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?"
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.