted the pine topped ridges. This was interesting habitat. The trees were huge and straight, reaching to the sky like pokers. It gives the hawk a better chance as there is no cover. The only minus is that the hawk needs to know how to climb.

That is the way it worked yesterday. We'd bust a squirrel and it would climb to the top of the nearest pine tree. The hawks then have to use a tremendous amount of energy climbing to the top. But they did. Gonzo was a trooper, climbing, climbing until he engaged the squirrel in the topmost branches. They would scuffle and growl and the squirrel would either bail, or Gonzo would nail it and drop it over the edge like eagles and sheep.

Tess was waiting lower down for the squirrels to drop. She would nail them on the ground. The team work was great.

Each chase ended the same - squirrel climbs to the tip top - Gonzo engages and squirrel drops only to be nailed by Tess.

#29..... and 30.

Everything else is gravy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

#28 (there's something in the water)

The squirrels are coming harder than ever. This weekend was a classic example. The wind was blowing again and the snow was spitting off and on out of the low gray clouds.

I hadn't hunted this area since earlier on in the season when I got my only rabbit of the season. I hoped the squirrels would be out in force, but they no - they weren't.

We wandered along, trying to keep the birds close to my side of the water. Nothing was moving. Usually the birds will ping on something fairly quickly, but nothing was coming. I have learned to really trust the birds, and we have gotten to a point where I think they can read me as well.

Suddenly, the birds were off, swinging low to the ground, then out over the flooded forest. I lost sight of them, but I knew they were onto something by their body language. I chased after.

The hawks were low in the trees, gazing at the water. There was something down there, they knew it. I started swishing my flushing stick around near the base of a tree, and Gonzo raced off to the other side of the water, landed low, and watched.

The water lapped against the forest floor. This is too weird. I called them off and moved away from the water.

Finally, we rustled up a squirrel, and he was an expert, maneuvering from tree to tree, always staying on the far side of the branch from the nearest hawk. At one point, he was on the underside of a thick branch, not six feet above my head, frozen, staring me straight in the face as Tess stood on top of the branch above him. hawks moved, squirrel moved, up another tree - across and then down into a nest.

The hawks didn't see him move. I followed to the tree and started banging. The birds looked at me like I was crazy. I banged and "hoed", but nothing was happening. At one point Gonzo flew off to investigate another tree, then came back, watched me for a bit, then started laddering up.

Yeah - He's got it. He crossed over to the tree, looked at me again, then crashed the nest and started tearing. Nest crashing - while a great skill, makes me nervous as the hawk can't always see what he's grabbing, and bites tend to happen.

It took Gonzo a bit of tearing at the nest, and there was a struggle, but the squirrel broke free, crossing back to another tree and over to where the whole chase started.

I increased the pressure, shaking vines, and the birds were swiping at him. The pressure was too much and he tried to cross at the wrong moment. Gonzo nailed him in the air, dropped him, and Tess got him on the ground.

Gonzo did end up with a bite through the webbing between his toes. It was a clean bite that bled a lot. It will heal cleanly.

So that is 28. The season is quickly coming to a close. I have limited time - and my schedule is filling up. Two more to reach my 30.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Flurries and squirrels

A hard fought squirrel. Two to go.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

big gains - small rewards

Big gains today - work was canceled due to flooding and high winds. But everything calmed down by late morning and the whole day was stretching ahead of me with no plans.

Hmmmm..... What to do.

Hawks were at weight. I hooked up with some folks that wanted to see the birds fly and the whole gaggle of us went out into the woods. There were four kids under 11 and two adults. Plenty of noise to unnerve any squirrel.

But the winds were still blowing and the squirrels were holed up pretty tight.

We wandered the woods for close to three hours.

There one quick chase, but the squirrel made it to a hole before the hawks took more than a swipe. The second chase was s doozie. Tree to tree, up and down hills, losing the squirrel, finding the squirrel. It was so high up that the whole group of us could only be limited help. The spectators backed off, sat down in the leaf litter, and watched. I ran and yelled and smacked at trees.

Finally, the squirrel snuck into a leaf nest from below and Tess slammed into it from that side. He must have tried to pop out the top because Gonzo nailed it from the top.

They both hung there, the squirrel screeching.

Silence - both birds hanging there holding the squirrel between them. Nobody was coming down. I waited, we sat, and then Gonzo started picking at the squirrel from on top. Tess was hanging upside down and couldn't seem to right himself.

