Some Updates

The month since my last post has been eventful to say the least.

First, my wife had our baby, Vaun, on 27 December after 40 hours in labor (!!!).  He weighed 7 lb 14.5 oz and is perfectly healthy.  It’s certainly been an adjustment having him, but I couldn’t be happier.

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Vaun Michael Skvarla

Unfortunately, the week before Vaun came Jebe hurt herself.  I’m not sure how it happened, but her wing was injured.  I first noticed when I took her out hunting on 20 December.  She flew up to a reasonably high perch but then refused to follow.  I attributed it to high weight and called her to the lure.  The next day she refused to leave the fist when I took her out.  I walked around for a few minutes before she finally hopped off the fist.  She fluttered to the ground in the heap and obviously couldn’t fly.  I was quite worried, I thought she may have broken a wing bone, and tried calling every vet I could when I got home.  Of course none of them were open on Sunday afternoon and none of the emergency clinics would see a bird, but I managed to get an appointment for Monday morning.  The x-rays showed there was no damage to the bone, just some atrophy in the shoulder joint she couldn’t use.  The vet suggested it was a chronic condition that finally gave out, but other falconers on the AHA forum didn’t think so.  Regardless of how it happened, the vet gave me prescriptions of lixotinic and prednisolone.

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Jebe holding her wing strangely

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Another shot of Jebe’s left wing

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X-ray of Jebe’s wings. No broken bones, so it must be soft tissue damage the x-ray can’t show.

I kept Jebe confined to the giant hood for two weeks and fed her up to 1100g to allow the wing to heal.  She was able to fly between perches in the mews after the time off, so I started bringing her weight back down slowly.

On 10 January I took Jebe back out into the field.  I flushed two rabbits in as many hours and she made good chases at both.  The first was a long 60 yard flight, the rabbit ran along the edge of a field before diving back into the woodline.  Jebe was 20 yards out of place and took 3-4 seconds to decide to launch, so had a lot of ground to make up.  I missed the flight as I was tangled in honeysuckle and thorns when the bunny flushed.  Jebe remounted after I found her on the ground sulking, but I couldn’t reflush the rabbit.  The second rabbit flushed along the woodsline, but ran into the trees.  I missed most of that flight as well and found Jebe sitting angrily on a mossy log.  After a while with no more flushes a guy with four dogs started walking the opposite side of the field that I hadn’t worked yet.  I figured what rabbits might have been there weren’t any more so called Jebe to the lure.  It was a 150 yard flight into the middle of the field and Jebe gave the laziest flight I’ve ever seen.  Not sure if she was tired after hunting for two hours (which is the longest she’s been out of the mews in a few months), frustrated with lack of/missing game, or what.

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Jebe on a log pouting.

I took Jebe out again on 14 January.  My parents came to see Vaun for a few days and came out as they’d never see me hunt one of my birds.  We managed to flush two rabbits.  Jebe had a great chance at the first as it ran straight at her, but she hit the ground just behind it.  For the second rabbit she was way out of position and didn’t see it run.

We went out again today, 17 January, this time to Hobbs State Park.  I found some places there last year, but all of them were bad.  The grass had all died back, leaving open ground with no cover.  I’m not sure what happened.  I tried to hunt squirrels with her, but we didn’t see any, even though I found plenty of nests and some sign (chewed up walnut husks).  Jebe was really weird about the giant hood and didn’t want to go into it.  I’m not sure why, but I’m going to have to work with getting her liking it again.

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First game

The closest fields and forests I can hunt are a 30-45 minute drive, so I usually can only hunt on the weekends.  This was the second weekend I had Jebe free flying.  She seemed to act much better this week flying between 770-785 g.  Saturday she followed along the edge of a field as I beat the grass, then moved between the little islands of brush as I started whacking them.  She made two attempts at a woodrat, but missed both.

After hunting for around an hour I finally flushed a rabbit and she made a short chase but came up short.  The rabbit ducked through some thick, close-set samplings she obviously didn’t think she could crash through.  A squirrel hunter had heard my whistles and came to investigate.  He saw Jebe’s flight at the rabbit and I invited him to help me beat the brush and reflush it.  He thought that was great and jumped in.  As we walked around I kicked a honeysuckle bush and heard a jingle of bells.  I knew I didn’t flush a rabbit and got confirmation when Jebe slammed into the honeysuckle.  Her back was to me, but when I got around the bush I could see she was strung out, dangling beneath outstretched wings with a dead woodrat.

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Jebe with her wood rat

 

I extracted her from the bush and she was not happy about it.  I imaging she thought I was going to rob her of her kill.  I clipped her jesses to my glove and laid her and the rat out in some shorter grass.  She came around in a minute and started working the rat.  After she broke in I let her feed up a bit, then covered the rat up and traded her off for some quail legs.  The trade-off went smoothly and I called it a day.

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Jebe not happy I picked up her out of the bush.

 

Sunday I went back to the same field but after more than an hour failed to flush anything, rabbit or woodrat, though did find about a dozen woodrat nests.  I think I’ll have to find a different spot.  The field originally looked promising, but didn’t deliver.

