"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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dec 24 – Right between the numbers…

Christmas Eve day was a gorgeous day on the South Carolina coast, and it found me and Rebel striking out to our duck spot with a neighbor who is home from college for the holidays.  Rebel was revved up and ready weighing in at 41.8 with an empty crop.  Addie was equally charged on arrival.

I decided we would make in on the slips from a different angle, as recently, I had been seeing the ducks take off well before we were in position when making in from the front.  As we approached the first slip, I slipped the bullet jesses out of Rebel’s anklets and he stretched his wings and took off leaving a cyclone of leaves turning in his wake.  I am still amazed at how much wind power this bird can generate with each thrust of his wings.

Rebel took a quick perch above us and we slowly and quietly made in towards the pond.  Addie was staying with me pretty well, which had been a concern.  Typically at this point, she is trying to pull us up to her faster and she ends up jumping the slip, so I was pleased.  It seems every time out, Addie is getting a stronger sense of what we are about, and she seems to play a more effective role each time.

Anyway, we were still about a hundred yards from the pond, when Rebel tucks his wings and dives on a squirrel in a tall maple beside us.  It is a near miss and the squirrel takes off through the treetops with Rebel tagging closely behind.  Addie got a glimpse of the chase and she followed as well, getting to the tree where the squirrel was and trying to climb up.  I have this picture of her with one front foot on the tree, one front foot curled under her in point, and two feet on the ground, looking back at me with her tongue lolling out.  Priceless.

We chased that squirrel across twenty trees and kept the chase up for over thirty minutes.  Every time I was sure that Rebel had the squirrel, it would squirt down the tree trunk practically right through Rebel’s talons.  There were no less than three different times where I thought the bird was going to give up, but finally, Rebel connected high in the top of a scrub oak.  Rebel had actually initially grabbed the squirrel by the haunches and walked up to the head.  He kept the squirrel high in the tree until it was dead, but due to his precarious perch, he was unable to eat.  I was about to pull out the lure to encourage him to fly down when he took off with the squirrel in his talons.

I was expecting the helicopter to the ground but nope.  The squirrel was dead and Rebel was looking for a safe place to start into his meal.  Obviously the crappy transfer / food theft from the other night in the marsh was still on Rebel’s mind.  Not only did Rebel carry for essentially his first time, he carried the blasted squirrel over three hundred yards away!  We set off in pursuit with my hopes of our first double rapidly evaporating.  Oh well.  Rebel disappeared over the next rise and we skirted a creek to go find him.

I actually had to pull out the tele to track him down as Rebel was not at all interested in making any noise and betraying his location.  I was baffled for a few minutes, as I couldn’t find him.  Well I couldn’t find him until I looked up.  Rebel was perched on a branch about fifteen feet right above my head, squirrel dangling from his left foot, just staring at me.

I swear I think he was daring me to take his squirrel from him.   I tried to call him down to the glove but he just laughed at me.  Fine, I pulled out a DOC, his absolute favorite treat.  Nope.  Hmm, all right.  I pulled out the lure with a single DOC on it, still praying we could find a duck to fly on later.   Uh Uh.  Not interested.  What?  This bird has never refused the lure.  Even cropped up on duck and waddling, I can always get him to come to the lure.  Apparent exceptions exist for when he has a delicious squirrel hanging from his toes…

I didn’t know what to do here.  Unfortunately, time was closing in and I had to get to work.  My neighbor was enthralled by all of this, but didn’t know what to think either.  I decided I would try a little more direct stimulation.  I started tossing a DOC up in the air right in front of him.  I was going to be happy if he would just unbalance and come down but nope.  Rebel was like a Chinese gymnast.  No mistakes.

At one point, Rebel stared right at me while bending down to give his prize a lick.  No lie.  Remember way back when your brother and you both realized at teh same time that there was only one cookie left?  You raced into the kitchen to grab it but he beat you there.  To keep you from snatching it away, he licked the damned thing and grinned at you.  Yup.  That is what Rebel was working.  Nice...

As he straightened up, still looking me right in the eye, I pegged him with the DOC.  Well, I didn’t really peg him.  It just happened that my mad throwing skills which had fled earlier that morning, decided to return so my next toss gently struck Rebel in the chest.  Having up until this point avoided any school cafeterias, and having not been in any previous similar situations where he was assaulted with food, Rebel understandably let go of his squirrel and snatched at the chick.  Doh!

As the squirrel fell to the ground, Rebel dropped the chick to race right after it.  I was there with a hand on the squirrel and I tossed a chick out in front to get Rebel to let go.  He gobbled up his chick with an affronted look on his face.  I am pretty sure that I have broken some unwritten falconry rule with this exchange.  Even my neighbor was looking at me like I had just kicked a crippled dog or something.  Sigh. 

Well, my future in falconry purgatory assured, I decided to cut my losses and head home.  I cropped up Rebel good on his squirrel but I am pretty sure he isn’t going to forgive this one anytime soon.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dec 21 – Fox Squirrel – Nah!

So this afternoon Rebel and I headed back to the river to see if we could scare up a duck over the rice fields.  There is a nice levee that heads out towards the waterway with expansive rice fields on either side where there are frequently fish ducks hanging out.  The problem is that there is a deep ditch between the levee and the rice fields, so if Rebel takes game over in the rice paddy, I can’t get to him.  I haven’t ventured out here for just his reason in the past.

Well, you can only stare at the fire for so long before you have to stick your hand in for the first time, so on this particular beautiful afternoon we decided to go for it.  Rebel was back at weight after his gorging on squirrel two days ago.  He was too fat to fly yesterday so I only gave him a mouse to keep him happy during the long cold night.  He was itching to fly, and the weather was perfect.  Diamond blue skies, a slight breeze and golden sunshine…  You can’t ask for much more.

I ran into one of my neighbors who borders the rice fields and explained to them what I was doing.  I suppose it was with a tad bit of foresight that he told me to keep an eye out for the resident pair of bonded Red Tails that have set up shop near this levee.

Almost as soon as we got out, Addie bounded off after something.  That something turned out to be one of the largest Fox Squirrels I have ever seen.  He climbed casually to the top of a pine in no particular hurry.  Rebel saw him and winged off after the squirrel.  Rebel put in at the top of a neighboring pine and stared at the huge squirrel.   The hawk decided to make a couple of close stoops but did not connect.  In retrospect, this was clearly on purpose.  I think that Rebel was put off by the fact that the squirrel did not try to dodge away but stood his ground. 

Slowly the squirrel began to make his way across the trees with Rebel following him usually a tree or so away.  I was doing my insane Santa impersonation and beating on the trees, to no avail.  The squirrel neither moved any faster nor did he give any sense of urgency to his nonchalant retreat.  Baffled, Rebel finally watched him go.  This marked the first time that my bird has given up on game that he / she has been presented.  Given Rebel’s aggression in the past, this was a surprise.

We let the lumbering Fox Squirrel go his merry way and decided to explore the levee.  Well, Addie and I decided to explore.  Rebel had other ideas.  A teenage-like sulkfest was apparently in order as Rebel made his way up into the top of a pine and decided not to follow.  I left him there sure that he would eventually follow and made my way down the levee.  Halfway out, I saw the drawbacks to this particular setup.  There was virtually no way for my bird to get game down anywhere but in the river or in the rice field.  Bah!  I turned to head back and find Rebel when I heard a very mature hag RT screeching at me.  She flew up into a snag on the edge of the marsh and stared at me.  Uh oh.

Now I was getting a bit nervous.  I sped up a bit and headed back to where I knew I had left Rebel, a few hundred yards away.  As I looked through the trees, I heard my bird.  Rebel was trying to imitate the hag but he could not give an adult cry like that.  Instead it wounded like a mixture between a distress call and his damned demanding feeding call.  I have not laid eyes on my bird yet and he is not moving so I started fearing that he was locked up with another hag and that that really was his distress call. 

