Mostly a falconry journal, occasionally thoughts on other things...
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!
"The reward that comes from practicing falconry is, and has to be, a feeling of your own personal satisfaction; that, and that alone. Chances are no one else will be around when your hawk is at her best. Falconry is a tedious, time consuming effort with long periods of stress and anxiety punctuated by heartbeats of gut-wrenching visceral satisfaction so intense that is impossible to put into words."
--The California Hawking Club Apprenticeship Manual