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.