Sunday, January 29, 2006

What a day!

Thanks to all those who commented on my last entry! My apologies for not responding to comments, I'm still new to the whole blogging thing. Bear with me! I promise I'll reply from now on...:-)

Saturday Jan. 28 was a big day for PK. I was originally hoping on heading up to Nara with Oguni san to chase some more ducks since the season is coming to a close but when I called Oguni on Friday night he reminded me that he's been out of town for a week so the Grey gos was too fat to be flown. Being the great guy that he is, Oguni said he'd still take me up to Nara if I wanted to go (since I don't have a car to go by myself) but as much as I wanted to, I wasn't about to make him drive 2 hours each way just so I could fly my bird only! It actually took a bit of convincing to make him stay here in Wakayama! I told him I'd be fine just hunting the usual spots but he said he'd be happy to drive me to a pheasant field and look for ducks around Wakayama if I wanted him too. A genuine good guy.
We agreed to meet at the clubhouse at 11:00 and go from there. PK was spot on at 665 grams (the percieved "reduction" in weight is because I took his bell off). Before I arrived at the clubhouse I checked the local pond to see if there were any coot about and I noticed half a dozen milling around the bank on the far side. These coot don't usually stray too far from the water so the fact that they were about 5 feet away got me excited. After the usual pleasantries at the clubhouse I mentioned the coot and Oguni offered to drive me down (even though it's only about a 10 minute walk from the clubhouse).
We pulled up to the opposite side of the pond to scope out the situation but we couldn't see any activity on the far side when we arrived. I thought maybe they'd taken to hiding after my fly by on the scooter but just as we were about to head to another spot I spotted some movement. They were still there! It was a difficult situation to walk up on so we decided to get closer with the car. As we approached 4 coot slipped into the water but suddenly one popped out not more than 5 yards from the road! I slipped PK out the window and he...dove straight into the water! I don't know if he saw a coot there that we didn't or if he took a liking to the wet grass that he grabbed last time but he was swimming! The coot were long gone when I walked to the edge of the pond where he had his wings spread and looked for all the world to be trying to swim with his feet like a duck! Maybe he's just seen it so many times he thought it looked fun? He finally made it to some reeds and pulled himself out of water but he was absolutely soaked. We drove back to the clubhouse and perched him out in the sun to dry off for awhile before heading to a pheasant spot.
There was quite a bit of wind so it didn't take him too long to dry off and as soon as he did we loaded up and headed for the pheasants. There's a tiny stream off to the side of the pheasant spot that I've seen ducks on before so we thought we'd check there before going out into the field. Sure enough, I spotted 4 mallards on the stream so we pulled over and I beeped PK up again. Much like Nara, this stream is in the middle of town so after checking for cars I snuck over and PK launched at the ducks. They saw him coming though and dove for cover when he buzzed them. I can't believe how little water it takes for the ducks to dive! PK landed on the opposite bank and watched as they popped out of the water quacking and took off toward the big river not too far away. There ended up being another 2 ducks I hadn't seen tucked back in the reeds too! Definitely a spot to try again before the season is out.
After the quick shot at the ducks we headed over to the pheasant spot. There used to be a huge field in the area that was hunted often by the local falconers last year but 3/4 of it was cut over the summer and only a small swath of field is left behind a baseball field. I put PK up on the T-perch and began wading thru the head high brush. PK decided to assess the new field and took a wide looping flight over the area landing on the huge electrical tower in the middle of it. It offered a higher perch than I could offer so I started beating toward him. Oguni joined me several minutes later after running back to the car to change into gear more appropriate for the brush. He caught up to me about the same time I arrived at the electrical tower. PK came cruising over and landed at my feet looking for a tidbit so I put him on the T-perch and we continued on. We crossed a small ditch and were working out the direction we wanted to go when I heard a rustling off to my left. I took two steps in that direction before PK launched off the perch and did a hard wingover. There was definitely a struggle and I thought perhaps we'd caught our first pheasant but then I heard an odd screech and a flash of brown. At first I thought PK had grabbed a cat and then he lost his grip and I saw a very scared tanuki run past me! For those of you who don't know what a tanuki is, the best way to describe it is a small fox colored exactly like a racoon. It's usually translated as a "raccoon dog" because that's exactly what it looks like. In Japanese folktales the tanuki is often a crafty creature assuming human shape and trying to con free drinks out of the local tavern. They're also regarded as a good luck and fertility symbol. Often times you'll see taverns or houses with a tanuki statue outside the door. The statues generally have grotesquely enlarged testicles as part of the fertility symbolism but since tanuki's can weigh up to 20 lbs. I'd say that PK has a set to match for grabbing one! We covered the rest of the field without producing a pheasant but both Oguni and I agreed that the tanuki flight was worth it! We had quite the story to tell when we got back to the clubhouse.
PK had gotten a good reward for grabbing the tanuki but was no where near fed up so after we arrived back at the clubhouse I decided to check a few of the local ponds to see if there was anything else worth chasing. Uchimura took some time off from building his new breeding chamber to show me some ponds that I hadn't seen before. We checked 3 or 4 ponds with nothing on them and were discussing our next move from the bank of one of them when a goisagi (a small heron) took off from the reeds 20 yards away. I tossed PK after it and he charged straight to it...perhaps with a little too much speed because as the goi dogged left he tossed out a foot but over shot and ended up in the weeds on the other side of the pond as the goi squawked away. Uchimura was again impressed at PK's go-get-em attitude since his female doesn't seem to like the noisy herons.
Another small reward for the chase and PK and I headed to the regular ditch to try for sparrows. PK was doing his usual thing flying ahead and landing on the edge of the ditch but I wanted him on the T-perch so I called him back just as I noticed a couple of sparrows put in just beneath me. I raised the T-perch as high as I could and PK landed on top. I could hear the sparrows in the brush right beneath us and PK was snaking his head around trying to see what was making the noise. He dropped off the T-perch on a mission and disappeared in a space between the cattails. I've seen him do that manuever before but something about the way he dropped told me he got it. The ditch is about 10 feet deep so I put the T-perch down and jumped in the ditch. He was mantling so I adjusted a wing to confirm that he'd caught the sparrow and saw that he'd smashed it pretty good. He'd already eaten half of it by the time I got to him. I tried to move him to a more open spot to get picture proof of his accomplishment but he wasn't having any of it. In hindsight, I should've just left him there but I ended up grabbing the sparrow and having him finish it on the fist so I could take pictures. Most falconers in Japan didn't think that a Harris could catch a sparrow so I'm rather happy to prove them wrong. Physical evidence of the catch was limited to the upper half of the beak and half it's head, PK polished off the rest in a flash. He had quite the crop when we headed back to the clubhouse.
With only a few weeks left in the season this has been rather late in coming but I'm glad I won't end the season completely gameless. I shall do my best in the next couple weeks to put a few more in the bag. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New Project

