Hiatus and comic

Life has forced me to take a break from falconry for the next year year or two.  Last fall I finished my PhD and needed to concentrate on writing my dissertation.  Rather than compromise between writing it and training a bird, I decided it was best for me to finish the dissertation properly.  Shortly after I finished, I began a postdoc position at the University of Maryland.  Cost of living near Washington, D.C. is outrageous and we downsized from a three bedroom house to a two bedroom apartment.  There’s simply no room to keep a bird, even a kestrel.  The position is only for a maximum of two years, so we’ll be moving again soon enough.  Hopefully I’ll land a permanent job and be able to get back into falconry then.

 

I recently (within the last year or so) became interested in comics.  A lot of it had to do with realizing that there is a sizable chunk of comics that aren’t superheros.  My favorite series so far is “Sixth Gun”, written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Brian Hurtt.  It’s a nominally a weird western, being set just after the end of the American Civil War and centers around a set of enchanted pistols that have the ability, when combined, to reset the course of history to whatever the wielder desires.  However, the base story at the center of the series could be told in any era, not just the Wild West, so it should appeal to people beyond those who like westerns.

After I read some comics, I went to a comic convention out of curiosity.  I’ll probably never be able to afford a custom oil painting, but I thought it was really neat that I could get a bespoke piece of artwork from comic artists and illustrators at the con.  This recently converged with my love of falconry and I commissioned a sketch of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II from Chris Schweizer.  I keep meaning to write a blog post about Frederick II because he was so influential in the history of European falconry.  Suffice to say, he was a master of the sport and wrote the first treatise on the subject, “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus ” (“The Art of Hunting with Birds”).

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Frederick II, roughs. I borrowed this from Chris’ Instagram, via Tumblr

Though it may not appeal to some, I really dig Chris’ style (full admission, this is the second piece I’ve commissioned from him – the first was a robot fighting triceratops, which was a Christmas present to my wife).  When he originally put a call out for commissions, Chris said it was for a single figure and if it was a historical figure (which he enjoys drawing, see his ongoing Warrior Women Wednesday drawings of historical warrior women) he might add a little something.  What he came back with blew my socks off.  It’s way more detailed than I expected and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Frederick II, final version.

Frederick II, final. I borrowed this from Chris’ Instagram, via Tumblr

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The Young and the Wild on the Streets of LA

As hawking season gets closer, a lot of falconers, especially apprentices, are chomping at the bit to fly their bird(s). I’ve heard multiple stories of people flying before it gets cold and having their red-tail catch a copperhead. It’s just not venomous snakes that can pose a threat to you bird, even large red-tails, as these photos demonstrate.

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Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city

I’ve written a few posts lately about wildlife in the city.  Then, last night on Facebook, I  happened to run across this strange photo, taken on December 28 in the middle of Los Angeles, not far from Dodger Stadium.

The photographer was “David A.”  and this account seems to come from a friend:  “It’s hard to say what a hawk was doing tangled up with a snake in the middle of Scott Avenue in Echo Park on Friday afternoon. But David A., who snapped the photo above, and a few other people watched and waited as the serpent and bird of prey were locked in a strange embrace on the pavement near Elysian Park: ‘I thought I heard one person say that they thought the hawk had been run over as it just came down with the snake…

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Kestrel perch/giant hood

I found this interesting concept for a kestrel perch/giant hood, but unfortunately it’s on blogspot and I don’t think I can repost the original post on this blog.  You can find the original blog here.

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Summer Update

It’s been a long, slow summer without a bird.  After fattening her up for a month, I released Jebe at the end of March.  While I didn’t catch nearly as much game as I would have liked, I think the season was a success.  Through the ordeal of getting her to jump to the fist, to tending a mysterious wing injury, to figuring out her ideal hunting weight, to finally putting a squirrel and rabbit in the bag I learned a lot.  For her part, Jebe survived the winter and was fat enough upon release to survive for at least a few days or a week without having to worry about catching a meal.

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Released from the giant hood. This is the same locality I released Ogedei the previous year.

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The last time I saw Jebe.

