"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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Feb 8 – Chases without end

Have you ever had a day where you felt like you were on a treadmill?  No matter how fast you ran your goal was always on the horizon, never getting any closer?  Well Rebel and I had that kind of day today.  

We ran over to the old horse stables to run up a few squirrels.  It was a little overcast and I was anxious to get out ahead of the rain.  Work was pressing hard and Rebel was definitely not getting enough flying time.  We had been out here and there but the outings were short due to weather and time constraints.  This bird was very geared up to fly.

We ran a squirrel almost as soon as we were out of the car, but these guys at the stables have always been really smart.  They live in the largest live oaks I have ever seen and there are plenty of knotholes into which to escape.  We ran the first one in a circle around four trees for about fifteen minutes before it literally disappeared.  The second squirrel escaped somewhere in the old barn while we were looking elsewhere.

We decided to explore a little more of the property.  We walked all the way back to the lake and around.  We had three more chases that ended in frustration and Rebel was getting a tad bit miffed.  Well, I guess that that is only accurate if you consider a bird who screams at you when she comes to the fist or a bird that glares at you like you just stepped on its nest every time you call it “a bit miffed”.

It was starting to drizzle and I knew we should just head back when Rebel spotted one more and gave chase.  This one took us out of the woods and into a small trailer neighborhood.  The local dogs let us know we were in the wrong place and a few people came out to see.  I quickly explained who I was and what we were doing.  Rebel had lost he squirrel by this point anyway. 

We headed back to the truck heads hanging a bit low.  I would love to end this telling about that last chase right at the barn and how it ended with a great catch, but it didn’t happen that way.  We did get one last squirrel to run but it was the smartest of the bunch.  It never left the core of the tree until Rebel had flown past for the umpteenth time.  At that point, it gave a smartass salute and bailed out on the roof of the barn and was gone.  If my eyesight weren’t so bad, I would swear that the blasted thing actually gave me the finger…

I had had enough.  I called Rebel down to the lure and leashed her up.  She must have flown on seven squirrels and every chase had lasted what seemed like forever.  She didn’t think she was too tired though.  She wanted more, but I wanted dry.  I cropped her up nicely for her efforts, but a baleful glare followed me out of the mews when we got home.  I guess that she was still thinking that it was all my fault…  Women…  Wait.  I’m not even sure if she is a she…

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jan 31 – Turkey, Round Two

Well, we had to go back to Sutton today.  Rebel told me she wanted another crack at the fox squirrels.  I, of course, had to try again at the rabbits.  It was another picture perfect day with blue skies and moderate temperatures.  The only problem was the wind.  Gusty doesn’t begin to describe it.  It was more of a steady gale force thing…
I was a little worried about Rebel getting blown back to North Carolina, but she wanted to fly and I am nothing if not a pushover for a pair of pretty eyes. 

I put her up on the edge of a cornfield in the tree line.  She was a little surprised by the wind and zipped off about two hundred yards away before she knew it.  She turned into the wind and actually hovered as she selected her perch and actually floated down to it in slow motion.  I do love watching her fly.

She was incredibly attentive today.  She stayed very near me and came to the pole perch numerous times without me calling her to check things out.  She would turn quick circles over the field to check things out.  I did get a little video of some of these flights that were pretty cool.  Addie of course was having a field day, no pun intended.  Wait.  Maybe that one actually was intended…  Anyway, she absolutely loves bouncing through the grass that is over her head.  I haven’t formally trained her on rabbits, but she knows the scent and does her best.  We will work on it in the off season.

So after traversing several fields with no signs of rabbits seen, we headed into the trees looking for a few squirrels to chase.  There was absolutely NOTHING moving in the trees.  Rebel was getting frustrated and started lagging behind and wanting to hunt on her own so I called her down and we moved on to the Fox Squirrel spot.  On our way, we once again spied the turkeys ghosting along about fifty yards deep in the woods.  They didn’t seem to mind the truck at all, so I stopped ahead of them and got my critters out.