I couldn’t hear any bells, so I sped towards the call.  I heard it again as I drew closer and looked up.  No bird.  Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the hag female who had followed me take off and circle around ahead of me, giving another mature, frightful cry.  Crap.  I started looking on the ground, sure that my bird was crabbing with the male, getting put in to just the right position for the female to rake Rebel’s head off.  

Nervous about the fact that I could hear no bells, I did what I had to do and whipped out my telemetry.  Beep, Beep.  Rebel was sitting right above me.  He tried his pitiful challenge cry again, shrugged and flew down to me.  I think that even he knew how crappy his challenge call was…  I was embarrassed for him.  Pretty sure the other hawks were laughing at this point and Rebel’s face was turning red.  I bet even the gargantuan Fox Squirrel had a smirk on his grill.

Addie had the good grace to ignore the entire uncomfortable situation.  She sniffed a few things, drooled a little, and ran around in circles.  I have to give her props for the sisterly way she tried to take the attention off of Rebel, but that weak cry was like an elephant in the room.

I called Rebel down to the lure and cropped him / her up.  And no, I was not patronizing the bird by cutting her squirrel up for her…  she likes it that way.   Sheesh.  I tried to pretend that it had never happened, but the whole way home I kept thinking things like, “Great, I’m the falconer with the “special” bird,” and “Super, scared of a big squirrel and talks like Mike Tyson… nice combo.”   I wondered if I could hold him back from the molt and repeat the passage year again next year.  I was afraid that he was going to be bullied by all the other hawks in the forest because of his almost childlike cry.  I was literally planning a party where I would hand out frozen rats to all of the local raptors in exchange for their leaving Rebel alone, when Rebel looked at me.  He hawked up a big cast and just smiled at me like he had just played the best joke ever.

Friggin’ birds...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dec 19 – Squirrel 12

Well it rained all day Saturday so there was no flight which was a bummer.  The family was okay with it since it made me take the time to make our traditional Christmas Candy.  Sunday morning found us all a little bigger around the middle and Maddox and I speeding to Columbia for ODP soccer tryouts.  After the tryouts, we sped home to try to beat the sunset and get Rebel out for a flight.

We barely made it.  As I was loading the truck, Laura pulled in and Brynn hopped in with us.  Addie joined Rebel in the back and we made it around the corner to Doc’s land.  This time we went to the back portion and set Rebel free. 

We traipsed around not seeing much of anything at first.  As daylight was fading I had decided to pull out the lure and call it a day, when Rebel took off like a shot down the road.  Maddox ran after and reported three squirrels in a tree in front of us.  Rebel chased them for a bit but the old live oaks on this property heavily favor the squirrels.  Once again, I was about to call Rebel down when he took off for the far corner of the lot near the plantation house.  I did not see the squirrel, but I was afraid she had seen a squirrel lurking on the edge of the swamp.

I ran over and heard some bells heading deper into the swamp.  Uh oh.  I pulled out the lure and started calling hoping to draw her out before dark and a successful hunt put her in the swamp for the night.  The bells stopped ringing and no Rebel was forthcoming.  Sigh.  Sure enough, my bird had a squirrel down in the swamp.  Not just at the edge or anything like that.  Nope.  He was fifty yards deep and trying not to make a sound.  Oh boy.  O had to use telemetry to locate his direction, and then with another sigh I set off.  Fortunately I was able to stay close enough to the Cyprus knees that I didn’t get much deeper than my ankles except for a few times.  I made my way through with fading light to see Rebel happily munching on squirrel number 12.  I didn’t have much choice in things, so I just reached down and picked up the squirrel and with the bird attached to the carcass, I headed back out of the swamp. 

I made it out to find that we had ourselves an audience.  Some neighbors had pulled up and they watched Rebel eat a little more squirrel until I could safely get him leashed.  Rebel was mad as hell at me.  I hate that I had to do things that way, and I know I have reinforced a competition for game with the bird, but it couldn’t be helped.  I cropped him up good at home so maybe he will forgive me.

On a good note, there was no footing.  I did not get the leash on until we were well out of the swamp.  Thank goodness he chose to hang onto the squirrel the entire way out.  I managed to get a french clip into one grommet by holding him aloft and reaching from behind his talons to get him clipped in.  Not the most secure way, but at night and with our circumstances, it was the best I could do until I could trade Rebel off and get him back to the mews. 

Well, it remainis to be seen what kind of bad behaviors I have started for the future.  I do not see how Rebel can't see this as me having directly taken his food from him.  I think I will spend some manning time over the holidays and see if I can't work on rebuilding basic trust before we hunt too hard.  It being the holidays, and work being what it is, we will have to see.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dec 17 – Squirrel 11

Today after lunch, Rebel, Addie and I headed back out to Georgetown to meet a friend and fellow falconer from Florence.  He joined us at our favorite duck spot with hopes of seeing some great duck flights.  He also has a RT that he has intermewed one time.  It was a late caught passage bird last year that has been devastating on the squirrels but he would like to get it started on ducks, just as I am trying to get Rebel well wed to ducks as prey.

The day started off overcast and there was actually a light rain as we headed out.  By the time we got to our spot, however, the rain had completely cleared and the sun was breaking out.  It wasn’t too windy but there was a breeze and the temps had definitely come up in the last 24 hours.  I was a little worried about Rebel as he was still a bit big at 41.8 oz. and he never seems to do as well when it is overcast at all.  

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about.  Rebel was sharp as a tack right out of the hood.  We snuck up to our release point and Rebel went right into position.  Right as I was making in to flush, Rebel broke off and dove down on the pond.  I thought he was trying to self flush which would have been a pretty cool maneuver.  Unfortunately there were no ducks on the water so he flew on ahead.  We followed and watched him do a bit of soaring over the lake to get his bearings and then head for a snag in the middle of the lake.  We made out way around the lake but no duck flushes.

Halfway around, Rebel took note of a squirrel and gave a great chase.  He finally cornered the big buck grey in the top of a scrub oak and chased him down to ground where he pounded him.  I mean pounded.  I felt the impact fifteen feet away.  I ran up and dispatched the squirrel and we did a pretty smooth trade off for a chick.  With as quickly as that went, I was hoping that this would be the day of the first double for Rebel.  Now Rebel has had a triple once before (three different species), but never a double so we were hopeful.  

For the first time at this location, I was stumped in regards to ducks.  I had never been to this lake before where there weren’t a ton of ducks on the water, but today there were none.  We did have some exciting squirrel chases and at one point, we watched a silent screetch owl watching Rebel chase down a squirrel that he lost in a knothole.

As we made to leave, a pair of hag RT’s circled the lake soaring and letting loud screaming challenges.  I was pretty worried that Rebel would try to attack, but they ended up leaving each other alone.  On the way out, Rebel lagged behind.  I figured he was just moody about his trade off as this was the first time we had really hunted hard after a trade off like that.  When I got back to the truck to call him, he didn’t respond so I picked up the receiver and went back.  I thought for sure he was on the ground with another squirrel, but nope he was up in a tree right by the lake.  Not sure why he had decided not to follow, maybe the chick, maybe frustration, but he did come to the lure.  I jessed him up and carried him back to the car.

It was a nice day, but I wish he would have followed better at the end.  Not sure what threw Rebel off but I will keep an eye out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dec 15 - Politically Incorrect?

I raced home from work on the early end today to try to get Rebel out for a quick flight before dark.  I was mostly hoping to get the bird some excercise, so I stayed in our yard / the vacant lots to hunt our squirrels.  Since I started with Falconry, Rebel has terrorized the local arboreal rodent population and now they are usually well hidden by the time I remove Rebel's jesses.  I wasn't expecting much of a hunt, but I did want the bird to get a little excercise as I would not be able to fly the following day. 