The Arkansas Hawking Association held their annual summer picnic in June.  Sarah and I took Vaun this year.  The four hour drive turned into a five hour drive after we fed Vaun and had to stop to calm him down once.  It was great to see everyone again, but it was swelteringly hot and humid.  It rained hard for a few minutes, which cut the heat while it came down, but ended up just making the humidity worse.  Vaun did not have a good time and Sarah had to sit with him in the car with the A/C blowing while I ran the raffle.  The raffle went off well, though I didn’t realize I was in charge of bringing bags and tickets as well as all of the donated items.  Luckily for me, we made due with some plastic solo cups and someone else brought the extra raffle tickets from last year.  I ended up making out like a bandit and won, among other things, a Merlin telemetry transmitter and two red-tail sized hoods.  I felt kind of bad because I organized the raffle and won so much, but sometimes you just get lucky.

I also upgraded to general class this summer.  It’s a bit of a relief because I don’t know when I’ll get a job and move from Arkansas and I didn’t want to have to deal with finding a new sponsor in a new state.  It also means I can fly any bird except eagles.  I’d like to move toward accipiters, especially sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.  First, though, I’d like to trap and train a kestrel to get practice with such tight weight management before I have to deal with the weight and behavioral difficulties of an accipiter.  I’d like to build a small indoor enclosure for a kestrel, but it’s been in the mid to upper 90’s here for the last month, which means the garage is over 100°F, even at night or in the morning, and simply unbearable to work in.  Hopefully it will cool off soon.  I still have a few months before I really get into trapping, so I’ve got a bit of time left to get everything together.

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“H is for Hawk”, a review

I haven’t read the book, but given the heaps of praise it’s recieved from non-falconers it’s nice to see a falconer take the time to write a review.

From the review: “This will probably be the only bad review you’ll ever read of H is for Hawk.

Note: it’s not really a bad review, it’s a good review with a sidebar. Helen Macdonald writes breathtaking prose, her story is poignant and filled with all kinds of fascinating bits of information, and she has an extremely likable voice. So what’s wrong with the book?

T.H. White…”

http://10000birds.com/t-h-white-when-writers-become-bad-falconers.htm

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Jebe’s Last Hunt

Another season has come and gone.  The temperatures are going up, bud break is happening with the earliest plants, the ants are starting to appear on the sidewalks, and Jebe is sitting in the hawk house fattening up for release at the end of the month.  Before the season ended though I took her out one last time.  Tyler and Mariah, two falconers I know through the Arkanas Hawking Association, invited me to hunt with them in Russellville, Arkansas so I could have a good chance at a rabbit.  Tyler is a first year apprentice and had taken around 30 rabbits with his bird Mable, which is absolutely incredible.

I left around 7 am as Russellville is a two hour drive from Fayetteville.  Jebe was at 1030 g, the highest I tried hunting her the entire season.  I hoped she would do well and not act like an overweight bird.

Tyler and Mariah weren’t in the field I was supposed to meet them in when I drove past, so I stopped at a Starbucks down the road for a pitstop.  When I came back they’d arrived.  The field was a few hundred yards from the interstate and bordered by roads on two sides and a creek edged by trees and underbrush on the two.  It was a few acres in extent; besides the trees along the creek it was mostly open tall grass.

I opened the giant hood and started to pick up Jebe, but she wiggled past me and flew to a tree a hundred yards away.  It’s where I wanted her to go, so I didn’t worry about the flub getting her out of the hood.  Since I didn’t know the field, I let Tyler suggest where we walk and were to proceed.  We beat the grass towards her but didn’t flush anything so continued across the field to the trees along the creek.  She refused to come the two hundred yards, so I offered a tidbit.  She came for that and after eating it took a tree above us.  We flushed a rabbit in pretty short order, but Jebe missed it.  We couldn’t reflush the rabbit and suspect it swam across the creek.

