"Falconry is not a hobby or an amusement: it is a rage. You eat it and drink it, sleep it and think it. You tremble to write of it, even in recollection. It is, as King James the First remarked, an extreme stirrer of passions." T.H. White

The Godstone and Blackymor, 1959 (First American Edition) Van Rees Press, New York, page 18.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nov. 21 – Mud bath

We went to Keithfield today after church to fly Rebel in hopes of finding a wood duck slip or two.  I lured the boys into coming with me with the promise of paintball after the hunt.

Rebel was a bit high at 39.7 but he has been hunting well above this weight lately.  In all honesty, I don’t have a clue as to what this bird’s weight should be.  One day he flies poorly above 39, the next he crashes nests at 41.8 and chases like there is no tomorrow.  Either way he seemed eager to get out as he did not hunt at all on Saturday due to Maddox’s marathon wrestling tourney (won his very first wrestling match!). 

The weather was perfect and the sky was clear when we set out.  We started off just around the house figuring that there must be squirrels in the ancient live oaks that surround the place.  Nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Rebel started off following pretty well, but he started lagging behind as we failed to flush him some game.  I got pretty nervous when we spotted a hag RT soaring over us with Rebel still pretty far back.  At one point, I thought that maybe the soaring bird was Rebel, but then I heard his bells much nearer.  Whew.  While I am anxiousto get this bird to learn to soar and follow, I am leery of him heding to Florida if he gets into a soar at this weight.
So we came up on the first slew and Rebel just wouldn’t get into position.  He stayed way behind me in a perch, which could barely afford him the opportunity to see the ducks flush, much less make a stoop on one.  Well, he had to learn some way, so I went ahead with the flush.  I could almost see the light bulb go off when the second wave of a dozen wood ducks beat the hell out of the water and air, hightailing it to safer climes.

He started following right on top of us from that point on except for one time when he saw a squirrel above us that we had missed.  He dove on it several times, but it made it down into the swamp and sweet muddy freedom. 

We headed on down the levy and of into some hardwoods where Rebel unsuccessfully chased another squirrel.  We got up about twenty ducks over here in one flight and about a dozen in another.  I think I am going to have to wheedle the gate pass out of my buds in the very near future… This place is simply crawling with ducks.

We headed on through the woods with Rebel occasionally leading the way now.  At one point, he took up a perch in a snag over looking the creek and marsh on one side and a small black pond on the other.  As I walked up, two wood ducks flushed, scaring the holey hell out of me, as I was practically right on top of them.  They jumped right up off of the lake but when they got six or seven feet up, they saw Rebel diving like a bullet right on them.  They both turned immediately and dove down into the water with Rebel zeroed in on them.  He nailed one as it hit the water and drew feathers.  He didn’t hold it though as the water completely startled him.

The ducks took off but Rebel sat right there in that slew not knowing what to do.  It was hilarious, this bedraggled bird trying to keep his wings out of the water, up waist deep in black muddy mirk.  He hopped to the glove for a tidbit and I carried him out of the water.  When I got up the bank, everyone was remarking on how beautiful the stoop was he had taken on the ducks.  We were all oooing and ahhing but Rebel was not interested.  He wanted to explore this water thing a bit more.

He hopped back down and headed over to the water again, and hopped right in.  He started waggling his tail feathers, then splashing his wings and finally doing a “duck dive” getting his entire head under!  It was divine comedy!  Clearly this bird had had very little experience of this sort before.  He looked just like Brynn did when she learned she could jump into the pool without me there to catch her.  We were all sitting on the bank rolling in laughter.  Especially when he decided he was done with his black water bath and came to join us.  He couldn’t fly so he sort of flailed his wings as he hopped on these sodden chicken legs of his up the bank.  This was a mental Picasso that will be etched in my brain forever.  Too funny.

Nov. 19 - Nesting

Okay.  So I just don't have a handle on this bird's weight.  He has been fat for a week now after eating a crop full of duck.  He is hungry every day and flying as hard if not harder than he was at weights several ounces under where he is now.  Of course with a Red Tail, it may just be that he is better manned now and understands the game better which allows him to stay sharp at a higher weight.  Or maybe this bird was actually a lot lower than i thought in the beginning.  I think that I am going to be playing this game all season...  Right now every time I believe that I have a handle on the relationship between Rebel's weight and his hunting efforts, I discover something confounding...  Ahhh, the joys of being an apprentice.

I have lived my life being a very decisive person.  I am only half kidding when I state that my motto seems to be "Often wrong, but never in doubt!", but in falconry, it seems to be just the opposite.  There is no end to the conflicting advice on this issue either, making the murky water even more dense if that were possible.  Well, so far at least, things are still going pretty well, even if I am frequently perplexed.

So despite the weight issues, Rebel was once again showing a much improved fist response.  A couple of days of half-hearted hunting and feeding in tidbits off of the fist has solidified that aspect of his flights I think.  Don't get me wrong...  I don't think that there will ever be a time when I can call this bird off of an active hunt straight to the fist with that kind of distraction, but it is markedly improved overall.

Rebel and I headed out to Doc's land with the dogs in tow for a walk / flight and more work on the fist.  rebel was weighing in at a portly 41.8 ounces!  When we got there, I immediately saw a ginormous fox squirrel slinking up a small live oak and got excited.  Rebel was still in his box and by the time I got the dogs out, the bird free and my equipment on, the damned squirrel was nowhere to be found.  Oh well.

It was a beautiful day with bright sun and a steady breeze, and to be honest, I thought that Rebel wasn't going to pay me too much attention.  I figured the dogs were a pretty big distraction and I would be lucky if he would follow and come down for the lure.  He headed almost immediately up to the top of a tall pine, and you know what that typically means.  I let him hang out while I checked the pond for ducks and let the dogs run.  I was heading back his way to hit the woods when I saw a mob of crows start swooping in and diving on him.  Rebel seemed completely unaffected.  I grabbed my air rifle out of the back of the truck in hopes of a decent shot but it was not to be.  They flared off and I wondered why.  Rebel had changed perches to another tree a few yards over so I went over to look at him after putting up the gun.

There was Rebel, in the top of that pine, once again locked up talon to talon with the local Hag!  They were both completely silent and then the hag let go and flew off.  Rebel looked pretty proud and held his perch looking like he was daring anyone to come closer.  He looked pretty good so I started walking on expecting him to follow.

He actually followed vey well from that point on.  He came to the fist every time I called and stayed within a reasonable distance of me while hunting.  We came out of the woods and I went back to the front side of the lake to check for wood ducks and inadvertently got a squirrel moving.  This tree rat was right in the middle of an oak on my friend's driveway!   Fat as Rebel was, he flew HARD.  He crashed through those branches like a bull in a china shop.  He missed the varmint on his first pass and then turned and quickly made several more.  The squirrel disappeared into his nest and Rebel went in right after him.  Rebel started tearing that nest down around its ears!  This is usually an advanced, learned behavior and I was thrilled that my little guy was getting used to it very early.

The squirrel slipped down through the bottom of the nest and made a break for it but Rebel was right behind.  He pulled fur but missed latching on to the evil tree climber though and it got into a knothole.  This was only after about five minutes of chasing and nest shredding.  Damned hard flying and keen instincts in a bird who is supposed to be way overweight...