Rebel spotted them immediately and perked up.  I made my way towards them and once again, Rebel streamed in after me.  This time the turkeys were a little more skittish, getting up to fly much earlier.  Rebel took a flight at them but didn’t really make the effort. She flared up at the end of her flight and took a perch, watching those big birds fly ungainly away.  She looked back at me like, “What?  You didn’t actually expect me to grab one of those did you?”  Oh well.  Probably better this way.  I have heard of a few Red Tails getting mixed up with turkeys, and while they typically come out on top, there are some reports of injuries from those spurs.  Probably not worth it.

We headed back to the fox squirrels and we were in luck.  A grey faced fox squirrel with a raccoon tail was halfway up a tree waiting for us.  He hid as I pulled Rebel out but it didn’t take long for Rebel to get him moving.  She almost had the squirrel five different times but just barely missed, allowing the squirrel to duck into a nest at the top of a pine tree.  Rebel did not see the squirrel go in and no amount of banging or yelling would get the squirrel to come out.  Just when I thought she was going to come and attack the nest, she winged of for another tree where a HUGE solid black fox squirrel was hanging out.  I hadn’t seen this guy.  He looked like a small bear with his thick black fur.  Rebel took a cautious flight at him but pulled up, clearly disturbed by his coloring.  He ran, which is a bit atypical for the bigger fox squirrels, and I thought Rebel would give chase but apparently she thought better of this.  Usually, it is the squirrels who do not run and behave like normal prey that seem to put these birds off of the hunt.  When they run, the prey drive usually kicks in and the hawk will follow.

Not this time, that squirrel ran out on every long limb, ripe for the picking but Rebel just watched him.  The damned thing actually almost fell out of the tree about eight feet above my head at one point.  It had made a slight miscalculation and grasped for a very small branch after it jumped from one small gum tree.  It lost its footing and was literally dangling just above me for like twenty seconds.  That may not seem like that long to you, but that is precisely the kind of mistake that these birds take advantage of with these squirrels.   Actually, that was way worse than most of the mistakes I see these critters make.

Oh well, it didn’t matter because Rebel just sat up and watched him crawl to freedom.  I was terribly disappointed, but there is always tomorrow.  In the confusion, Rebel had clearly forgotten about the other squirrel.  She was clearly frustrated so I called her down to the lure and called it a day.  Nothing in the bag but some exquisite flights in the memory banks.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jan 30 – Rebel Meets a Turkey…

Today, Rebel and I headed out to Sutton to a friend’s farm.  I had been there a few times with the bird and there is always a ton of game.  We were really hoping for a rabbit, but I wasn’t holding my breath.  We had had a few near misses on Fox Squirrels at his place and I was very hopeful of adding that species to our list.

Rebel was flying lean and mean at 39 ounces, about the lowest she has been since November.  I was trying to bring the weight back in line down to the weights where she had formally killed ducks, but I could not seem to get her any lower than 39 or so.  Clearly the bird is in better physical shape than when I got her.   Her flights are more powerful and longer, but I wonder if she hasn’t lost some of her quickness.

We set out into the rabbit field near the house in waist high straw grass.  Not much in the way of briars, but I was encouraged by the fact that there was a hag RT perched in a snag at the end of the field when I pulled up.  We bumped her off as soon as I opened the door, so I was not too concerned for Rebel.  Besides, Rebel has held her own many times with hags.  She has never backed down once, so I guess that either makes her confident or stupid…

She didn’t think too much of our efforts with the rabbits.  In her defense, the cover was thick and the visibility was poor.  As I was out in the middle of the field, she took off into the woods after a squirrel.  She chased that one through seven trees before letting it get away on the ground.  Okay, clearly she wanted squirrels so we did our best in the woods instead.

The squirrels were not moving too well today.  We had a few early chases, but nothing lasting too long.  Rebel finally connected on a smallish squirrel as it was fleeing.  She had a beautiful helicopter to the ground after capture.  I traded her off for a squirrel and she let right go.  It seems that the trade offs are becoming even smoother.  She definitely knows she is getting the poor end of the deal, and still seems mad about it, but she hops off quicker for her chick each time.

I put her back in the hood to check out another area.  This was a spot where I had seen fox squirrels in the past.  As we set out, I saw some turkeys ghosting through the woods ahead of us.  I moved forward to get a better view and Addie took off.  That was apparently the signal for Rebel as she turned on the after burners and shot after Addie.  A few of the turkeys took to the wing, but most just started to run along the ground.  I was actually videoing this with a new hand held Hi Def video camera and I caught Rebel swinging out over my right shoulder, heading straight for a turkey and winging over striking it on the ground!!!

