Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Early morning blues

The alarm caught me off guard at 6:15. It had hardly begun announcing it's presence before I landed a left hook that silenced it for at least another 24 hours. The curtains were closed but I knew it was still dark so I nestled back into my warm pillow for another 15 minutes of rest. It was an uneasy rest though, I imagined pigeons feeding by the river waiting for my arrival and their siren calls finally wrestled me from bed.
It was still dark and in the back of my head I knew there wouldn't be any pigeons out just yet so I took my time gathering my gear and preparing Spark's rations for the day. When I walked out the door the shadows were just beginning to slink back into their crevices. My breath appeared in short puffs as I walked through the parking lot of the race track next to my apartment and headed toward the river. I mistook a couple of crows rummaging through the trash in the distance for pigeons for a split second but Spark didn't even take a second glance. She weighed 206g but I'd woken her up too and she was content to sit fluffed up on my fist for the time being.
I walked the usual length of the river and just as I thought, the pigeons were smarter than to be out this early. Spark looked interested in a small flock of sparrows but lost her enthusiasm when I gently tossed her toward them. Two more of these lack luster attempts and a glance at my watch sent me packing for home. As we approached the race track parking lot again, a lone pigeon hailed us from behind a trash bin. Spark slicked down and launched but with only slightly more enthusiasm than she had with the sparrows. We had one more chance at four pigeons in the parking lot but Spark just wasn't in the mood today so resigned to my fate, I plodded home. There's always tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Weekend Hawking

Wow, what a weekend! On Friday I headed out to Kishigawa to do some flights with the Harris in preparation for Saturday hawking. When I arrived however Oguni san, a regular out at the club, was there with his giant grey gos and said that we were going hawking! No complaints on this end! We loaded up the birds (two gosses and my Harris) and were off to check out some of the local areas where the club flew last year. First stop yielded no pheasants so we went to check out some ponds to see if there were any ducks around. We bumped a couple of teal off a small pond and couldn't find any others so as the light began to fade we decided to check the best spot of last year since there had been rumors that it had been turned into rice fields. About 2/3 of the field had been plowed over but a good swath was left and we're hoping for more concentrated pheasants when we check it next Wednesday. So no luck and really no flights on Friday but it was good to be out with the birds.
Saturday we got an early start and headed to Nara prefecture to a spot where I was told that catching ducks was "guaranteed". It was a small stream running through the MIDDLE OF THE CITY but it had plenty of ducks. There were apartment complexes on both sides, cars passing frequently, walkers and joggers, yet there we were walking down the street with huge birds on our fists scaring the ducks. I can't imagine flying in the same conditions in the States. Funny stuff. Alas, all the birds seemed a bit high. There were some short stabs at flushing ducks but no real pursuit. The spar got her first look at teal and I've sworn an oath that she will take one before the season is out, but no luck that day. So much for guarantees.
Now 99.9% of the time I don't fly on Sundays, but the temptation of a rare field meet with falconers from all over Japan lured me away from my Church responsibilities (much to the chagrin of my loving wife). It is estimated that there are only about 300 falconers in the entire country and even fewer who actually hunt with their birds. I didn't want to miss what could be a once in a lifetime experience...and what an experience it was! There were about 35 falconers, flying mainly goshawks with a few Harris' thrown in the mix, but in Japan fields are in such scarce supply that everyone flies the same field...AT THE SAME TIME! Any pheasant that was unlucky enough to take to the wing was immediately set upon but several hawks! Yet as a credit to their survival skills not a single one was caught. After an initial push by the large group we gradually broke off in to smaller groups to seek out any straglers in remote corners of the field. I got up one rooster and a couple of hens but the Harris' was still too fat and didn't even glance at them. So all in all it was a nice walk in the fields with my bird, hardly a sin!...Right?
After an entire weekend of constant hawking the head count remains at 0 but Wednesday is a national holiday and even though we have plans for a Thanksgiving dinner with some friends, I'm hoping to be able to sneek out in the morning. Freshly caught pheasant for Thanksgiving dinner...? We'll see.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lunch breaks should be longer...