Rebel had killed his second quail yesterday, diving from a soar, taking a full feathered bird on the wing and I was pretty psyched.  I was hoping to repeat that feat if I could find Rebel again soaring.  The winds were not nearly as brisk this day, but the air was still moving.  It was a tad overcast and I have noticed that this has a bit of a negative effect in the past on how responsive Rebel is to my calls.  I was prepared for the worst, but hopeful as I sent him off of the fist.

The neighborhood fourth graders were out playing football in an adjacent yard and took little notice of us.  They hadn't really taken notice much since the early days of training when they would gather around asking questions while we creanced, so I didn't think too much of it.  The sweet little girls of the neighborhood were riding by on bikes or walking their dogs.  It was a nice late afternoon in Waverly.

Rebel went immediately to a favorite perch from his creancing days and looked at me expectantly.  I don't know if he was hoping that I would just toss him a quail or what, but when I didn't offer anything, he screamed at me and took off for the pines.  He did chase a squirrel for a few minutes but it was half-hearted.  It was getting dark, and as I have mentioned before, I am an old softy so I decided to give himthe quail anyway.  I left Rebel in a tree in that backyard and walked around to the side yard.  As he took off to follow, I pulled out the quail. 

Well, I sort of pulled out the quail...  Quick release strings are not always as quick as advertised and I fumbled getting into the bag and trying to secure the quail.  Now you know I have had some problems in securing said birds in the past, so made damned sure I had a good grip before pulling the bird out of the bag.  Of course, this all resulted in me being ready about the exact same time that my hawk was twenty feet past me and looking the other way.  Perfect.  My brain being a tad clumsy in my dotage, l failed to send the message to stop to my arms which were already swinging upwards to release the quail. 

It was like watcing a movie.  The quail sprang from my hand flying hard and my hawk had no idea.  I yelled as loud as I could and blew the whistle to get my bird's attention.  It worked.  A bit too well as things turned out.  Rebel did a 180 that would have made a pro street skater proud and poured on the high octane, pumping to catch the quail from behind before it could disappear into a bamboo "forest".  My kids used to call the bamboo hedge lining my neighbors driveway the bamboo forest...  It was a spectacular flight, beautiful to watch. 

And I wasn't the only one watching it.  As it turns out, right as Rebel passed over my head, two of the sweet neighborhood girls walked around the corner and got an eyeful, as the feathers from the struck quail were still settling to the ground.  One was staring at me with her mouth open and her eyes as big as saucers.  "Was that your hawk?", she whispered.  Uh oh.  Not knowing exactly how to handle this and not wanting to expose the girls to the gruesome spectacle of a RT eating a quail, I turned to explain just as the the entire football game from across the street came running up.  "Cool!"  "Did you see that?!"  "Whoa!"   A note to the wise, loud calls and whistles attract the attention of more than just hawks.

Now there was no way I could position myself to block any of the spectacle from any of these kids and I was feeling like a prime candidate to be voted out of the homeowners association.  No one wants to spoil a child's innocence.  Hell, I'm the guy who always wanted to beat up the dude who tried to tell his little sister that there wasn't a Santa Claus...  I turned in time to see Rebel pop the quail's head off and into his mouth, yum.  Oh hell.  I felt pretty sure I was going to be doing some 'splaining to a bunch of pissed off parents for the foreseeable future.

My mind was whirling with options of things to say to avert the damage, when the first little angel looked at me and said, "Oh good!  I thought that some other bird had come and gotten your hawk, but that IS your hawk.  The other one is just his dinner!"  And the questions started pouring in.  They were all totally transfixed by the sight of a RT plucking feathers for his dinner.  Every question was pointed and appropriate.  "He even eats the feet?", from angel number one.  Angel number two, "I don't think I would like quail, would I?"  "What else does she eat?"  "How can she eat all of that?"  Actually, I ask myself that last one all the time.  This bird really is a pig with feathers ;).

Rebel finished his meal surrounded by kids and hopped right to the glove.  From there up to a tree to catch the last rays of the sun.  Then the weirdest thing happened.  The kids thanked me.  They waved at Rebel and ran back to their activities.  None appeared scarred.  None were crying.  There was no screaming or waving of the arms.  To this point, I have neither been asked to explain a nightmare, nor have I been asked to leave the neighborhood.  No one has been by the house demanding I pay for psychiatirc therapy (other than my own kids and I keep telling them that they are way beyond the point where they could benefit from therapy...).  In fact no one has said a word.

I stood there scratching my head. 

I shrugged and turned to figure how to get a hog fat bird out of a tall pine tree at dusk...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dec 14 – Will Soar for Quail

An amazing day with the bluest of cloudless skies binding you with clarity and gusty winds sending invigorating chills through the layers.  Rebel, Addie and I headed out to Georgetown to revisit the wood duck ponds.  We have only been back here once since the wood duck / near drowning incident, and we mostly stayed away from the wood ducks at that time thanks to Addie lumbering ahead and flushing all of the ducks early.  This time was a different story.  Rebel was weighing 41.6 oz. and looked like a spring ready to unload.

Addie was once again eager to get out, but by this time she seemed to have gotten the gist of my expectations for her when hunting.  She is still unsure of her exact role, but she understands that there are times when she is to stay close and be still and there are other times when it is okay to run and be free and stir up whatever mischief she can.  She greatly prefers the latter, nose down and tail up following whatever new scent comes her way.

We approached out first and most reliable slip where Rebel had gotten the woody only to find that the area was covered in ice instead of ducks.  Oh well.  I was impressed with how quickly Rebel had recognized his place and had scouted the slip and then taken a good position.  This bird is a quick learner.  When I saw him break off and head to a snag in the center of the lake, I knew there weren’t any ducks on the water so we kept heading around the lake.  Right on the tip where the land juts out, I saw black shapes moving along the near shore.  I called Addie back so as not to spook them but was a bit too late.  Rebel was still scouting the other little inlet behind us so he was out of position.  The ducks took off and Rebel came chasing after.  He pulled up as they disappeared over the tree-tops and gave me that look.

Now you know the look, right?  The one that says it’s all your fault, even though you were at work when the water heater burst.  Or the look that made it clear that it was your fault that your wife made shrimp for dinner when you invited your new buddy and his wife for dinner only to find out a bit late that the wife was vegetarian...  Yep, if you have a Y-chromosome, odds are good that you definitely know that look. 

The next few slips saw the ducks getting up further and further away from us and Rebel was challenged to get into any acceptable position.  There were two slips of note though.  The first was an early jump on about twenty wood ducks sitting on the far side of the lake.  They got up right across from Addie and I, heading back towards Rebel.  Rebel had already left his perch and was soaring our way when they took off.   He stooped beautifully right in front of me and just missed a female woody. He flared off onto a perch on the far side of the lake in a tall dead Cyprus tree.  As I made my way further up, he swooped down on the water.  He was trying to flush another duck off of the water that had stayed behind!  This was good news and bad.  He did not splash into the lake as he would have a few weeks ago.  I attribute that to his ice bath.  This was a bummer as he was right by the opposite bank.  I think it will take him some time to take the plunge again, but since he hasn’t given up on the quarry, I am hopeful we will get back there.

