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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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2014 Apprentice Workshop

The Arkansas Hawking Association held their annual apprentice workshop a few weeks ago.  I left at 5 am in order to be in Little Rock by 8:30.  Unfortunately for me, I read the announcement wrong and the workshop didn’t start until 9, so I sat around for a while.  They had coffee though, so it was alright.  People started drifting in – I helped Francie and Rusty unload equipment and supplies from their vehicles – and we all BS’d for a while.  In total, 3 new apprentices/pre-apprentices and 3 second year apprentices came.  Francie started the day demonstrating how to make cuffs and jesses, followed by how to mount a tail bell. I drifted in and out as I’d make cuffs and jesses last year and there was only so much room at the table for the new apprentices.  Francie did show them the set of cuffs and jesses I made for a kestrel; she thought they were so cute and couldn’t get over how small they were.  She also showed the new apprentices how to make a lure.  I cut down some of the leather she provided and made a kestrel-sized lure (I still haven’t decided what I’m trapping this year and want to be prepared for either species)

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Francie and the new apprentices

Cody had an excellent demonstration on building his self-righting bal-chatri trap during/after lunch.  I plan on making one for this season and will provide plans when I do.

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Cody demonstrating how to make a BC trap

The apprentices were also shown how to make leashes, both braided and from paracord.  The paracord leash, which I prefer, is quite simple to make, but I messed it up four or five times in a row.  Rusty gave me a hard time about not being gentle enough, but it was in good fun and I eventually did make the leash.

Heath outlined how to sew and block a hood, and provided pre-cut leather pieces to each new apprentice.  I still have my (unassembled) pieces from last year…really need to get one that.

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Heath and hoods.

We had three birds at the workshop this year, which was quite nice.  Heath brought Gretel, his wild-caught goshawk; it’s turning out quite nice, I can’t wait to see it’s adult plumage next year.  Rusty brought his Harris’s Hawk, who’s name I can’t remember at the moment and didn’t get any good photos of.  Finally, Jim brought his newly acquired CB aplomado falcon.  She is absolutely gorgeous and should be a killer on doves and other feathered game this season.

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Gretel

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Jim and his aplo

All-in-all it was a great day.  I’ve only seen most of the Arkansas falconers a handful of times (Bob and Cody being the exception), but they’re all so nice in person and available on the AHA forum that it feels like I’ve known them for much longer than the last year.  I’m excited and reinvigorated for this upcoming season and can’t wait to get back into the field.

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Ögedei

I finally trapped a hawk!

Cody and Bob, two other falconer’s in the Arkansas Hawking Association, are in Ft. Smith for Thanksgiving this week.  They were having problems with a juvenile RT chasing and crabbing with their birds and offered to take me to it if I wanted so 1. I could trap a hawk and 2. their birds would be left alone.  I of course took them up on the offer and drove the hour south to Ft. Smith.

After meeting them and jumping in their truck (in retrospect, I don’t know who’s truck it was, but Bob was driving and I assume it is his) we hit the road.  We saw a couple of birds before we got to the one that had been bothering them, and tried for one that Cody thought was large.  I threw out my trap and when that didn’t work after a few minutes we also threw out Cody’s trap.  The bird apparently liked the look of his dwarf hamster much better and hit the trap in a short time.  We drove up to the bird and Cody jumped out to deal with it.  I tried to get out but the darn door wouldn’t open.  Tried unlocking, relocking, and unlocking it again, but Bob had to come around and let me out.  By the time I was finally out of the truck Cody had the RT pretty well managed.  It turned out not to be a large bird like he’d thought but a smaller male.  We hooded and socked it just in case and went to check on the other juvenile.

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View of the trap set from the back of the truck.

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Success!

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A hooded and socked hawk

The second juvenile was conveniently standing on a tall set of lights near a sports field (honestly can’t remember if it was football, baseball, soccer, etc right now).  Cody put his trap out and that bird also responded in a few minutes and hit the trap.  This time we knew the door wouldn’t open from inside so Cody let me out and we ran to the trap.  I grabbed the bird this time and Cody dealt with the nooses.  It was larger than the first bird we caught, but not huge.  It was probably a small female but perhaps was a large male.  Unfortunately we inspected the feet and there were some not-good looking bumps and sores that may have been the beginning of avian pox or some other disease.  I decided didn’t want to deal with a sick bird right off the bat with my first bird.  Bob and Cody were worried about it crabbing with their birds again so we drove a few miles away before releasing it.  I washed off well with hand sanitizer to make sure I didn’t transfer anything to the first bird.

