walking

Well, yesterday was the big “if you love something set it free moment” where you quickly find out if your hawk will fly the coop or will return to you for some glove love.

My husband went hunting with friends and their hawks and took Gracie along to free fly her for the first time.  They took turns hunting and waited until the end of the day to fly Gracie.  When it starts to get dark, there’s a better chance of retrieving your hawk as they don’t typically fly at night and even if she flew away, she probably wouldn’t go very far.

So, after 7-8 weeks of training, it was time to take the plunge.  At first, when encouraged to fly off of the glove, she held on.  The second time, she flew to the ground and then back to his glove.  The third time ‘s a charm and she finally realized that she could fly to a branch and did.  As the group walked into the woods, she watched them closely and began to follow my H, flying from tree to tree.  You could tell that she had her eye on him the whole time and this was a very good sign.  She flew through the trees, sometimes right by or above you (which is an amazing thing to behold) to perch on his glove, get a snack and then fly to the next tree.

The next step will be hunting with her and I’m excited to hear about their next adventure.

Gracie keeping her eye on my husband...

Gracie is about to fly to the glove

Gracie watching everyone walk through the woods

Looking for squirrels.

The end of a successful day

A perfect landing!

For the first time in more than 100 years, our southern state saw a white Christmas. We all went out to enjoy the snow and our Lab and Golden couldn’t get enough of it! Although their play may look ferocious, they adore eachother and just had some plain old fun romping in the snow!

The old "over-hand right-paw" trick

Play-fighting

The chase is on!

I've got the prize! Is anyone following me?

Where'd that darn red-head go? Oh well, on to other things...

A final walk in the snow before the sun goes down

The day after Christmas, we woke to beautiful, white snow all around.  It was time for some lure training and my hubs brought Gracie out to work with her some more:

Gracie flying to the glove for a treat

Glove love

Flying to the perch

What a wing span!

A perfect landing!

 My H said that Gracie was “mantling” over her prey (below).  This is supposed to be a good sign as it shows she really valued her reward from the lure.

Mmmmm, cold baby chick

During Gracie’s snow training our neighbors came out to watch and we enjoyed hanging out with them for a few minutes. Afterwards, we all went to our respective houses to warm icy fingers and toes. We ended the holidays with some homemade Chicken Parmesan with fresh basil, Green Bean Casserole, warm Ciabatta rolls and some hot chocolate – a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

Gracie Sleeping

Our Red-tailed Hawk is evidently a very deep sleeper.  Watch this video as my husband opens the giant hood (her crate) and tries to wake her up – slowly and carefully.  He doesn’t want to startle her – there’s nothing worse than a grumpy hawk!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpdsmZwACRo&fs=1&hl=en_US

After much prodding and poking, she finally wakes up and then glares at me – I didn’t do anything, I’m just the camera person!
Walking with Hawk in Box in Hand

The scene:
27.9°
wind chill of 18°
gusts of 14 mph

As you may have heard, a cold, bitter blast of winter weather hit the south this morning. Despite the cold, it was still a beautiful day and my husband decided to head to the football field for some lure training. I tagged along to observe and snap a few photos.

According to my H, lure training is one of the final steps before free flying. As I see it, Gracie needs to view the lure as her new BFF. The way this is described in falconry terms, (which by the way, they have a different word for everything) is that she has to be “made to the lure.” Apparently, the way that you do this is to put them on a limited diet (no more Micecream Cones) and convince them that the lure (a piece of leather served with rodent tartare that gets flailed around in the air) is their next Happy Meal. Once the hawk is convinced that you are their epicurean savior, you’re ready to set sail to the high skies and roam the countryside for rascally rabbits or squirrely squirrels. Yep, right up Elmer Fudd’s alley.

There’s a little piece of chicken in the grass that she’s looking at in the foreground of the photo. I’m glad I’m not a piece of chicken.
Lure Training Gracie

The last flight to the gauntlet of the morning:
Lure Training Gracie

Hawk on a cold blustery day
Lure training on a cold blustery day

By the time the training session was over, I was an ice cube. My hands were like little stiff stalactites inside my gloves. When we got home, I took the dogs for a walk and they enjoyed the cold weather. I might have liked it better if I had a fur coat, too.

Play time's over - going home

P.S. As I write this, there’s a cold weather advisory for our town and surrounding areas. It’s snowing sideways and hot chocolate sounds really good right now.

reindeer-hat

If you have one of these hats, I apologize in advance for any offense to your sense of fun, style or Christmas spirit by this post.  This hat came into my possession recently and unexpectedly as a gift for my H to wear during the holidays. In addition to its obvious charm, it also plays, “Gramma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”  It gets even better.  While belting out this novelty Christmas song, the hat’s antlers wave back and forth in rhythm to its country roots.  It’s truly a sight to behold, especially for a hawk.

