Friday, January 25, 2008

From an email I just wrote

An excerpt.

He is free-lofted in the mews, but has been spending all his time on the floor lately, and has gotten less and less responsive when flown. In retrospect, we think this is due to the frounce, but today Mr. Carnahan suggested he might have aspergillosis, which would explain why he was so tame right out of the trap.
I've attached a bunch of photos of the mews from all angles. It's 10' X 14', perches by the windows and a bow perch in the middle with a bath pan. One of the photos shows the corner where he's been spending the night, you can see the mutes where he stands. Normally he's been free-lofted, but after the foot treatment I figured it was better to keep him out of that corner, so I tethered him to the bow perch and put down some astroturf-type mats just now in case he goes to the floor tonight.
His response to food is getting better; after the flagyl he cast a pellet and then immediately started eating anything that looks even remotely edible and tears into food like he's starving, which I imagine he was. He's packing on weight but the state of his keel hasn't changed much, not that that's the most precise indicator. He's now at exactly the same weight he was when trapped. Mr. Carnahan told me to feed him up as much as he'll take and build his weight up, until he starts acting like a real ass, then keep him at that weight for a couple days before starting to work him down again. He thinks if his weight was like this when I picked him up that he was in pretty bad shape on the trap. He is very weak, he can only jump a few feet from the ground to the glove, and will only fly about ten to fifteen feet before hitting the ground and running the rest of the way.

Burt diagnosed frounce due to his behavior and the regurgitation. I couldn't see any cheesy plaques, at all, but could feel some lumpiness around his esophagus and crop. He was having trouble swallowing food, and there was that regurgitation, was weak, only moderately responsive, and a little wheezy. I have not fed him any pigeon at all, just goose, quail, cottontail, and nutria. I picked up some duck yesterday and have started giving him that.

He was very calm on the trap and easy to man. He's trained easy as pie, which though great at the time, in retrospect I find worrisome. He was always very eager and responsive, but would never fly past a certain distance, about 100ft along the creance line. We started free-flying him, thinking he just didn't like the drag of the creance, but he still wouldn't come any further, though he was eager and responsive up to that distance.
We decided his weight was too low, and I began to feed him up to bring his weight and condition up. Even still, he became less responsive, which may be because he was comfortably well-fed and thus not motivated, but also in retrospect may be because he's getting sicker and sicker. One day he just refused to fly more than a few feet, and was gagging like he was attempting to cast a pellet. He hadn't cast in several days. Eventually he chucked up a few small bits of meat, which he promptly grabbed and ate again, and regurgitated again, and ate before I could grab it, and so on. He had, previously, had some difficulty swallowing. Burt dx'ed frounce based on these symptoms.
We treated for frounce, his condition seemed to improve--or at least his appetite did, anyway, but he flies shorter and shorter distances, and now will only jump about ten feet to the glove, or about two feet ground-to-glove. I haven't heard any gurgling or wet wheezing sounds, but have heard noticeably "windy" breathing after light exertion--though only sometimes. Definitely no open-mouthed breathing, or labored breathing, just... windy sounds. Slightly noisy breathing, but like I said, not all the time. He eats everything I put in front of him and is heavier now than trapped, though his keel still feels very sharp to me. I've been dusting his food with vitahawk, if that matters.
He also had a wound in his foot which I've been treating with betadine flushes and packing with TAO.
He seems to bathe daily, but hasn't preened himself much in the last two days or so and is looking decidedly roughed-up.

My sponsors are currently travelling out of the country. The prognosis as given by the master falconers I spoke with said that if he does have asper, there's not much to be done, and I should just keep feeding him up and providing supportive care, and see how he does once fed up. It seems a reasonable course of action, but I would like to know, and to put him down if the alternative is to let him slowly die from lung infection.

Welcome to falconry, eh?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Climbing back up...

Things seem to be slowly improving. He's back up above his trapped weight, but keel still feels very sharp. He was so fat yesterday he didn't want to fly at all, just pulled a foot up in his belly feathers and sat there looking at me, whistling away at him. Hrmph!
So he went out to weather and enjoy the chilly Oregon sunshine. I pulled a 3/4" disc of ice out of his bath pan, brr... no wonder he hasn't been bathing! He's looking decidedly worse for the wear, as I don't think he's been preening for the last week or so. His tail is also pretty ragged, he's been spending nearly all his time on the gravel floor of the mews instead of perched.
Was hoping to take him to hunt this weekend at the Oregon Falconer's Association Winter field meet, but he's pretty weak, so no hunts for us for a while. We're just doing relays of ground-to-glove jumps, and short flights to build up his flight muscle and bring him back into condition. I may haul him to the meet just to have a field of experienced folks look him over and help me figure out how to proceed from here, but we'll see.
In either case, I'm really looking forward to the meet. It's a lot of fun to hang around these folks, quite aside from the incredible hawking I expect we'll see. Also, I have for donation to the raffle, an amazing handmade hawking hoodie from Heidi of Urban Ninja Wear, with a hawk pulling-up on one shoulder and running rabbit coming around the hip.

