"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, March 7, 2011

Feb 19 – Back to Back Doubles

Sunday morning came with cooler temperatures but a bright almost cloudless sky.  The cabin we were in was awesome and the kids were laughing and having a blast.  I left them to shower and get ready and took Rebel outside for a look around.  There was a squirrel moving right by the house but he scuttled off before I could get Rebel out. 

Rebel was in good spirits after yesterdays’ successes.  She had spent the whole day out on her weathering perch with four other Red Tails around after her successful hunts.  I was in a hurry to get her out and I forgot to weigh her, which was a bummer.  I would have loved to see if there was a change at all after two chicks and a ton of exercise yesterday. 

The squirrels that I had been watching play on the ground and in the trees through the window had disappeared once they caught sight of Rebel.  We walked around for quite a bit before we finally got our first squirrel moving.  She was a gorgeous tawny-red squirrel that I found myself almost hoping would get away.  She was really that pretty.  She led Rebel on a merry chase through several trees before trying to duck into a knothole, only to find it occupied by an gnarly old grey male with a bent tail who promptly chased her out of the knothole and around the tree, chittering away like an angry shopkeeper speaking in Chinese.  This spectacle proved too much for my one track mind Rebel who swooped in once and then promptly forgot how to pick only one squirrel to target.

The distraction proved to be just the right thing for Red, who made it to the top of the tree and a nice hiding place.  The buck made it back to his knothole and Rebel sat perched trying to figure out what had just happened.

After a few minutes, we slipped on down the path looking to drum up more squirrels as these two were clearly doing excellent impersonations of statues.  Just down the hill, Rebel pitched up into a large pine just out of my line of sight and I heard a familiar and disturbing cry.  I looked up to see a hag female stooping down into the tree where Rebel had perched.  I ran over as fast as I could.

A male Red Tail wheeling above the pine tree quickly joined the female.  As I got there, I saw why.  Rebel was sitting in the middle of a nest, high in the top of a large pine tree.  This nesting pair was already working on their nest for the coming breeding season, and Rebel was perched in their living room.  My presence quickly drove the two hags away, and Rebel came almost instantly down to the glove.  Whether Rebel was hungry for the tidbit or just thankful for the protection, I wasn’t sure, but it was definitely her best fist response of the day.  We decided that it was probably best to head to another area for further hunting. 

We headed back to Al’s house where my friend Rich was flying a huge female.  She had already killed one squirrel and was chasing another when I arrived.  After the chase, Rich put her up and I was hoping to see his apprentice’s bird fly, but the bird was overweight.

Laura and the kids had arrived and Al was putting a bridle on one of his horses for them to take a walk when someone spotted a flock of turkeys making in from the hardwoods.  I decided, “what the heck?”, and pulled Rebel out to make a flight.  Rich decided to circle the turkeys and drive them to us.  Rebel, Dave, Maddox and I got into position.

The turkeys proved a little too smart for us but Rebel quickly saw a captured a small grey in a live oak overhead.  He carried it off a good ways but was looking for the trade off, which was becoming increasingly consistent.  We were still pretty close to the house and Al, Laura, and the kids rode / walked up.  Rebel hopped up into a tree and I went to chat with them, knowing that Maddox was about to leave for his soccer game in Sumpter.

Laura made the comment that Al was a good friend for taking my daughters riding instead of going with me to watch my bird chase a turkey.  He replied, “Nah, I just knew what I would have really watched was three turkeys chasing a turkey!”   Classic.

Some other falconers came up and I decided to pull Rebel down so that they could hunt the area.  She would not come to the fist very well so I went in after her.  When she finally left the perch to fly down to me, she zipped right over my head to take another squirrel out of the tree!  I hadn’t even seen the thing.  No wonder she didn’t want to come to the glove!

A second trade off and we had our second double of the meet.  I was proud, but felt a little guilty at our success.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Feb 18 – Florence Meet

I had been excited for this meet for weeks.  My friend Al was hosting a falconry meet at his home outside of Kingstree and he was expecting anywhere from fifteen to twenty local falconers to come with many different kinds of birds.  Several non-falconers had also come to learn more about the sport. 

My daughter elected to come with Rebel and I, but we had to leave Addie at home.  Most of the falconers were dividing up and heading to their respective spots when we pulled up.  Al asked if I would take a few people behind the house in the hardwoods and show them a Red Tail at work.  Our entourage included an ex-marine who was working for the local news channel, a young boy and his father, my daughter, and then Al joined us a bit later.

Rebel was as keen as she could be and ready to hunt.  I had been lowering her weight steadily in anticipation of this meet and she was flying at 39.6 ounces.  My bird has been as high as 46 ounces in the field this year and has still killed and followed well.  While she had killed at higher weights, her trap weight was still much lower than this at 36 oz. and I have been questioning myself about taking her weight upwards.  I had definitely noticed that at the higher weights, I spent my time following her rather than vice versa, and I wanted to rein in that behavior.

There were a lot of questions, most from the reporter.  He was sporting both a video camera and a still camera with a lens the size of Rebel.  Rebel chased four squirrels right off the bat but did not catch them.  I guess she was shaking off the nerves or something.  I haven't heard of a bird with performance anxiety before, but hey, this bird is teaching me something new everyday!  Anyway, she would chase one and get it moving then get distracted by another she saw.  She would chase that one and then see the first one move again.   Poor girl does not do well with too much information overload.  ADHD I guess.  I blame the parents... ;)  Her usual hunting style is to get a squirrel moving, push it up higher in the tree, and then wait for it to make a break out on a long limb where she can snatch it easily.