We followed the creek and flushed another rabbit.  Jebe chased, but didn’t connect.  We followed the rabbit across the creek and reflushed it, but Jebe didn’t see it.  We couldn’t find it for a second reflush so continued on.  After a few minutes we flushed a different rabbit from some bushes around the base of a tree.  It ran across some open ground towards more bushes.  Jebe took a second to launch and Tyler and I both thought she didn’t have enough time to catch it.  The rabbit made the bushes but must have stopped just inside them because Jebe slammed through the leaves and we heard a squeal as she connected.  I ran for the bushes and found Jebe solidly in control of the rabbit with both feet on it’s head.  The rabbit wasn’t dead, so I put it down.  At first I tried grabbing the back legs and behind the head and pulling to break it’s neck, but couldn’t get a good grip with Jebe in the way.  I wanted to put the rabbit out of it’s suffering as quickly as possible, so grabbed around it’s chest and squeezed; it stopped breathing and went limp after half a minute, and it’s heart stopped a bit after that.  Tyler suggested I try for a double.  I planned on releasing Jebe and knew it was the last time I would hunt her, so I traded her off.  It went smoothly, especially considering it was only her fourth kill of the year.  Had I planned on intermewing her, I wouldn’t have even considered a double.

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Jebe on her first and only rabbit.

Jebe sulked for ten minutes after the trade off, but flew above us and started hunting again.  We flushed four more rabbits – she missed two and didn’t chase the other two.  Tyler and I didn’t feel that she was as hot as she had been earlier, so I called her down and we put Mable up.  Mable made many chases, but never connected.  Tyler said she’d been a bit off the last few hunts.

All in all I was pretty pleased with Jebe’s performance.  If I planned on flying a red tail next year I would definitely intermew her.  While she hit me in the face once, she seemed to be a good game hawk once I started flying her at higher weights and got game under her.

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2015 AHA Winter Meet

It’s February again, which can only mean one thing – it’s time for the Arkansas Hawking Association winter field meet.  It was a blast last year and  I expected as much again.

A bit of an update before the meet though.  I’ve taken Jebe hunting each weekend and had a handful of rabbit flushes.  Working by myself without dogs I manage a flush every one or two hours.  It’s not enough to keep her interested while we’re out and she’s missed every rabbit I’ve produced.  It led to her being extremely frustrated I think.  At first it manifested as being skiddish in the mews.  I’d pick her up and she’d hop off the fist or fly to the tall perch.  After a week of this, I changed the routine a bit – I had to reweight her ration so put her back in the chamber instead of taking her out to fly to the lure.  When I opened the door she hit me full in the face.  I dropped her ration – not a great idea as it rewarded very bad behavior.  I was lucky as I got away with a few talon punctures and she missed my eyes.  I didn’t hunt her the weekend after the attack as it was raining.  I changed the routine and she didn’t come at me again, but I started wearing safety glasses and cracking the door so she could see me before walking into the chamber just in case.  After flying hard and hunting during the meet she’s calmed down significantly.

I left at 6 am Friday morning and drove 5 hours to Ethel, Arkansas for the field meet.  The drive was uneventful except for the fact that I couldn’t remember if I closed the garage door, which added half an hour to the drive after I turned around to double check.  No falconers were around when I arrived, so I hung out with Ms. Ida until they started to show up.  I didn’t have to wait long as it was nearly lunch and no one wants to miss Ida’s cooking.

After lunch Ron and Brenda offered to take me behind Ida’s house to hunt squirrels.  Francie and some others came along to help shake vines and get the squirrels moving.  Jebe climbed nice and high, but was a bit flighty and kept flying ahead of the group.  She reached the edge of the small bit of forest and I thought she was going to fly off.  Just then Ron flushed a squirrel.  Jebe came around as soon as he shouted ho-ho-ho and landed on a branch next to the tree the squirrel was in.  The squirrel bailed from thirty feet up and Jebe drove into it as soon as it hit the ground.  It was a nice flight even though I never saw the squirrel.  Everyone enjoyed the hunt and I couldn’t have been happier.