With the wind blowing steadily, Rebel took advantage and took at least ten turns wheeling over the lake.  I could watch that bird soar forever I think.  I love how he zips downwind and turns back into the wind like a kite heading back my way.  He took one more memorable stoop on a brace of wood ducks that startled everyone with their flush, but other than that there were no real chases.  We circled the entire lake this time and walked out on the road with Rebel following beautifully.  At the far end of the lake, Rebel got distracted by a squirrel that I did not see and therefore missed the last flush of the day, about twenty woodys who promptly made for safer waters.  He saw this and left off the squirrel to give a half-hearted chase.  Of course Rebel lost the squirrel in the confusion…  We will chalk that one down to operator error…

We packed it in after meeting a few of the neighbors and headed home.  It was a beautiful day and as I had not given Rebel his lure at the end of the hunt, I elected to serve him a quail at home.  I built a small pen last week and had a few ready.  I was hoping to have Rebel soar and then toss him a quail.  It worked perfectly.  Rebel was on the other side of the yard when I walked around to retrieve the quail.  Once over there, I began to call him and he came on at a soar.  Perfect!  I quickly tossed the bird high in the air and it took off like a shot for cover.  This time, Rebel was already aloft and his dive enabled him to gain enough speed to take the quail.  It was a welcome sight.  Rebel had lost his first two quail due to their speed, and the first one he had taken was missing a few primaries.  This bird was full feathered and flying well.  If Rebel had not been in the air at a height to be able to stoop, he would never have gotten this bird.

He plucked and ate.  Fat happy bird in the mews tonight.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dec. 8 - Unducky, Unlucky

Well today was another brisk but gorgeous day in South Carolina.  The sun was bright and the sky was clear.  Most importantly, I had finished up work in time to race home, gather my hawk, and speed out the door to try to get a few flights in before dark.  This was critical because I knew I would not be home during daylight hours for the following three days at least.

Rebel was looking pretty good at 41.8 oz today.  I have been keeping him (her? so confused...) a little fatter the last few days as it has been so cold at night, down to 20 degrees.  I know you folks from the frozen tundra of North Carolina consider that a summer temperature, but here in God's country, 20 degrees is arctic.  I actually put my bird in the house last night in the giant hood.  I know, I know...  I'm a softy and Red Tails can take much lower temperatures without difficulty, but it was windy and as cold as Rebel had gotten during his ice bath, well, I caved to impulse instead of reason.  After all, I like this bird and I don't want the little gender-confused dude to think like a retiree and hightail it to Florida first chance he gets.

So I brought Addie with us again and headed back to Harmony.  On the drive in, there was nary a duck on the pond and that was troubling.  The truth is, there is so much water at this place that the ducks can actually be anywhere.  We went to our usual spot and set off.  Addie was like a pig in mud.  Actually exactly like a pig in mud, minus the snout, as she got out of the car and immediately took a roll in the largest mud puddle in the field. 

Rebel took her perch and began to follow as we set out.  She was becoming more familiar with the area and she would fly ahead a bit which I was pleased with.  It is my goal to have her fly ahead into position in anticiaption of the flush, and it is looking like she is getting better at this.  I got really excited when, right as I was approaching the pond, she took a perchonthe perfect dead tree snag onthe edge of the lake.  Almost immediately, she took off in a dive over the lake.  I was pumped!  I was figuring that she had flushed the ducks herself and was giving chase or something.  I crashed through the brush to look and saw no ducks on the water or on the horizon.  Damn.  It was only seconds for me to get through, but I doubt that the ducks had already flushed.  I think it more likely that they were never there and that Rebel was just cruiding low over the water for a look.

We "discovered about eight  new lakes that evening in the area.  All empty.  I was led on by the haunting cry of a wood duck that always seemed to be jsut on the horizon, but never found them.  I was actually out there much longer than I should have been and the sun was going down.  Rebel had already caught one squirrel and let it go on the ground for some bizarre reason.  It was actually an amazing flight.  She had chased the guy into about ten dfifferent trees with me running and following beneath.  Addie was doing her bit helping keep the squirrel off of the ground as well.  Rebel manuevered ahead of the squirrel and when he turned out on a limb to reverse course, the squirrel slipped and started to fall.  Rebel swooped up and caught him as the squirrel grabbed a nearby branch. 

It was like slow motion.  The squirrel grabbed the branch above as Rebel grabbed him from below.  For a second, the squirrel was supporting both of them before he let go.  They started to fall to the ground and I watched Rebel try to shift his grip to the head as they came down.  I was psyched, thining number nine was in the bag.  I crashed through immediately worried that Addie would try to make in too close as Holly had done last week, but Addie kept a respectful distance.  When I got there, I was dismayed ot see that Rebel had let go of the squirrel who was climbing back up the tree.  The crappy thing was that Rebel would not give chase!  The damned thing was right there and moving okay butnot as fast as before, clearly wounded.  Rebel was just looking at me with that "Okay I got him, give me some food" look.  Not good.  I tried like hell to get the bird back inthe tree but Rebel had decided that if i wouldn't give a tifbit off of the glove, maybe I wanted to play jump up... 

I tried to think back as to when I had ever inadvertantly reinforced this type of behavior before.  There was one squirrel early on where the bird had chased hard and just missed a squirrel on the ground and I rewarded her for the hard flight.  In fact, after each of the last three dropped squirrels, Rebel had been tidbitted to the glove to get going again not too long after the event.  I guess had I put it into Rebel's head that the chase was enough.  Damn.  I hate finding out that I have been doing something wrong after the fact.  Well, somewhat wiser (but far from wise), I walked away with no positive reinforcement given.  Rebel reluctantly followed.  I am afraid that I am going to have a time breaking this behavior. Mr. Squirrel stayed safely hidden in the tree.  I hate thinking that I left an injured animal behind.

I once again heard the cry of a wood duck off to my left.  It was close to dark and I was in an area hat was completely new to me so I knew that I should head back before it got too dark to see.  Well, the Y-chromosome being what it is, chose that  moment to wake up and say "Yawn, you gonna let that wood duck sit there laughing at you without a chase?"  Into the darkening wookds we went.  On the way, Rebel got something up just in fornt of me.  Pretty sure it was a swamp rabbit but I didn't get a good look.  Rebel was sulking behind me, so he/she didn't see it either.  Regardless, Addie took off in pursuit.  We were right on the edge of our next slip where I was sure the damned wood duck was, so I got Rebel in position and I moved up the bank.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

Sigh, well it was a pretty good day.  A pretty spectacular flight if a poor ending on a squirrrel and a beautiful sunset, it was time to pack it up and find our way out of the woods.  Problem.  Addie was gone.  When I say gone, I mean gone like our sense of fashion in the seventies or our sense of civility currently gone.  No sound, no nothing.  I called and called and my dog was nowhere to be found.  It did not take long for my brain to register the fact that I was on the verge of a crisis here.  Now please don't take this wrong.  I was very concerned for my dog.  I love that dog more than my own children at certain times, which includes most of their waking moments at present (sorry kids), but my sense of self preservation was kicking in and I realized a few things. 

The first was that if I did not return with the dog, I would not be welcomed back in the house.  I mentioned earlier that it is cold.  Rebel's jumpbox might be fine for a hawk, but I didn't relish the thought of sleeping in the mute covered sand underneath it that night.  The second was that I was pretty sure that not only would I be unwelcome at home, but also that I might even get shot as I knocked on the door.  Now my wife is not good with a gun.  She has resisted all of my attempts at teaching her gun safety and how to shoot.  I am pretty sure news of this kind would be the only thing that could motivate her to change this stance and she did have quite an arsenal in there from which to choose...  The third thing  I realized was that, given the first two, I wasn't going to get out of these woods before full dark and I better get used to the idea.

I decided that losing two friends was not going to be an acceptable option so I made my way back to the truck hollering for Addie the whole way.  I say hollering because it sounds more manly than screaming like a girl in a panicky voice, and I reserve the right of poetic license to reflect myself in this blog to be much cooler than I really am.  Fortunately the bird was quite responsive to all of the hollering and stayed right on top of me.  I wasn't sure where I was, but I managed to head in the right direction.  With Rebel in the hood, I decided to drive the truck deeper into the woods to look for Addie. 