We headed back to the car by way of the other pond hoping for a duck slip.  No  luck.  At one point my little dog, Holly, was out of sight and not coming when called.  I started heading in what turned out to be the wrong direction when Rebel flew ahead of me and looked down the road then back at me and then down the road again.  She seemed keen on something so I followed in case she had seen a squirrel that needed to be caught.  There was Holly making her way back from whatever interesting smell she had been exploring.  Rebel just looked at me like "Right there, dummy".  There was no way that that bird had just pointed out where my dog was...  was there?

Well it was fun being out with all three of them.  No kill but some hard flying, a scrap with a local hag, and a first time nest attack.  Pretty good stuff.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nov. 16 - Soaring

Pretty cool things today.  Had a fat bird again and I really wanted to work on fist response so we decided to just walk the yard and the vacant lots.  Rebel has terrorized the squirrels around here so now whenever they hear his bells, they bolt into the closest knothole faster than a fool loses his money on payday.  I figured he may chase a few but I really just wanted to put him on a few of his old creance perches and see how well he would respond to the fist.

We set out and he started out really well.  He was coming to the glove and following just like he used to.  He saw a squirrel up in the cedar and gave chase.  He crashed through the branches twice just barely missing the little bugger.  He chased it into the maple in the back and then it reversed course and jumped over the porch railing heading back to the cedar.  Rebel was in hot pursuit and flew right through the wrought iron railings around the porch!  I thought he was going to get clotheslined, but he folded in and glided right through never taking his eyes off the offending varmint.  Can't be more than six inches between the vertical bars...  I have to admit I was a tad envious, I can't even squeeze through the walkway in my kitchen if there is someone else in there...  Seriously though, I do not think that I will ever tire of watching this bird fly...

So he ended up losing that guy in the live oaks and he decided he would like to get up into a high  perch.  Uh Oh.  I pretty much know that when he gets up to the top of a tree he doesn't like to come down easily.  His favorite perch is the tip top of a pine tree.  He grasps a talonful of pine needles and just floats there.  Well, this did not jive with my plan of working on fist response, so I tried to call him down before he got settled.  No luck.  He just flew into a tree in the neighbor's yard.  Now I don't like him to get outside of our little zone too much so I decided that if he wouldn't come I would walk away and he would just have to follow.  He never likes his meal tray (me) to get too far out of sight.

It was a really windy day and overcast.  I walked all the way over to the far lot but he didn't move.  He was digging just swaying in the wind at the tip top of a pine.  I headed over towards the garage and was about to pull out the lure when I looked up to see a gorgeous bird of prey soaring through the winds above me.  It took me a few seconds to realize that it was Rebel.  Now coming to me he had the wind at his back and he was high above the trees.  He came across fast and turned into the wind to head back to me.  The wind was so strong that he just sat there hovering in front of me gliding back and forth and keeping himself aloft.  He was totally loving it.  It reminded me of times kayaking in college where we would surf a haystack in an eddy current for what felt like hours before falling off downstream.  The eddy current would almost allow us to stay still while the water would rush on by us.  Well that was what Rebel was doing.  It was glorious.  I called out to Laura who caught the tail end of it as Rebel ducked into a nearby tree, clearly anticipating his lure feeding.

He got a nice fat crop and I got a nice grin on my face after watching that one.  I just wish that I had had a camera.  These young birds are not supposed to be soarers yet...

Nov. 15 - Squirrel seven

After Rebel's glutinous start to the weekend, it was tough to get him back in flight shape.  I was out of town on Saturday so gave him a duck leg to gnaw on without weighing him.  I pulled him out Sunday evening for a flight and he was weighing in at a whopping 43 ounces.  I didn't expect much of a flight at that weight but he needed the excercise so off he went.  As expected, not so much into the hunting but followed well and came to the lure hard.

On Monday, I went back to Al's to hunt with him and his new bird Jade.  Jade flew free for the first time and followed perfectly.  She is a big female that closely resembles Big Bird from Sessame St.  Well she actually started chasing squirrels on this first morning out and it was impressive.  It was clear that she had played the game before, but she started getting tired so we put her up.

I pulled out Rebel hoping that he wouldn't make me look too bad.  He was still pretty fat at 41 ounces after a cast but acting hungry and ready to fly.  We headed out with him and he starting off following fairly well.  That didn't last too long and he quickly took the lead.  We ended up following him mostly and he would refuse to come down to the glove when called.  On the positive side, he was definitely serious about hunting.  He chased several squirrels hard but was a wingbeat too slow.

I began to get frustrated with him not responding to the garnished glove, so I walked on without him, expecting him to follow.  He did follow, but it seemed that he was always too far behind and out of position when I would flush a squirrel.  I grew frustrated and finally he came down to the fist after a very close chase by the edge of the swamp.  We headed back to Al's house, not really hunting anymore, just chatting.  I was planning to toss the lure near the car and put him up.  Right near Al's back door, Rebel saw a squirrel and dove at it.  I ran to the tree just in time to see it try to scamper away, only to be caught about 30 feet up in Rebel's talons. 

Rebel performed the most perfect helicopter to the ground that I have seen yet and he had the squirrel by the head and body which was good.  They had dropped right at my feet so I bent down to help him with the squirrel when for no good reason, he let go of the squirrel's head!  The damned thing reached up and bit him in the right cheek which had me a bit scared.  It wasn't half a centimeter away from his eye...

Rebel once again secured the head and I dispatched the squirrel.  Rebel looked to be alright and I traded him off with a DOC with the smoothest trasition that we had yet accomplished.  I gathered him up and looked him over.  Small puncture to the cheek and a small bite to the right talon.  I went home and played vet and put a happy full bird back in the mews.

Seveal things are concerning me right now.  One is his weight.  He is higher than he has ever been since feasting on duck.  Feeling his keel, he is not sharp but definitely not fat.  I am starting to think that "he" is a "she" and I need to slowly increase the weight (muscle not fat) and see if I can find a balance point.  This is made difficult when youlook at the relatively poor fist response.  The bird hunts well, follows well, flys hard, and comes to the lure without hesitation.  He just has poor fist response.  I am going to try to hide his tidbits and spend the next couple of days just working on fist response in the yard with variable rewards to pique his interest.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nov. 12 - A Taste for Duck

Friday morning Rebel and I drove up to Florence to meet up with a fellow apprentice and his buds, both of whom fly Harris’ Hawks and falcons.  Rebel was a little high at 38.7 but looking eager so before the others arrived, my buddy and I hit one of his favorite squirrel spots to get things started.  Rebel was quickly in the air and doing his typical scanning of his new surroundings.  He flew to a couple of perches and would stare but nothing much was moving.

I decided that I would just walk ahead and try to scare something up and let him follow.  He was a bit slow to follow at first but then I heard his bells and figured he was right behind me.  The bells sounded a little distant and constant, not the jingling you normally hear when he is getting settled on a perch but I didn’t think too much of it.  I looked up when I saw a shadow pass over and saw a big Red Tail circling over us.  It was a beautiful graceful bird with just a hint of red in its tail as the sun shone through it.  I figured it was a haggard bird.  With all of the run-in’s Rebel has had with hags, I decided that I had better get him down and move on a bit.  I stepped out into a clearing looking for my bird and garnishing the glove when that Red Tail took a stoop and dove into the tree just ahead and to the left of me!   Crap!  I thought it was diving on Rebel!

Not so much.  It WAS Rebel.  Yup.  He was soaring for the first time with me and the dive resulted in a beautiful helicopter to the ground carrying a big buck squirrel in his talons!  I was so pumped.  Until he landed. 

