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!
James Lee Mansell, RIP
2 days ago