Last week PK and I hit the same ponds and irrigation ditches that we've been hitting all season...with the same results. Actually PK did technically catch something. At the last pond of the day he took off to the opposite side and did a nice wing over into the drink. I saw something duck under water just as he arrived so I jogged over to see what he was after. He was standing chest deep in the water clutching something so I reached in and pulled him out. Whatever had ducked under water was long gone but PK was sure that the wad of grass and water-logged wood that he had "caught" was something to eat! He mantled over it and began plucking! No matter how much quail I offered him he would NOT let go of his prize! Living up to his name, it took me a good 10 minutes before the punk would let go and even then it was reluctantly. I tossed the slimy mess back into the water and he bated after it but looked rather confused when he regained the fist and the weed was just floating on the surface. Imprints, gotta love 'em!
Anyway, that experience led me to believe that I need to take PK somewhere else where we may have a better chance of catching game. Unfortunately the only transportation I have here is my scooter and the hawk box I made for Spark is much too small for PK. Soooo, I went to the local home center and got the materials to make a Harris sized box to bolt to my "hog". It's still in the works but I'm building it to last, staining the wood with water proofing and rubberizing the rough edges of the frame. Through this project I've realized that carpentry is definitely NOT my calling in life but it's been fun and I hope I'll have something to be proud of when I'm done. Hopefully I can finish it by this weekend and take PK to some new fields. Since I'm still new to this whole blogging thing, I'm not sure how to put pictures up but I'll play around with some things and see if I can figure it out. If this blog suddenly disappears...well, I'm about as good with computers as I am with carpentry so wish me luck!