I was shocked!  I ran over as fast as I could and got there in time to see the turkey taking off, minus a few feathers.  Rebel was standing on the ground looking at me like, “Dude!  Did you see the size of that thing???!!!”  She had knocked out a few feathers, but I think that as soon as she realized the size of that turkey, she decided that a fight was not in her best interests.  Wow.  I never expected that.  Remember in the beginning when I was talking about how she had stood up to many other hags?  Well, I am pretty sure that hitting that turkey showed some pretty amazing confidence, but letting it go probably showed that she isn’t exactly stupid!

Hope the video turns out!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jan 28 – Ninjas and Numchucks

Rebel and I headed back to the Georgetown hole today as I had left my beatin’ stick there the other day.   Now I would not have gone back for just any old beatin’ stick.  This one just happened to be an oak quarterstaff that managed to find its way back to me from my childhood.  When I was a boy, my brother and I fancied ourselves knights, ninjas, or pirates on any given day, and as such, we were forced to have battles as you might guess.  As oldest, I was frequently on the giving end of most of our battles, but on the receiving end of the punishments those battles invariably provoked.

One day in summer, a friend left us a catalog of ninja gear at our house.  In the wisdom that only comes from being 12, we decided to order some gear.   We bought a pair of wooden samurai swords each and a pair of quarterstaffs, envisioning epic battles to follow.  We even managed to cut up one of mom’s broomsticks to make numchucks.  That went over well.

I learned two valuable lessons that summer.  The first and most obvious was that solid wood friggin’ hurts when it smacks your knuckles or anywhere really.  The other was that when your parents find out you have used the credit card to order contraband material, hide your stuff and blame your little brother.

Well somehow, when my parents moved out of the house, that staff showed up and proceeded to follow me on several moves.  It was hiding in my box of gardening implements (which had not been unpacked for at least six moves…) just so it could turn up now to keep me from falling on tough terrain and serve once again as a tool to pummel the enemy, as long as your enemy is a tree or heavy brush.  Obviously, I couldn’t leave it behind, once I discovered it missing.

Sure enough it was there where I had dropped it so with a smile on my face we set out into the woods, armed to fight ninjas should they appear.  None did, so Rebel and I took our fight to the squirrels.

We took our first squirrel in a heavily infested area near our usual first duck slip spot.  As has been the case lately, there were no ducks on the water when we got there, but Rebel immediately spotted a grey squirrel heading for a hole.  She chased it through several trees before finally snagging it out on a limb.   I am reasonably certain that this was no ninja squirrel as his moves were not nearly so nimble as many others I have seen around here.  She carried it a goodly ways off which has been happening with growing frequency lately.  The trade off was smooth and we decided to make one more circle in case the ninjas were going to show up.

In truth, I was actually hoping for a Kamikaze wood duck slip, but they were clearly on to me at this point.  Either that or they had decided to buy in to the American dream and found something to live for like Starbucks and Apple TV. 

Duck was off the menu so we cruised around exploring parts of the property that we had not often seen.  It was a great day overall with good weather, a responsive bird, and the recovery of a childhood memory.  I was all warm and fuzzy heading home.  My bird was clearly confident after her kill and I was much more confident in my chances against any impending ninja attacks now that I had my trusty quarterstaff / beatin’ stick back at my side.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jan 24 – A Squirrel and a Book?

 Rain and work have conspired to keep Rebel and I out of the woods for more than a few cursory flights lately.  Not today though.  With the sun shining brightly, we headed back to the Georgetown hole in hopes of some squirrel action.  Of course I was secretly hoping for a duck slip that might turn fruitful, but given Rebel’s reticence to chase ‘em since the fall, I was not holding my breath.

Almost as soon as I released Rebel she was on squirrel number one.  She chased it through four different trees before catching it out on a limb and bringing it down in classic fashion, a good grip on the head with no bites.  It was a beautiful flight and I wished I had been quick enough to get it on camera, but as usual, I found myself watching and chasing.  I never seem to think about the camera until the deal is sealed.

