Monday, March 30, 2009

20/20 Hindsight

First of all, thank you all for your kind words. I am not good at mourning and have been in somewhat of a state of shock since it happened but support from family and friends is always appreciated.

As you might imagine, I've been thinking a lot about what happened on Saturday. What, if anything, could I have done to prevent it and, in a never ending effort to improve, what can I learn from this experience?

The slip was near a road but just about all the slips I've taken were near roads, it's just part of urban hawking. There were no cars coming when I took the slip, I made sure of that. Regardless, I expected her to land in a tree if she missed as she always does instead of heading out in to the road. She would have too, if the wild kestrel hadn't appeared.

Having said that, the area I was flying in was known to have wild kestrels in it. In fact, I've seen as many as three at the same time within a hundred yards, and I'd seen a male shortly before the accident. But everywhere I've flown I've seen kestrels. I can't think of a slip I've had where I haven't seen kestrels at one point or another. Dulci had dealt with wild kestrels before and usually managed to ignore them or evade them when they harassed her.

The bird that attacked her was a female, and a particularly aggressive female at that and there's a good chance that at this time of the year it was the mate of the male I'd seen earlier. That would explain the aggressiveness. I guess you could say that the wild bird effectively defended her territory...I may have to go back and find out where that pair is nesting. Perhaps they can supply me with one of their young as a replacement come September (trapping season in Colorado). Seems only fitting, right??

All that is to say that I don't know that I would have done things differently. Crap happens. Yeah, I could say I won't fly near roads again but that's just not practical given my current circumstances. I can't say I'll scout for wild birds before every single flight because, well, they're birds and they tend to show up where ever and whenever they want. The only truely safe bird is one at home on a perch but that's not what falconry is about. Every time our birds leave our fists we release them into that harsh world known as the wild where things happen beyond our control. I knew the risks when I signed up and have to take bad with the good.

Dulci provided lots of the good and rather than a long drawn out bad, it was over in an instant. She died while doing what she was born to do and that's all anyone can ask for.

A good friend of mine is still flying his kestrel so there will still be adventures to post but I'm already looking forward to the fall and having another bird of my own. Thanks again for all the kind words, stay tuned, next year will be even better.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Dulcinea was chased into the road and grounded by a wild kestrel this afternoon. The wild bird took off as a car came but Dulci was hit full on and killed instantly.

She will be missed greatly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Second Chances

I had a meeting in another city yesterday and since I knew the meeting wouldn't take that long I took the bird along hoping to get some hawking in on my way home...suit pants and button-up shirt be damned! :-)

After a few unsuccessful flights on starlings (I'm just not finding good setups for them!) I was actually resigned to heading home but as the fisherman always wants "one last cast" I thought I'd swing through the shopping center where we'd caught (and released...) the sparrow on Saturday since it was on my way.

A quick glance as I passed the McDonald's parking lot confirmed that there were sparrows. What followed was almost a replica of what happened on Saturday! Only this time the sparrow was on top of the curb and the momentum from the attack carried them into the bushes rather than Dulci dragging it in to them.

This time I waited! I located her in the bush but did not try to approach. All I had was my cell phone but I snapped this picture while I waited for her to do her thing:

After I saw her take a few bites, proving in my mind that the sparrow was a goner, I slowly reached in with a good sized tidbit on my fist and, just like the good girl she is, she looked over her shoulder and jumped on with the sparrow in tow.

See, I do learn from my mistakes!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Haste Makes Waste

We broke our slump today.

Started off at the local Walmart and had a nice flight on a group of starlings on a grassy slope in the back of the store. The targeted starling did a panicked shuffle right at the last minute, barely escaping the net of talons headed its way.

A short time later a sparrow slip was missed either because she didn't see it or the strong wind blew her off course, I'm not sure. She ended up kiting up into the wind and may have chased another sparrow in the outdoor garden section in the parking lot of the adjacent Home Depot. I thought I saw her stoop in that direction but lost sight of her for a bit. I pulled out the lure as I always do when I can't see where she is and she came pumping over and absolutely slammed the lure. She really wanted to kill something today!