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Jebe on a low perch just after I released her for the morning’s hunt.

 

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Training

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update as I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting Jebe to jump.  The first two weeks I had her she steadily dropped weight but refused to jump.  Her interest in retrospect was a parabola: not interested when she was high in weight, then very interested (rowing her wings, leaning as far as she could) but refused to jump (even for a full quail on the fist), then a decrease in interest.  She showed a similar decrease of interest in the dogs, with full-spread wings trying to intimidate them at first grading into sitting on the fist, seeming to not care if they were there over the course of weight drop.

I got worried she was getting to low when she hit 800g (she was trapped at 1200g), but she didn’t show any signs of being dangerously low (almond eyes, lethargic, etc).  She had a razor-thin keel and after talking to Howard and Cody, we decided that I’d somehow missed the jump weight and she was too low.  Cody said later he suspected she was only a few hours to a few days from being so low I’d lose her.  That happened right before I had to leave for a work conference, so I started feeding her  twice a day to bring her weight up and get her out of the low-weight danger zone.

I had my wife Sarah feed Jebe off the lure while I was gone (US federal and Arkansas state law allow non-falconers to care for a falconry bird for up to 45 days) and she was back up to 1000g when I got back a six days later.  She was also familiar with the lure, and even though she still refused the fist would hit the lure with vigor at 30′ outside on the creance.  I tried to use this familiarity to my advantage by putting a fully garnished lure in the fist, but she refused it.  As soon as the lure was swinging or on the ground she rocketed off the perch.

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Jebe was lure trained, but refused the fist

So I started trying to get Jebe to jump again as if I hadn’t worked her at all.  She didn’t show interest at 1000g, so I started dropping her slowly, feeding her enough so she shed 10-20g per night.  At 960g I offered her a full quail.  She jumped and beat her wings, but one foot would hang on to the perch.  She’d swing towards the ground with one foot still gripping the perch and have to flap to reset.  She did that four times before finally jumping to the fist.

The following day, which was Thanksgiving, I cut the turkey giblets into tidbits (so Jebe could have a Thanksgiving too) and she jumped to the fist for them with no hesitation.  I don’t know why she had such a hard time breaking through the mental barrier to jump.

The day after the initial jump, I her moved outside and she came 5′ to the fist for a tidbit.  I gradually increased the distance, curious about where she’d balk, and got to 30′ (the end of the creance) by the end of the session.  All of the flying was upwind against a 20 mph wind.    I finished training with the body of a quail (sans wings, legs, head) on the lure and she hit it hard midair.  Overall her response was good, but not instant, though considering how long she took to jump I’m really happy with it.

Jebe on lure 2

Jebe on lure

Training proceeded quickly after that.  Within four days I took her to a baseball field on the 100′ creance.  She came instantly for the first tidbit at that distance and then consistently launched before I turned and whistled (see a  video of her second flight).

She obviously learned the game, so I decided to free fly her.  I don’t have a lot of daylight after work during the weeks, so cut her loose in our neighborhood.  She immediately flew to the top of a light pole.  Jebe refused to come for tidbits from that high perch, which isn’t surprising since I hadn’t free flown her before, but she did come down to the lure.  I’d planned on flying her this weekend, but we had a warm spell and she didn’t lose weight as quickly as I’d thought.  She’s was at 1040g this morning, which is higher than I’d be comfortable with.  Hopefully she’ll lose enough weight by this afternoon that I can take her out to the woods to chase some rabbits, but if not I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Dropping Weight

Jebe weighed 1195.5g the day I trapped her.  Since then it’s been a waiting game as she drops weight.  The second day I found a 22g casting that was made of fur and grasshopper legs.  She weighed 1145g, so had dropped 30g after taking the casting into account.  She had healthy looking slices, with brown fecal material and no specks of blood.  Over the next few days she continued to drop around 30 grams every night and had multiple slices per day.  On the fifth day she started dropping 16 to 25 grams per night and her slices became smaller and green as she ran out of food to process and unused bile started coming through.

That trend kept up until today.  I weighed Jebe tonight, expecting her to be around 950g as she’s been at 976g yesterday.  She was unexpectedly heavier and weighed 1026g.  Her response to tidbits, even though she hasn’t jumped to the fist yet, is markedly lower than yesterday – while yesterday she could barely stop herself from jumping today she barely gave the tidbit a second glance.  In retrospect, the bow perch was in the middle of the mews while it was closer to the wall this morning and the falconer’s knot that secured her to the perch was really tight.  The only thing I can figure is that a mouse or some other small animal got into the mews and she drug the bow perch to get at it.  I guess tomorrow’s mutes and any casting will tell the tale.

I’ve been told by a few experienced falconers, my sponsor included, not to weigh a wild-trapped bird until it first jumps to the fist.  While this is probably an anomaly (eg, catching something in the mews), it seems like a good reason to at least take note of daily weight prior to jumping to the fist.