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Jebe on her first squirrel

After I finished cleaning the squirrel, most of the other falconers had left to hunt their birds.  I was lucky that Heath hadn’t, but was gearing up to take out his first year imprint goshawk Gretel.  Everyone that had hunted Jebe loaded up and went out with Heath and Gretel. We managed to flush eight or nine squirrels and she made hard attempts at all of them.  She nearly had two or three, but never quite managed to connect.  It was a great show – goshawks are amazingly fast and Gretel is no exception.  She flew up and down and around the trees after the squirrels, feet pumping and clawing like lightning the whole time.  We (except maybe Heath) were just as happy with the performance at the end of the hunt as if she’d have caught something.  She and the squirrels gave it one hundred percent and the squirrels managed to come out on top.  There’s no shame in that.

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Gretel on the fist

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Heath and Gretel

The longwingers all fly their birds in the evening and we had just enough time to watch flights from all three of their birds.  Greg was up first with his 1x intermewed peregrine.  She flew up to 700 feet or so and ranged around the area.  After a few false stoops at nearby ducks on large flat water, the falconers flushed the targeted ducks from a ditch.  Greg’s bird came down in a beautiful stoop and bound to a duck, riding it to within 20 feet of the ground before releasing it and pulling up.  She winged back over and killed the duck by the time everyone ran the few hundred yards to her.

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Greg’s peregrine on her duck

Chris’s 1x intermewed male peregrine Little Guy (I think that’s his name, at least that’s what Chris called him) was up next.  Being smaller than Greg’s bird, Chris set him up after some snipe.  Little Guy flew up to 500-700 feet and also made a great stoop.  The snipe survived the first hit and made into some tall grass.  Chris reflushed it and Little Guy sealed the deal on the second stoop.  Little Guy landed in marshy ground so carried the snipe a hundred yards to some dry ground.  A red-tail was sitting a few telephone poles away, so Little Guy cached the snipe under a clump of grass.

Heath’s 4x intermewed male gyr x barbary was the last falcon of the day.  He made an impressive stoop at a duck, but couldn’t take it down and the duck managed to escape.

Saturday started with breakfast at 7 am.  Most of us were out hawking by 8:30.  I spent the morning hunting with Ashley and her red tail Tess.  The rabbits were pretty scarce and she didn’t put any in the bag, though not for lack of trying.  I flew Jebe at rabbits after lunch but had similar luck – half a dozen slips, but no bunnies in the bag.  It was quite windy all day and as evening came on the longwingers were unsure if they would fly their birds.  A huge caravan set up with Greg to watch his bird, so I went with Heath instead.  We drove around for a while looking for doves and waiting for the wind to calm down.  We found a dozen birds and eventually the weather settled enough to fly.  Heath set his bird up and he flew thirty feet over the doves as he gained altitude.  Most of the doves flushed, but a few stayed put so we waited until he had a pitch of 500 or so feet.  Heath, Billy, and I walked to field and flushed a handful of doves.  Heath’s bird was in front of most of them, but saw the last dove in the field.  He made a gorgeous stoop, but the dove had a 20 mph tailwind and the stoop was a bit behind.  The stoop turned into a tail chase; the falcon gained ground and raked the dove, but the dove managed to put into some bushed before he could finish it.

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Chad and Ashley’s jagdterrier Baya, who helped flush bunnies

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Rusty and Vulcan, who I didn’t get a chance to hunt with

We had the AHA business meeting Saturday night after dinner.  I’ll spare the details here as they won’t interest anyone outside of the club.  A few of us stayed us and bs’ed after the business meeting.  I tried to keep up with them as we were having a great time, but had a ripping headache after driving around at sunset looking for doves.

Sunday morning started by hunting Tyler’s red-tail Mable.  We hit two promising fields, but only managed to flush two rabbits.  After a couple hours we hunted Jebe.  she was obviously sore from the workout on Saturday, but made a nice crashing stoop through thick cover.  She came up empty and wouldn’t get very high in the trees.  I brought her in and Bob put up his red-tail Sega and dogs.  The dogs quickly scented a rabbit and after a few minutes of trailing flushed it.  Sega crashed into it and came up with a small cottontail.

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Tyler and Mable

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Bob and Sega with her rabbit

All in all the meet was a great success.  Thirty six people attended with 16 birds and took 17 heads of game.  I really enjoyed seeing all of the Arkansas falconers and can’t wait until the summer picnic.

 

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