On landing, he promptly let go of said squirrel who quite literally jumped two feet in the air, startling my bird, landed on the other side of Rebel and scampered up a tree! I don’t know if the damned thing bit him or why he let go.  It was weird.  I could tell he was a little frustrated but he winged up and crashed a fir tree about twenty yards away missing another squirrel by inches.  About that time we got a call from our comrades and we had to pack it up.

We met up with an extremely nice and talented pair of falconers and headed out to an open field area where we planned to fly an eyass  Gyr / Saker and a breeding peregrine on some pen raised mallards.  We decided to see if Rebel wanted to try as well.

I put him up in a perch right on the tree line and he was appropriately attentive.  Al had a new bird launcher, and had already loaded a mallard.  On the release, Rebel knew exactly what to do.  He bolted at that bird like a bullet and hit it in the head before it could make it to ground.  He then turned on a dime and came right back, latching on to the back of the duck and walking up its back to its head.  He got a bit of a thrashing from the wings before I could get there and give him a hand, but he didn’t seem to mind.

He had recognized that mallard instantly as prey.  I am not sure if he had had the luck to have parents who had previously entered him on ducks as game, but he behaved as if it was not he first time he had seen them.  I was pretty psyched.  Al flew his RT, Goose, on another bird successfully, and then we started with the falcons.

They were truly majestic to watch.  The steep banks and flares, the stoops and wheels…  It was fun to see.  The new eyass was having a bit of a problem on the attack but his flight was beautiful.

Meanwhile, Rebel is macking down on some sweet Thai Duck.  I had picked up his kill with him still attached and walked him over to the truck to let him crop up.  He dragged the duck into the bushes while the other birds flew.  He was a mantling beast and ate like his typical hoggish self.  The only difference was that this time it was all meat.  I finally had to trade him off on the lure with a doc on it to get him to leave the kill.  By this time, he looked like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python, but he still jumped to the lure like that starving kid from Africa that my mom always sent my carrots to when I was a kid.

I put the glutton in the giant hood and had to head home since we were leaving town.  I would have loved to see the cast of HH’s fly but I could hardly ask for more than what I got to see this day.  Amazing! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nov. 5 - The Great Quail Hunt

Well Friday was my first day off in one hundred and eighty seven years, so I decided to take my wife hunting with Rebel and I.  You are correct.  It wasn’t her idea at all.  Due to work and weather, Rebel had not gotten out much in the last five days, besides a few flights in the yard and a short hunt the day prior.  He was frisky and ready to go.

I had decided that this was the day to fly Rebel on the last quail that had been in the pen for almost two weeks waiting on the perfect moment to arrive.  Now I tried to fly this guy once before and he had escaped from his prison inside my game bag only to find himself locked in the bed of my truck.  I had to scrap plans of flying him that day and re-trap him for later.  Well this time he wasn’t going to get out.  I had a breathable bag that I could tie shut to prevent any such occurrences from getting in the way.  After all, it wasn’t every day that I could talk my wife into coming to watch a hunt.  And take photos.  Did I mention that she was just dying to go take photos of Rebel with me?

Anyway, I grabbed the spritely little guy and prepared to pop him into my bag.  Well someone must have told him he was heading to maximum security, because before I could get him in the bag, the little feathered devil gave a kick and a burst of speed that would have made Pele proud and I found myself holding a fistful of tail feathers.  Sonofa…..!!!

Okay, so the situation wasn’t completely out of control.  He was still in the garage and if I just shut the doors, I figured I could come back and reflush him with Rebel laying in wait outside.  Okay, not ideal but not too bad, right?

So we head out to Doc’s pond and walk in the woods in the fresh air.  There was plenty of wildlife around if you count mosquitoes, but the squirrels had gotten the bulletin that we would be in the area.  Rebel flew beautifully but no squirrels were seen.  Once he flew all the way across the pond to a neighbor’s house and I thought he may have been on something, but if he had chased one, he didn’t catch it.

On the way home, he chased two squirrels by the boat landing but gave up on them after they ducked in knotholes.  Frustrated he headed back to the house.  Once there, I put him in the big live oak in the middle of the circular driveway and I went into the garage to flush said quail.  I was excited and impatient to watch this flight and I think Laura was too by the way she was pacing and saying “Can’t we get this over with?”

So I go into the garage to flush the quail as he, rather rudely in my opinion, did not deign to come out on his own, and I can’t find him.  Anywhere.  I turn to ask Laura if Rebel is still in position when little Houdini, the master escapist, jumps right out of thin air at my feet, giving me a coronary in the process.  Instead of flying right out of the garage like any sane quail would, Houdini decided that the Bronco looked like safe haven for him.  I chased him over there, banging shins and elbows on all of the absolutely essential items in my garage.  Did he flush out?  Nope.  Right back to the other side.

We repeated that process several times before enlightenment struck and I decided to back the cars out of the garage.  Well, all but one.  The trusty Bronco refused to start as usual so we made do.  Once the other two cars were out, I cornered Houdini under the Bronco.  I flushed him out to the edge of the garage and thought he would fly any second.  This bird lives to disappoint me so of course he headed right back into the garage.  Almost too late…  Rebel saw him and he came crashing into the garage.  It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  I was yelling “NO!” as my hawk flew under the bronco after this damned quail.  The quail scooted booty to the other side of the garage, deftly avoiding all of the essential crap in the garage.  Still feeling my bruises from before, part of my mind  was somewhat envious of his dexterity.  The other part was pissed that he didn't at least ruffle a feather or something to make me look a little less like a chump.  I didn’t have time to dwell on this, however, as right behind him came Rebel, way to big to maneuver in the garage.  He actually tried to crash through the spokes of Maddox’s bike.  I have seen him crash through tree branches the size of baseball bats and for a second, I thought he would make it through.

Well Houdini made yet another escape.  Honestly, this little bird has more lives than a cat.  I quickly called Rebel out of the garage because I was afraid of him getting hurt.  I put him back in the tree and, trying my best to ignore my wife laughing at me, began again trying to flush this quail out of my garage.  I couldn’t ignore Laura’s hoots anymore when I couldn’t even get the damned thing to fly when I started up the leaf blower.  Hell, I blew out the entire garage and couldn’t even find the damned thing.

By this point, Rebel was happily perched on the chimney and Laura had to excuse herself before hilarity took that unlooked for sharp right turn into incontinence, so I say screw it and shut the garage up tight.  I put out a little food and water for Houdini and vow to take my revenge another day.

Pretty sure even Rebel was laughing at me as I put him up for the evening.  Friggin’ Houdini…  Worst quail hunt of my life…

Oct. 30 - Sixth Squirrel

Saturday morning I woke up and got Rebel out of his mews with the dawn.  Just like last time, he roused himself, stepped gently to the glove and fluffed up against the cold.  I have found that I love the morning time with this bird.  The frosted breath and the absolute quiet are a perfect backdrop to the subtle expressions that Rebel shows.  In the dim early morning light, when this bird is getting past being his most vulnerable, the trust he shows in stepping to the glove is truly awe inspiring.  The gentle way he steps to me in these moments, such a departure from the flurry when he is driven by hunting instincts and hunger, might be the some of the singular most poignant moments encountered so far in my falconry experience. 

