Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fast Food

I had a bit of time yesterday morning (not much, but just enough) so I buzzed over to a fairly reliable spot. It was extremely satisfying to see a group of about 20 starlings milling around the entrance of a restaurant that had yet to open. The starlings are still out in the mornings, I just need to figure a way to get out earlier on the weekends...

Anyway, Hayduke bawked at the initial slip, I think he knew there were too many eyes on him for it to be a successful slip but just around the corner a couple more starlings were feeding next to the restaurant dumpster and he liked what he saw. He whacked one in a pretty short, direct flight.

Unfortunately, during the ensuing battle and before I could get there to help, the starling dragged Hayduke through some spilled restaurant grease! It smelled nasty and ratted up his feathers pretty good. Hence the ratty picture. Disgusting. I suppose that's the peril you face when hunting suburbia...

I'd had to run another errand before flying but when I walked in the door only 20 minutes after I'd left the house my wife was rather surprised. "You ran the errand AND caught a bird?" She asked. "Pffft, of course! It's Hayduke!" I replied. ;-P

Had the grease incident not happened I would've tried for doubles due to how quickly this hunt took place but it didn't look like Hayduke was in any condition to fly well after that. I looked into ways of removing the grease and for future reference it appears that Dawn dishsoap is the cleanser of choice for oiled up birds. Luckily, Hayduke wasn't completely covered, mostly it was on his tail and a little on his chest. By the time I would've been able to wash him up he appeared to have preened most of it out. His feathers still looked a bit "matted" this morning but I don't think Dawn will be necessary. Mental note: Avoid dumpster birds from here on out!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tough Slips

It's been awhile since the skunk monkey showed his ugly face but he got us this weekend. It was super windy, and there just wasn't much on the ground. The past few hunts all we've needed was one slip though and we got three so I've got no excuse...except that these were pretty difficult slips!

The first was at a sparrow under an SUV. It was a good 30 yards out and I didn't really think Hayduke had a chance but he wanted to try anyway. It was actually a lot closer than I thought it would be but as suspected the sparrow saw him coming and ducked under the car. Hayduke shot under the car after it (SUV's have much greater clearance than the Ferrari from last week!) but the sparrow bounced off a tire and shot out in the opposite direction and Hayduke exited the other side, caught a gust of wind and ended up on top of the SUV. I flashed a starling wing and he was back on the fist ready for another one.

The next slip was at a fairly reliable sparrow spot. Someone dumps a bunch of seed at the far end of a Walmart parking lot, right next to some hedges. There's always a ton of sparrows but it's so close to the hedges that we have yet to catch one there. It's always a fun flight though so we tried yet again. They all got to the hedge well before Hayduke arrived but he made a good grab at one of the slower ones and ended up looking up into the hedge trying to figure out how he could grab one of those tasty feathered morsels as they scrambled around inside. I gave him a minute to see if he could come up with anything but he knew he was beat and was blown back to the fist (actually blown past the fist because of the wind, but made an adjustment and pulled himself down) when I flashed the starling wing again.

It took quite awhile and a trip in to new territory to find the last slip. I noticed a starling on a light pole in between a fast food joint and a carwash so I pulled in to take a look. As luck would have it there were quite a few starlings on the ground but not really in a slippable position. I glanced across the street and there were a few more in a better position so I headed in that direction but of course, as soon as I arrived the starlings decided to move on. *Sigh* I went back to the car wash to see if any of them had returned there and spotted 3 of them fighting over a piece of bread about across a small ditch under a sparse evergreen 30 yards away. Another tough one. But Hayduke, being Hayduke, shot off after them. The bread kept the starlings distracted until it was too late and he plowed into one! It started screaming and just as I broke into a run to give the assist, it broke free! Nooooooo!!

It had taken about 2 1/2 hours to get that many slips so that did it for us. I suppose you could say we ended on a high note with such a close call but I've gotten so used to coming home with something in the bag I was a little disappointed. They were all great flights though in difficult conditions, I really shouldn't complain. We'll make up for it soon enough...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Posh Dining

It was another late afternoon, not alot of time hunt, with the concern about not finding birds on the ground becoming all too familiar. We checked our first spot and didn't see a single starling or sparrow on the ground or in the trees...Hmmm. Next spot. I saw a starling on a light post in the museum parking lot so I took a swing through there and did find a couple starlings mixed in with half a dozen sparrows but they were deep in a humongous, head high hedge that wasn't going to provide anything like a productive slip. We moved on thinking we'd maybe check again on our return trip if nothing else materialized. Our next stop was a small shopping area with a couple starlings around but either in trees or hanging out in the dumpster. Again, not slippable. Time was not my friend and I was getting anxious.

A quick check of a nearby movie theatre was unproductive until I saw what looked like a windblown leaf tumble under a row of cars out of the corner of my eye. Sparrow maybe? I headed in that direction and sure enough, two sparrows hanging out just far enough away from the cars that it might be a do-able slip. Since I wasn't seeing anything else, I sent Hayduke after them.

