Monday, October 25, 2010

A Bird In Hand...

I didn't have a lot of time Saturday morning since I had to be somewhere at 8. I had about 40 minutes of daylight to hawk before 8 and then figured I'd head out after my appointment if needed. Well, it wasn't needed! We snagged starling #2 in a short flight in a restaurant parking lot. Unfortunately I forgot the camera! (But don't worry, there's a pic later...)

Goliath was actually heavier than I've ever flown him on Saturday at 92.2g. Early in his training he was great at 93g inside but outside would try and bolt even at 89. I guess he's figured out the program though. I'll admit I was nervous on our first couple slips at sparrows and while his response wasn't what it is at 88, it wasn't like I was waiting a long time for him to come back. 30 seconds max. What a great bird.

So on Sunday when he weighed in at 90.5 I wasn't too worried.

We actually had some really great flights. The first was at a shopping center with this huge sign that attracts starlings by the hundreds. The problem is, the sign is probably 50 ft. tall and they were all staying up near the top. There's some construction going on near the road below the sign and a lot of standing water in a depression made by the construction. The starlings would leave in large groups and head to that 'watering hole' periodically so I thought I'd see if I could get close to where they were going down and get a flight. Unfortunately I found that the construction consisted of putting a new, fairly busy road in between the sign and the water. I had Goliath cocked and ready to go (dart style) as I made my way back toward the sign just as a group of about 30 starlings came up from the water. They were about 20 feet over my head so I tossed G. just to see what he'd do. He was right in the mix but didn't like the situation for whatever reason and didn't even chase. He just headed to a nearby tree and I called him back. Kind of a cool sight though, I could just imagine him just throwing out his feet and snagging one mid-air but it was not to be.

I wandered around the parking lot for a bit kicking sparrows out of hedges and evergreen trees and tossing him at a few but my timing just sucks. A group will bust and I'll think okay, there's a few more that are going to come out...and then nothing does! Or I toss him and the sparrows just dive right back into the cover. I need a second flusher!

I finally found a great set-up with a lone sparrow bathing in a shallow puddle in a McD's parking lot. I made the toss about 20 feet out and the sparrow saw him coming and got the heck outta dodge. Goliath really turned on the afterburners and put in a good 30 yard chase with a couple twists and turns before the sparrow made it to the safety of a thick evergreen hedge. Really beautiful flight! Even without a catch, probably the best of the day!

We headed over to another spot that's usually loaded with sparrows and had another pretty good flight at some sparrows near some hedges. It was about as close as you can get without putting one in the bag with the sparrows doing the panic dance and Goliath just zigging when he should've zagged. Fun times though.

I debated kicking those sparrows out of the bushes but I just wasn't feeling the whole timing thing and that's a loooong hedge so I decided to head over to another section where Goliath caught his first sparrow. Sure enough, I was rewarded with a small group of about 6 feeding along the edge and Goliath nailed one in a nice 20 ft. flight.

Now what I should've done is just let him calm down and start plucking. When I got within about 5 feet I could see he was getting a bit squirrelly. I should've just stopped. I kept walking toward him and he hopped into the hedge. No biggie. This was the area where we had the run in with the wild female kestrel and coops last week though so I wanted at least to be able to see him. I ducked down to see where he went and couldn't see him so I hopped the hedge to look in from the other side. Of course then he went back to the other side so I hopped back over and this time he'd had enough and decided to boogie.

Here's the result:

Of all the places he could've gone in that area, I count myself unbelievably lucky that he only went about 75 yards and landed in a small, sparse tree. Another 75 yards and he would've been on the edge of a neighborhood lined with lots of large thick evergreens. I doubt I would've been able to find him. Or he could've gone to the top of numerous buildings in the area that would've offered him a much better platform to pluck on. I think that a) I'm extremely lucky, b) he's not big enough to carry a sparrow too far, and c) he just wanted to get far enough away from me that I would let him pluck in peace and that tree was as good as any. Whatever the case may be, I'm counting my lucky stars.

So that's what I did wrong. The next few things I think I did right. I didn't panic. I just sort of chuckled to myself and thought, "Oh great." and walked over to the tree. I didn't want to run up and spook him again. I stood under the tree for a minute and tried to asses the situation. He wasn't super high up, maybe 8 feet out of reach is all, but the tree wasn't big enough to climb. I saw that the sparrow had gotten wedged between two tiny limbs and Goliath physically couldn't move it at the moment so I got out the camera and took a few shots and video you see above. Goliath started going to work on the head and I had some hope that when he finished the head the body of the sparrow would fall down and he'd follow it (wishful thinking). Anyway, I made some calls to tell my wife I'd be late for a Halloween party we were supposed to be going to, and my falconry buddies so they could laugh at me. (None of them did of course but two were off flying their birds and too far away to help, the other offered to bring a ladder if that became necessary. I didn't think it was at that point.)

