Monday, January 24, 2011
Meet - Part III
Last Saturday ended with us heading out to a large farm field to watch Ben's falcon fly. He didn't catch anything with his little tiercel, but the flights were spectacular. The day before, he had gotten a double on hooded merganser.
Then a business meeting.
Sunday morning dawned bright and cool. Temps would be rising quickly. We met at McDonalds and headed out to fly Arnaud's merlin.
I am a merlin virgin - I'd never seen one fly. We ended up at a giant farm field with a shallow overgrown ditch running down the center.
Arnaud unhooded the handsome little bird and held him aloft. He roused, and bobbed his head, getting a feel for the lay of the land, then launched.
Once he was airborn, zipping around like a heat seeking missile, it was our job to run through the fields to flush game.
It worked. Pretty soon birds were popping out of the grass like popcorn, and the little falcon was stooping repeatedly. If he missed, he'd turn and wait for the reflush.
Running, ho-ing, and beating at the grass was exhausting - and since the this field held standing water, had potential to create dampness. Arnaud fell in, and I stepped into a hole almost to my knee.
We worked our way down the grass, finally bagging one bird near the end. The merlin snagged it on the wing, carrying it a little ways past. He hopped around in the grass for a bit, then stashed it under a thicker patch of weeds. He hopped up and took to the air again, waiting for another flight.
This was an awesome little bird. We grabbed another one out of the air, and I'm pretty sure he would have kept flying, but we had harris hawks to fly. Arnaud apologized later about the birds lack of "style". I didn't care about its style - he was a cool little rocket, that knew its job. Fun fun.
We moved to another field - one we had been to earlier this weekend. Richard got out his pair of harris hawks. Both birds were wild birds - one trapped in Texas, the other in Arizona.
The birds worked well together, and followed like they were supposed to.
I've been wondering a lot about the differences between the hunting habits of wild caught and captive bred birds. There doesn't seem to be much.
We lined up and coursed a field for these two birds. They followed - we popped a rabbit and the birds followed it from the air. We closed in.
Ho Ho - the rabbit moved and the hawks made pass after pass, before the final squeal of success.
Chip showed up with his harris hawks. We got out his and my two and put them all up together again.
I admit, I love having all four birds up together. They work well together and I love the chaos.
We tromped through the woods and saw no game. I was getting nervous that the birds might get bored and start to bicker.
It never happened.
We finally found squirrels in a patch of huge old hardwoods at the back of the property. This tree was so big, it would have taken ten of us holding hands to surround it.
This squirrel knew every nook and cranny of the tree, and the chase was a chess match. One squirrel vs four hawks.
Each branch was as large as a normal tree - and the squirrel would hide over, under, and around these branches. The squirrels strategy was brilliant, until he tried to switch trees. The hawks pressured it to the point where it leapt, and Eli grabbed it.
We traded off and moved to the next giant tree. We chased a few more squirrels, Gonzo took one of them, Eli one other, and ended the day with three more in the bag.
There was a lot of running, falling, laughing - and great chases from both the hawks and the squirrels.
I left the meet with three squirrels that I could claim and a rabbit (plus the one I caught on the way there).
We took a picture of a partial head count for the weekend.
Not too bad.
A very successful weekend. On the way home, I had plenty of time to review what I wanted for the rest of the season, and revised my goals.