Props: proper respect, recognition – Urban Dictionary

I’ve never given the opossum a second thought unless it happened to scurry across my path in the approaching dusk. Ghostly, ghastly, pallid and grotesque, there were so many more colorful things in life to give my attention to.

Until now.
If Gracie hadn’t caught one, I’d still think that way.
Of course, after seeing one close up… close enough to take a photograph, I was intrigued.
What an interesting looking creature.
My, what big teeth it has.
What does it eat?

Thank you Google – all my questions were answered and I have to share my new-found knowledge about and “props” for the heretofore unknown and unappreciated ‘possum.

Before I reveal what I’ve learned, I must first elaborate a little more on Gracie’s successful hunt. This was the other evening. The days are getting a little longer and my husband took her out to hunt just before dark.  She flew up from his glove, immediately spotted the unlucky opossum and dove for it. As soon as my H saw her go for it, his heart sank as he knew there could be a fight – either one could die. He ran over to her as she tried to subdue her prey and reached her in time to help her dispatch the creature.  It was twice her weight (2200 grams). The opossum punctured Gracie’s foot with its teeth, but she’s o.k.

The Opossum

Close-up of Opossum Teeth

Here’s where we put on our big girl pants and look beyond the grisly photos above. The opossum is beautifully and intelligently designed, the same as something pretty like a butterfly, baby deer or canary. Maybe they’re not cuddly or cute, but I’ve realized that they do deserve some air time.

Here’s what I found:

  • The opossum is the only marsupial in North America. It carries its babies in a pouch (now that’s kind of cute)
  • They have about 50 teeth; the most teeth of any N American mammal. (not so cute, but interesting!)
  • Adults are the size of an average house cat and weigh six to 15 lbs (the one Gracie caught was 5 pounds)
  • Because their ears and tails lack fur they often suffer frostbite on these body parts during cold winters. (this was kind of sad)
  • They have five toes on each foot. (hmmm)
  • They have a resistance to rabies but may still be carriers of the disease.
  • They eat mostly dead things, insects, frogs and like apples, clementines and persimmons (what variety!)
  • When playing possum, the lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands (Wikipedia) (now that’s cool and gross at the same time)
  • Sometimes, they actually look cute (take the baby photo above for example)

Hopefully, I’ve given the ‘possum a proper nod and that if you ever see one, you’ll look past their long snouts, sharp teeth, beady black eyes, oily skin, coarse fur, parasite-carrying, rabies resistant bodies and appreciate what’s good about them.

What do you think? Cute or gross?

You may have been one of those people who excelled at sports (and if you were, I really do admire you), however, I was never among that elite group of fit, perky, energetic individuals that could kick &@!$% in their chosen field. For me, it was a series of painful, embarrassing, awkward moments and Sysyphean tasks. Phys Ed was my nemesis. No happy-happy, no joy-joy. Which leads me to the point of this post.

I glimpsed P.E. joy this weekend.
Would you believe that a local college actually had falconry as a credit for P.E.?
How cool is that?!?

Last Sunday, the N. Georgia college offered a class presented by a falconer/raptor rehabilitator. A master falconer (who is also a coach at the college), organized the presentation and invited some other falconers to attend (my hubs included).  I tagged along and took a few photos.

As I sat in the classroom (reminiscing about the horrors of P.E.), I looked around at the students and wondered why they took this class.  Did they want to become falconers or did they hate P.E. as much as I did? Whatever the reason, not only did they escape the wrath of sweaty athletics, the door of a fascinating sport was opened to them. Only time will tell if any of them will walk through it and join the select group of those who have embraced the pursuit of falconry.

Here are a few photos taken from (at present) the only college level falconry course in the country.

Anatomy and Physiology

Raptor Anatomy and Physiology

Feathers and Flight

Discussing Feathers and Flight

The Cast

Presenting the Cast (An egg-shaped ball, consisting of feathers, bones, etc., which all hawks throw up after the nutritious part of their food has been digested.)

Raptor Rehabilitation

Raptor rehabilitaton tools - tube to feed or provide electrolytes for a raptor

Classroom filled with students and falconers

Classroom filled with students and falconers

Falconry class

An outside demonstration after the class

After the class for college students and demonstration for children was over, the students and falconers split up into different groups and went hunting.

Maddie captures a squirrel

Maddie, a Red-Tailed Hawk, captures a squirrel

I now have a new, albeit grudging respect for P.E.

What about you, did you like P.E.? (wait – before you say anything, take a moment to reminisce on the fetid stench of muggy locker rooms, heinous polyester shorts, bad hair days, being 13, cruel temperature extremes, archaic equipment and the fascist attitudes that often go with the teaching of team sports – sorry coaches. ) Ok, now you can answer.

Last Saturday, January 15th, 2011

3:50 a.m. – the alarm squawked, or was that my husband? He had been up since 2:30 in anticipation of a state annual falconry “Field Meet”  where falconers convene to hunt, share stories, styles, tips and tricks. Included is a banquet (I imagined roast squirrel with pine nuts, a mouse cheese plate, possum stew and rabbit jerky), but it was actually much less sensational… steak, shrimp, and salmon (rabies-free!).