So I sat and watched him eat the head of the sparrow, occasionally offering a starling wing on my fist. He'd look, but wasn't too interested. After he finished the head he tugged a bit and was able to free the sparrow. He was looking around with the sparrow dangling from his beak and I was more than a little concerned that he wanted to head to a better spot. Luckily he just repositioned the sparrow and went to work the best he could on it's back. On a whim, I tossed the starling wing I had into the air and suddenly he perked up. Another toss and he was looking hard. 'Huh,' I thought, 'Let's see what we can do with this!' I tied my lure line to the wing (just in case he did come for it) and tossed it again. He wanted it but wasn't willing to give up his sparrow for it.

I'd read on a merlin group list-serve about how someone had retrieved a merlin that had flown over a fence by tossing a skinned starling tied to a line right next to it. The merlin had left it's kill for the skinned bird and the falconer was able to lift it over the fence attached to the line. I thought I'd give it a shot and tossed the starling wing pretty much right at Goliath. He jumped for it but the sparrow was caught in the branches and he wouldn't let go. His had one foot on the sparrow, the other grasping for the starling breast, and his wings suspending him from the branches. He looked at the sparrow, back at the starling breast and made his decision. He let go of the sparrow, planted both feet on the starling breast and I gingerly lowered him out of the tree! **PHEW**

As soon as he let go of the sparrow it dropped from the tree as well so I gathered it up, got out the rest of the starling carcass from the day before and let him munch on that while I clipped him in and took a victory shot of the weekend's spoils at the base of the tree:

All's well that ends well I suppose! And I was only an hour late to the Halloween party! So 3 sparrows, two starlings before the end of October. The best start I've ever had to a season. It's gonna be a fun one!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Starling of the Season!

Had some time this morning so we went over to a nearby Walmart to see what was about. Goliath was heavier than I've ever flown him (90 grams) but I figured 'ta heck with it' and was really quite pleased at his performance.

While I've been throwing him at starlin
g carcasses for quite awhile now he's never actually had a good shot at one. I found a group of half a dozen or so feeding on the side of the building and got about 15 yards away before they started looking jumpy so I gave him a toss...They flushed well before he got there but he made them squawk for sure and then landed on top of a Home Depot next door. With his weight being high I wasn't sure how his response would be but I held my fist up without a tidbit and he came right back. Fantastic start!

Our next slip was in the grass along the side of a restaurant. I was able to sneak a little closer this time and Goliath was right on top of one this time, I swear he grazed it's back, but it managed to evade him again. Still, he was chasing starlings so I was tickled pink!

It took awhile longer to find our next slip. I noticed a bunch of starlings feeding in between some parked cars. They seemed skittish but using the cars as cover I was able to get quite close. I should've thrown him but I thought they'd flush and my thinking was that if I held him up high on my fist he'd have a shot at them on the rise. Well, they didn't flush and Goliath smacked this one in a short flight in between the cars! Really not that much of a flight but for his first starling, I'll take it! I'd really like to work the throwing thing out but he's pretty good at these short flights off the fist!

Monday, October 18, 2010

#2 in as many days!

Couldn't be happier for our second week hunting.

With my wife and kids in tow I wanted it to be a good outing and surprisingly there were a lot of birds out and about. We had a decent slip at sparrows in a Home Depot parking lot and then found a group of about 20 starlings feeding out in a field. I tried to get as close as possible before throwing Goliath at them but they busted while I was still 20 yards away. I tossed him anyway but he just went up in a tree and yelled at me until I showed him some food. I got another toss at some sparrows on the way back to the car but that one didn't work out either.

We then headed to the Walmart where I caught the sparrow yesterday and hit the jackpot! The hedges were LOADED with sparrows. After he missed on the first slip I tossed him at some stragglers trying to hide in a small pine tree. I kicked the tree and tossed him at the fleeing birds and he chased for a bit before landing on a light pole directly above me. It was kind of cool to see him stoop to the fist from that angle when I brought out a tidbit.