So I am praying pretty hard at this point, making deals in my head and such.  Part of me is sure she is going to come bounding around the corner any minute and another part of me is saying it is better to lie down and die of exposure right here rather than go back and face my wife and kids.  I backed out and turned to make my way back closer to the last pond and...

Yup.  She rounded the corner looking particularly pleased with herself.  All dogs have a grin when thay want to show it, but labs have this goofy, tongue to the side thing that only they seem to be able to pull off.  I wanted to kill her.  Please see paragraphs above as to why I quickly decided not to do this.  Instead, I hugged her muddy, grinning, goofy self as she hopped into the back seat.  Crisis averted.  Do they make shock collars that only go off if the dog is more than thirty feet from the handler?  I am thinking I might modify one of those wireless invisible fences on my next outing.  Might be a little awkward to carry that tower thing on my back...  Okay maybe not a good idea.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dec. 7 – Empty bag, full heart

Today was a cold, windy, but gorgeous day that found Rebel and myself heading back out to Harmony and the site of his latest duck kill.  The fat bird did not fly yesterday as even in the late afternoon, he was weighing in at a whopping 46.8 ounces with a crop.  I didn’t feed him yesterday and it got down to the twenties, so he was rearing to go today at 41.5 oz.

I took Addie, my two-year-old silver lab, with me today.  I really want to work on these two being a team.  It is going to be difficult as Addie’s initial training was retrieving and I will have to reshape that.  I just bought some quail and will work on some flushing skills.  A friend just gave me three of her grandfathers old rabbit gums that I will put out to hopefully catch a bunny both to enter Rebel on and start doing some scent training for my dog.

Anyway, we got to our spot around three thirty and there was nothing visible on the lakes driving in.  This was a little concerning.  I drove up a dirt road and decided to come up on our first lake from behind as that was the direction the ducks had fled previously and the wind was blowing from the southeast.   Did I mention that it was cold?  That wind cut right through my layers and but I didn’t seem to care.  The air was fresh and it was just me watching my dog do what she was bred to do, hunting, tracking, following commands, and watching my hawk be what nature created it to be, a predator who could command the sky.

We walked up through eight-foot tall ragweed and briars but not a rabbit was heard or seen.  There were also plenty of nascent pine trees clogging up the route.  I quickly found a small animal path and made towards the lake.  Addie was ranging a bit ahead of me but was incredibly responsive to coming back when called.  I think that not having the distraction of another dog with us really helped.

As we approached the clearing in front of the lake, I was able to see at least one duck on the water.  I called Addie back and she sat like a statue, clearly sensing that something was up.  From Rebel’s vantage point, I was sure that he could see the ducks on the water but was not sure that he was recognizing them as game yet as he didn’t seem to move forward into position.  I tried to stay still but as I peeked out to get a count of the ducks on the water, I spooked at least four of them who got up and high tailed it due south.  Rebel took notice of this and moved up closer to the lake.  Fortunately, I saw a half dozen more ducks on the lake who had not spooked yet.

Rebel had taken up position about fifty yards to my right along the edge of the clearing.  Now this edge was about twenty yards away from the pond’s edge, not ideal, but not too bad.  A large heron that I hadn’t seen gave a loud croak and started to take off.  I was sure this was going to spook the ducks so I waited to make sure that Rebel was watching intently and then I stepped out into full view.  I told Addie to go get ‘em and she charged into the water, not exactly sure what to do, but doing it with boundless energy.  The ducks took off and amazingly, they started flying right over me!  I thought that this was going to be the perfect setup for Rebel to cut them off and pinch one.  The sun was in my eyes, but I saw that Rebel had already left his perch and was making his way in to the ducks.  The ducks saw him as well and began to veer my way.  I started to shout and wave my hands in hopes of making them flair, but I think I just spurred them on to faster speeds. 

They left Rebel in the dust.  He had chosen a poor angle at which to cut them off and he pulled off the pursuit, flying instead to a tall pine on the other side of me.  Addie is still doing her thing, splashing in the lake and Rebel just turns to me like, “What?”  I am not sure if he was thrown off by the heron or if he was just being a bit lazy.  His flight didn’t seem as intense as I have seen it before.  He probably just knew he was already beat so only put up a token flight.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, that was it for the duck slips.  I was bummed that we hadn’t gone to Justin’s place, but I wasn’t sure either of us was ready to go swimming on a day as cold as this.  No bunny slips either.  In fact, we saw no game that day other than the ducks.

Truth is, it didn’t matter.  I was outside with my dog and my hawk and that was really all I needed right then.  As if to prove this, Rebel began doing his soaring tricks.  He would float against the wind almost hover heading straight over me, then turn and zip with the wind five hundred yards away in an instant.  He was steady about ten feet above the treetops.  No wheeling, just floating and zipping.  He was having a blast.  Addie down below was exploring every new and interesting smell she could get her nose on.  Her tail never stopped wagging and never came down.  Every minute or so her head would pop up and she would look back at me like, “Is this alright?” and go right back to tracking a field mouse or something.

We explored four other lakes, just taking it slow and letting each other enjoy the time outside.  I am sure that my grin would have been bigger if we had put something in the bag, but I think we each got exactly what we needed that evening. 

God’s peace to you all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dec. 5 – Dead Ringer!

WoooHooo!  Went out to harmony today to try a few duck slips with a friend.  There are several small lakes right off of the roadway and my buddy has seen a ton of ducks out there regularly so we went to check it out.  It was pretty nippy after church but the girls wanted to accompany me, Jordan to drive my truck and Brynn to take pictures.  The sky was clear and blue and the cold was exhilarating.

Rebel was weighing 1135 grams, about 35 grams short of where he was yesterday.  He was keen and ready to go.  He was pretty vocal just getting out of the mews and very quick to the glove which always signifies a good hunt to come.

My buddy’s entire family wanted to see the bird fly so we went to one of the lakes right off of the street.   There were almost a dozen black dabbling ducks on the water that were paying us very little attention.  Rebel came out of the hood calmly and let the little ones touch his feathers before I pulled his bullet jesses and set him up.  From the start he acted hungry.  He was intently focused on me, waiting for me to reach in my pocket for a tidbit.

His first perch was on the wrong side of the road so I called him to me and threw him up in a pine on the edge of the lake.  The ducks saw him land and began to swim away.  Rebel was watching them pretty intently so I figured I should go ahead and flush.  I ran at the lake yelling like a madman and they flew but only to the other side of the lake.  They didn’t want to get up too high because they had seen the hawk.  Unfortunately, Rebel hadn’t budged from his perch.  Uh oh.  I was still worried that his dunking the other day might have put him off of ducks as prey.

I decided to Rambo through the woods to come at the lake from the other side and flush the ducks for Rebel.  Right as I got in position, Rebel decided to fly closer to me…  I am going to need this bird to take psychic lessons so it can more clearly read my mind.  I was clearly wanting the bird to stay in position.  Oh well.  It wasn’t a bad place to be so I flushed anyway. 

Rebel took off after them trying to cut them off!  Their path was taking them to the other end of the pond and across the road.  The led ducks made it across but the trailing ones saw Rebel and dove back down to the water.  Rebel swooped on one before he made it to the water but pulled up short.  I think he was still spooked by the cold swim from last week.  He was sitting in a tree almost right above the ducks.  I went ahead and reflushed them but he did not give chase.  I was bummed.