The trade of was smooth and Rebel was once again looking around for action.  I was heading across the lake to the larger expanses on the other side, but within three steps of where we got the first squirrel, another one started running!  Rebel chased that squirrel through fifteen trees.  This guy was smart.  He finally got to an old dead snag and hid under a branch.  Rebel was understandably a bit tired and she perched up and just watched the squirrel, waiting for her chance.  In my mind, I wanted to see how it would play out in the wild without me there to shake vines and beat on trees, so I waited and actually brought out the camera before the kill. 

It was an amazingly long wait.  I finally decided to help out a bit and beat on the tree some but the only thing that could get this squirrel moving was Rebel.  The squirrel had the clear advantage of position.  From his spot, he could see the bird easily and every time she moved, he would move to a more protected spot, never running out on a limb or leaving the base of the tree.  This went on for literally an hour.  No lie.  I finally pulled up an ebook on my phone and read a bit.  Quite peaceful really.

After much waiting and a few intermittent flights, Rebel finally gave up and we headed out across the lake.  We had several more great flights but came up just shy on all of them.  On one flight in particular, Rebel showed his frustration.  He had a wily grey running through the trees and Addie and I sprinting after them.  He knocked the critter from a branch and came swooping down for the kill but the grey was too fast and started scampering through the thick cover.  Addie was less than a foot behind him and chased the squirrel right in front of me, just out of reach.  The squirrel popped into the base of a hollowed out tree right in front of us to disappear safely.  Addie had her nose stuck in the hole and whining as Rebel hopped over.  To say that she was a little upset at losing this squirrel would be a huge understatement.  She looked at me like it was entirely my fault and then considered Addie like perhaps she would like to take out her frustrations…

Addie wisely backed out of the hole and let Rebel inspect the area.  She huffed around a bit and I finally got her up to the fist but she was mantly and footy so I decided it was time to leash up and walk out.  She had a kill early in the day but got increasingly frustrated in her misses.  She certainly got her exercise today.  It only took her a minute to slick down and get calm on the glove.  I expect that she knew she was in for a treat as soon as we got home.  By the time we got to the truck, she was rousing and standing on one foot, her happily contented self.  It is amazing to see how fast these creatures can switch from pure aggression to contentment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jan 19 – Bunker Buster

Today Rebel showed me something new that I haven’t seen much of before with her.  She has crashed nests in the past but this time she was bouncing around from nest to nest shaking things up.  It was pretty cool to watch.

Rebel was keen to fly after work today weighing in at 42.4 ounces.  She didn’t get to fly yesterday due to work stuff so I had to race home this afternoon to get her out before dark.  We went to our newly found horse stables area and hit the ground running. 

Right off the bat, Rebel got up a squirrel in a tall live oak and chased it through several trees before it got away.  I was actually surprised that she missed it as hard as she was chasing.  Lately, it seems that her experience has been making it almost too easy for her on squirrels.  Not these squirrels though.  They were fast and experienced and knew where to hide.

We decided to explore a bit and we set of in a wide arc around the property.  As I mentioned, there are plenty of trails and a ton of small slews and lake areas.  Rebel was a bit frustrated after her first miss so in her usual fashion, she decided to lead for a bit.  It is kind of funny because the takes of ahead and then waits for me to catch up.  If I go a different direction, she just stares and eventually follows.  Sort of a constant test of wills as to who will lead I suppose.

Well as we came around full circle, we got up another pair of squirrels and Rebel was all over them.  She chased them through several trees until they both ducked into the same nest.  She was on them in a New York second crashing into the nest like a Kamikaze.  Both squirrels bailed out of the bottom so she quickly resumed the chase.  She selected her target when they split up and when he ran into a nest, crashed after him as well.  Once again the slippery devil got away.  This repeated two more times!  Every time, Rebel was holding on to the nest a little longer giving the squirrel a better chance of escape.  This one did get away, but it wasn’t long until we had another running, this one out over the swamp.

I had waterproof bots on but wasn’t sure how deep the water was in some spots, so I was having a slow time of it navigating through the swamp.  Not so much Addie.  She bounded through the water like an otter following the action.  I honestly can’t explain how Rebel failed to catch this squirrel.  He was trying to hide in the tallest branches of small Ceder and Cyprus trees with very poor cover.  Rebel had several beautiful chances at him, including twice when he tried to hide in a nest only to find her tearing it down with him inside.  Both times, the squirrel made it out the bottom but Rebel was clearly dialing in to the nest thing.  That was six nests she had dive bombed in just one hour!

