Saturday, February 21, 2009

Catch and Release

Dulci was fat today. Fatter than I've ever flown her in fact. For some reason her food was sticking to her like a fly on fly paper. She got 10 grams on Friday morning before I left to work and by the time I'd returned had only lost 5 of those. When I went to bed Friday night I was more than a bit concerned, at over 97 grams she'd have to have some pretty darn active dreams to shed enough weight to reach her flying weight of 89 the next day.

Well, no "sleep flying" for her, she weighed in at a hefty 94.5 this morning as opposed to the 91.5g I usually wake to. The possibility of missing one of my only hawking days had me seriously concerned. I opened a window next to her, I installed an "exercise system" on her perch, all to no avail. By 3:30 she'd only lost another 2.3g.

The highest I've ever flown her was at 90.7 for her first free flight. Of course that was then and I'm much more confident in her returning now but still, 92.2?? What to do, what to do? It's these types of temptations that can lead to lost birds...

It's awfully hard for me to give up a day of hawking though. Off we went with the condition that today was starlings only, I didn't want to run the risk of her carrying a sparrow.

As luck would have it, after a bit of searching we found a perfect starling slip. A group of 30, maybe more, feeding in a field. Dulci was slipped about 30 yards out, the flock rose when they saw her in bound but it was too late. Dulci plowed in to her victim about 10 feet off the ground and they tumbled earthward as the rest of the frantic flock headed for safety. It was a thing of beauty!!

I jogged over somewhat in disbelief. There she was mantling over the struggling starling, my eyes had not decieved me, she'd actually caught it! I jogged over to finish off the starling before taking some pics. The victim was screaming its head off and I could see that Dulci didn't have the best grip. As I bent down to grab the starling DULCI LET IT GO!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!

Fat bird? Bad grip? I don't know. Disappointed? Yup.

It was a beautiful flight though and I suppose that's what we're after, right? *Sigh*

Back at it again tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Falconers are fond of quoting the father of conservation, Aldo Leopold, when he says in his book A Sand County Almanac that, "All in all, falconry is the perfect hobby." And why shouldn't we? If such an iconic personality thought so highly of our sport then it must truly be the best thing going, right?

Indeed the words preceding the above sound bite certainly make a grand case for it:

"The most glamorous hobby I know of today is the revival of falconry. It has a few addicts in America and perhaps a dozen in England – a minority indeed. For two and a half cents one can buy and shoot a cartridge that will kill the heron whose capture by hawking required months or years of laborious training of both the hawk and the hawker. The cartridge, as a lethal agent, is a perfect product of industrial chemistry. One can write a formula for its lethal reaction. The hawk, as a lethal agent, is the perfect flower of that still utterly mysterious alchemy – evolution. No living man can, or possibly ever will, understand the instinct of predation that we share with our raptorial servant. No man-made machine can, or ever will, synthesize that perfect coordination of eye, muscle, and pinion as he stoops to his kill."

I came across these words just the other day as I was perusing yet another falconry website and was inspired to look up Leopold's words in my own copy of his book. The passage is found in a section called A Man's Leisure Time.

Here Leopold quotes Ariosto (I can only assume this is the Ariosto he refers to?) in saying,

"How miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man"

Leopold continues,

"There are not many texts that I am able to accept as gospel truths, but this is one of them. I am willing to rise up and declare my belief that this text is literally true; true forward, true backward, true even before breakfast. The man who cannot enjoy his leisure is ignorant, though his degrees exhaust the alphabet, and the man who does enjoy his leisure is to some extent educated, though he has never seen the inside of a school.

I cannot easily imagine a greater fallacy than for one who has several hobbies to speak on the subject to those who may have none. For this implies prescription of avocation by one person for another, which is the antithesis of whatever virtue may inhere in having any at all. You do not annex a hobby, the hobby annexes you. To prescribe a hobby would be dangerously akin to prescribing a wife--with about the same probability of a happy outcome."

Try as I might to explain my passion for falconry to my wife, to instill in her that spark of excitement that I feel everytime I go out, she will never understand why I spend my free time "watching birds fly around". She will never be a falconer, to her it is a pointless activity.

Curiously it is exactly that quality (pointlessness) that raises falconry to such a high level in the eyes of Leopold! He says,

"What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."

How many falconers quote Leopold as saying that falconry is the perfect hobby without knowing that what he means is that falconry perfectly fulfills the requirements of being useless, inefficient, laborious, and irrelevant!

Put that way falconry seems slightly less "perfect"! Nonetheless, I think I'll keep at it! :-P

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A New Look...

Got bored at work today, thought I'd fiddle around with the blog a bit. I didn't know such drastic changes could be so easy!

We'll try it on for a bit but I think I like it!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Great Posts

While I am sure there are many more people that visit my blog as a result of first visiting Albert's rather than vice versa, I have to link to this post from his blog just in case there's anyone out there that hasn't been over to his site yet. Great post Albert!

Check out similar posts over at The Outdoor Bloggers Summit.

And other great one by Terrierman (Patrick) over here.

There's some pretty darn cool people blogging out there...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Urban Hawking at its Finest!

Today was urban hawking at its finest. The kill was just too funny.

We had just had a slip at some sparrows feeding near some bushes in a shopping center, she had missed and landed on a parked car. I was trying to call her back to the fist as I walked toward her and usually she's pretty quick at coming back but this time she was bobbing her head and looking off into the distance.