I was done waiting. I got out some tidbits and started blowing the whistle. Gonzo wasn't having any of it, but Tess let go and came down.

I kept him on the fist for a bit to see what Gonzo would do. Pretty soon it became apparent that Gonzo had no desire to come down and was trying to eat that squirrel from up top. I let Tess loose to take over. She did just that.

She laddered up to the top and took control of the situation. She grabbed the squirrel, assumed dominance, then parachuted down with it. I traded both birds off it. You could see where Gonzo had tried to break into it around the eyes.

We walked for a few more hours, circling around and ending up back at the car. I was exhausted from all the up and down through the woods, and we ended the day with just one kill. Didn't matter though. It was a great day in the woods.

A free day in the woods - big gain.
One squirrel - who cares - good day.

How to survive when a giant meteor strikes

If we look back in history, it has already been done. The extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs changed the world at the time, but there were other smaller creatures living on the surface of the earth at the time. Mammels were somehow able to survive.

What lessons can we learn from them? It may have been something as simple as size and diet.

How did they do it? Science Daily reports that:

They were better at escaping the heat," said Russ Graham, senior research associate in geosciences at Penn State. "It was the huge amount of thermal heat released by the meteor strike that was the main cause of the K/T extinction."

He said underground burrows and aquatic environments protected small mammals from the brief but drastic rise in temperature. In contrast, the larger dinosaurs would have been completely exposed, and vast numbers would have been instantly burned to death.

After several days of searing heat, the earth's surface temperature returned to bearable levels, and the mammals emerged from their burrows, but it was a barren wasteland they encountered, one that presented yet another set of daunting conditions to be overcome, Graham said. It was their diet which enabled these mammals to survive in habitats nearly devoid of plant life.

Interesting reading. Will it help you survive the next strike?

Probably not.

Mammals, in contrast, could eat insects and aquatic plants, which were relatively abundant after the meteor strike. As the remaining dinosaurs died off, mammals began to flourish.

But we can all stand to drop a few pounds and watch our own diet.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The deluge turns to ice

Those little white crystals are where the jeep broke through and scattered the ice, sending chips skittering across the top.

What a winter.

Relieving pressure

The sun finally came out, but the temperatures dropped and everything has started to freeze. For those of you in colder climes, no big deal, - here this is cold!

I was looking at the calender and was realizing that hitting my goal was going to be close. I only needed to get skunked on one or two hunts, or if the weather continues to suck - I won't make it. 30 for the season.

So I sucked it up and went out hunting. The wind was still blowing, but I picked a spot that lay low in a "bowl" with many stunted trees. Mostly leafy, green live oaks. Great habitat for squirrels, but hard for the birds to maneuver through.

We started off strong, Tess spotting a squirrel straight away. It was a chase through the tree tops. The hawks couldn't get through the cover for a grab, but the squirrel could squeeze through easily. Above and below the canopy, up and down. The squirrel hit the ground, the hawks folded.

The squirrel bolted into a small hole at the base of the tree, smaller than my wrist. I tried to rouse him by skewering him with a stick, but he was up in there. We moved on.

Another quick chase, this one the squirrel hit the ground early, Tess had just tried a stoop and was out of position, so Gonzo closed on this one. There was a wrestling match on the ground, hawk squirrel, hawk. At one point they both bounced in the air, Gonzo was able to readjust, and then subdued him very neatly.

Got another one moving. This one was a real chess match. Small movements from the squirrel from one side of the tree to the other. He kept himself just out of reach. The hawks would stoop, he'd scurry just so far so they couldn't get at him. Finally, when the birds had both made a bid at him, and were out of his line of sight, he dropped to the ground and disappeared into a hole. We got nothing.

Next one was a battle in the treetops. The squirrel spiraled to the top of the live oaks. The birds engaged in the top most branches. All I could see was the branches shaking. Gonzo stayed out of this one and waited for the squirrel to drop. I heard the squirrel squeal as Tess killed it in the tree tops. She took it and glided down with it, landing about 25 yards away and with firm control of it.

It was time to be done,The clouds were building and the wind was picking up, so we started wandering out. Rousted another squirrel on the way, making it three for the day.

Somewhere along the way Tess suffered a bite on the rear talon. It bled a whole lot, but the bite itself was superficial. It is going to happen -bites. If the hawks are good, that will minimize the injuries (They also seem to do better when they nail them on the ground).