Also, it goes to show that the mews should be well secured no matter where you live.  I assumed that since I live in the middle of suburbia and have two dogs that nearly always outside in the fenced yard I wouldn’t have problems with small mammals or venomous snakes.  Obviously I was wrong, though I still don’t think I have to worry about copperheads or rattlesnakes.

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Introducing Jebe

Allen and I drove down to Little Rock for the telemetry scrimmage today.  On the way we passed an enormous red tail; Cody and/or Bob said they thought it was a balloon caught on the wire before they realized it was a hawk.  I thought about trapping it but decided not to as I didn’t want to sock a bird for 3 hours during the scrimmage or drive straight back to Fayetteville.

After the telemetry scrimmage while driving to lunch Allen and I (following behind Cody and Bob) passed a red tail hanging out on a power pole next to an industrial park.  I thought it looked like a juvenile and after a bit of hem-hawing for twenty or thirty seconds decided to turn around.  As I was turning Cody called, confirmed it was a RT, and asked if I was going to trap it.  I told him I would and would let him know how it went.

After passing the bird and turning around again, Allen tossed the BC trap with Russian hamster 5′ off the highway on a side road to the industrial park.  We turned around and waited.  The bird was obviously interested, bobbing it’s head and looking at the trap.  It swooped down onto the trap after a minute or two.  I eased the car up because the trap was on the far side of a small rise in the road.  The bird was oblivious to us, the cars on the highway, and the truck that rumbled past it on the  side road.  The bird footed the trap for a minute and Bam! was caught.  She immediately tried to fly off and drug the trap into the highway.  I was out of the car and running as fast as I could because I could just picture the hawk splattered on the highway.  I got to the bird and a truck was slowing down at the spectacle we were making.  In retrospect I need to add more weight and a drag line.  I got lucky, but it could have ended in disaster.

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I trapped a bird!

Allen and I socked and hooded the bird and drove to lunch.  Everyone thought it was a relatively large bird and worth keeping.  After lunch I cuffed, jessed, and leashed the bird so it could stand on the fist and slice.  Which it did while bating.  All over my arm.

Instead of socking the bird again, Allen was kind enough to drive my car back to Fayetteville while I held the hooded bird on the fist in the back seat.  She sliced onto the seat cover and Allen’s shoulder twice while we traveled.  The feces were brown, so she’d eaten relatively recently and there weren’t any bloody specks or other oddities about it.

After three hours of driving and five minutes from home the bird started making a hacking noise.  I smelled something rank and, worried she couldn’t get whatever she was throwing up through the hood, I struck the braces and unhooded her in the backseat.  The bird cast up some more rancid-smelling meat and, realizing where she was, promptly bated toward the window.  She hung from the fist, thankfully, and I laid her on her back where she stayed for the rest of the trip with that freshly-trapped hawk stare.

After we got home the bird I stood her up on the fist.  She bated a few times, but then stood on the fist without bating for two or three minutes.  She’s chilling out in the mews with cardboard over the window to keep it dark while she mans.  She weighed in at 1195.5g.

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She’s not sure about this situation at all.

I asked Cody and Heath about the smelly meat.  They suggested she probably gorged on Thursday and didn’t put all of it over yesterday.  There was less than half a tidbit’s worth of meat that came up, and she’s a healthy (if a bit stressed right now) bird, so should be alright.  I’m going to keep an eye on her to make sure it doesn’t develop into sour crop, but I think she’ll be alright.  I have pedialyte and apple cider vinegar on hand just in case though.

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Sitting on the bow perch

Over dinner I decided to name the new hawk Jebe (pronounced Jeh-beh) after one of Genghis Khan’s generals. It translates to “The Arrow” in Mongolian because he shot the Khan in the neck during a battle.  He voluntarily confessed to the shot, saying “if Genghis Khan desired to kill him, it was his choice, but if he would let him live, he would serve Genghis Khan loyally”. Jebe went on to become one of the best (top 3) generals in history.

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Look at those feet!

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Urban peregrines in the UK

Just a short story with some amazing photographs about urban peregrines in the UK.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-29381032

© Sam Hobson. Used without permission.

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The giant owl and those giant claws

While the giant owl would probably have been unsuitable for falconry, it still would have been amazing to see alive.

TwilightBeasts

When we talk of megafauna we tend to think of the wild and wonderful mammals of the Pleistocene and Pliocene. Megafauna are all the fabulous big and familiar exciting beasts, like mammoths, giant sloths and sabre-tooths, right? Wrong. We don’t automatically think of avian taxa, but we really should as some of them are truly wonderful! Like this chappie here; Ornimegalonyx, the Giant Cuban Owl.

If Hedwig had been an Ornimegalonyx, I suspect Harry would not have had as much grief from Dementors! Standing at over a metre high, with ferocious claws (the Latin name translates as ‘The Bird of the Giant Claws’), this Pleistocene feathered friend was not to be messed with. Ornimegalonyx spp were the biggest owls ever to walk the earth. Remains of these giant flightless birds have been found at rare locations in Cuba. One of these was Sierra de Sumadero, which…

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