Right next to the lake was a beautiful rabbit field that Scott was telling me was full of rabbits every day.  I thought maybe we could flush a rabbit for Rebel.  He came over and started soaring over the field.  It was beautiful to watch.  As I pushed past the eight-foot tall ragweed, I saw another lake behind us.  A lake with about twenty ring necks on it!  Rebel had circled behind me and landed in the pines.  As I moved out to get a better look, I flushed the ducks early.  Rebel was way far away.  I had blown it.  Sigh.

Well they scooted out ahead of me.  Not lucky enough to have them go down on the far side of the lake twice.  I went back to trying to flush a bunny, when Rebel took off straight down the road.  Hmmm.  I went out to the road to follow and Scott told me that he was diving down on the other side of the road and thought he got something.  We ran over but Rebel wasn’t in sight.   Didn’t hear the bells ringing either.  Hmmm again.

Right as I was pulling out the tracker, Jordan spied Rebel about two steps in front of us in a pile of feathers.  He had nailed one of the ring necks as it was crossing over about to pitch into the lake on the other side of the road!  I didn’t get to see much of the flight except the beginning, but Scott did.  Smart bird had decided to wait and attack over land instead of taking another dive!  I was pumped.

By the time I got there, Rebel had eaten the entire head minus the bill which was sitting on the ground.  It reminded me of one of those Daffy Duck cartoons where something blows his lips off and he can’t talk until he finds his bill and puts it back on his face.  Jordan and Brynn were both fascinated and appalled by the bill.  Jordan had to take a picture.

Rebel was steady plucking feathers as we came up and I traded him off with a DOC.  He saw another in my pocket so he had to have that too, the pig.  I leashed him up and headed back to the truck, grin on my face like a proud papa.  My buddy and his family were pretty excited too.  Jordan and Brynn were a little grossed out but were also pretty enthralled. 

We drove out as the sun was starting to set.  By the time we got home, it was dark and I put the bird up in the mews.  I cleaned the rest of the duck by breasting it and removing each thigh/leg.  I put these up and decided to give Rebel the rest.  He was pretty excited.  He ate the whole thing.  The entire thing!  His crop was as big as he was!  Definitely not going to be able to fly tomorrow.  So worth it.

Dec. 4 – Ping Pong

As I type, Rebel is assuredly nursing the equivalent of a hawk headache, I know I am.  What a hunt today!  I have never seen this bird hunt and fly as hard as he did today.  Nothing to show for it but some stories, but at least he got a good crop for his efforts.

Rebel was weighing 41.5 oz today or about 1175 grams.  He has been weird at this weight before.  He has had both some of his best hunts as well as some of his worst hunts at this weight so I did not know what to expect.  On a good note, the weather was exceptional with a bright cloudless sky and temps in the forties.  On a better note, I got to hunt with my baby girl.

Brynn accompanied me to pick up some quail for the new recall pen from our nearby quail club.  It was funny when the gnarled elderly gentleman who took us back to the flight pens opened the door and told Brynn to “Go get ‘em!”  The look on her face was priceless.  Hundreds of quail flying all around her and she just looked at me like “Really?”

After quail, we had lunch and headed out to a very reliable squirrel spot very close to home and a very easy walk.  Rebel was flying hard from the beginning.  He would shoot ahead and then double back.  There were squirrels everywhere.  I chased one into the swamp trying to get it into a tree for Rebel and somehow lost my glove.  I didn’t realize this until we were long past and I was calling Rebel back from a tree across the slew.  When I realized that the glove was missing, we started backtracking to look for it but I didn’t have much hope.  A brown glove on the ground in the fall…  I walked right by it but Brynn saved the day by spotting it.  Whew!  This was a custom glove by Traditions Glove that I think fit my hand better than my own skin.  Sure Brynn, I realize that you are only 10 but yes, you can have the keys to the car to go do some shopping...

Right after that Rebel chased a young squirrel in to a tall scrub oak and at the top, two more sprang in different directions.  Rebel was bouncing back and forth between trees chasing all of them.  Each time he focused on one, another would move and he would crash that tree.  Then another would move and he would hit the other tree, ad nauseum.  It was pretty funny to watch, but Rebel was getting frustrated.  Each of the little guys made it to a safe knothole by confusing the poor bird so bad his head was spinning. 

The amazing thing was that we had three more slips like this!  Each time, Rebel had his attention diverted by multiple targets.  As we made it back towards the car, things just got worse.  As we got back to Al’s house, there were squirrels everywhere!  There were four on the ground as we walked up and another five in the trees!  It was like a damned rodent convention!  I would focus on a pair in one tree getting them moving only to look up and see Rebel on a different pair in another tree!  I would run over to help Rebel and he would jet to another tree where a squirrel was standing on its head sticking out his tongue at the hawk.   Then another would run down the tree right over Brynn’s head so I would run over there just in time to see Rebel sticking his head fruitlessly inside yet another knothole paying me no attention at all!  It was bizarre!

We both ended up with a headache, and Brynn was just laughing at us while she played in the leaves.  I finally called Rebel to the fist and we tucked tail and ran.  As I drove off, I think I heard them laughing at me…  No, I don’t need medicine…

This bird probably flew harder than I have ever seen.  He was winded when I put him up and I gave him an extra duck leg for his efforts.  I know I had a headache when I walked inside after whipping my head side-to-side and craning up in fifty different trees.  I am sure Rebel did too.  I am pretty sure neither of us would be complaining though if we had come home with just one of the little buggers…

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dec. 3 – Round Up!

Had a beautiful hunt today.  The weather was brisk as we had our first real freeze last night and Rebel was rearing to go.  Laura decided to come with me and we chose to take the dogs.  I have been trying to do this more often lately as I intend to get them working as a team and they need more exposure to each other.

Of course taking my wife into the field meant that I was also taking her schedule hunting with me.  I hate going into the woods with a deadline but hey, you do what you gotta.  Rebel weighed in at 40.5 today and this seems a good weight, although with the cold weather, I think I will still try to inch him higher.  I still need to work out the exact relationship of weather to weight with this bird.

We went to the site of Rebel’s earlier ice fishing expedition this week.  He was flying hard right out of the gate, but I didn’t try to keep him on the fist until the pond.  I figured that with two dogs and a not-so-much woods savvy wife, there was virtually no way the ducks wouldn’t flush early.  Add to this the fact that Rebel hung back keeping an eye on the dogs and I think you can make a pretty good guess as to how the first slip went.

The very good news is that once the ducks took off, Rebel screamed after them.  It was funny to watch.  He was frantically pumping through the air and in my mind I could see him screaming “Wait!  Do Over!  I wasn’t ready yet!”  That put aside a lot of my concerns about how he would respond to his drenching on Sunday.  At least he was following the ducks and still viewing them as prey.

He took up position in a dead snag in the middle of the lake and just stared at me like he was begging me to flush them again.  Unfortunately there were not any more ducks on the water at that time so we pressed on.  Rebel left his perch and shot in a straight line deep into the woods past us on the trail of a squirrel.  He was moving fat break neck speed and as he folded up his wings to crash through the branches at the last second I was sure he was heading for a head injury.  He missed that squirrel by millimeters as it ducked into a knothole.  Laura, of course, missed it…

We kept circling the lake looking for more ducks and squirrels.  One flight of woodies came in high scouting the area but Rebel was in a tree below and they were at full speed.  He did not give chase but he stared at them as they flew over.  At the very back of the property near the river, we got up a big grey squirrel and Rebel took off.  We chased him through eight trees and finally he went out on a limb to jump and Rebel snagged him.  He helicoptered down with a nice grip on the head and body. 

As he came to ground, my little schnoodle took off to get a closer look.  Not wise.  Now you have to understand.  This dog has been chasing squirrels for three years.  This of course means that she has been frustrated for three years.  A few weeks ago when Rebel killed a squirrel in the yard, Holly couldn’t believe it.  She kept staring at the hawk in awe like, “You really got one??!”  So here we are in the middle of the woods and Holly wants to help.  Rebel, of course, thinks that Holly wants to eat. 