That has to be put into a bit of perspective.  His flights are exquisitely beautiful and I have an album of still frame photos in my mind of his most memorable flights into knotholes, high stoops vertically down to the glove, and of course the helicopters down after catching a squirrel.  These moments are deeply profound as well, but in them I am more of a spectator.  In the silence of the morning with the crisp air making me so much more awake and aware, the softness of his feathers mixes with the veil of my visible breath and it seems we are both just a little more aware of each other outside of our respective roles in the hunt.

After weighing him in and getting him in the giant hood, I headed over and picked up a friend and his son and we headed down to Georgetown to hunt squirrels in old hardwoods on the river.  When we got there, it was clear that Rebel liked his surroundings immediately.  He was up in the highest pine tree checking out his new domain before I could even get my boots laced up.  I say "his domain" because wherever this bird is, he acts just like he owns the place.

As soon as he was up, we began hearing the unhappy cry of a Red-Shouldered Hawk nearby who was a bit miffed at having to share her hunting spot.  This didn’t seem to affect Rebel much as he completely ignored her and continued to search for prey.  I found myself following Rebel more than the reverse in this new expanse. 

As we came up on the first slew, we got up about five wood ducks that quickly sparked Rebel’s attention.  He had been lagging pretty far behind but he came forward to investigate.  No chase though.  Since he was showing interest, we thought we would try to arrange a slip for him a bit later.  We had no sooner turned around when we saw Rebel zipping low through the woods towards the ground.  He disappeared behind a small dike and the tell-tale jingle of his bells told me he was on something.

That something was squirrel number 6, caught playing low on the forest floor.  I don’t think he ever saw Rebel coming.  Rebel had a text book perfect grip on his head and chest.  I made in and helped dispatch and traded him off with a DOC.  Best trade off so far.  While he went to work on the chick, I covered and secured his prize, a one pound buck grey squirrel.  He was almost immediately back on the fist and ready to go again.

He did circle back looking for that squirrel once, but then stayed with us to hunt.  Once again, he was lagging way behind.  He was acting a bit odd as he is usually loathe to let me completely out of site, but he did on this day.  In retrospect, I believe that he knew where we were the entire time, we just couldn’t see him as the canopy was quite thick. 

We circled back to try a new slew for a duck slip when Rebel crossed a small creek in hot pursuit of his second squirrel of the day.  He chased it through three trees right in front of us and I thought he had it on the ground but apparently the blasted thing scurried into a hole just before Rebel could engage.  As we approached the next slew, Rebel seemed to know just what to do and he flew on ahead and perched on the edge of the slew.  This would usually serve to keep the ducks on the water, but they heard us coming and all but one took flight.  Rebel was not yet in position so he did not give chase.  He did work his way around the slew towards the lone wood duck that was left behind which was pretty impressive.

I went all the way around the slew in hopes of flushing the duck back in Rebel’s direction, and it actually worked just as I had hoped except for one small thing.  Rebel didn’t give chase.  That surprised me a bit.  He was in pretty good position from what I could see but I think he was still trying to figure out if this new big thing was prey or not.  We decided we had better pack it in as I had to be at work so we started to head back to the car when Rebel gave an energetic chase to yet another squirrel.  He hit the trees so hard after this squirrel I thought for sure he must have been hurt twice, but nope, right back in the air after the squirrel.  He caught it just off the ground near the edge of the creek feeding the slew we were in but the cursed varmint wriggled free and disappeared into a hole.  Rebel was pissed.  We searched for a while trying to reflush that squirrel but it was either too smart or too hurt to make a run.

Justin and Walker had traversed the slew from the opposite direction and came to a narrow creek that they had to step across to meet up with me.  Justin decided in his parental wisdom that he would be more effective just throwing Walker across rather than letting him jump.  It worked out about exactly as well as you would expect, otherwise this part wouldn’t have made it into the narrative.  Some piece of clothing caught some other piece and I heard a tremendous splash and a “DAD!  WHY???” as Walker was introduced to the slew on his aunt’s property.

We headed back to the car with a frustrated Rebel perched high in the pines, and a slightly soggy 11 year old in tow.  Rebel wasn’t following very well again so I decided I would go on ahead to the car and call him blind to the lure.  For the very first time, it didn’t work!  I was a bit nervous as we headed back to find him.  In truth we were REALLY far away, but I had thought he would follow somewhat.  He was still where we had left him and he came right to the lure when visible.  At that moment, I found out what the trouble was.  A haggard female Red Tail soared right overhead.  Apparently she and Rebel had been checking each other out for some time and that was why Rebel was acting a bit off.

Rebel went right on the leash after this and we walked to the car much to his chagrin.  He wanted to fly more but after our last encounter with a hag, I was not about to let him out of sight or touch.  I said a prayer of thanks, praised my bird for not picking a fight, and we loaded up and headed home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oct. 27 - Squirrel Five

Rebel was low today.  Lowest I have flown him in some time, and I was worried.  I guess i misjudged how much snake he had eaten yesterday because I only gave him a single DOC on the lure, thinking that was adequate.

Regardless, Rebel was keen.  He was dialed in from the start because when I came home to check on him, there was a young squirrel barking at him right outside the mews!  It couldn't have been more than five feet away.  Brave, stupid squirrel…  Instead of just releasing Rebel to take the blasted thing, I took him to the garage for a weigh in.  I was surprised to find him so low at 36.7 ounces with tele on.  I took him right back over to the mews thinking he would fly at the tree with the squirrel in it but nope, he flew right back to a tall pine with a nice vantage.  The squirrel in question was higher in the tree and still barking occasionally but Rebel seemed uninterested.  I was worried that his weight was too low and I was about to call him down for a tidbit when he swooped to a small live oak in the next lot at a different squirrel.

It was too thick in those small live oaks for him to chase effectively, so he waved off into a larger tree.  I was a little concerned that Rebel didn't give chase but looking back, I think he is just a cool headed hunter.  I was planning to walk to the pond to hunt that day but Rebel wasn't following very well and I was still concerned with his weight.  I don't typically like to walk to the pond unless he is spot on because there are too many pets along the way and the neighbors get a little edgy seeing me with this huge bird on my fist.  I turned around and headed back after running into one neighbor.

As I crossed into the vacant lot next door, I started banging on one f the live oaks and spooked a small squirrel.  Rebel flew in immediately and the squirrel was hanging on for dear life hiding directly underneath him.  He couldn't see it so I walked around and scared it into running.  It took off directly up the tree and Rebel missed it twice.  He then patiently laddered up the tree slowly pushing that squirrel higher.  When the squirrel made a break for it out on a limb, he swooped in and caught it.  Rebel once again tried to carry the squirrel.  He actually flew all of the way to another tree and perched on a low limb for a few moments trying to hold himself and the squirrel aloft before admitting futility and settling to the ground.

I got there quickly and helped dispatch the squirrel and traded Rebel off for tidbits.  The lure was ready with half a squirrel so instead of making him wait, I went ahead and blew the whistle and laid out the lure.  He chowed down like a fiend.

It was a great flight, great kill, and great trade off.  I put him up but he was still acting hungry so when I cleaned the squirrel, I brought him out a foreleg and the heart, liver, and lungs.  Rebel was a happy camper in the jumpbox tonight. 

Oct. 26 - Rebel-tiki-tavi


We didn't fly on Monday as it was rainy and my bird was hog fat.  On Tuesday though, it was game on again.  He was down to 37.4 a little lower than I wanted but looked good and gamey.  I didn't have that much time to hunt as I had been at work already, but I decided we would hunt the yard and try for another quail.  We made a few passes around the yard but none of the evil vermin were showing themselves.  Rebel was changing low perches when he did an about face and slammed into the ground!  He looked like a one of those glider wrecks you see on YouTube.  I ran over and found him with a small garden snake in his talons, munching away. 

