Quick Trip

At the end of March through Easter Monday, we took a quick Roomba excursion up to the Richmond area. Jack had some errands to run in the “big city,” and I partnered with other Virginia Falconers’ Association members to do an educational presentation.

On the falconry front, our sport is governed in Virginia by our Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They asked us if we might come and teach a few of their newest Law Enforcement Officer recruits about the sport—to help them understand what they might find us doing in the fields and forests of the state, and to know a bit about the regulations they will help enforce.

Jack and I drove up in two cars (mine filled with birds and dogs) to camp for the weekend at Powhatan State Park. Friends headed back to Williamsburg from a trip they’d taken to Asheville planned to stop by and spend a night or two camping across the road from us. We were in our fave site, #5, and were glad to have the dogs with us and robust cell service. We shared a couple of meals and even more campfires with our friends, and had a very relaxing time, after my obligation for the educational event was passed.

It was hot and the wind was constant and dusty—not even remotely ideal for a hunting demonstration for these young men—and troublesome for any of our group’s birds that had to be left in the cars. The group had brought lots of different species of birds for the recruits to see up close (including a great horned owl chick), and we tried to find some rabbits or squirrels after the classroom session, flying two Harris’ hawks over their heads.

But to no avail. The birds were not “into” the experience, and the human population was uncomfortably sweating in our briar clothes. There wasn’t a squirrel nor a rabbit to be found anywhere. It was, after all, the penultimate day of the legal hunting season for us (March 30), and most of us had long since “put up” our birds for the season. My two were fat and ready for the molt—CJ had even begun shedding his down feathers.

The group seemed to have a good time, however, and left with a broader understanding of the smallest slice of their new enforcement duties for hunting oversight in the Commonwealth.

I had prepared my red-tailed hawk, Skye, for release by allowing her to have (nearly) as much as she wanted to eat during the prior couple of weeks. Once I knew of this event/trip, I decided to use the time and space away from home to return her to the wild.

On the day of release, I chose a nice spot with some thick evergreens for her to roost safely during her first night of freedom in 3 years, and our friends took some photos and video. Some of you have seen these already, since I posted them on FB last week. But here are the pix of Skye’s last up-close encounter with her business partner (me).

I let her eat a nice morsel while I used the scissors to cut off her leather anklets and bell bewit.
Nearly done with the “off side” gear, the video below takes it from the removal of the “near side” equipment, and my giving her a final large lump of food that I want her to carry with her into the woods. Which she does as she flies away from me for the last time.

Jack and I took one of the days to pull out the kite and fly it. Unfortunately, we chose the only day of this short trip during which the wind toned down significantly; so it was difficult to keep the kite up, even after we’d removed its colorful tails. It was still fun, though, and we had gone to the part of the State Park where few people were enjoying the trails, and also let the dogs off-leash for a while.

It was the weekend, if you might recall, when we had a spectacular full moon—it’s impossible to capture the magnificence of the rising globe with a phone camera, but I tried anyway. It was quite a sight, and for the rest of the evening/night, we didn’t need flashlights to navigate our way around the camping area.

The next day, we had a fun experience, listening to and watching a gang of about 12 bluebirds cavorting around our campsite. They were loud (we call it “burbling and twittering”), and feisty, and dancing in the branches of the trees around ours and a couple of other campsites. Still have no idea if they were mating or fighting, or maybe a bit of both. But it was truly magical to see so many of them so closely for so long.

Determined not to be left behind, Mischief takes up residence in the back of the truck, on top of our kit bags.

Our trip home again was cloudy and threatening, but the rain decided to hold off until after we were back and settled back into the unpacking routine. This trip was the first we’d ever taken with an additional car, so I captured this photo of Roomba from behind, just as we got close enough to the mountains to see that we were nearly home again. That moment, when we’re in the low country looking up at our home region atop the blue ridges, we both get a warm glow inside.