I ran towards them as fast as I could screaming “No!”, but as you might imagine the schnoodle scoots under the vines faster than I can plow through them.  Rebel took one foot off of his prey to defend himself and Holly is inches from a footing.  I am still screaming, and Mr. Squirrel decides to make a break for it.   He twists away and runs with Rebel running after him.  And the rodeo commences…

I don’t know any other way to describe it.  The squirrel is turning circles and figure eights with the hawk running right after it.  The dog is yapping but thankfully staying clear, having gotten the point from Rebel without the need for getting the pointed talons…  I am finally there and this is happening at my feet.  I swear it was just like the roping contest at the Neshoba County Fair.  Rebel finally hog ties Mr. Squirrel and is declared the victor.  I wish I had a camera.  A running hawk is divine comedy in my mind.

Well, we headed back after the trade off, and Laura made it home in time for the next item on her agenda.  It was a great day to be able to share with her and the dogs.  We don’t get to do that often enough.  I am hopeful that if I can get her out in the woods a few more times, I might get a little less rolling of the eyes when I talk of hawking.  Well, a guy can dream, right?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dec. 2 – Cage Match

Well I raced home from work to try to get a flight in for Rebel.  With the days getting shorter and daylight savings, it is getting harder and harder to make it home in time to fly, and this bird demands plenty of exercise.  He was a solid 40.6 oz. today and itching to get out of the mews.

Jordan came with me out to Doc’s land and we took the dogs.  Rebel was like a shell out of a Howitzer taking off from the glove.  He quickly took a high perch and started scanning.  Jordan and I moved off to the pond to see if there were by chance any ducks.  No luck in that regards, but Rebel followed very closely which was encouraging.  We headed out around the other small lake hoping to scare up a rabbit or find a squirrel.  The truth is, as beautiful and convenient as this area is, game is fairly scarce here.  The squirrels prefer the cultivated yards in the neighborhood…  Sheesh, even our squirrels are snobby in Waverly…

Well, Rebel was flying great.  He was following beautifully and I called him down a few times to reinforce fist response and he did well.  The dogs were having a blast and I was having fun watching my daughter try to walk through the high grass and brambles in her Sperrys with no socks…  we were loud enough laughing at each other to wake the dead.  It wasn’t much of a surprise that most of the squirrels were well tucked away by the time we approached.

We did have a few great flights on a particularly wily buck squirrel as dusk was closing in but after chasing him through ten trees, he finally made it into a hole and safety.  Rebel was a bit pissed at that point.  He flew on ahead and Jordan and I got distracted by a beautiful doe and her fawn bounding across the path ahead of us.  I have gotten this pair up several times back here and I am always so appreciative of their grace as they ghost through the foliage.

Well Rebel was in the top of a pine and it was getting dark, so I blew the whistle to call him down.  Strange that he wasn;t coming because he had showed such perfect fist response earlier.  I looked up and saw a hag circling overhead and decided that this bird had Rebel spooked so  I headed his way.  As I got closer, I saw him in the tree.  Right next to him was another hag!  They were doing the stare down thing, not yet crabbing talon to talon.  As I approached the hag took off.  I think this was a mated pair and probably one of the same birds that Rebel has tangled with before.

Well I was done with that.  I called him down and he left his high perch and flew off the other way after the blasted hag!  Okay.  Now I am worried.  You see, I had forgotten to place Rebel’s telemetry on him when we set out because I was in such a hurry to beat the sunset.  I had called him down in the field to put it on but he was way too excited to fly to be still for me to put it on one handed.  So now I have the perfect storm of a situation with a distracted bird, no tele, headed in the opposite direction.

Lure time.  I had a pair of DOCs on the lure and I pulled it out and began blowing his lure call.  He left he hag and came low through the trees to us.  As I had hoped, he was more concerned about those hawks getting his lure than he was about running them off of “his” territory.  After his snack, I slipped the bullet jesses back in and we headed back to the truck and home.

It was great to be out with Jordan and the dogs.  We all had a blast even though we really only had one chase on game.  We saw some beautiful deer, avoided a cage match with a pair of hag RTs, enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and got a little exercise.  Not a bad way to end a day in my book.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dec. 1 – Houdini Lives!

Two weeks after we mourned the final passing of Houdini the great, another sighting has occurred!  Two weeks of trying to flush this quail out of my garage and being outsmarted by a bird with a brain the size of a dried pea, I finally made my peace with the bird and let it roam free.  Shortly thereafter, we found a pile of feathers near the front door and we said a tearful (my fingers were crossed) goodbye to the Great Houdini.

Flash forward today.  Urgent text from my daughter as I am driving to work.  “Houdini Lives!!!”  She saw the bird on the way to school this morning…  right outside the mews!  He promptly flew to a tree when she walked by.  She had watched him bob on past the front of the mews, just taunting Rebel to beat the band.

Well the good news for Houdini (wondering if he really is a quail or maybe a phoenix?) is that he will soon have company.  I am building a recall pen for quail this weekend and buying another dozen or so of the monsters.  The wife might divorce me, so if anyone needs help with the rent, keep the couch warm and give me a shout. 

I figure that if Houdini can live unaided in my neighborhood all alone for several weeks, perhaps the neighborhood cats are too well fed to care about quail.  My goal is to carry a bird with me when out hunting and when Rebel starts to soar, throw a bird out.  I really want him to learn to hunt feathers from a soar.  Planning to make a pigeon trap this weekend too.  Keep that quiet though because that might cost me more than a divorce…

So Rebel weighed in at 40.5 ounces today and was ready to go.  I barely got home with enough daylight to get him out to fly.  If it weren’t for the fact that he had not been flown at all in the last two days since our imitation of the Polar Bear Club initiations, I probably would have just gone inside, poured a stiff one and taken him a rabbit leg for supper.  Nope.  Weary or no, my bird needed to fly and he was letting me know it.  He started bating as soon as I pulled in and jumped right to the fist before I could even get his mews tethers off.

We headed over to Al’s house where I planned to take him down to the river in search of a giant fox squirrel, but it was getting dark too quickly.  There was actually one of the demon spawn sitting at a feeder in Al’s yard as I walked through but I thought it would be poor form to take one of his pet squirrels…  I regretted that decision immensely as we saw nothing else while out.

Well he got to stretch his wings a bit.  He was following a little closely, but I am not surprised.  His weight is lower than it has been and it is getting cold so he definitely has food on his mind, and I am not entirely sure that he is over the trauma from his arctic exposure two days ago.  That or he was just watching closely to see if I would do something stupid like jump in Al’s lake…  Regardless, he feasted on squirrel tonight and looks happy in his mews.  We will try again tomorrow.

And Friday…..   Quail!  I hope…

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nov. 28 - Rebel's First Woody!

Rebel was keen at 39.7 today.  After the way he flew on Friday, I felt that I should lower his weight a bit.  I guess it worked.  He acted like he was starving when I got him out of the mews.  He did not fly yesterday as I worked, so he was even more excited to get out than usual.

We headed out to Georgetown to see if we could jump a duck again.  I was a bit discouraged because everything I was reading seemed to imply that I really needed to give this bird more pen raised birds as baggies to get him going.  I was also a little worried because last time we were here I had my brother with me to help with the flush and this time I would be alone.

Once there, I walked Rebel back to the pond and came in at a slightly different direction in hopes of encouraging him to get into a good position for the slip.  His first perch was in the right direction so I figured we were good.  I slowly crept up towards the lake. 