The snake was a little over one foot long, and he looked like he had done this before.  By the time I walked up, he had bitten off the head and the rest was still wriggling.  He swallowed the rest still wriggling!  It was wild to watch his crop moving around while he ate!

We made a few more passes around the lots with no squirrels daring to show themselves.  I decided it was time to fly the quail.  Rebel was perfectly positioned in a pine tree and i released the quail in his sight.  The bird flew immediately and Rebel literally missed it by inches!!  And it was right in front of me!  Such a cool stoop and chase but that quail was just too fast and I didn't want to stack the deck by pulling any primaries.  I wish I had now but oh well.

Rebel was a little pissed after missing that bird.  He flew back and went right back to the perch he was on almost asking me to give him another chance.  Too funny!  I walked towards the rear of the lot to see if we couldn't scare up a last tree rat, when once again, Rebel swung down and hit the ground.  Now sometimes he does this because he is hungry or frustrated and just wants a tidbit.  He thinks if he flies to the ground near me, I will tidbit him for a jump up which was part of our early training.  Not so much this time.  Nope, this time I turned to find a two foot water moccasin in his talons, whipping its tail against the ground!

Once again, Rebel bent down swiftly and dispatched the head which was securely in his grasp.  he then played around with the snake, eating bits and tossing it around.  I wasn't sure what was going on but I started to believe that Rebel didn’t like the taste of poisonous snakes.  After watching him for five minutes play with something that I know he could have eaten in five seconds if he had wanted it, I called him to the glove and put him up in a big live oak in the front of the house.

I decided this was the perfect time to do a blind lure call to make sure he identified the whistle.  I walked around the garage and pulled out the lure and whistled.  He hit it like a freight train.  He is definitely well wed to the lure now which gives a little more piece of mind.

What a great bird!  Two snakes in one day!

Oct. 24 - Mini Meet in Kingstree

Rebel's first official hunt outside our neighborhood was this morning out in Kingstree at a good buddy's farm.  I went to the mews before dawn to find my bird all roused up and happy.  He stepped gently to the glove and just looked at me like "Not sure what you are doing but I'm in..." The early morning silence and the full moon made it a pretty memorable moment.

We finally found Ernie's farm and got everything ready.  Rebel was the first bird to fly, which suited him just fine.  As for me, I was a bit nervous flying him in front of others especially given the recent trauma and the fact that he hadn't had a kill in one week.  In addition, he was a bit heavy at 38.4 but given that I was planning to bring his weight up, I figured that he was still good to go.

He walked on the glove as we set out just getting used to the crowd.  He hadn't hunted with this many people before and we had nine people out there with us.  He took off and began following high immediately looking perfect.  He very quickly took to the game.  He stayed high and watched us shaking vines and beating on trees.  I only called him to the fist once early on just to test his responsiveness.   He was making me look a lot better than I felt.

Ernie's farm is an old one, covered in old hardwoods.  There are still a few of the big pines that survived Hugo, but most of the trees where we walked were old hickory, pecan, and live oaks with plenty of room for a hawk to maneuver.  The first squirrel was a big buck squirrel that we ran high in the tree.  Rebel took pursuit immediately and missed the first few stoops.  He finally started laddering up a tall oak chasing the squirrel higher and higher.  he looked like a pro.  He caught that big squirrel at the top and tried to carry him off.  He went a few hundred feet into the woods and we took off in pursuit. 

Rebel was quietly putting the squeeze on but we couldn't find him anywhere.  Finally, I pulled out the radio receiver and looked up to find him hung up with his prize about eight feet over head in some vines.  We helped him to the ground and dispatched his prey and with Mitch and Rich's help, traded him off on tidbits slipping the huge buck squirrel into the bag.  I couldn’t believe that he could carry a squirrel that big as far as he did.  I weighed the thing later and it was all of 1 pound four ounces.

I was so proud.  He looked like a total pro.  Rebel tried to go back once and find his prey, but finally gave up and back to hunting.  His next squirrel he chased beautifully through three trees before it found a large hole in a live oak in which it hunkered down, unreachable. 

As much as I wanted Rebel's first double, it was time to let someone else have a turn so we headed back and flew Rich's Cooper's hawk, Storm on quail.  For release birds, these were the best flying quail I had ever seen!  Fast flights and long distances made for a bit of running.  The first two got away, one over the lake the other into the woods.  The third was chased halfway to town but nailed by Storm.  Right as she landed with her prize though, a haggard Red Shoulder came down and hit Storm!  No injury thank goodness, but freaky nonetheless.  If we hadn't been running right behind her, it could have ended much differently.  The fourth quail was nailed right in front of us.  These were amazing flights to watch and Ernie was hooked.

We then took Max, the three year intermewed RT pro out hunting.  He got two and would have gotten more but a late season passage RT that was still with both his parents (in late Oct.??!!) made several passes trying to run Max out of their territory.  It was a bit frightening and again, I wonder what would have happened if we were not right underneath Max, yelling and trying to frighten the hags off.  We tried to keep hunting, but they wouldn't leave Max alone so we headed back.

After a big late breakfast, we decided to try Rebel on quail.  Those buggers are just too fast for a RT, even one as gamey and motivated as my bird.  He stooped out of a perfect position on the first one and missed by a few feet as the thing accelerated.  Very similar action on the second bird but barely missed.  As we walked up to try to reflush the second bird, Rebel swooped in and caught a sparrow in the air!  This was his second bird from the air!  He ate the whole thing thirty feet up in the tree and didn't drop a feather.

On the way back, Rebel flew to our host and each of his kids which was pretty cool.  We decided to try one more quail.  This time Ernie cheated and pulled a couple of primaries out and the result was a slower bird that Rebel caught right off the stoop.  He plucked like he had done this a few times before and ate the WHOLE THING!  This bird is a pig.  His crop was jutting out three feet.

Three kills on the day bringing our tally so far to four squirrels, one blackbird, one sparrow, and one field mouse.  I love this bird.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oct. 20 - Close Encounters

For the next two days, Rebel showed similar odd behavior.  He would start off by chasing squirrels fairly well but then break off and fly to a tall pine to catch the end of the sun.  Tuesday was almost an exact replica of Monday with the exception that he did not actually catch the squirrel.  I did find the body of the squirrel he had killed on Monday.  Well, more accurately Jordan found it by almost stepping on it.   Fortunately Rebel never saw it.

I was forced to call Rebel down to the lure again on Tuesday after flying over to the other vacant lot.  This was just bizarre behavior.  I agonized over whether he was too high in weight then too low…  I just couldn’t figure out the reason behind this behavior.

It became clear on Wednesday.

We were in the same exact section where he had chased squirrels the prior two days (and actually killed one of them) when once again, Rebel spontaneously abandoned the hunt.  I called Al at work to discuss it with him and ask his opinion.  He seemed to think that maybe the bird was just too high in weight, but he had killed both his second and third squirrels at higher weight so this didn’t completely compute.  We both thought that maybe he had been scared off of this prey due to his injury and we contemplated a baggie or something else to renew  his interest in squirrels.