Virginia Falconers Association Picnic

It was so fun to see falconers new and old at the VA Falconers’ Assn picnic yesterday. We saw Brian who came up from South Carolina, and the great news is that he’s moving back to VA. Lud and Lisa were there, Tony and Tony Jr. were there, Bill and Claire, and Kent — all of whom I’ve not seen for at least a year, and some I haven’t seen in far longer than that.
On the “new” side, all of my 3 apprentices showed up, and there were so many curious nonfalconer but “interested enough in knowing more” guests that we held a brief “Hawk Talk” to help inform them about how to get started, and to answer some of their questions. While we often hold “Hawk Talks” at our Open Field Meets, doing one yesterday was a first for the picnic.
My longtime friends, Julia and Pam, came to the picnic to see us and we haven’t seen them for a very long time. It was excellent fun to catch up, although I had official duties to perform for the business meeting portion of the event, so I had less time to play with good friends than I’d expected.

We had begun our bylaw-permitted election process to get licensed falconer/member input on nominations for the Association president back in June, and so I was pleased to make the announcement yesterday that Andrew was elected by acclimation to succeed me as president of the VFA.
Jack and I had also arranged to meet a total stranger, whom we’d “conversed with” only virtually, from our online group of Alto trailer enthusiasts. Scott and his family are Alto “wanna-bees” as they are doing their research on teardrop trailer options, and haven’t decided yet what type will suit their needs the best.
They were there as we drove up, and so Jack was able to show them the roof opening procedure while I started doing my presidential best to greet friends old and new. I didn’t see Jack again until lunch was almost over and all the forks were gone.
It was a good venue for our event, and Ken and Jen did a great job of making all the arrangements for the event. Last I’d heard, they had 40 reservations for lunch, and I spoke to at least 10 additional folks who had either eaten en route or brought their own instead of participating in the catered meal — so it was a very big turn-out at Massanutten. The only drawback was that there were few places to perch the birds that were brought along, so they’d be accessible to both handlers and guests. I saw three or four birds only, and every time I saw them, they were perched on their falconers’ fists.
And it was hotter all day than I’d expected, being at a ski lodge. But I guess we weren’t all that high up the mountain. In the shade it was okay, but it was better to be inside the air conditioned “nature center” where we held our fundraising auction. Gene did a fantastic job as our auctioneer, and kept the audience laughing and spending their money. There was some great stuff on the table and I think the Association made a goodly amount of $ to offset annual expenses. Overall it was a great event and I’m so glad we were able to go.
After things wound down, Jack and I took Roomba to Shenandoah River State Park near Luray, VA. En route, we took a quick grocery stop for provisions and dinner, and still found a very nice spot (#20) at 6:30 on a Saturday, with a tad of afternoon shade. Since we didn’t have to unhitch, we quickly set up without having to do very much leveling at all. We turned on the air conditioning because outside it was 88 degrees. 
Friday night, before we left for the picnic, we’d picked up the bike cover we’d commissioned our local yurt business to make for our bikes while mounted on the Roomba. Early Saturday, we’d had to remove it as there was too much “flap” in the material, and the Velcro had let loose. So one of the things we did before settling down for a chicken salad dinner Saturday night was to re-attach the cover, and with a couple of packing straps, we secured it better for tomorrow’s drive (we hope). 
Tomorrow, we’re on to World’s End State Park in PA.

Cascade’s Freedom

I met him when he was a youngster of 6 months. This was November of 2011. He was not, at first, happy to see me. Not happy at all.

At first, I was unsure if he was a male or a female. But in time, I knew by his demeanor, character, and general lack of aggression that He was not a She. Thus, he was not known as Cass but rather Cade.

We had a great first year together. 

Then my hunting/helping dogs died, and during that winter of 2013-4, the squirrels died because of the acorn crop failure.

Cade and I were reduced to trying to find rabbits, and I can tell you, I’m not much of a rabbit dog. 

Over this past hunting season (2014-5) we still had difficulty finding squirrels as their populations had not rebounded in my neighborhoods. Cade lost his touch for the bushytails — and even though he’d caught two fox squirrels in 2012; and even though they were more abundant than the grays; Cade suddenly refused to even look at the fox squirrels we stumbled upon in the woods.

The first dog I chose as a replacement rabbit flusher turned out to be more afraid of the bird than he was attuned to rabbits. He’s sweet, but useless in the field with a bird.

Poor Cade spent much of the 14-15 hunting season cooling his talons in his enclosure.

His time to reclaim his freedom has arrived, and today he realized it. One of the greatest things about the way I practice falconry is that a wild-caught redtailed hawk, trained in the sport of falconry and thus fit, skilled, healthy and mature, will readily revert back to the wild.

As he did today. 