After trapping I went out rabbit hunting with Bob and Cody.   All three of their birds got rabbits and I didn’t get to see a single one because I was too busy beating the brush.  It was my first time in the field with hunting hawks, so it was still a great experience.

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Cody with Marge

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Marge

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Marge on her rabbit
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Jackson on his rabbit

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One of the two beagles

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Sega on a T-perch

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Sega on a rabbit head after being traded off a rabbit

Cody let me borrow some cuffs and jesses so I could unsock the hooded bird and let it poo.  It stood on the first rather well and after a few minutes did it’s business.  I was satisfied it wasn’t doing to die from being constrained too long and we resocked it for the drive back to Fayetteville.

We found another few juveniles on the way to my car and threw the trap out at one, but it ignored the trap.  I was happy with my bird even if it is small, so that didn’t disappoint me overly much.

Once I got home I set the hooded bird up on a box perch in the mews and had lunch because it was nearly 1:30 and I hadn’t eaten since 6 am.  It took a second to figure out what was going on but was fine once it got a grip.

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Settling in on the bow perch

After eating as quickly as I could I took the bird into the garage and struck the hood.  It looked at me for a few seconds and bated.  I put it back on the first and it bated again.  After less than 5 minutes of this it was either too tired or decided I wasn’t so terrible and stood on the glove.  After a minute or so it bated again.  Back on the first he went and he stood again for almost another minute before bating.  This happened 4 or 5 times and then he just stood there.  I started walking around after a few minutes and he seemed to ride the glove fine.  Forty five minutes later he hadn’t bated once, though still wasn’t especially happy.  I hooded him, which only took three tries, and took him back to the mews.  I didn’t want him to see the dogs just yet and had to walk through the house past them to get to the mews.   I unhooded him after he settled back on the the bow perch and there he’s sitting.

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Not exactly happy and content, but at least riding the glove well

I’m going to give him an hour or two to calm down and then try to offer him some food on the fist.  His breast isn’t especially sharp, so says Bob, so he may not be interested in food, but I’ll give it a shot.  The faster he’s eating the faster I can really get training going.

While walking around the garage amazed he wasn’t bating I was thinking about names.  I finally settled on naming him after Ögedei (pronounced Oh-geh-die), Genghis Khan‘s third son and second Great Khan of the Mongol Empire.  It seems fitting given the Mongol’s long history of falconry.

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Trapping

Trapping your first hawk is arguably one of the most memorable experiences in falconry. My experience in particular is turning out to be quite memorable as I’ve had to put so much work into catching one.  One the advice on basically everyone I’ve talked to I’ve trapped a red-tail for my first bird.  They are apparently fairly scare in Northwest Arkansas this year, being more abundant in the eastern and southern portions of the state.  Even veteran falconers I’ve talked to from other parts of the state have commented how few passage birds there are here.  All told I’ve put in 20 hours driving over many days trying to find a bird in a trappable situation.  This is in start contrast to two other apprentices in the state;  one trapped his first bird within 15 minutes the first day he went trapping and the second took a bird on the first day as well.

Before I chronicle my trapping story I’d like to cover some basics about the state of affairs for an apprentice falconer, at least in Arkansas, though this will apply to many other states as well.  Most apprentices in the United States trap a red-tailed hawk for their first bird, with a smaller, but not insignificant, percent taking an American kestrel.  The federal laws recently relaxed the species permissible to apprentices; state law may me more restrictive than federal law though many states have adopted the federal species list, which, in addition to red tails and kestrels, allows red-shouldered hawks, Harris hawks, and great-horned owls to be taken (Alaskan apprentices are also allowed to take goshawks).  This list wasn’t approved because of the ease of training, but rather because those species are increasing in population and any individuals taken by apprentices won’t affect the overall population.  Great-horned owls, I’m told, are horrendous to train and generally don’t make good birds for any falconer, let alone an apprentice with little to no experience.  I’m quite curious about flying red-shouldered hawks, their reputation is more mixed.  Some people report them to be much more like Accipiters and Buteos, though there hasn’t been much work done with them.  Red shoulders are supposed to be quite vocal, so much so that it may be a negative to taking one.

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Red-shouldered hawk.
Photograph by Richard J Kinch, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Apprentices are only allowed to trap wild birds because they are easier to train.  General and Master class falconers are allowed to buy and hunt with captive bred birds, which makes getting some species significantly easier.  Captive bred birds take significantly more work in training as they need to be taught how to hunt, unlike wild passage birds which have been hunting and feeding themselves for a few weeks to a few months.  In addition, when raising an imprint bird (that is, a bird that is not raised by it’s parents and is therefore imprinted on humans, making it either think it is a human or humans are birds) it is extremely easy to screw the bird up.  One meal that is even a few minutes late, one hunger pang, one wrong impression and the bird could turn into a vicious beast that screams incessantly, begging for food and attacking you if it doesn’t get it.  On the other hand, a properly raised imprint can be the best falconry bird ever.  It’s a gamble,  one that the law (quite rightly I think) doesn’t let apprentices make.

