Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rathawkers extraordinaire!

The last week has been great! I put out a notice on Craig's List the other day for private property on which to fly, but the response hasn't exactly been overwhelming. I've got a few areas I can fly her, but there's nothing in the way of critters to chase. There's really not much in the way of a cottontail population near by, so mostly we've been practicing the mechanics of "following on", a behavior pattern in which the bird stays even with, or slightly in front of, the handler and dog(s) so as to be in good position for the strike when quarry is flushed.

She's doing well, I just wish I had better hunting ground for her. We did manage to make our first kill as a team yesterday; she took a packrat in an absolutely spectacular dive out of a tree. We'd tried to hunt her early in the morning, but I'd fed her a bit at dawn in a clumsy attempt to course-correct when I was worried about her weight dropping too low due to an unexpected freeze overnight. We put her up into a tree and proceeded to flush three rabbits right under her, which she appeared to enjoy watching as they zoomy-zoomed right on by, so at that point I called her down to the glove and put her back in the box while we flew Chris' gos, Harlot and Sabrina's Redtail, Aala. Both birds made kills, although Aala unfortunately snagged herself a mouse or meadowvole which she swallowed in two quick bites, ending the hunt for her for the day.

Later Mr. Hoyer took the two of us and my friend Laurie to a quiet farm road with a row of trees and packrat nests lining the easement. Apparently Mr. Hoyer has been poking these same rat warrens for over twenty years--those industrious little critters will continue using and adding to their community nests generation after generation. We tried flushing a few of them, but it looked as though they'd been hunted earlier in the week, as we poked four nests without dispensing a single rodent. A few minutes later, Gaia took herself across the road and a few trees down; we followed and sure enough, flushed a rat in a nest under the tree she'd gone to.

Falconry isn't much about training a bird. You don't teach the bird really anything, their entire evolutionary history has shaped them to be the finely-honed predators they are. If you are to be successful as a falconer, you must train yourself to work within the bird's parameters; often the hawk is a better "bird dog" than the bird dogs themselves are. She'd spotted prey, and it was our job to put it somewhere she could get it. We turned out the rat, which dashed along the underbrush and scaled the next tree over--a heavily brushy, willow-sort of tree with a dense tangle of thin, limber branches. Gaia hesitated just a moment then moved to the top of the tree about fifteen feet above the rat, which was crouching on a branch just above the brush level. My heart sank; the tree was too thick, brush too dense, and the rat was one solid leap from the safety of his nest. She was hesitant enough earlier in the day that I sort of assumed she'd take a good look at it, and watch it scamper off to safety.

A heartbeat later, she tucked her wings and did a head-first dive, what they call a "teardrop stoop" dropping like a rock. The rat jumped and the two of them fell straight down, where Gaia, crashing brush like a veteran, nailed the rat mere inches above the ground! I was so stunned with the flight I didn't even have the presence of mind to have the camera at the ready, and just tossed it to my friend Laurie as I bolted by to help her if she needed assistance with the dispach. Mr. Hoyer was yelling and cheering, jumping up and down like kids at a football game, we all were. Laughing, he told us that at 75, that was one of the best rat stoops he'd ever seen, he couldn't believe she did it. It was fantastic!

The two of us, Mr. Hoyer and myself, made into the brush on our hands and knees where she was mantled over the rat. I picked the two of them up together, and she filled her crop as we made our way back to the cars. What an adventure. I'll need to put some more bunnies in front of her, but entering her to rats is sure a fine start!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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The matchless message, is interesting to me :)

December 19, 2009 3:08 AM  

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