He ate the quail I held in my glove while I cut through the leather bewit holding the bell on his leg; and through the two leather anklets on his tarsi. Once he finished the quail, I had a large rabbit’s head for him to carry with him into the surrounding woods. The head would keep him occupied for a while after I left.

Once he realized he was free, he took off, looking as if the only thought in his head was, “Who are you?”

I thanked him for his willingness to work with me, and for the opportunity to get to know him. 

And I drove away.

Fly high good bird and make many more of your kind; Live Long and Prosper, my friend.



Falconry Season: February Crows

It’s been a strange season for flying birds. First the crash of the squirrel population. Then the wicked cold temps keeping everything (including me and my red tail) tucked into shelter.

So this has been the season I’ve reversed my “normal” A and B team concentrations. Where my most dependable and fun outings in the past have been flying the red tail on squirrels, and the falcon-on-crows focus was more of a “dawdle,” I have found myself frustrated and un-inspired by working with the red tail and the new dog. 

For one thing, the dog remains clueless. It’s hard to get the dog to understand what we’re doing out there when there are no squirrels to chase. So when I’ve looked for red-tail-style dinner options, we have devolved to rabbits. Not many of them around, either. So both the bird and the dog get bored. The other day, on one of those rare warm days, the bird found a significant snake crawling around — who’d have thought that a snake would be active in 45-50 degrees? And it wasn’t a little shoestring-sized snake, either. When the bird had finished eating it, we were done for the day.

A bored red-tailed hawk picks up bad habits. It might even think that the white-and-black canine running around randomly and not noticeably helping flush anything might just do for a quick meal.

Enter the traditionally-dubbed “B-Team.” My Crow Joe (CJ) the falcon has been spot on his targets. The thing about the crows, however, is that my fave time for getting out before too much human activity starts up for the day is right after dawn. But when the temps are in the teens and below, the crows are waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit before they start pecking around on the frozen-solid ground. Crows are smart, remember.

So it’s been tough finding the right timing and putting together the situations where both CJ is at weight and ready to fly, and the crows are out, messing around on the ground feeding. But it hasn’t been so tough that I have been unable to offer CJ opportunities to fly, and he has been eating heartily on fresh dinner á la corvid. 

I guess the upshot of all this is the following. You’re never too old to learn something new. If you try different things, you’re likely to find an alternative that works. If you’re patient, and try not to get your knickers all knotted up, the rough patches will smooth. And its useless to cry over situations that you cannot change; instead, make an effort to adapt.

So this is the winter of my adaptation. And I love my falcon.

February Crows:




Falconry with Friends


The Virginia Falconers’ Association held its Harrisonburg Field Meet last weekend. I met some new people, beat brush until I was near dropping, told some lies and tall tales, and generally had a great time seeing old friends who all share my particular form of insanity. The high temperature on the primary hunting day was 27 degrees, so it was also exhausting, trying to keep warm and stay out of the wind while following a hunting bird of prey. Still, it was rewarding to have my 2x intermewed redtailed hawk catch one of only two squirrels nabbed over the weekend (Harrisonburg is renowned, among falconers, for its rabbits).

When I was a start-up falconer, I hunted alone (with a bird, of course) for many many years. I’m very glad that circumstance changed for me. There is nothing quite like being in the fields and woodlots with my peers. I watch a recall to the glove: the singular beauty of a gliding hawk, homing in on a tidbit sitting on a leather gauntlet, some 50 or 100 yards away. We all stop whatever we were doing and watch, thrilling in the extraordinary discipline that has convinced this wild entity to voluntarily return to the fist; we all shake our heads, and murmur “nothing like it on earth,” and each knows what the other means. It is truly priceless.

I didn’t have the opportunity to fly CJ, the crow-eating falcon, during the field meet. I think it was too cold and windy for the crows to be sitting on the ground anyway; but I honestly didn’t have time to go check through the byways of Rockingham Co. So I flew CJ on the Monday morning upon my return home. He was so anxious to fly, he went out the window and nailed a crow within the first ten minutes of our effort. It was the first one we saw. He got a good crop-up in return for his good behavior and patience (ha! this is a joke: the very last thing counted among attributes of birds of prey is patience). Actually, I fed him up because I felt guilty that he was waiting fruitlessly all weekend to hunt.

It was a good weekend (plus). Hoping the approaching deep freeze won’t prevent more flying this week.