I'm down with some kind of stomach bug today, but even still there's no break from this. He's exactly at trapped weight today so should be expected to show some kind of response--on the theory that if he was hunting when trapped he must have been hungry, or he wouldn't have come down to the trap. Combat weight is expected to be roughly ten percent lower than trapped weight, but his keel still feels awfully sharp to me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blue skies! (Kind of)

Well, the last treatment was yesterday, he's tearing into food like he's never seen it before, and cast a pellet early yesterday morning... SO, by all indications things should be just fine. Blue skies for Arion, though overcast, gray skies for the rest of Oregon =).

He's weak, he's lost a lot of muscle mass between being sick and lack of flying, so we'll ease back into it with a series of short vertical jumps, then short flights, working into longer flights on the creance, then back to free-flying and hunting as soon as possible. My main concern right now is packing the weight on him to bring him back up to his trapped weight, so we can get a real picture of what his healthy combat weight should be.

This second go-round will be interesting from a training point of view, because he may (or may not) be a totally different bird this time. He was awfully quick to train, which is not unusual, but may not be so laid-back when he's feeling good as when he was ill, and handling may be more of a challenge. We'll see! Never a lack of new adventures, that's for sure.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Scary stuff

Arion is ill.
We couldn't figure out why we were having to push his weight down so far to get an active response--24-25 oz is low even for a tiercel RT. His keel was so sharp at that weight, by all rights he should have been ravenous... but at 28, 27, 26 oz he just wasn't terribly interested. He'd fly, he'd eat, he responded, but not with any particular zeal.

We took him out for his first free flight last week and, as usual, he was responsive but not keen. He had a couple decent flights, things went okay, but something just wasn't right.

Over the next couple days he became less and less interested in flying, until one day he just sat on the perch with no response at all. He was acting like he was trying to cast a pellet, over and over opening his mouth wide, bobbing his head, trying to yak it up but nothing was happening. After a few minutes he chucked up a small piece of meat he'd flown for a few minutes before.

That's when I called Callan and that's when the connections were made. He has frounce. It's a protozoan, Trichomonas, if you PPH ladies can believe that old friend.

Thinking back over the past few weeks, I remember hard flights and very slight wheezing. I remember taking longer than it should to swallow a tidbit of food. I remember slow response times and low weights despite huge volumes of food. I remember sudden sharp yarak, pleasing to see at the time. The one thing missing is the classic symptom--cheesy plaque in the mouth and throat. He could, and very likely does, have it built up in his esophagus or crop, invisible to me but making it difficult and painful to swallow, another reason he hasn't cast a pellet in five or six days.

This, among a million other reasons, is why we serve a two-year apprenticeship in the US. Frounce is, luckily, easy to treat and red tails are difficult to kill, good for both Arion and me as untreated it's likely to kill them in fairly short order once they start exhibiting visible symptoms. Wild animals don't get sick and languish; visible symptoms make a you an easy target. When birds of prey get sick, they're fine one day then belly-up the next and you get your answers in a necropsy.

The symptoms I saw, painfully clear in retrospect, went right by me. Without the guidance of my sponsors I'd have had a dead hawk in a few days. He's been treated with Flagyl, last course tomorrow, and with any luck the disease is dead and the plaques will recede enough for him to eat comfortably and gain weight within a week or two. The chances are very good he'll be just fine. I'm feeding him ground cottontail, small amounts several times a day, and he's stuffing down everything I offer him and is severely pissed there's not more when he's done. He's drinking and bathing daily, is preening and he's in good feather.

Even still, every time I check on him I'm terrified I'll find him dead.

I will never, never forget how incredibly, remarkably easily I could have killed my hawk in sheer ignorance. I've got two years, and a whole lot to learn.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

On the horizon...

Just now back to work for real, for the first time since all the weirdness. Am cranking through orders like mad and promise to have everything in the post on Monday! We have stuff shipping out to Texas, Illinois, and Florida, amongst others.

Arion and I are getting along quite nicely. After a couple days of terrible weather and surly attitudes about flying in it, we had two very nice workouts over the past two days. I think we're at combat weight--or he is, anyway, I've still got a bit to go on that one ;0)--and Callan thinks we're ready to ditch the creance as soon as there's a good, clear day for it. Hooray!

In the meantime I'll keep working on making him to the lure and conditioning his flight muscles with ground-to-glove jumps and increasing flight distance on the creance, though I think he hates the feel of the drag.

Yesterday we were flying on the football field at the local middle school. I didn't know anyone else was there, but we gathered a bit of a crowd when they came out to see what all the whistling was about. Oops.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


In light of some very recent, and very personal events, I would like to take this space to extend my deepest sympathy and compassion to those suffering with mental illness, personally, or in a partner, family, or friends. These events have been profoundly upsetting to witness in loved ones as a bystander; I can't even begin to imagine what life must be like for those personally afflicted... what a tremendously terrifying and ultimately lonely existence that must be.

My heart goes out to those who suffer.

At the close of 2007 I am supremely grateful for my good health, both physical and mental; I wish you all the same. Please take care of yourselves and each other in this new year.