Last night we had a cold snap move in. We switched the air conditioning units over to heaters and switched our hot carpet on for the first time. My wife says she's going in to hibernation...I love it! I grew up in the cold. Winters were spent sledding, skiing, snow mobiling, and trudging through the snow looking for whatever animal had left it's tracks. I love being able to see my breath in the air and hear the crunch beneath my feet. I suppose most hunters do. It does however mean that I worry more about Spark.
When I flew red-tails in Utah cold was no problem. You could see them fluffed up on telephone poles no matter what the weather so I figured my birds could handle what ever came. Of course they weighed five times as much as Spark though. Spark flies best between 200 and 205 grams, a relatively small sparrowhawk from what I've heard. The tough thing about flying smaller birds is that you have to be that much more precise with their weight. Last year when our first cold snap came in Spark shed an extra 20 grams and dropped to 185 over night. She was rather lethargic the next day and I knew she'd been on the brink of dropping too low. So when I felt a little chilly last night I decided to give her an extra 20 grams before bed just to be sure there was no chance of dropping too low during the night. Either it wasn't as cold as last year or I fed her more than I thought but either way she was a bit high this morning so I decided to try and squeeze a flight in during my lunch break this afternoon.
On Thursdays I teach an English class for the city. My lunch break usually ends at 1:00 but since the class starts at 2:00 and I usually go home for lunch work lets me take the extra hour to prepare for the class (even though I'm usually done with preparation long before lunch time). Today "preparation time" would be used to go hawking.
I rushed home as soon as the lunch bell rang (yeah, here in Japan we have lunch bells at work) and must've looked like Superman to anyone who watched my apartment door...In at 12:15 in work clothes, out at 12:25 in hawking gear with Spark on my fist. I wasn't able to get a really good reading on the scale (tends to happen when your trying to weigh at warp speed), but I think she was a bit higher than I would've liked. She was close enough though so snapped on the telemetry and was out the door. We live near a bicycle racing track and it stands between me and the river where I usually fly. The trash from the races tends to attract pigeons, only problem is that when there are races the pigeons are in the statdium and not down by the river. Today there was a race. I saw a flock circle around the stadium and land just on the other side of the fence. They were teasing me, I know it. I weaved around the cars in the parking lot with amazing agility and soon found myself at the rivers edge.
Early this year there were at least a few pigeons every time I walked this stretch of river. I don't know if it's the cold weather or the bike races that has taken them away but they just aren't there recently. The wind picked up as I continued my sweep of the area and I began to doubt whether or not I'd fly her even if we did see a pigeon seeing how she was a little high. A glance at my watch told me that I'd better start heading back so I could grab a bite to eat before the English class. With the wind in my chest I turned back to the apartment and thought to myself, "Nah, with this wind I don't think a flight would be possible." The wood pigeon must've read my thoughts and thought he was safe because right at that moment I looked to my right and there among some shin high grass was a lone woodie feeling mighty cozy thinking I wouldn't fly Spark. It was all part of my plan though to coax him out! My true intentions were revealed as I turned toward him and began closing the 20 yards. I would've like to be just a bit closer to give Spark a better chance but she had already seen the pigeon and launched after only a couple steps. Wood pigeons seem to know the exact moment to flush so that Spark thinks she'll be able to take them on the ground and right as she shoots out a foot to snag it...it takes to the air. Spark followed for about 3 wing flaps but had lost her momentum thinking she'd catch it on the ground. She veered off and landed on a dug out not too far from where the flight began. I walked over and called her down, glanced at my watch, shook my head, and thought, "Lunch breaks should be longer."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Season Opener

IT'S FINALLY HERE! The 2005-2006 Japan falconry season opened this morning and I was out first thing. The spar was a little fat at 208g (she'll chase, but not withall the fire that she's capable of) but I wasn't going to miss the first offical day of the season! We headed down to our regular flying spot and started to look for pigeons. It starts to get light later every morning and I've noticed that there's not as many pigeons out when I've been flying her before work. Today was no different and I was afraid I wasn't even going to see anything when off to my left a brown bullet goes whizzing by. A wood pigeon! Feral pigeons are great but wood pigeons are a real treat. It landed on an old rusted goal frame about 100 yards away and was soon joined by it's friend. I started heading back in that direction but about 20 yards away they both spooked and flew to some telephone wires across the road. I figured if I walked away for a bit they'd come back so I headed in the opposite direction to a spot I've found pigeons before. About 5 minutes later I looked back to where the woodies had landed and they were gone so I figured they'd come back down to their feeding spot.There's a strip of uncut grass between the two baseball fields that I fly around and that's where I always see them so I headed in that direction. I approached the spot slowly craning my neck and watching for any movement to let me know where the pigeons were. I think I was more in yarak than my bird! And then...nothing. The woodies weren't there. Bummer. My shoulders slumped as I glanced at my watch and realized that I was running out of time before work. I took another step in the direction of my apartment and low and behold, sitting in the middle of the dirt road 50 yards away was one of the pigeons.They'd just headed to a different spot! Wahoo! I began my stalk once again as the pigeon headed into the grass on the edge of the road. I couldn't see it any more but I kept my eyes fixed on the spot where it had disappeared. About 30 yards away a small flock of sparrows suddenly chittered on my left and the spar slicked down and looked interested. "I promise we'll come back to the sparrows if these pigeons bust eary" I whispered to her as we continued to edge forward. Another ten yards and I could see both woodies scratching around for breakfast 20 yards away. I took a few more steps and theystopped scratching and looked in my direction...I knew they were about to bust so I held the spar high and took a quick step forward.They didn't flush right away but the spar took off. She dropped low to the ground and covered the 15 yards in a flash. I thought she was going to nail one right there on the ground, she was only about a foot away when they both got up. The three birds rose into the air and for a moment I thought she was gaining but the one the spar was chasing rolled to the right and as she followed there was an instant jink to the left and my spar knew she was beat. She landed in the sand a few yards further and looked back at me as the pigeons headed for a safer breakfast. I walked over, picked her up and headed for home watching for pigeons the whole way but not finding any. Not a successful first flight but a start nonetheless. It's going to be a fun season! Happy hawking!