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...