Sunday, December 11, 2005

The day after

Saturday (12/10): Spark was her normal hyper self this morning after her low blood sugar fit (or whatever it was) yesterday. I was still going to take it easy but I wanted to see how she reacted to things in the field so I loaded her up in the scooter box and off we went. We hadn't walked more than 20 yards into the field when I saw a massive flock of pigeons in the far corner. It was by far the biggest flock of pigeons I have ever seen in Japan, well over 300 birds with more dropping in as I watched. It was amazing! So much for taking it easy I thought, if I wanted to see how she'd react in the field, here was plenty of quarry to show her!
The flock was probably 300 yards away as I began my trek towards them but they were edgy and kept shifting positions. The birds on one side of the flock would fly over the birds in the middle and land on the other side creating a moving wave of pigeons. With so many eyes it was hard to get close with out a nervous few causing the whole flock to flush, make a circle and then land again. Finally they moved over toward a different side of the field where there was some rice stacked under a tarp about 6 feet high. It would keep me from view until I could get close enough to give Spark a good slip. I worked my way toward the flock keeping the tarp between us until I was about 30 yards away when suddenly the entire flock burst into the air. They immediately formed a tight ball as they lifted from the ground so I knew that it wasn't just a nervous flush. I looked up just in time to see a wild peregrine streak across the sky in a beautiful stoop! It spoiled my flight but for the next ten minutes or so I watch the peregrine put on quite the show as the cloud of pigeons performed defensive manuevers. The peregrine was putting in repeated stoops as the pigeon flock expanded and contracted like a huge aerial ameoba to confuse the stream lined predator. It was incredible! As I stood there enjoying the spectacle I watched the cars stream past on a busy road a few hundred yards away and thought about how unlikely it was that any of the people in those cars realized what was going on right above them and how lucky I was to be witness to it. I felt like Mother Nature had let me in on a little secret.
I knew the pigeons probably weren't going to land for awhile after that, and the flight had taken them so far away that I would have to load Spark back in her box anyway, so I decided to head out to Kishigawa to fly the Harris while keeping an eye out for any possible slips along the way. I checked a few spots but I think every pigeon in the prefecture had joined the mega flock so arrived at the Kansai Hawking Clubhouse without having taken Spark out of her box again. I perched her out with a newly acquired sparrowhawk owned by the club and went to weight the Harris.
The Harris weighed 675 grams, it's perfect hunting weight, so I decided to take it for a walk along an irrigation ditch not too far from the clubhouse. Oguni san was there with his grey gos so he decided to join me and see what we could scare up. The gos was turned on from the moment we left, snaking it's head all over looking for something to kill and bating at the Harris as I tossed it off my fist to let it follow us along. I didn't think we'd find much for the gos since the irrigation ditch has only a tiny stream flowing through it and is packed with overgrown brush. The brush provides plenty of cover for sparrows and other small birds though and the Harris put in a number of flashy attempts as they flitted from cover to cover. The ditch is about 8 feet deep so it gave the Harris a decent height advantage since I haven't gotten around to making the T-perch for it yet. The flights were short, brush crunching ventures straight down into the ditch with me tossing pepples to keep the birds moving. After harassing several different birds for a few minutes with no luck I called the Harris back to the fist and re-joined Oguni san and the gos to check the small resevoir that the irrigation ditch runs from. We were hoping to find a goisagi (a small heron) or perhaps a few ducks but after checking the likely spots it seemed like no one was home. Suddenly the gos bated toward a small stand of reeds in the corner of the resevoir and Oguni san tossed it into the air. The gos flew directly over the reeds, hovered for a brief second and then plunged downward. We heard some scuffling in the reeds and for a second thought it may have caught something but the unseen prey had escaped the attack and disappeared into the deep cover. Oguni san got the gos back out of the reeds and we tossed some rocks into the bushes hoping to flush whatever was hiding but whatever it was would not budge. We figured it was a coot and decided to let it make good it's escape.
The gos was still hot to get something in it's talons so we went back to the irrigation ditch and I let the Harris scare a few more sparrows while Oguni saw went to look for wood pigeons and check a small pond adjacent to the resevoir. The Harris had just crashed into another bush when Oguni san's voice came floating across a rice field to let me know that the pond had a couple of teal on it. I headed over to flush the teal for his gos and was excited at the prospects considering this was a relatively small pond that the teal were sure to leave if flushed properly. Oguni san positioned himself and the gos at the front of the pond where the ducks were sure to exit and I began working my way around the back. Now the saying goes, "Watch like a hawk" and true to character the Harris had been assessing the whole situation. It apparently saw something that I couldn't creeping into the bushes on the far side of the pond. He launched off my fist and made a 35 yard bee line to the thick brush lining the side of pond slamming into the reeds. There looked to be a scuffle so I began running toward where the Harris had gone in to offer my help. The teal couldn't take that much action so they lifted off the pond and headed toward Oguni san and the waiting gos. I looked over my shoulder as the teal passed not more than 10 yards from him and he threw the gos in their direction...but the gos saw easier prey and dropped low over the water toward my Harris who still had it's back turned, preoccupied with whatever had gone into the bushes (probably another coot). Oguni san shouted and I switched into a higher gear as I watched the grey ghost glide toward my poor Harris. We arrived about the same time but there was an embankment that covered in thick bushes that kept me from being able to see what was going on. With out thinking I jumped over the bushes and into the pond, wondering in mid-air how deep the freezing water was going to be! Luckily it was only up to my knees and I immediately waded over to the two birds whose feet were locked together. Each bird had gotten a foot on the others upper thigh area but I ungraciously drove my bare hand in between them and seperated them before any damage was done (to them at least, the gos footed my bare hand!). Oguni san grabbed his gos and I tossed the Harris back up onto the foot path as I waded around looking for a way out of the winter water. We looked the birds over and couldn't see any damage so we trudged back to the clubhouse in rhythm to the water shloshing in my boots.
My legs were cold and I probably should've at least dried off a little, but I knew the light would be fading soon and I wanted to get Spark fed before the sun dipped below the horizon. I grabbed a pigeon from the loft and with Spark on my fist headed out into another rice field. I tossed the pigeon and the two birds were slihoetted against the dark clouds briefly before Spark bound to it 40 yards out and 15 feet up landing in small mandarin orange grove. Apparently the sugar fit had no lasting effects.

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