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Friday the weather was perfect. Slightly overcast and unusually warm for this time of year with a slight breeze. With the end of the official hawking season fast approaching (less than a month away), I was dying to get out of the office as soon as possible and hunt with the Harris. Following the advice of a much respected falconer who is highly successful with male Harris' on sparrows I had finally gotten around to making a T-perch and was excited to see how PK would take to it.
I finally named it! Albeit in the same lame way I named Spark...Punk shortened=PK. I pity my children and the names they'll have! Thank goodness I've got a wife whose head is on straighter than mine!)
After completing a honey-do list at light speed after work I sped out to Kishigawa. Uchimura wasn't at the clubhouse when I arrived so with no pleasantries to take care of I grabbed some quail, weighed PK, and headed for the now familiar irrigation ditch. I quickly learned that holding the T-perch with a bird on it directly above your head is not the most sanitary way to go about hawking. I narrowly avoided the white wash on my head but my jacket did not fair so well. PK took to the perch like a champ though and I suppose it helped that it is covered in the same green astroturf that the scales are. After a few reinforcing tidbits he was more than willing to ride the T-perch for as long as my arm could stand it. We headed to the large resevoir that feeds the irrigation ditch and he took a number of shots at sparrows but couldn't connect. Upon arrival at the resevoir we headed to the far corner where a group of teal tend to hide among the reeds. Half way to our destination PK must've seen something (probably a coot) slinking through the reeds on the side we had just come from and took off on 150 yard flight straight across the resevoir. I could tell by the way he hit the bushes that whatever had been there was long gone by the time he got there so I wandered back in his direction while he hopped up the bank. I got him back on the perch and headed to another pond since the teal had flushed when he took the long flight.
We walked back down the ditch and carefully avoided the pet ducks this time as we made our way to the pond that was sure to hold some more coot. I snuck along the edge of a rice field hoping to get as close to the reeds as possible before sending PK in for the attack. PK had other plans though and took off before I was within the desired range. The coot dove for cover and PK forced a teal back into the water but came away empty footed. As I rounded the corner to pick PK up, the teal made good his getaway.
We had never been further down the ditch from that point but since I had time I thought I'd give it a go and PK seemed obliged. Within 50 yards he dove of the perch and scared the bejeebers out of a wood pigeon that had been resting next to the water. It was encouraging but unfortunately after a few hundred more yards we weren't even seeing any more sparrows and ran into a wildlife preservation area so we turned back. On our way back to the clubhouse PK dropped off the perch after a snipe that flushed almost directly beneath us in the ditch but was easily discouraged by it's speed.
We again returned to the clubhouse with an empty game bag but some good attempts and lots of exercise for the both of us. We'd been out a good 3 and a half hours!
The next day we were scheduled to go up to Nara in search of ducks again but the weather didn't cooperate. The rain was pouring out of the sky and I was thouroughly drenched having missed the phone call canceling our trip by the time I reached the clubhouse. I dried off while watching some hawking videos and then decided that it had let up enough to go try the nearby ponds since I was out there already. PK was rather high so I wasn't sure how he'd do but we were in luck. There was a coot up out of the water next to the pond! About 30 yards out it noticed us coming and inched toward the water but PK launched after it. Oguni was with me and started yelling, "HE GOT IT! HE GOT IT!" but there were no signs of a struggle and I had seen it slip into the water just ahead of PK's open talons. It was perhaps the best chance we've had all season but yet again, we're just inches away. I spent the rest of the day puttering around the clubhouse going out when the rain let up but not much was out.
Again, thanks to the advise of Matt Mullenix, I'll be taking the bells off of PK next week and see if that helps our success rate at all. The season is winding down much too fast and I still haven't put anything in the bag! It's rather depressing!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Onward with the Harris...

