After hitting them hard over the two week Christmas break, I gave the hawks a week to rest and heal. In the wild, they would never get time off, but they also wouldn't be specializing in hunting quarry as difficult as squirrels.
Their feet are nicked up and looking like the feet of true squirrel hawks. I tend to down play bites. I know they will happen, and it is always a risk. Most bites will be superficial nicks and cuts, but I am sure the hawk feels them.
The squirrels know their escape routes now. They don't feed far from holes. Some of these squirrels, I'm pretty sure, we have chased before as I have hunted this same spot multiple times this year.
These woods are mature maritime forest. A mix of pock marked hardwoods, interspersed with giant loblolly pine trees. What was once drifting sand dunes is now the loamy earth from which these trees spring.
The dunes are now steeply sloped hills and every chase is a work out. We seem to find the squirrels at the tops of the ridges, but when they bail from the tree tops, they head downward, like they are on a sled for freedom. They scamper up a tree at the bottom of the slope, then fly across the treetops to the top of the ridge again.
The same pattern happened over and over until the lowly falconer was left panting and heaving on the ground.
One squirrel blistered down the hill and disappeared at the bottom. I stumbled, slid, and fell down after him, holding onto trees for support.
When I got there, the hawks were waiting for me. Their eyes scolding me with my snails pace.
They both sat lower in the trees, not looking up. They were telling me squirrel had gone to ground.
I surveyed the area and a little stump of a branch was sticking off of the main trunk of a red bay tree. I could see that it was hollow, but not much bigger than my forearm and just at ground level.
I stomped over to it and peered into the top of the stump - and there was mister critter, staring back at me. He wasn't moving.
The hawks waited overhead - finally, I could be a useful part of the team. I shook the stump. I thumped the stump.
The squirrel stared stoically back at me. He knew the danger, he wasn't moving.
Finally, I kicked the stump, and heard it splinter. That was too much. The squirrel popped out the top like a jack in the box and both hawks plummeted, snagging it between them.
We ended up with two squirrels that day, each one was a challenge. This time of the year it gets harder and harder to catch each one. We'll see what the next few weeks bring.