We were in luck!  There were definitely birds on the lake and they were slowly moving away from the near bank in response to our incursion.  I looked up and saw that Rebel had marked the ducks and figured he would head up for a better and closer perch.  To my amazement, Rebel flew across to my left away from the ducks…  I was confused.  I was pretty sure he had seen the ducks and based on Thanksgiving, I was sure he would find a good perch but he seemed to be going the wrong way.

I waited for him to head back my way.  I whistled a few times, but nothing.  He took a perch off to my left over the front corner of the other lake where we had had flushes in the past.  I figured that he had seen birds on the water here and was waiting on me to flush them.  This bummed me out because the closer lake was a much better flush.

Oh well, I decided I would go ahead and flush the birds so he could at least learn from the experience and figure out better positioning.  I climbed up the levy and figured I would flush my birds and whatever Rebel was interested in at the same time.  My birds got up first, a flight of about ten woodies.  They jumped and started speeding up the other lake, right towards Rebel!  He left his perch right as they got up and was in the perfect position.  He took a sharp dive and nailed a big male wood duck about twenty-five feet in the air!

It was amazing!  A spectacular flight and stoop that I was definitely not expecting!  The moment of exhilaration, however, was short lived as my bird was plummeting down into the middle of the damned lake, duck in tow.  I ran down the hill to see my bird trying to swim.  He was about twenty yards offshore using his soggy wings to pull himself through the water.  If I wasn’t so worried about him, I would have noticed right off the eerie resemblance of a swimming hawk to my father-in-law’s rather interesting interpretation of the crawl stroke…  A lot of uncoordinated movement for very little forward progress.  Sorry Bill.

No sign of the duck but a pile of feathers behind my guy as he pulled himself through the water.  Okay, so I wasn’t panicky at this point.  I mean the bird was slowly making it towards the bank, but when he saw me, he started to vocalize.  This wasn’t his typical vocalization when he is hungry.  This was clearly a distress call and it freaked me right out.  

Now you have to remember, this bird had very little experience with water.  I believe his first time in water was the other day when he took the voluntary mud bath.  He really seemed to enjoy that one, but it was balmy that day and the water he was in was relatively shallow.  That place was small enough that the banks were a hop away.  Not so much this lake.  Nope, he was out in the middle of it.  Up the lake without a paddle.  This water was deep and he was still out far.  To top it all off, we had had our first frost last night and the water was cold.  Bitter cold.

I hesitated only long enough to toss my jacket, keys and cell phone on the ground and started into the water.  It was deep.  I was hoping for knees, but I got armpits.  I am actually shivering as I type this just thinking about it.  As I waded out, I saw that Rebel still had his prize held tightly in his right talon.  Awesome!  On the other hand, his movements were becoming a little more spasmodic and jerky and his distress call was more forceful. 

I was six inches away from him when he dropped the duck.  He was in survival mode and he was trying to climb up a twig to get out of the water.  Not good.  I scooped him up and watched the duck with a broken neck, give a kick and disappear under the bracken under the water.  I felt bad for the guy losing his prize, but couldn’t spare much thought on that as I was seriously worried about the hawk.

I got him up on the back and pulled a towel out to dry him a bit.  Yup.  He hated that.  He saw the lure so I gave him a couple of chicks off of the lure.  Not sure that was a good idea as we didn’t need him to shunt blood away from warming his periphery to digest food, but I couldn’t stop him at that point.  He had a hard time eating.  He was slow and kept dropping his food.  He couldn’t grip the food well to tear.  It was awful to watch.

I squelched back to the truck and popped a bedraggled hawk back in the giant hood.  I turned on the car and set the heat at 90.  Then I did what I had to do.  I stripped down and drove home in my skivvies.  I am pretty sure we have all said prayers at certain times to keep from getting pulled over.  I said more of them.  Out loud. 

The whole drive home I was playing the “what if” game.  What if my bird had drowned?  What if he has hypothermia?  What if he refuses to chase ducks from now on after this debacle?  What if the cop that is about to pull me over is one of my friends from the ED?

Well, I made it home without encountering Johnny law, thank the good Lord above.  I went in the front door and took the bird inside with me.  After getting cleaned up, I lit a fire and we sat in front of it.  He was definitely looking more like his normal self.  He was still whining at me, but it was his normal “feed me!” call.  He started to preen and after a while, was back to his old self.  I actually think he was enjoying the football game.  I can’t be sure but I think he is an Atlanta fan…

Well, as luck would have it, I was taking Rebel out to the mews and one of my really nice neighbor kids came up with a bag of two ducks for Rebel.  He had shot them the day before and had just cut away the breasts.  He asked if I wanted the rest for Rebel.  What a blessing!  I took some out to Rebel and he chowed down like a fifth grader on corn dog day in the school cafeteria.

All’s well that ends well!

Nov 26 - Kingstree redeux

I was so excited for this hunt.  Our last Kingstree hunt was such a success where Rebel had bagged a squirrel, a woodpecker (I think, couldn't identify and Rebel ate it in the tree) on the wing, and a quail in one day.  I couldn't wait to see what we would do today.  Ernie invited all of us including families out to his farm for a pig roast and a little hawking.  Unfortunately only one other falconer could make it that day with the holidays and everyone's family commitments.

It was overcast and windy when we got there and as we pulled up, we saw a huge bald eagle sitting in a pine tree across the lake.  He had apparently raked the lake for fish earlier that morning and was enjoying his catch.  Fortunately he moved on before we were ready to head out.  Still made me a little nervous.  My bird doesn't back down from a fight with larger RTs, I pray he wouldn't be that stupid with an eagle...

My buddy's RT was a little high still so we decided to fly Rebel first.  I headed to the truck to get prepared only to find that I have left my food in the fridge back home.  Doh!  Okay not all is lost.  My buddy has a piece of squirrel in his truck that I can cut up.  Okay.  Back in business.  Wait.  Where is the lure?  Back at home with the food.  Sonofa....

Now Rebel had flown like a fighter pilot yesterday.  He was zigzagging all around the woods flying as hard as I have ever seen him.  His fist response was perfect and his following was spot on.  He seemed to be anticipating me very well yesterday, getting into good positions for flushes and everything.  Today he weighed the exact same and I really wanted to fly him badly.  I know better than to fly unprepared but I decided that the squirrel tail would  make an excellent lure and full of confidence, I said we would fly anyway.

I am sure you can see where this is leading.  I got Rebel up in a tree and we quickly flushed the first squirrel.  I ran and shouted ready for Rebel to swoop in.  Nothing.  He sat there staring at me.  I shook the vines, I beat the tree, I stood on my head...  Okay I didn't do a headstand but I would have if it would have helped.  Finally Rebel left his perch but he went the other way.  I thought maybe he had been watching something else so I followed.  Nope new perch in a tall pine.

The weather was weird, my bird was weird, and I wasn't completely prepared.  I decided to call him down and maybe we could take Al's bird out.  Of course, he wasn't coming down to the call so that made things difficult.  at first I held out hopes of just tid-bitting him down and letting him cool off in the truck until my wife, who was meeting us out there for lunch, could bring the rest of my gear.  Well he wasn't coming down for tid-bits so I decided that I would walk back to the truck and call him down to the squirrel tail lure.

Well he followed a bit and sat on the edge of the woods in a tall pine watching me.  I pulled out the squirrel tail and blew his lure call and nothing.  Nada.  I repeated several times but nothing.  I was getting frustrated at this point but i kept telling myself that it was my own fault for being unprepared.  Finally Rebel left his perch to soar over the lake.  It was so windy that he was just gliding around against the wind enjoying himself.  He took interest in the coots on the water and perched in a fir on the edge.

I borrowed Al's lure but no luck.  Finally I garnished the glove with all of the squirrel I had left and he came down.  Whew.  He wasn't happy when I leashed him and put him up.  Another lesson learned.