We were in the middle of this conversation, with Rebel once again perched high in a pine, enjoying the last direct sunlight of the day.  Just like the previous two days, he took off to the other vacant lot and I slowly gave chase.  When I rounded the corner my eyes beheld a nightmare.

On my very first outing with Al and his passage male Rowdy, Rowdy had actually gotten hung up high in a scrub oak by his jesses.  He actually hung upside down and couldn’t get free.  He was stuck like this for what seemed like forever but was probably only fifteen minutes or so.  We were contemplating whether to call the fire truck or a tree service technician with climbing gear when Rowdy was finally able to break free and come on down.  It was a scary event and one that stuck with me.

When I came out from under the live oaks and looked up to where Rebel had perched I was shocked to find him completely upside down and hanging by his feet sixty feet in the air.  I was on the phone still with Al.  I used a few expletives and had to hang up because I wasn’t sure how I was going to get Rebel down.

Now you have to take this in the context of a bird that was injured due to my negligence just a few days prior, so if you are thinking that I was a bit paranoid and even panicky, you are indeed correct.  A polar bear didn’t have any colder sweat than I was bathing in at that moment.

So I decided I would pull out the lure to try to make Rebel fight a little harder to get free.  I started whirling the lure and blowing the whistle and the wings flapped and he was free!!!  Only it wasn’t one pair of wings flapping…  It was two.  Rebel had found a haggard female that had been watching him hunt from this lot and had attacked her.  This was a big bird and they locked up talon to talon!  When they broke apart, Rebel chased her away and then veered straight back towards the lure.  He gave me an aggressive call as he struck the lure that I had not heard before.

He mantled and vocalized for a minute, but the other RT did not come back.  He had succeeded in defending his territory and was awfully proud of himself.  After he finished the lure, he continued to vocalize for a few minutes.  I was looking in the direction that the other bird flew off when he did something he had never done before.  He flew to my shoulder.

It didn’t hurt but it made me a bit nervous to have one-inch long talons just a few millimeters away from some pretty damn important vascular and nervous structures.  I realized that he didn’t just consider his yard to be his territory; he was sending a clear signal to that bird that he considered ME his territory.  So there I was in the sunset with a bird on my shoulder, my heart beating fast from worry, and I came to the sudden realization that this hawk had just made me his bitch.  Great.  Keep the pimpin’ talon strong there Rebel…

I think this encounter explained a lot of the bizarre behavior over that last two days.  I believe that Rebel was watching that same hag each night over in the lot.  He finally got fed up and attacked.  I think I am amazingly lucky and it does not appear that Rebel received any injury in the encounter.  Still, too close for me…

Oct. 18 - Monday

I took Rebel out for a flight to get some exercise when I got home today.  His leg seemed to be healing and the old squirrel bite seemed to be closing up nicely.  His mews was all set up so I figured that we would just fly a bit after observing a few hours in the mews.  He had spent the last two nights indoors with little exercise to give his abrasions some time to heal.  I intended only to give him a short flight for exercise.

Rebel was actually frisky and ready to go.  Decided to just walk the yard and lots a bit.  On the first pass through the fenced lot, Rebel saw a squirrel in the top of a live oak and gave chase.  I was somewhat worried about him, but he flew like there was nothing wrong.  He quickly chased the squirrel to the top of the tall pine near the road.  At the top, the squirrel bailed out and FLEW to another oak twenty feet away!  It was one hell of a jump.   He scampered to the top of that tree and Rebel gave chase again.

He seemed to be making mostly half hearted attempts to catch the squirrel, and I was worried that maybe the foot was still bothering him.  At the top of yet another pine, the squirrel made another break for it and Rebel snagged him in the flanks, mid-air.  It was amazing to watch.  Unfortunately for Rebel, he crashed into some brush and dropped his prize.  Try as I might, I could not get that squirrel to flush again.   Rebel spent about two minutes looking for him then flew off to a tall pine tree to catch the last of the afternoon’s sun. 

I was a little perplexed by his abandonment of the hunt.  I tried to call him down several times, but he just acted like he couldn’t be bothered.  This was definitely a departure from the norm for my bird.  He finally took off in the other direction and went back into the opposite lot.  I followed and he finally came down to the lure.  He hopped right back onto the fist after and we went back to the mews.

Rebel had actually killed the squirrel.  I found it the following day but that wasn’t the end of his odd behavior.

Oct. 16 - Hubris

Well, it had to happen.  I think I was feeling a little too sure of myself with the way things had been going.  I suppose I wasn’t paying close enough attention. 

Rebel had been bating fairly continuously on his perch since moving outside to the mews.  I initially had the jumpbox a little too high and when he would bate, he would brush his right wing primaries against the wire roof of his weathering area.  This was usually fixed after a bath and some warm soaks of the feathers and both Al and I thought his bating would slow down as he got more used to the mews.  Well, needless to say it didn’t.

A few days earlier I had lowered the entire jumpbox with the aid of a friend and while that had solved the problem of the feather damage, it did nothing to stop Rebel from bating.  In looking at his leash, I had long felt that it was too restrictive, but I didn’t want it any longer with him being so close to the roof.  I figured that now I had lowered his perch, I could lengthen the leash and add a bungee shock absorber so that he wouldn’t hurt himself with the bating.

I made a very sweet parachord woven leash and tied a bungee shock absorber in it.  I measured it out and hooked everything up.  Rebel loved it.  He was till bating a lot, but it wasn’t continual.  He had a lot more room on the perch to walk the full length and turn around.  He just seemed a lot more comfortable.

Problem one: instituting something new in the mews setup without setting aside the appropriate time to observe.  That afternoon with Rebel in the mews, he seemed to do fine.  Of course it was only an hour or so until dark so he wasn’t all that active.

The following morning, I had to work from before sunup to after sunset.  I had a big event I had to go to right after work, and thank god Laura didn’t just pick me up from work.  I had cropped Rebel up huge the night before so I knew he could make it through the night, but I also knew a couple of chicks before bed might be well received, so I raced home to get ready and feed my bird.


I pulled up in the dark to find my bird completely constricted by a tangled leash on the far corner of his perch.  He had somehow bated and pulled the leather jesses underneath the perch rod which had been screwed down into the jumpbox.  He had clearly been struggling for sometime.  At least he was upright.  I couldn’t see at all so Laura, who happened to come home right after me, ran inside to get me a flashlight.  I cut rebel loose but he was still so tangled up he couldn’t move.  I took him inside the garage and lowered the doors and cut the rest free. 

Rebel had worn a 2cm abrasion on his left medial leg just above the feathers.  Other than that everything looked okay, thank the good Lord.  His tarsi were definitely swollen and he had reopened the first squirrel bite.  I am sure I would have been upset to some degree with any injury to this bird obtained in the hunt, but to watch him hurt by something that was so clearly the result of my negligence was awful.

Al came over and we casted Rebel, which he absolutely hates.  I put new jesses on him and covered him in scarlet oil.  I kept him inside in the giant hood for a few days to keep him from stressing the legs in anyway.

The next morning I put large U braces on the perch so that there would be no way that a leash or jess could ever slide underneath it again.  I covered the entire thing with epoxy and smoothed it out so nothing could hang up.  Rebel went back out in the mews two days later and looked okay.

That really sucked.

Oct. 13 - Second Squirrel!