We went back to the original hedge and the sparrows had returned. He shot off the fist and this time I saw him snag one on the edge of cover before he disappeared. I'd forgotten my good camera so I grabbed my cell phone and snapped this quick pic of him buried in the hedge:

I reached in and was able to grab a hold of the sparrow and lift them both out of the hedge. #2 in the bag! I snapped this photo with the good camera when we got home:

A crazy side note to the story is that last year I flew Hayduke several time in the same area. I was still experimenting with snap jesses at the time and had a pair whose snaps didn't quite "snap" like they were supposed to. Hayduke chased some sparrows into the very same hedge one time and came out without jesses. Luckily I had another pair and the day went on just fine. It's been almost a year since that happened but yesterday as I headed back to the car with Goliath and his sparrow in tow, my wife points to the curb and says, "Are those yours?" I took a look and said, "Yeah, they're mine from a year ago!" They were dirty and pretty crusty but otherwise in good shape (not that I'll use them, since the snaps are bad but still...). Crazy:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Blood!

We're officially on the board. We headed out at first light and found quite a few birds on the ground. I tried to sneak up on several groups of starlings and throw Goliath at them like we've been practicing but never got close enough for a good attempt. I did get a toss at some sparrows but Goliath overshot and went up to some telephone wires. At 87.4g he was back on my fist before I even had a chance to pull out a tidbit though! I knew he was ready, it was just a matter of finding the right slip.

The right slip presented itself in the way of a large group of sparrows hopping about on the edge of a low hedge at Walmart. Goliath darted off the fist and disappeared in the bushes. I honestly didn't think he got one but cautiously moved the bushes aside and found that he had one tightly by the neck. Bingo, sparrow #1 in the bag. I believe that my last bird, Hayduke, caught his first sparrow on the 17th of October last year so we're right on track.

If that wasn't good enough, we then went over to a nearby industrial park to fly my friend's red-tail. We had a couple close calls with some bunnies being flushed from some cattails and then a bit of confusion between his bird, a wild immature red-tail, and an owl all in the same tree, but his bird ended up catching a bunny off the fist in a nice short flight through some landscaping.

It was an awkward catch at first with the bird being pretty tangled in the bush:

But we got things sorted out:

All in all a FANTASTIC morning and hopefully the start of many more morning just like it!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend Update

Well it was a bust as far as the kestrel went. Rainy and wet so slips were pretty much non-existent. I did find a few sparrows hopping around under a bush at a Walmart but they were so close to cover that he didn't stand a chance. Great response though at 87g. Looks like that'll be what we shoot for the next time out. Now we just need to find good slips! (Is it still called a "slip" when I "throw" him at stuff...? )

The day was somewhat salvaged though when my buddy took another bunny with his Red Tail. It was somewhat anti-climatic as we were both trying to flush a bunny out of a bush as his bird was waiting in a tall cottonwood when we suddenly heard a bunny screaming and looked over to see that his bird had nailed a different one! We didn't even see the flight! Oh well, he'll take it!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

First Hunt/Free Flight In The Books

Nothing spectacular to report.

I found a bunch of sparrows feeding in some landscaping at a shopping center and walked to within 20 feet or so before throwing Goliath at them. Had he tried I believe he could've snagged one easy but as it was he just flew above them and tried to land on the building. He couldn't quite get his footing there so he headed over to a nearby tree in the parking lot and I pulled out a starling breast/wing to get him down. A female kestrel came zooming over as soon as he got to the tree but with me there I guess it didn't want to get too close and veered off about 15 yards away. Goliath only gave her a cursory glance. He went on to emphasize that at 88.5g he's still a tad too high by doing several strafing runs on my fist, trying to pull the wing away, before he finally snagged it and wouldn't let go. I got him settled on the fist and figured that was good for the day.

I'll try him again tomorrow a gram lower and see where that gets us.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

First Kill!

Not Goliath's mind you, but I'm pretty proud of this one nonetheless.

This is my buddy's bird (from this post) on it's first bunny:

22 days from trap to first free flight, 25 until first kill. Not too shabby given that my friend had never handled a bird until this year!

I'm his quasi-sponsor due to the fact that, on paper, I'm still an apprentice and I kept telling him that once the bird is flying reliably to the fist he should go hunting. There's other training that can be done, to the lure, following on, etc., but in my opinion it's better to get the bird hunting again as soon as possible. Everything else is just frills. (Necessary frills in some cases, but frills regardless.)

He took my advice to heart and even without me or his other, real sponsor there he flew it free at 22 days and had 4 bunny chases then yesterday he sends me this picture. Absolutely fantastic! He's going to be a fantastic addition to the falconer pool and he's going to have a great season with that bird!

So you may be wondering, if it's best to get the bird out hunting as fast as possible...and he trapped his bird AFTER I trapped Goliath...AND he's got less experience...why isn't Goliath out there hunting...? Time constraints conspire against me but hopefully this weekend.