The sparrows saw him coming and dodged under the car right at the last second but that didn't deter Hayduke and he disappeared under the car after them. He didn't come out the other side but I didn't hear a squeak...did he get it? I jogged over, took a peak under the car and:

Nice! He got it! Now the retrieve...he likes to run around with his sparrows. I stood up to let him calm down a bit before I tried to retrieve him and noticed he was under a nice new Mercedes. It might look odd if I was rooting around under a that car when the owner showed up! I looked under again and he decided to move. He hopped over a couple cars and I bent over to check on him again. At least he wasn't under the Mercedes anymore but man, this car didn't have a whole lot of clearance...Oh, nice, a FERRARI!! Not sure the owner of that car would want me anywhere near that one! Apparently Hayduke was looking for a luxurious place to dine!

Luckily, I don't think Hayduke could even posture up enough to pluck under that car so he took the sparrow over to a less intimidating car a couple spots down and I was able to retrieve him without incident. We headed home and I snapped this shot outside my apartment:

So another one in the bag. He's a awfully reliable bird these days. I love the little booger even if he does make me chase him around under expensive cars!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weekend Warrior

Hayduke was as fired up as I've ever seen him on Saturday. I don't know if it was the week off of flying or the fact that he was just a tad lower than I've been flying him (at 79 grams) but he was standing on his tippy-toes and rowing his wings as soon as we left the house. I knew something was going to get it.

We left the house much later than I would've liked so I was concerned we wouldn't find many starlings on the ground. My very un-scientific guess is that the starlings leave their roosts after spending a cold night and just want to eat but by the afternoon they've had their fill so they just hang out in trees or on wires unless something really good (like a stray french fry) shows up. So at 2:15 I figured it would be slim pickings.

As luck would have it, our first stop turned up a group of about a dozen starlings dropping out of a small tree to pick through some snow beneath them. Perfect!...until a little old lady pulls up in a jeep and parks right next to them!! We were clear at the back of the parking lot and their were plenty of closer spots, why she had to pick that one I'll never know but miracle of miracles the starlings didn't flush! Now my only problem was the little old lady was about to exit her vehicle guaranteeing the starlings would flush. I could slip Hayduke now and take my chances with the little old lady or pass it up in hopes that the starlings would return...Well, Hayduke decided I was taking too long thinking about it. I didn't have a firm grip on his jesses and he wanted a starling. He left the fist and cruised in low across the pavement slamming his victim and scattering the rest of the group just as the little old lady stepped out of her car.

As expected the starling was screaming its head off as I jogged over to finish the job.
Little old lady: "Is it okay" (Presumably thinking the bird she'd heard screaming was the bird now on my fist.
Me: "Yup, he's fine."
Little old lady: "Is he yours?"
Me: "Yup."
Little old lady: "What kind of bird is he?"
Me: "An American Kestrel. He just caught a starling for lunch, that's the bird you heard screaming."
Little old lady: "He caught a starling? Good for him!!" (Complete with a big smile and a thumbs up!)

That's the kind of interaction with the public that I like!

So first slip of the day and a bird in the bag. It looked like a good day to try for multiples. Alas, after an hour of searching, my initial fears about no birds on the ground proved true. The first slip turned out to be the only slip and we ended with only the one in the bag:

I then headed over to a nearby industrial park to watch my friend fly his goshawk. We found tons of bunnies but the gos was always just inches away. One performed some pretty evasive maneuvers and ducked into the hole in the bottom left of this picture just as the gos slammed the ground where it should have been. The story is pretty much written in the snow:

After another missed flight we had a great setup for a reflush as the bunny had taken cover in some plywood that would've been easy enough to get him out of. The gos had taken a stand in a nearby tree so my friend tossed out his lure to call her down and was in the process of getting her back on the fist when a large dark shape sailed in at them from my right. It was a Harris hawk coming in either for the lure or my friend's bird, not sure which! After being shooed away by my friend the Harris landed about 20 feet away from me. With no owner in sight I debated on whether or not to grab the bird's jesses so we could get a flight on the bunny we knew had taken cover. It's not a smart idea to mess with another falconer's bird though so I just shooed it away. It took a stand at the top of a nearby pine tree and the owner appeared momentarily. He was having a difficult time getting the bird down though so we abandoned the reflush and headed elsewhere to try and get in one or two more slips before the light left us. We did find a few more bunnies but they all avoided the gos one way or another and lived to see another day.

Perhaps the highlight of this outing though was the fact that it was the first time my 3 year old has joined me in the field chasing bunnies. He was a trooper!! We gave him a flushing stick and we'd point to a bush and tell him to scare the bunnies and he'd sneak up real quiet counting 1...2...3...GO! whacking the bush with all his might. He had a grin from ear to ear after every bunny he flushed and as we made our way back to the car in the dark he asked when we were going to do it again. An excellent falconer in the making! Good times as always.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

C.S.I.: Birdfeeder

I like this little mystery presented by the Southern Rockies Nature Blog: Bloody birdfeeder in need of crime scene reconstruction!

