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!
James Lee Mansell, RIP
2 days ago