The squirrel finally made it to ground where Rebel did a nice wingover to grab him.  She had him but he twisted out of her talons and she gave chase over ground.  Now most times, once Rebel has them on the ground, it is game over her favor.  Not this time as this quick varmint scuttled under a root and up the other side of the tree.  Rebel gave up and just stared at me like it was all my fault.  Women…

On the way out of the woods, she hit another nest just for kicks but there was nothing in it.  I do love to see her figuring out tools and skills that make her a more successful hunter.  It is going to make me feel much more comfortable when I do finally turn her back to the wild, knowing that she has these skills to help her make it though the winters.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jan 17 – Full Facial

Not a good day.  Today as our last day in Asheville and Rebel and I ran out to get a quick wing-stretch in before that long drive home.  We had had a great trip so there wasn’t much pressure as we headed up the mountain.  It was overcast, and as I have previously noted, this bird does not do well in overcast conditions.  Today was no exception. 

We had one good chase on a squirrel at the beginning but Rebel’s repeated misses soured the day for her in a big way.  She finally flew off in a huff after the ninth near miss.  Well, getting her focused again was proving difficult, so I decided that she needed a rest.  She was not responding as well as I would have liked to the fist, so I decided to head on down the mountain and call her to the lure back at home.  We were not that far away by this point.

Rebel actually followed really well.  When we got back to my sister’s house, I thought maybe I would try to get a picture of Rebel landing on the snowman that the kids built, so I put a chick up on top of his hat and called her down.  She came right down, but instead of landing to eat, she raked the chick off and flew into a tree.  Oh well, it would have been cute but clearly Rebel was in no mood.

Since she was right there, I decided to feed her off of the fist as I was getting worried over her increased aggression during and after feedings.  I held up her portion of squirrel and she came right down to the fist and settled in to eat, mantling like a bum does over his bottle.  We were in my sister’s porch at this point and I settled back into a rocking chair while Rebel fed. 

Fatal flaw number one, I didn’t have her leashed.   I can’t get near her feet anymore while she is eating.  She is just too damned aggressive.  So I called her to the garnished glove but needed to let her eat unleashed.  No problem until the dog came in.  She had just finished her meal so I rose to put her on her perch when the dog nosed over smelling something she had dropped.  Like a flash she hopped over and hit poor Addie in the top of the head!  I was a bit pissed at myself for not seeing that coming.  I reached down and picked up the bird while Addie was pushed up against the sliding glass door trying to get away.

Fatal flaw number two, I still didn’t have her leashed and I only had control of one leg.  I had reached down with my gloved hand and grabbed one foot to help lift her up.  I did not want to let go until I had the leash on so I raised her up intending to get a good look at the other anklet to attach the leash.  Well, she did not particularly like being held by one talon so she shot her other talon out and tagged me quite quickly in the face.  It was a strike meant to scare, not hurt, same with the dog.  She did not try to bind to me in anyway, she just wanted me to let go of her.  Well I did.  Quickly.

Okay.  Now I am bleeding from a couple of needle like puncture wounds to my face.  My dog is pressed up against the glass watching all of this in horror, and my bird is standing on the ground looking up at me like “What?”  I gently but firmly grabbed the bird by BOTH talons this time and turned her over to leash her.  She did not like that much, but with all of the amped up adrenaline in her system after those two bouts, I was not going to take any chances that could result in her, or myself, getting hurt.  Once leashed, she went promptly into the giant hood to let her calm down in a dark environment.

I went inside to face the family crowded around the glass watching my idiocy.  When I looked into the mirror and saw how close to my eye her talon had come, I said a prayer and carefully went over everything again to make sure my lesson was learned.  I hate that my bird has become so aggressive to me when she did not start out that way.  It is clearly in some response to patterns of behavior that I have somehow reinforced unintentionally.   That coupled with the right triggers regarding food and a perfect storm can develop almost instantaneously.

Hunting success notwithstanding, I clearly still have a lot to learn from these birds.  I bought a pair of safety glasses that very same day.