Naturally as a falconer my initial response is hawk attack, most likely a Cooper's, but that's some pretty good blood coverage, a quick snatch and dash like a Cooper's would perform wouldn't leave that much blood, would it? And if it was a hawk that caught and ate a bluejay (see note about a single blue jay feather) there would be lots of plucking involved so there would be more feathers...Although he does say there are lots of squirrels that frequent the feeder too...Red-tail pounding a bushy-tail? Don't know that the feeder itself would survive such an attack. Are there ground dwelling possibilities? Coyote?

I dunno, what do ya'll think?? (Maybe comment over on the other's his mystery not mine! :-)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Catching Up

Unfortunately vacation has ended and I'm back at work which means I'm back to flying mostly on weekends until the days get longer, but this does give me a chance to catch up a bit.

My last post on Wednesday was about our streak ending but fortunately that was the only blip in an otherwise fantastic week (and even Wednesday he flew great). Hayduke went on to catch birds Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Here's a brief recap:

Thursday I headed out with a friend that is thinking of becoming a falconer and another falconer buddy of mine. The wannabe saw Hayduke catch Monday's starling, but the other falconer hadn't seen him fly yet this year. I'll admit I felt a bit of pressure but I really had nothing to worry about. The slips seemed to be far and in between for some reason but after a few missed slips we found a few feeding underneath an evergreen tree just on the otherside of a snowbank. Hayduke used the snowbank for cover and then popped up and over snagging one in a nice little flight. Unfortunately I'd forgotten the good camera so I had to snap this shot with my cell phone:

It had taken quite awhile to finally get that bird but we decided to try for Hayduke's first double. We had a few more close calls and on the last slip of the day he even piggy-backed a starling for a couple seconds before it shook him off but we ended with only the one.

The next day I was out by myself again but with the charge from my wife to pick up our son's friend at 10:00 and bring him back to the house. Since I left the house at 7:30 I wasn't too worried and things started off great. I was finding starlings EVERYWHERE. I found one spot with a couple hundred birds hanging out. I snapped this pic after probably half of the starlings on the line flushed!

Despite birds everywhere and probably close to 20 slips (a couple where Hayduke even rolled the starlings), he just couldn't hang on to any of them. 10:00 was fast approaching and I needed to head toward my son's friend's house. A last ditch swing through a small shopping center turned up a good group of starlings but none of them were in an ideal position to get a slip. I debated moving on or waiting them out and decided that it was now or never. At about 9:55 one finally hopped a curb to a spot where Hayduke had a chance. In the clinch, Hayduke delivered making a nice little one footed snag. I showed up at my friend's son's house with Hayduke munching on a starling head! Luckily that friend's father is the wannabe falconer so I don't think it was too traumatic!

On Saturday I hooked up with the wannabe and the other falconer again. The wannabe and myself had to be back home at 10:00 which gave us only about 2 hours of hawking time. The plan this time was to fly the other falconer's goshawk first to give the wannabe a taste of bunny flights. Hayduke was a couple grams overweight anyway so flying him a little later seemed like a good plan. As luck would have it though, the gos was overweight too and the other falconer was hoping we could fly Hayduke first! After a bit of discussion we decided to look for an easy industrial park bunny for the gos and see how it reacted. Well, that didn't work out so well. The bunny we found didn't interest the gos at all and it decided to explore the industrial park for a bit. It wasn't that big of a deal but it ate up some precious hawking time. By the time we had the gos safely back in the truck it was 9:30 and we were 10 minutes away from the closest spot to fly Hayduke.

We arrived at the chosen shopping center and a quick once over revealed only one group of starlings which subsequently flushed before we could get the slip. Time was running down and prospects did not look good. Just then probably a dozen sparrows fluttered down in some hedges on the edge of the parking lot...followed by a dozen more. Now Hayduke was still heavier than I'd ever flown him but I wasn't worried about catching starlings because he can't carry them anywhere anyway. Sparrows would be a concern. He carried the last one and with time being a factor I didn't want to have to worry about chasing him around...but if we were going to get a slip, this was it. Hayduke left the fist and absolutely crushed one of the sparrows that had ventured too far from the hedge! After watching him battle starlings the last little while the sparrow seemed a piece of cake. The wannabe was amazed at how fast Hayduke had it dispatched.

Now for the pick-up...He dragged his kill under one car, then another when a car decided to park in the empty spot next to where he was. We garnered some quizzical looks from the driver who wondered why I was looking under cars. Someone with a shopping cart rattled by and Hayduke decided to move to the next parked car again but luckily this one was a fairly jacked up truck that allowed easy access for me. I laid on my belly, flashed a starling wing and Hayduke hopped right up. I pocketed the sparrows and backed out from underneath the truck just as the owner of the vehicle wheeled around the back. A quick explaination and she was fine with the whole thing. Hard not to be enamored with little Hayduke! We hopped in our car and were all back just in time. I snapped this pic just outside my apartment:

So all in all, a fantastic week of hawking with 5 starlings and a sparrow brought to the bag. If only I didn't have to work...