The day after our first hunt I came home to a batey bird.  He looked like he just wanted to get out and do it again.  I knew he would be overweight after all he ate yesterday, but I figured I would weigh him and see.  He was pretty heavy at 38.9 but he was acting so good.  My instincts were telling me that he was fine.  His crop was empty and he had cast the squirrel bones from yesterday already.  Besdies, we had been flying free for several days now and his fist response was almost always perfect.  I took him low for his first flights because I wanted to make sure I didn't lose him, but I had been trying to slowly build him up and find him a comfortable range.  I felt pretty good that I wouldn't lose him with a short flight around the yard and vacant lots so I went for it.
I can't tell you what made me loose that bird.  It went against everything I had read and everything I had ben taught, but I just had a feeling that this bird got it and just wanted to be out and hunting.  He wasn't going to take off.
There was a squirrel right behind the mews that he had been watching.  I felt for sure it wouldn't move far as it hadn't moved while I was right there in the mews talking to Rebel, so I figured that if Rebel's weight was okay, I would go right back and take it.  Well, he was high so I walked back to the mews with every intention of abandoning the flight and putting him up for the evening.  For whatever reason, I released him at the door.
Instead of taking off after the squirrel behind the mews, he angled off to one of his favorite perches in the live oak where the kids zip line runs.  I was scratching my head thinking I had chosen poorly when I saw another squirrel in the bed by the neighbor's house.  I ran for it screaming "Ho! Ho! Ho!" (hope the neighbors don't think me and the Mrs. are having marriage trouble...) but he didn't follow.  I went back towards Rebel shouting and beating on the tree in which I had treed the squirrel but nothing.  Laura had come out to watch and she said "Um, Honey...  I think he has one right here!"  Sure enough, Rebel had found a different squirrel in the tree adjacent to him and was already diving.  He missed his first attempt and drove the squirrel straight to ground.  The squirrel ran right past me to another tree and out of nowhere a blur took him an inch from the base of the tree!  It was awesome!
I swear I heard the impact as Rebel collided with squirrel, tree, and ground in that order but almost instantaneously!  Definitely no fear in this bird despite a bite that was worrisome from the day prior.  I ran to his side and dispatched this squirrel as well.  He mantled a lot more over this one as in retrospect, I think he felt a little cheated from the one the day before.  I let him eat it all.  And he did eat it all.  Started at the head and moved on down.  Even ate the tail!  He left two feet on the rear but hat was it.  I have never seen such a HUGE crop! 
And that led to another first for me.  I got footed.  Yup.  Me with my special bird and our special connection... I got footed.  Right index finger and thumb.  I was reaching in to secure him to the leash when he grabbed me.  They say that a grizzly has a mighty roar, but I can tell you that no grizzly ever made a sound like the one that sprang from my throut that evening.  That HURTS!  Needle sharp claws through your fingers with vice-grip strength... not something I am looking to experience again.
He finally let go and I decided that I didn't really want to see if Hawk tasted like chicken after all, so back to the mews we went.  It was funny because he was so full that he had to keep moving his head and nexk to try to pack down all the food in his crop.  This is one awesome bird.

Oct. 12 - First Squirrel

On the fifth day of free flight, I decided that we would again work on following but if an opportunity presented itself, we would jump on it.  I harbored no illusions that this bird was going to get a squirrel on his first attempt because even in the wild with an experienced hunter, the odds of the hawk catching a squirrel are fifty-fifty at best.  Add the fact that this bird is only a few months old and only has probably a month or so of real hunting experience behind him and that ratio has to fall dramatically.  On a positive note, the day prior, Rebel had briefly chased a squirrel in a neighbor's yard as we returned from a following session out near the pond.  He chased it a few times then flew away, frustrated.  I was still a bit worried about thim on these squirrels.  I was thinking that I was going to need to arrange a baggy to get him thinking of them as prey.
So anyway, Rebel was playing the following game well, soaring beautifully from perch to perch and coming on command.  He was looking good and interested in everything around him.  He was perched up in the tall pine in the side yard (same perch where the squirrel had almost walked out to meet himon his first free flight)when I saw a squirrel up high in as adjacent tree.  I am pretty sure he saw it but didn't focus on it at first.  His attention was still all on me.  When the squirrel ran along the fire wood stack and hopped up onto the roof, he finally decided to check it out.  Well, maybe it wasn't so much the squirrel as it was me, running and yelling like a crazed Santa Claus "Ho! Ho! Ho!", waving my arms in the air like a lunatic. 
Either way, Rebel launched and flew at the squirrel as it hopped up into the cedar tree.  He crashed the branches like an attention starved Barbie-doll wannabe at an Obama fundraising event.  He barely missed the squirrel on the first try and swept out to a neighboring tree.  The squirrel tried to run down the trunk, but I chased him back up into the tree.  Rebel took another pass barely missing him.  He then systematically started laddering up the tree branch by branch pushing the squirrel higher.  On one hop, the squirrel raced down the center of the tree past him and Rebel took off like a bullet.  He caught him halfway down and came right to ground with him!  It was Amazing!  I was able to watch him fold into a teardrop and drop straight down through those branches to catch that squirrel.
I ran over and saw that the squirrel had ahold of his Right fourth talon and I was worried.  I quickly grabbed the squirrel with my glove and slipped in and dispatched him.  I opened him up a little and let Rebel crop up.  I was so psyched.  Laura came out and tried to take a few pictures.  She was pretty sporting about it but this was clearly not her cup of tea.  I, of course, pulled out the phone and took a few pics as well as called my sponsor immediately.  He couldn't believe it and neither could I.
Rebel ate about half of that squirrel right there and I finally  traded him off.  Not very well I might add.  Full crop and a happy bird in the mews for the night, but I think he would have liked to finish that squirrel!

Oct. 9 - First Kill

So now I am feeling pretty cocksure of myself.  The first free flight yesterday went as smoothly as I could have dreamed.  I planned to keep Rebel at roughly the same weight for a few days while we worked on following before slowly raising him up and gauging his responsiveness.  After the first three sessions, I figured that we would start hunting.
Now Rebel had shown some pretty good instincts before when he nearly killed his first squirrel while still on creance, but it had been quite some time since that had happened and Al kept feeding my anxieties by telling stories about birds who trained well but never figured out how to hunt.
Rebel was probably around five months or so old by this point.  He probably had a month or so of Raptor Hunting 101 with Mom and Dad before I so rudely interrupted his coming out party.  Over the last month, he had learned a completely different skill set and his hunting skills had not been used at all, so I was of course a bit concerned.  But no matter, this was a problem for another day as this was just his second day of free flight and we were simply out there to reinforce behaviors and cement the lesson of following.  Hunting lessons were still on hold.
So I raced home from work to try to beat the sunset, and got home just in time to take Rebel out for a short flight.  We made several rounds around the yard and the vacant lots and Rebel was once again spot on.  His fist responses were almost perfect at the beginning, but started to wane a bit as we progressed.  The sun was setting and we were almost done but I wanted to have Rebel follow into the neighbor’s yard one more time. 
I walked up to the neighbor’s driveway and called him to me.  He just looked at me for a minute and I thought that maybe he was full and not into following any more.  Nope, he took off straight to the tree overhead instead of the glove which was perplexing.  Perplexing, that is, until I saw him strike a grackle out of the air about five feet in front of the tree!  He hit it with his feet, knocking it out of the sky.  He almost beat it to the ground!  It took him half a sec to dispatch the bird and set in.  He slung the seeds that the bird had just eaten, but ate everything else!  It was amazing!  He mantled reflexively, but let me make in and attach his leash without too much difficulty.  Once finished with his snack, he hopped to the fist easily for a tidbit and a DOC.  Rebel went to the mews feeling pretty smug about his skills and comfortable with a full crop.
Well, Rebel answered the question about whether or not he was a hunter.  His instincts were perfect and he did something that, at least from my readings, is very rare for a Red Tailed Hawk in striking a bird from the air.  Typically that is the purview of the accipiters and the falcons.  His flight was fast and smooth.  He acted like this was not something new to him as he dispatched his prey easily and knew exactly which parts he liked and which he didn’t.  Who knows maybe I have a rare RT on my hands that I can train on birds.  Or maybe it was all just a mixture of luck and timing =).