After the first few flights, Rebel seemed to settle down and get back to her normal hunting style.  I was proud of how well she was following and paying attention.  Her first kill came after several near misses.  She had cornered a young squirrel in a tree and caught him when he tried to escape out on a limb.  Unfortunately, she also saw fit to carry this squirrel about three hundred yards away.  

We caught up to her in a small ravine and traded off without incident and set her back up for another run as it was so early.  We were joined by Al and another young future falconer when we set out.  We headed down into the bottom area near the swamp and it didn’t take us very long to get a squirrel running. 

This squirrel was the endurance champion of the season.  He sprinted from tree to tree before Rebel could even get her bearings.  Rebel took a few dives at the squirrel but the wily little thing was smart enough to not run out on a limb until after Rebel had had a near miss and was looking for a new perch.  By far, this was the smartest squirrel we had faced all season. 

The squirrel finally took refuge in a red oak and hid wisely in the moss.  I thought that the guy had finally lost his wits when I saw a squirrel burst out the base of the tree and try to run to another tree with Rebel hot on his heals.  It turns out that our wily squirrel was still high in the red oak and Rebel had actually flushed another one!  This squirrel led Rebel on a wild chase on the ground and finally disappeared into a knothole at ground level.  Rebel actually went inside the hole to investigate and we got a few pictures, which were pretty cool.

Rebel was pretty frustrated getting back on to the fist.  That frustration wore off quickly however as we had no sooner started heading out when we saw another squirrel trying to ghost off through the trees.  Rebel gave immediate chase and almost caught this one on the first pass.  It was actually pretty impressive acceleration from the fist.  I would say reminiscent of how a Goshawk would do it, but I have honestly only seen one fly... 

She missed the first pass and ended up chasing this squirrel thought several trees before catching it out on a limb like it’s predecessor.  The amazing thing was that she was actually stradling the limb with one talon on either side, holding on to her quarry.  She hung like that for a couple of minutes making sure she had completely killed her prey before she got herself loose.  This one too, she carried about three hundred yards or so.  I had to get out the tele to find her location, but the trade off was pretty smooth.  I really think that this bird totally gets the game even though perhaps she is not completely satisfied with the rules…

Anyway, we scored a very nice double in front of spectators and I could not have been more pleased.  Rebel spent the rest of the day out on a perch surrounded by Red Tails and I even had time to make it down to Maddox’s soccer game.  It was a great start to a great weekend!

It turned out that the picture of Rebel hanging upside down with the squirrel made the front page of the second section of the Florence Sunday paper!  In still frame, it looked like she had just peeled the squirrel right off of the tree and was flying away with it.  It was an amazing shot and I am hoping that the photographer can send me a digital copy of the picture.  I will post it immediately when I get it =).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feb 11- First Rabbit!!!

I was looking forward to our first hunt in a long time today.  I had just finished a VERY long series at work and needed to get out badly.  The only one who needed to get out more than me was Rebel.  We had hardly hunted in so long that she was wearing out her leash with all of the baiting she was doing.  I am telling you, this bird was ready to go.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating.  It was drizzling and overcast and I kept scouring the sky for a sign of a break.  I was packing up to head out anyway, but I was discouraged.  My bird typically does not do so well with cloud cover.  It must be some version of avian cyclothymia, no doubt.  Anyway, just as soon as I had placed Rebel into the GH, I got a call from my buddy in Florence telling me that the weather was perfect and he had a great spot scouted out for rabbits.  Well I didn’t need to be asked twice.  We were heading down the road before I even hung up the phone.

It was almost a two-hour drive, but it was worth it.  The weather began to clear about thirty miles from his house and it was truly a blue bird day.  I met Al at his house and we struck immediately for the field.  This particular field was mostly straw grass with a ton of briars, ranging in size from one foot high to ten feet high.  There were many perches scattered around in the form of patches of pine trees, perfect for a Red Tail.

We put Rebel up first and she got her bearings.  I was glad that I had actually had the foresight to bring my pole perch, although it wasn’t completely necessary.  Rebel had great response to the perch.  She would come to it whenever I whistled looking for a tidbit, but didn’t particularly like to ride it.  She would stay on a little longer each time as she got more used to it.

Rebel did a really nice soar over the field to check things out as we started.  I really think that if I knew how to properly reinforce this behavior and could predict it better, this bird could be a soar hawker’s dream.  After the first soar, she really didn’t do it too much, although she did take a couple of S curves when flying to and from the pole perch.  Despite the abundance of perches, it took awhile for Rebel to get into the game.  Al had jumped up a couple of rabbits early, but Rebel was in no position to see them.  She was way too far behind and the cover was so thick, she couldn’t see them.

Addie was having a time of it.  She was bouncing through the grass and ducking through the briars like she had body armor on.  She would wade into the thickest of thickets without hesitation.  She was staying close for the most part, but of course would occasionally surge ahead, looking back at me from time to time to gauge my mood with her face grinning and her tongue lolling out the side.

We had a couple of breath-holding moments when Rebel was gliding across the field and did a sudden wingover and hit the ground.  I ran up to find nothing both times.  The second time, he was clutching a clump of grass.  I think he was going after a little field mouse or something that time.  Not sure about the first.

As I was wading through a nine-foot high row of briars, very carefully I might add, I saw Rebel dive down into the grass behind me.  She had shot out of the tip top of a nearby pine and winged over about two feet off of the ground, slamming something out of sight.  I heard the sound and knew we had our first rabbit!  I got there quickly and helped dispatch the rabbit and traded Rebel off smoothly.  It was a nice big cottontail with thick long legs!

I fed Rebel up and we put him back in the truck to give my buddy’s bird a turn.  No luck for him at that spot but he didn’t seem to mind.  I think that he was just as fired up as I was with Rebel getting his first!  DEFINITELY worth the two hour drive!