It's been a little over a week since Spark passed away. Since mourning will not bring her back and the season is already more than half way over, the Harris has gotten my full attention...or as much as I can give it considering I don't bring it home with me on the weekends.
I'm going to get a little side tracked here but if you notice I refer to the Harris as, "the Harris" or "it". I haven't decided on a name for it yet even though Uchimura basically considers it mine and keeps asking me what I'm going to call it. I've thought of various names but none seem to "fit". In all honesty I'm horrible at naming things, Spark got her name by being a Sparrowhawk...take out a few letters and there you have it. Pretty lame huh. I've been calling the Harris "Punk" for the last few outing because he's gotten into the habit of not coming to the fist unless he knows there's food. He'll come from any distance but if I don't put a tidbit on the fist then he'll land at my feet and just look up at me. What a punk! But in Japanese "Punk" means flat tire, and since Japanese is more his language than English I don't think going around calling him "flat tire" fits very well. Names of greek gods come to mind as well, I've considered Hermes, but the name seems a bit over done in the general falconry community. So I'm at a loss, every time I'm with a group of falconers we end up refering to my bird as "the male Harris". Anyone out there with a good name please let me know! Now back to the hawking...
The New Year's holiday lasted until the 3rd of January so on the 3rd Uchimura and I took his Harris and mine to Nara to chase some ducks. As we approached the river where we were going to fly a wild spar flew over us. I imagined it was Spark and made my peace. The wind was absolutely howling though and the birds were blown all over the place. After one failed attempt at a small group of mallards my Harris was trying to make his way back and was suddenly blown about two hundred yards away by a sudden strong gust! He fought his way back to the glove though and got rewarded for his efforts. It made for rather difficult hawking but my Harris made several good attempts and I think he would've put a coot in the bag had I been able to get him fast enough. He had shot down after a small group of them on the bank of the river and plowed into the brush. He had his wings spread out and seemed to be footing the heck out of the brush so I rushed over to help him but there was a retaining wall along the side of the river over grown with brush that tangled me up and I rushed over. Just as I arrived on the scene the coot squirted out one side of the brush while my Harris remained on the other. I don't know if he had actually gotten a foot on it or if it had just backed itself into the brush just far enough to be out of reach but the end result was an empty bag. He's getting much smarter about his slips though, toward the end of the day I slipped him at another group of coots and instead of shooting across the river like he usually does after them, he dropped down the river bank and hovered for half a second before trying to pounce on a teal that had ducked under water when it saw his initial attack! I guess he's noticed that once they go under they have to come back up and was just waiting for the right moment. I know that one of these days it'll all come together.
On Friday my wife decided to come with me to fly the Harris out in Kishigawa. Having only seen and been around Spark, she was amazed at how easy going the Harris was. She wouldn't even hold Spark but seemed to enjoy having the Harris follow us around and chase sparrows as we walked. She even put the glove on and had him fly to her a couple times! I doubt she enjoyed herself as much as I did but it was great to see my wife out with a bird on her fist. A dream come true for me!
The 9th was also a national holiday so I took the Harris out again. A family from New Zealand that lives here in Japan had contacted me about wanting to see some falconry so they accompanied me as we walked the usual irrigation ditch. The Harris flew to each of their children and took an exceptionally long slip (100+ yards!) at some teal while on the father's fist. Of course, the teal were long gone by the time the Harris arrived but he slammed into the bank of the pond like there was something there so I ran over to see what he was after. As soon as I approached he returned to the fist empty footed. As we returned to the clubhouse he was sitting on the son's fist and suddenly took off into the irrigation ditch. I thought he was after sparrows again but quacking errupted as water shot in all directions! There are some resident "pet" ducks in the area that live in the ditch but I didn't think they'd come up the ditch that far! The bird wasn't able to hold on to one though thank goodness, and I called him back to the fist and fed him the rest of his quail.
After the family had left Uchimura took his gyr/peregrine over to a nearby pond where we'd seen some teal milling around. The falcon took about a hundred foot pitch but when we flushed the ducks it didn't even dip a wingtip. Still a little fat so he's going to drop her a few more grams and see if we can get her chasing them. there were a couple ducks left on the pond though so I decided to get the Harris back out and see if he had any gas left...He had plenty! He took numerous shots at teal and coot hiding in the reeds but came up short each time. We all had plenty of fun watching him crash into all the reeds though, so even though we came home empty handed, it sure was fun.
I know we're just inches away from catching game. If I could bring him home and work with him EVERY DAY then I'm sure the headcount would rise but I don't have the room. :( I'll just have to do what I can with the situation I'm in...and have fun doing it! So far, it's been a blast, it'll be all the better if we can put some game in the bag. Happy hawking everyone.


It's been awhile since I posted. I've just had a hard time bringing myself to put it out in print that Spark died. On New Year's Eve I took her out after pigeons. We found the usual flocks and were trying to get a good slip but it seemed that no matter how close I would get to the pigeons she had no interest in them. At one point I swear I was only 10 feet (maybe less!) from a pigeon and she ignored it. I figured something might be wrong so when I got back to the scooter I started to feed her up. She ate a couple bites and then muted blood! I rushed over to the clubhouse to see if Uchimura had any idea what it could be but he was at a loss too. During the New Year's holiday everything is closed, including vets, so I had no place to take her. I tried to feed her a bit more out there but she didn't want any food. I figured that since she'd eaten a fair bit (40 grams) she was just full and didn't want anymore and I'd try to feed her again first thing in the morning. The next morning she had regurgatated some of the food she'd eaten the day before and there was more blood in her box. There wasn't much I could do except keep her warm and relaxed. I put her on a bow perch in my apartment with the heater on low but she continued to regurgate the rest of her crop throughout the day. Around 5 p.m. she fell off her perch and couldn't regain her perch. I held her in a towel in my hands and watched the life gradually drain out while tears ran down my cheeks. At 7 p.m. she had a final burst of energy that sent her from my hands to the floor. When I picked her up I knew she was gone. Even though I knew she was going to die when I opened her box and saw the regurgatated food, and thought I had prepared myself for it, I hadn't cried like that in a long time. I sent her body in for a necropsy to determine what killed her but the guy who is doing it lives on another island of Japan and is doing if for free so it may be awhile before I get the results back. In the meantime I will be finishing out the season with the male Harris that I have been working with. Not quite the same little ball of fire but he has his own personality quirks that make him interesting. I'm not one to mourn for long periods of time, sometimes crap happens and there's nothing to do about it but face forward and move on. I have a lot of good memories with her though and those will live on. She was a good bird.