Oct. 8 - First Free Flight

Rebel was actually ready for free flight after the third week, but we had to put it off due to a family emergency.  When we got back to town, it took a few days to dial Rebel back in, but it was like falling off of a bike.  He knew exactly what to do.  The biggest hurdle became finding time when both Al and I could be off together to have Rebel's first flight.
It finally came together on Oct. 8, four and a half weeks from the day I met this bird.  That morning, I was a little scared because his weight was too high and I didn't think it would come down to where I wanted it, but as usual, Rebel surprised me with his compliance.  When Al got to the house around 6:30 PM, Rebel was at the perfect weight 37.4 oz for his first flight.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous.  I did go ahead and attach his transmitter, much to Al's chagrin.  Al doesn't use telemetry and doesn't really believe in it.  He feels that if you pay attention to the details, you should never be in a situation where it needs to be used.  I am in agreement, but I look at it a little more like an extra insurance policy.  If I have done something wrong, I can at least have a chance to locate the bird and try to get it back down to me.
Not that I think this will happen with this bird!  The more I work with him, the more I am concerned that maybe he was a late hatch bird.  I swear he is acting a little more like an imprint!  He is becoming more vocal, more territorial and I have to really watch for bad behaviors and aggression issues to stop them before they start.  That being said, he has been amazingly easy to train and his responsiveness is near perfect.
Well, the first flight was also close to perfect.  I let him off of the leash and put him on his creance perch so he could at least start from a place where he knows the rules of the game.  I walked about a hundred feet away, garnished the glove, and he came spot on to the whistle!  Awesome! 
I don't know why it was different than creancing; after all, Rebel has been deciding to come to me of his own free will for weeks now, but somehow knowing that he could fly off at any point, and yet chose not to do so, was amazing.  I couldn't take the grin off of my face if I had tried.  Laura later said that watching my face during that first flight signified the first time that she was actually glad I had started this pursuit.
Rebel went on to follow perfectly.  He was totally in tune with me.  I put him in a tree and began to walk.  I would turn my back and Al would keep an eye on Rebel.  I wouldn't stop until he left his perch to fly to a tree just behind or ahead of me, then I would call him down to the glove for a tidbit.  We kept at this for about an hour, sometimes having him follow two or even three trees until he was called down for a reward.  He was perfect.  I never had to go back for him once.  He stayed right with me and tuned in.
Al and I were both amazed at how scripted everything seemed to be going.
At one point, Rebel was perched high in a pine tree in the back yard.  A curious squirrel started climbing up to investigate.  The brave / stupid little guy started barking at Rebel and I thought for sure Rebel was going to give chase.  Al really didn't want Rebel hunting yet as he feels it is important to learn to follow appropriately before hunting as it can lead to bad habits otherwise.  As such, I called Rebel down before he could engage, but it was funny.  Second squirrel with a death wish living in my backyard…
I was pretty proud of Rebel so we called it a day and cropped him up on the lure to enforce his lure bond.  All in all, I couldn’t have been more proud, although secretly part of me wanted him to get his first squirrel on his first day of free flight.  He has been so precocious on everything else, I figured why not?
As it turned out, Rebel still had a lot of surprises in store for me.

Sept 28 - Lord of the Apes

Well, it had been raining all week and Rebel was itching to get out of his mews to do a little flying.  We hadn't flown in a couple of days.  His weight was up a tad at 38.6 but I have flown him considerably higher.  We had sad news yesterday, and I think I needed some flying time as much as Rebel did.
Anyway, we set out to creance in the front yard with the kids in our usual fashion.  I had been moving creance locations in anticipation of our first free flight.  Rebel had proven that he was pretty much ready for his first free flight, but life gets in the way.  Besides, I wasn't sure that I was ready to let him off the creance yet.
So I set out his perch and he hopped to it.  I walked back towards the front laying out his line.  He was clearly hungry as he started vocalizing as soon as I came near.  i was just about in position when he left the perch and flew to a tree nearby me.  Now this was actually a sign of good behavior as what he was doing could technically be construed as following, the first lesson learned in free flight.  The problem of course was that this bird was still on a long tether line, which can easily tangle in all of the sucker branches growing up in the live oaks.
Fortunately, Rebel went to a low lying branch that was clear and he was completely dialed in to me.  He came right down so I decided to just do his creancing from that tree for the day.  We had done things like this on occasion before so I didn't think much of it.  In fact, during one of our earlier creance sessions, he had flown to a tree in the back yard and got paid a visit by an angry, inquisitive squirrel.  He watched with aloofness as the chattering squirrel came nearer and when he was a few feet away, he sprang!  If he hadn't been on the creance, he would have bagged his first kill.  As it was, the line pulled him up about an inch short and the squirrel decided he might want to pester some other bird with slightly less sharp talons.
So on this day, Rebel was acting so good and his responses were so perfect, that I found myself giving thought to free flying him.  Part of me knew this would be a bad idea as we would be heading out of town the following day for five days and I didn't want him to regress, but part of me just needed to try it.
I called Al and he ducked out of work early to come and watch.  By this point, Rebel had had about an ounce or more of tidbits and his responses were a little less perfect so I had decided just before Al arrived not to free fly.
Well, as it turned out, I am not sure if I made the right call or not.  As I was calling for Rebel on what was to be his last creance of the day, a squirrel made a break in the top of the tree near the front door.  Rebel of course gave immediate chase.  One hundred feet of parachord can make quite a tangled mess.  Such a Rookie mistake, I knew not to let him get up in the trees, but he had just done so well, I wanted to give him a chance.
So Al drives up to find me doing my best Tarzan impression, twenty feet high in the tree in rubber boots with the kids looking on like they were watching a car crash in slow motion.  I was finally able to get the bird on the fist, but then there was no way to climb one handed, I could barely hold myself in the tree!  I couldn't attach the leash either with only one hand.  It was a right mess.  I tossed my bag to Al who pulled out the lure and tried to call Rebel down but by this time the poor bird was just totally freaked.  I unclipped the creance and managed to attach the leash.  In retrospect, I should have just set him free and let him fly to the lure but none of us were ready to chance it.
Amazingly I got him down and I amazingly managed not to break any of my bones in the process.  He attacked the lure with zeal and we ended the session.  Laura came out to watch my antics.  She walked out the front door and saw me in the tree.  The old one word question, "Ab?" has never carried quite so much meaning...  When I began to beat on my chest and say "Me Tarzan, You Jane!", she just rolled her eyes and walked back into the house.
God blessed me in one more way during this fiasco.  Not only did he get my bird and myself down safe and sound, but my son who was watching the entire thing, seemed to forget he had a camera around his neck.  Yup, no pics to have to live down =).
The mental imagery is probably better anyway.  Just please don't picture me in a loincloth...