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Harris’s hawks are considered quite easy to train. In the wild they are sociable and hunt in packs. This naturally lends them to use in falconry, where they can be hunt in casts and consider the falconer part of their pack.
Photograph by Alan Vernon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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A Harris’s hawk being used in falconry. This bird may be the hybrid of a Harris’s hawk and Buteo species.
Photograph by Reg McKenna, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Now then, one with my own story.

Saturday, 16 November

I didn’t realize how long it would take to tie the nooses for a Bal-Chatri trap.  I started tying them Thursday night thinking I’d finish then or on Friday, but that didn’t happen.  All told it took approximately 8 hours to cut and tie to nooses.  I drove around for 3 hours that afternoon and evening.  It was quite warm and windy.  The first bird I saw was soaring over the road.  That set the tone for the rest of the day.  I saw another bird hunting over a field, but it was along a major highway and there was no good spot to pull over.  I did pull into the parking lot of a construction company near the field, hoping that the bird would pass over the lot and see my trap.  I waited for 30 minutes or so, watching as two other passage RTs and a haggard RT also started hunting the field.  One of the passage birds was a Harlan’s hawk, which would have been great to catch, but it and the other passage and haggard eventually moved off.  The first passage bird dove into the grass not 20 yards from my trap and caught something, so I picked up my trap and moved on.  I saw two more haggard RTs before it got dark.

Sunday, 17 November

Went to church and missed trapping in the morning.  Left around 2:00 pm and headed 30 minutes north towards the NWA airport.  There are a lot of fields, mostly cow pastures, and forests around the airport and I thought this would be a good place to check.  I saw two haggard birds, both in untrappable situations.  The first was in a tree in someone’s back yard and the second was on the ground next to a pond in a different family’s front yard.  The only passage bird I found was on a power pole along a busy road with a 55 mph speed limit.  I still tried for it and got the trap out, but the bird didn’t react to the bait.  After 10 minutes I got antsy because the road was so busy and picked up the trap.

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Harlan’s hawk, a very dark subspecies of the red-tailed hawk; some people consider them to be a separate species. The tail is variable and often doesn’t have any red.
Photograph by Tom Ryan, copyrighted© by photographer.

Tuesday, 19 November

I decided to go into work late and drove along the interstate.  I saw over a dozen RTs.  The speed limit is 70 mph though.  There aren’t power poles along the road either, all the birds were in trees or bushes, so by the time I saw each I didn’t have time to slow down.  I was also really apprehensive about trapping along such a busy highway, for both legal and safety reasons.

I did see a gorgeous juvenile red-shouldered hawk along the side of a country road.  I considered trapping it for a short while and decided not to.

Saturday, 23 November

In the morning I drove around for 3 hours and didn’t find any passage hawks in trappable situations.  I took my labmate Ray along in the afternoon, he’s got an eye for birds.  He found two dozen or more birds, but most were at the backs of fields and none were really trappable.  One bird we found was a gorgeous Harlan’s hawk.  We chased it around for an hour or so, trying to get it to see the trap.  It was very skiddish and flew off whenever we got within 100 yards.  We eventually gave up when it flew to the far corner of a field.  We decided later it was probably an adult anyhow.

We found another passage red-shouldered hawk and I again considered trapping it, but passed.  That bird was much less skiddish than any of the red-tails we saw; we got within 10 yards of it, and it never flew off.

Sunday, 24 November

I got out right before sunrise and went to a dead-end road we’d seen a bird before.  It was still there and I threw the trap out.  I had to drive over a slight rise in order to get far enough away from the trap.  The bird dove at the trap but didn’t commit.  I waited another 5 minutes and it dove again.  I couldn’t see the bird as it was over the rise, but waited what felt like a minute, but was probably only twenty seconds.  I didn’t see the bird, but it wasn’t long enough.  As I approached where I thought the trap was the bird exploded from behind the rise, untrapped.

In the afternoon I threw the trap out at two birds.  The first went for the trap but didn’t commit.  The second bird was scared off by a semi-truck that rumbled over the hill just as it started its dive, which was truly unfortunate timing.

Monday, 25 November

I went out in the morning before work to try and trap a small passage bird Ray and I had found near an interstate interchange.  It was sitting in a tree on a dead-end road near the interchange, which was perfect.  I threw the trap out and was promptly ignored for half an hour before the bird flew off.

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