If you were a predator, would this look like a tasty snack?

Gracie (enter hawk), was sitting on her perch in the living room the other evening. A few hours went by, the lights were down low, it was getting late and my H and the hawk were having a face-off.  Neither quite trusted the other to completely let their defenses down.  However, as I mentioned, it was getting late. In the duel between man and beast, beast was about to win.

The hat was sitting quietly on the arm of the couch between husband and hawk. It just happened to be placed there at an earlier date and time, and was one of those objects that you get used to seeing and then forget that it’s even there.

My H, sitting on that very couch had his peripheral vision glued to the hawk. As time passed, the eyelids on those green lookers started to droop lower and lower and then finally closed in exhaustion. Seconds ticked by.  Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into… an opportunity.  Then, the strike happened. It seemed to came out of nowhere as Gracie went for the hat… or was it the husband?

Being a hunter by nature, Gracie obviously had the upper hand in the waiting game.  She knows when a good meal is at stake.  My H didn’t have a chance.  We still don’t know til this day whether she was going for the hat or for his head. If it wasn’t for the short line connecting those long legs and sharp talons to her perch…

We later wondered, “Was she offended by the garish nature of the Christmas gag or was she waiting for the right moment to commit the perfect crime and off her captor?”

I don’t think we’ll ever know.

Hawk 1, Husband 0.

Happy Holidays!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO4PAhndFO8&fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b

Gracie Gets a Reward (The mouse is in her mouth)

She was at the 30 and…
… to the 40 to the 50 to the 40 to the 30 to 20.

I’m faking it – I really don’t know anything about football, but I do know that I was on a football field yesterday afternoon.  Ok, fine.  I wouldn’t even have known that unless my H hadn’t clearly said, “I’m taking Gracie to a football field.”

Of course, I was fascinated and repelled simultaneously.  Why a football field?  Sounds so… sporty.

Luckily, it had nothing to do with dueling squads of  human battering rams, vexatious announcers, mouth guards or sweaty tattoos.  That being the case, I willingly went along as a first time official outing photographer.

The local highschool football field was vacant.  It was a brisk 32° with a wind chill factor of about 21° – invigorating!   My H, pockets filled with mouse cadavers, set up the perch and creance (a thin line attached to the hawk) and I followed along, excited about the chance to capture a Gracie-in-action shot.  She flew about 5 times from the perch to my H’s gauntlet and reached up to 50 yards.  By the last time, she had begun to lose interest as she was getting full.  The entire exercise took about 20 minutes.

I was only able to get a few shots as my hands were freezing (and hawks fly a lot faster than you think):

Gracie in action - low flying along the 30 yard mark towards my H

Gracie flying 50 feet from creance to glove

Flying right towards us - what a sight!

PICT0411

Her reward (I really having nothing to say at this moment other than the macro feature on my camera works great)

Gracie with part of mouse in mouth

Eating her reward - you can still see the mouse before it completely disappeared in her mouth (I just vomited a little bit)

Gracie in Mews

This photo is just eye candy to make up for any visual violations in this post - I took it in the mews before we left

White Mouse

My freezer, which once held the bounties of nature and pre-packaged delights, has forever changed. No longer is it a place to freely inspect, to gleefully rummage or to speculate about its hidden wonders. Where once I moved confidently and boldly in this frozen kingdom, I am now uncertain and timid. Mysterious disappearances and strange appearances have left me questioning the sanctity of this chow repository.

The frigidarium of delight as I once knew it has transformed into a frozen time-share coffin for anemic, lilliputian mice. Tiny, furry white creatures with little pink noses and feet appear at random for the unsuspecting visitor. Lined up as if caught in suspended animation, the mouse filled baggie may lay next to the waffles, the bag of frozen peas or the ice cube tray. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to their appearance, location or disappearance. I know what they’re for, and Gracie needs to eat, but knowing that doesn’t bring back the freezer glory days.

As if this wasn’t enough trauma for the wife of a falconer to bear (drama alert), the surprise “donation” of the $7 organic, Springer Mountain Farm, boneless, skinless chicken tenderloin dinner-to-be to our lovely hawk, would have put any cook into shock. I know that there were good, valid reasons for Gracie to eat poultry on that day, but knowing that doesn’t bring back my future Chicken Scaloppine with Lemons, Capers and Tomatoes.