We headed over to a business park and found a large group of starlings feeding in a vacant lot across the street. Unfortunately the closest we could get to them was probably 150 yards away! The lot used to have a gas station that was recently torn down so the area is fenced off awaiting further construction. Bummer!

The McDonald's in the business park delievered the goods however. Dulci picked one off right up against the curb.

For those of you who may not be as familiar with falconry as others, falcons have a "tooth" on their beak that is placed between the neck vertabrae of prey. A quick bite with this tooth seperates the vertabrae killing the prey instantly. Here you can see Dulci administering the coup de grace (click for larger version):

So the sparrow should be dead, right? And in this next picture, it looks pretty lifeless, right?

And I'm taking pictures, so you'd think it's a done deal, correct?

Well, here's the embarassing rest of the story. Given the surroundings (parking lot with cars driving around) I wanted to retrieve Dulci as quickly as possible and perhaps moved in too fast. The fear that many people have in flying sparrows with kestrels is that because they are so small they are carried easily, and a spooked kestrel will definitely carry. While I am extremely fortunate in that Dulci does not fly with her sparrows, she will drag them to places she feels more comfortable if she doesn't like the situation. My quick approach caused her to hop the curb with the sparrow. The other side of the curb happen to be about a 10 foot drop into some rather thick evergreen bushes!

I knew she wasn't going anywhere in there but still felt it important to retrieve her as quickly as possible. I made my way down to where she was and tried to get her to come to my fist garnished with the back half of a mouse. Having a rather large creature push through the evergreen bushes toward her did not help the situation however and everytime I almost got to her she would drag the sparrow further along the wall she was up against.

After going back and forth several times I finally got her to see my fist. Bless her heart, she came right to me...releasing the apparently still living sparrow!! It flew right past my astonished face on its way out of the bush. I'm sure it had quite the tale to tell when it returned to its flock!

In hindsight, I shouldn't have rushed things. First, at the curb I should have just stood in front of her, blocking cars from pulling in to that particular parking spot, until she had broken in to the sparrow. Once she had jumped the curb I really should have calmed down. Those bushes provided her plenty of protection, she wasn't going anywhere so I should again, have let her break in to the sparrow before trying to retrieve her. I was just too excited and it cost her the sparrow.

But I got pics, and the fumble was my fault so I'll probably count that one in her season total.

I won't make the same mistake twice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Birds make me smile...

Someone on another email list posted this picture. I thought it was pretty cool!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Help Florida Falconers

There is perhaps no bird more iconic of falconry than the peregrine falcon. When populations plummeted and the species was close to extinction in the Eastern U.S. it was falconers who stepped forward donating their resources to bring the bird back from the brink. Today the population of peregrine falcons exceeds even pre-DDT numbers and the species is a poster child for restoring endangered animals.

For many years falconers have been prohibited from capturing wild peregrine falcons to use in falconry due to their endangered status. Any peregrine falcon that you see used as a falconry bird these days is from captive bred stock. However, now that the falcon has been delisted and their population is stable, even increasing, falconers may have the opportunity to once again fly their wild counterparts.

In Florida, regulations are being considered to allow falconers this chance but are facing significant opposition from the Audubon society and their "look but don't touch" mentality. Comments are still being accepted regarding the regulations and I urge any and all to write a brief email supporting the idea of allowing falconers to utilize this resource. It seems a very small reward compared to the tireless efforts of those falconers who worked to bring the bird back in the first place.

Below are some talking points (forwarded by the Florida Hawking Fraternity) you could consider in your emails:

The residents of Florida should not be denied access to a natural resource, which harvesting of the Peregrine falcon should be considered as.

Management of peregrines for use in falconry should be based on sound biology, not politics.