Suddenly she launches off the top of the parked car heading toward these two girls (15-16ish) walking along the sidewalk. She's done some odd things before, like almost landing on a lady's head once, so I had no idea what she was up to but she was headed for them like a bat outta hell. They were about 50 yards away from where she launched and walking no more than a foot apart. Dulci was on a collision course but at the last second her wings went vertical and she slid through the tiny gap right in between the two girls! It looked like something out of a Starwars movie!

The girls flipped out, they kicked their legs in the air and screamed "AHHHHH BIRD!!!" She picked off the sparrow about 10 feet in front of them! I don't know if she was using the girls for cover as she approached or what but it was pretty amazing to see her split the uprights like that. Words don't do the girls' reaction justice.

I didn't know she'd caught something so I was chuckling to myself as I jogged over wondering what the heck that was about then I heard the sparrow squeaking and saw Dulci finishing it off.

"Did she get it?" I asked as I ran up to the girls.

"Is that YOUR bird?!?" they asked.

"Yup, sorry she freaked you out" *chuckle*

"Yeah, she got it..."

And they continued on their way. I gathered Dulci up, took her over to where my car was parked and let her feed up as I took some pics with my real camera that I happen to remember this time (rather than the last few that have been with my cell phone). If only I'd been able to have film that flight! Not one that I'll easily forget though, I was laughing all the way home!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vacation Grand Finale

Yesterday was quite the day. It was my last day of "vacation" (if that's what you call paternity leave...) so I thought I'd make the most of it.

As we headed out looking for our first slip we spotted a pair of bald eagles soaring over the highway. I've been seeing lots of those lately but they don't seem to bother the kbird and these ones were probably too far away for her to worry about anyway. Before long I spotted a couple of starlings feeding with some robins near a hedge in an industrial park. Dulci took the slip and much to my surprise smacked one of the robins! I saw her connect but it appeared as if the robin just shrugged her off and hopped up into the hedge. The starlings of course, headed for the hills. Not exactly what I had planned but an encouraging start to the day!

Our next slip came as some starlings were drinking in some melted snow in another parking lot. The starling Dulci had her sights set on panicked and ran itself right into the tire of a parked car! I thought that the mistake would seal the deal but the surprisingly resiliant starling bounced off and headed in the opposite direction just as Dulci arrived making it an extremely narrow miss.

The third starling did almost the same thing, only this time smacking into a light pole but again recovered just quickly enough to avoid the incoming talons.

I headed over to a nearby waste station where there are always LOADS of starlings...on the wires...but occasionally I find them in slippable situations so its worth a check. There were even more than usual there this time and they were milling around on the ground in an area that looked promising. I parked the car and tried to figure out the slip when suddenly the flock exploded back up to the wires. It looks like we weren't the only ones who thought all those starlings looked tasty. I watched as not one, not two, but THREE wild kestrels appeared and landed within a 50 yard radius (one smack dab in the middle of the starlings on the wire). I just shook my head and started the car up knowing I wouldn't be flying THAT flock today. As I pulled away I saw one of the kbirds bomb a bush and fly off with a sparrow.

I headed over to Walmart and found a decent group of starlings feeding near a dumpster. Dulci took the slip and plowed into the group. I heard the sweet song of success as a starling started screaming its head off but my view was obstructed by the dumpster and when I finally got around to where I could see Dulci was in the air again. I know she caught one but it must've gotten itself free somehow. Bummer!!

With a record 4 slips in one day, and connections two of those times, I thought for sure that if I found one more slip we'd put one in the bag. I headed over to the shopping carts in the same WallyWorld lot and just as I expected found a small group of sparrows. With people walking all around them these sparrows are pretty oblivious. Dulci picked one out sitting on the bottom rack of a cart that had its back toward her and I know I saw her hit it. I don't know if it "falling" from the rack toward the ground when she hit it made her lose her grip or what but the result was another hit and miss. Dulci flew up to a parked car and I walked over to pick her up. We'd been gone for three hours so I called it a day.

The last week and a half have been fantastic. I've been able to hawk for a couple hours each day and I'm finally starting to find starlings in slippable situations on the ground. We've been getting more slips than ever before and we've been able to put some game in the bag. My confidence in Dulci is such that I even took her out in 30mph winds one day (not recommended) and while there was one tense moment when she went up about 100 feet and drifted out of view over a movie theatre, I've still never had to use telemetry (although we always fly with it).

While I have to go back to the 9-5 grind as of today with the days getting longer I anticipate having continued success for at least a few more months. I'm still undecided as to whether or not I'll fly her through the moult or release her but she sure has been fun thus far!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sparrow #2

Today was almost too quick. First slip of the day in a Walmart parking lot not 5 minutes from my house. She took this one out of a group of about 6 sparrows hanging out near the rear end of a parked Lexus (what a Lexus was doing in a Walmart parking lot I don't know...). She dragged the sparrow from the back end up to the front tire as I approached but as soon as I flashed a small mouse on my glove she brought the sparrow right to me.

I think we're finally figuring this game out. I knew if I just had more time to go hawking I'd start putting game in the bag. Oh how I wish I didn't have to go back to work on Thursday!! :-(

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A GREAT couple of days

Wednesday morning=Fly fishing:

Thursday afternoon= Starling #2 (3rd head of game) taken right out of the air as it flushed in front of us:

Every night:
I could get used to this...