The pressure is way off, we only need four more by the end of the month. It ended up being a great day for hunting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Disproportianately proud

With yet another weekend storm rolling in and the wind gusting up, I decided to take the dogs out for a long stroll in the woods. The wind was blowing too hard to fly the birds, but a long walk in the woods was in order.

It was just Graci, Gordon, & I. The woods were wet and squishy. The low spots were all underwater, and where we were walking, the mountain bikers had been working on clearing a riding trail.

I have been encouraging the dogs to investigate holes and sniff around spots where I would expect to find squirrel sign. They were right in there with me. We don't have groundhogs here, so even though Gordon has had the opportunity to do some go to ground work with Patrick, around here, he never sees a groundhog hole.

Stock photo of Terrierman's Mountain in a hole.

To be honest, his last performance on groundhogs was less than stellar. I was disappointed actually. He didn't want to get into the holes like Patrick's dogs, and wasn't into the digging.

I do think he will get better, but he needs more exposure.

Anyway, today he was investigating every hole, digging through rotting logs, and acting like he was hunting.

At one point he wiggled himself up under a root ball of a tree and started digging with abandon. I would have taken a picture, but I forgot the camera. He didn't want to leave his excavation. graci got in there to help. They kept digging and wiggling their way in. I was trying to come in from the other side by pushing through the root ball with a stick, when Gordon emerges with a small rat in his mouth. He shook it and killed it straight out. He pranced.

I praised him. I'm not even so proud about the kill, but more proud with the gusto in which he pursued it.

Watch out Terrierman, here we come.

Saving the Blobfish

Can't the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) get some love? This ugly, gelatinous, inedible fish now risks extinction thanks to humans trawling marine murky depths for lobsters and crabs.

Blobfish live at depths of 800 meters off the southeastern coast of Australia. The species has a very limited habitat, and can't survive elsewhere.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Again, the meeting went overtime - but I was not about to give up my hawking time today. I needed to be at a wrestling meet, but it had been over a week since we hunted.
Rain, rain, rain.
The birds were at weight and talking in the back of the jeep. The wind was blowing way too hard to go hawking. But I was not giving up this time.

It is supposed to rain again all weekend. Maybe I can get in some hunting time between storms, but I'm not counting on it.

I tossed both birds up and they followed impeccably. With the wind blowing so hard I wasn't hopeful about rousting a squirrel, so I was focusing on rabbits.

The spot we were hunting held both, but the cover was way thick. And it was flooded. I sloshed and tromped through the cover and jumped a rabbit. The hawks chased it, and I tried to keep up, but with the vine tangles and all, there was no chance. I did flush and reflush, but we lost it somewhere in the tangles.

I crossed over an open field into another small stretch of woods. Immediately we found a squirrel squirting through the underbrush. The hawks gave chase cruising low across the ground. the squirrel spiraled up a tree, and crossed to another. The hawks laddered up and began searching, their necks stretching in anticipation.

I started shaking vines, the squirrel moved. Gonzo crashed into the canopy of the live oaks, but the squirrel dropped below, jumped, skipped, crossed.

He leaped for the ground. I saw Tess fold and drop. They both disappeared behind cover. I heard the squirrel squeal. Gonzo piled in, then bumped off to the side.

I waded through the briers and found Tess on top of the squirrel. Apparently, she learned a new trick. I didn't have to dispatch this squirrel when I got there, Tess had already figured out a way to do that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Does the Heart Good


Over the weekend we started with snow - which is real exciting here, but before the day really began - it all turned to snow. It rained all the rest of the weekend. I was able to get the camera trap set back up again, in a new spot, but all other outdoor work came to a halt.

the kids had friends over. The hawks stayed in their weathering area. I wanted to hawk in the snow - but it was not to be.

I wanted to hawk on Monday. But no.

Today - rain

The kids had friends over this weekend, and while it was cold the rain was somewhat intermittent - they decided to spend as much time as they could outdoors.

Remember when we were kids and we left the house in the morning - then didn't get home until the next feeding time.

Instead of my boys and their friends playing video games all morning, that's what the kids did. They left early and played in the woods until it was feeding time. It made me proud.

They spent most of the time looking through the woods for animal sign.

I don't know exactly where they went.

I found the evidence later. Trail cam pictures.

Happy Groundhog Day!

This is Gordon, in need of a haircut, checking out the smell of fresh whistlepig.

For a history of Groundhog Day, check out Terrierman's post.