I am sure that this is just the beginning and that I’ll have many more culinary and cold storage adventures to share, but as a tip to all would-be falconers and falconer’s wives, don’t confuse a mouse with a chicken or you may end up with  White Chocolate Mouse Parfaits with Strawberries.

P.S. It’s late and I can’t stop thinking of mouse recipes…Italian Style Spaghetti and Mouseballs, Verminicelli, Greek Mouseaka, Ratatouille (obvious one), getting tired now, you probably have some, too!

Well, it’s official. Until now, Gracie had been a bit of a mystery to our dogs and myself, but now it’s a whole new level of real.  Most of the time she’s been in a dimly lit room with my H, just he, she and ESPN spending some good quality bonding time together. We’ve had glimpses here and there, a few furtive photo ops and daylight sightings.  However, last night, my H set up a place in our living room just for Gracie.  It’s the next step in her training and socialization, getting familiar with new sights, situations and sounds. Her new special area is composed of a metal perch, AstroTurf, a tarp, towels, a dog gate and a sheet against the living room wall… a vision of loveliness :)

AstroTurf is used by falconers for their hawk's perches

Moving past the obvious decor issues, it was her first introduction to the entire family inside the house and it was a great success!  Our Lab and Golden obeyed perfectly as commanded and curiously lay on the carpet with eyes alert and quivering noses pointed directly towards her.  After a while, they abandoned any real hope of investigating this new visitor in our home and dozed off.

We all watched Boardwalk Empire with the volume down low and Gracie was perfectly at ease. She even rested comfortably on one leg, stretching it out every so often as if this was the norm. I think she’ll be disappointed that next week is the season finale.

As an aspiring blogger, devotee of the english language (grammar not included) and lover of lexicons, the skill of the poet is much admired in my heart.  I found this delightful little poem and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
Barred Owl - Strix varia

A Barred Owl by Richard Wilbur

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

If you listen to the Barred Owl’s hoots, cackles, caws, and gurgles, you can understand the poets desire to allay the fears of a young child!  Visit (then scroll down page) to hear for yourself: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds

Barred Owl Facts:

  • Only the Barred Owl and the Barn Owl have brown eyes, all other owls in the U.S. have yellow eyes.
  • It’s called a Barred Owl because of the bars of brown and white across the bird’s chest (not because it’s excluded from anything).
  • Its hoot actually sounds like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.” (particularly if you’re hungry)
  • They’re homebodies and don’t migrate. 
Big Eared Bat

Ahh, the joys of country life…

Nature
Fresh mountain air
Starry nights
Old barns
and… bats?

My H was telling me of his progress with Gracie tonight in the barn. As a passing comment, he mentioned that there may have been a bat in the attic with them. It sounds like a simple, straight forward statement, but why did it seem like there should be more to it? How could it be that uncomplicated? Where’s the bat drama? Do I have to tell it like I see it? Ok.

Big Eared Bat

Big Eared Bat (public domain image)

Imagine a pitch black, Blair Witch-type foggy night with the creepy sound of coyotes yipping in the distance. You and your hawk are alone in the attic of an old barn. Training is the main purpose for your evening activities, but all of a sudden, you hear a whirling sound around your head and it’s getting closer and closer with each pass. WTF? Although the hawk on your glove is a force to be reckoned with, I still think I’d still be a little trepeditious (yes, it is a word, see The Grammarphobia Blog) about your collective efforts to slay the winged rat (sorry bat lovers). One: even though you and your Red-tail have basically been hand-in-claw for the last two weeks, it’s not like she’s your BFF. Two: an exit strategy seems like a better use of the potentially short time you have left.

What’s wrong with an innocent little bat just trying to make a decent living? Well, rabies, histoplasmosis, mites, ticks, fleas, sharp little teeth and guano, to name seven. However, as I write this, I feel that I’m being a little unfair to the flying mammal classified in the order of Chiroptera. Shouldn’t they have qualities worthy of redemption just like everyone else? Is it really their fault that Bram Stoker sold them out and capitalized on their unfortunate creep-factor?

Obviously, not being an expert, I can’t answer those questions. However, I’ll leave my dear readers with a few batcrumbs and you can form your own opinions:

And, lastly

  • Bat Word origin & history (which will be of particular interest to falconers): “to move the eyelids,” 1847, Amer.Eng., from earlier sense of “flutter as a hawk” (1610s), a variant of bate (2) on the notion of fluttering wings. Dictionary.com
  • Chiroptophobia is the fear of bats