Healthy raptor populations are not affected by the practice of falconry, it has been proven on more than one occasion that falconry has no impact on raptor populations.

Peregrines were delisted (no longer requiring special protection) by the USFWS in 1999, 10 years ago. Now that their populations have been restored, restrictions on the use of the peregrine for falconry should be no greater than those for any other raptor with a healthy population.

The peregrines who were being held for falconry in captivity were used as breeder birds to repopulate the wild population. Falconers designed the current methods used to breed raptors in captivity to helps repopulate peregrines.

Falconers went to wild Peregrine nest sites and removed the un-cracked eggs to be incubated and then returned chicks once they were hatched to the nest sites.

Since 1999, when the peregrine was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the peregrine population in the U.S. has more than doubled and is now several times larger than the recovery goal and the historic pre-DDT population.

Migration data suggests that the population of arctic (tundrius) peregrines has increased almost 10x since the 1970s.

All subspecies of peregrine populations in North America are healthy, self-sustaining, and require no special management for falconry. The peregrine falcon populations in the U.S. have continued to increase and show no sign of having reached an upper limit.

A fair estimate of the North American peregrine population is 20,000 breeding pairs. Being healthy, this population produces 40,000 young per year. Using the USFWS's conservative allowable take of 5% of the young produced per year, a take limit of 2,000 peregrines per year for falconry should be permitted. [It should be noted that with the number of licensed falconers in the U.S. at around 4,000, only a small fraction of which would be interested in flying passage peregrine falcons, nowhere near that number of falconers would actually be taken...]

The take of passage (first year and fully independent of parental care) peregrines for falconry should be permitted in all 48 lower states and Alaska.

No special considerations, limits, or quotas are necessary to protect the peregrine beyond those in the falconry regulations (i.e. only immature raptor may be taken and only two raptors may be taken per year per permittee).

Studies have shown that passage raptors taken for falconry and released the following spring have a better chance for survival then if they had been left in the wild.

Please send comments by April 15th to:

*****Thank you for your help and support*****

Monday, March 02, 2009

Harris Hawks

Doug over at Harris' Hawk Blog recently wrote this post extolling the virtues of the Harris Hawk. I started to comment on the post but it got a little long so I migrated back here to finish my thoughts. Here goes:

They're too easy!

Now before I'm crucified by the Harris Hawkers for writing that I want to make it very clear that I've never understood that knock on Harris Hawks. I flew a couple of Harris Hawks in Japan and compared to the other birds I flew there (Eurasian sparrowhawk, Eurasian kestrel) they were a dream come true! Easy to work with and as gamey as you could ask for. I actually caught more game with those birds than I have with anything else I've flown...but for some reason I'm not all that interested in going back.

Wha...? Given my incompetence at catching game, why would I not want to go back to a Harris Hawk? Honestly, I don't know.

I guess its like bait fishing vs. fly fishing.

There's nothing challenging about catching game with a Harris. (I wonder what kind of comments that will inspire...) An at weight (or even fat) bird with plenty of game pretty much guarantees something will go in the bag.

Throw bait in where there's plenty of fish, be it trout, bass, panfish, catfish, or anything else, and you'll go home to a fish dinner.

And well, everybody's done it.

The falcons and accipiters though, if you catch game regularly with those then you've done something right. There's a certain "finesse" required in the training, in the setup for game, and in the maintenence.

It's like landing a big brown trout on lightweight gear. I guess some like the challenge.

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with bait fishing and if someone invites me worm dunking I'm more than happy to go. I'm not above just going out and having fun. Most of the folks I hawk with these days fly Harris Hawks at industrial park bunnies and we have a blast.

But on my own time I'd rather fly fish. I catch less, probably complain more, and come home frustrated more often than not but someday, someday I'll figure it out and all the blood, sweat, and tears will be worth it. That's my hope anyway.

And if I don't? Well, there will always be someone dunking worms and catching bucket loads of stuff. I'm sure they won't mind if I tag along.