4:45 a.m. – My H, brother and cousin and hawks departed (or so I later found out, as my own self wasn’t up yet)

7:30 a.m. – they arrived at the meet, just in time for a photo shoot and then off to prepare for their first hunt.  Gracie was dressed in her jesses and bells, ready to roll. A woman had graciously offered her property (almost 300 acres) for the falconers to fly their birds.  My H, brother and a falconer family trio headed to the woods and my husband volunteered to fly Gracie first as she seemed to be at a good flight weight.

She was anxious to fly and when released into the trees initially followed well. Eying a squirrel, she chased it into a nest and jumped on it, but the little creature was stubborn and refused to come out (poor sport!). The hunters waited a few minutes to see if the squirrel would budge, but to no avail. It evidently knew what its fate could be (banquet fare?). They decided to walk on to another area, but unfortunately, Gracie’s mood changed and she didn’t follow.

Before I continue with what happened after this point, I should note that my H asked if I’d write this story in the hopes that it may help another falconer. He was concerned that he may not retrieve Gracie, but luckily with team work, perseverance and advice from a master falconer, this story has a happy ending.

10:00 a.m. – He called Gracie, but she flew further away in an ever expanding circle.  Pulling out the lure, which should be a falconer’s most reliable recall (for the women reading this, think new Prada bag), he tried to attract her, but she was indifferent. This wasn’t a good sign and he knew he was in for some trouble (think lost Prada bag).

She continued to “bump” around (flying from one spot to another) and crossed a major road to a neighboring property. They were hesitant to enter someone else’s land (as you should always have permission before doing this), but the neighbor was notified and they jumped the fence. Losing sight of her at this point would almost eliminate the possibility of her retrieval. My brother tried to nudge her back towards them and they worked at this for over an hour.  She was now out of sight, but still within earshot. The situation was getting worse and my H decided to contact his sponsor who connected him with a master falconer who was also on the hunt close by.

tfw-free-flight001

"Bumping" from tree to tree

He offered a few tips for retrieving a reluctant hawk (here is my translation):

  1. Chick-on-a-rope: Hang chick (deceased baby chicken – let’s be clear now) on a rope from tree and dangle it about 2 feet off ground in her sight
  2. The Roman: Drag chick across the ground on a rope behind you (looks better if you’re on a horse)
  3. Military-Style: Establish a search perimeter, one person walks in the dirction of the hawk while the others circle around (remember the “The Fugitive”) and stalks the hawk
  4. Ole’ Faithful: Try the lure again

I guess begging wasn’t an option.

12:00 – Good News! The master falconer found Gracie by the road and alerted my husband.  My H ran to her location and followed her until she led him to the original tree where the squirrel had hidden. He blew his whistle – no response.  He tried “Ole-Faithful” and whipped the lure around with a jolly Ho Ho Ho.  Bingo.  Baby got his bird back.

P.S. When my husband returned home, he found this helpful quote in a recent falconry newsletter: “I have heard many stories of apprentice’s birds being lost.  I can say with confidence that if a good foundation is laid and the bird is at initial flight weight, it would be hard to lose her under even the most difficult of circumstances.  There is a litany of traditional excuses as to why a bird is acting up in the field or why she cannot be flown; “she’s not used to this many people”, “she doesn’t like your hat”, “thermal conditions are bad”, “it’s too windy”, and so on down the list.  But the truth is, she is not at the right weight.  A bird maintained and if flown at the right weight can be flown at any time of day, in any weather conditions and over any size crowd of strangers without the need for excuses.”  – excerpted from an article on weight management by Gary Brewer, author of Buteo and Bushytails.

P.S. I realize this was a longer post than usual and if you’re tired of reading (as I was after I re-read this), get a cup of coffee, clear your mind and look at some hawk photos or alternatively watch hawk tv below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PS2YozkWbTM

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

Last night, Gracie flew from a perch on the floor, to my H’s gloved hand – almost 17 feet.  Great progress!  He gets up bright and early each morning to spend time with her, again at lunch and late into the evening.  It’s exciting to start to see the results of his efforts. It seems that this sport, like anything that you want to become good at, takes time, patience, commitment and consistency.

When I awoke this morning, I heard a hawk’s call loud and clear in our house.  But, as I ventured to the kitchen, it was a Youtube video playing for our two dogs.  They are becoming more accustomed to the eery, but beautiful sound.  They looked  at me for verification that everything was allright, I gave them the nod, and then they assumed their normal positions on the floor.

The hawk’s call is such a unique sound.  I read that often in movies, they mistakenly use the hawk’s cry for that of an eagle.

Here’s an informative bird site where you can listen to four types of calls that the Red-tailed hawk makes (scroll down a bit when the page opens):  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/sounds

fpic

Flamingo IMG_3236At breakfast this morning, my H explained to me that Gracie, while perched on his gauntlet (glove), stood on one leg, but the other leg was suspiciously suspended in midair.  It was 5:00 in the morning, he was sleepy, and for the briefest of moments, he thought, “Is this a good sign or a bad sign?”

In his dreamy state, he reasoned to himself that standing on one leg could mean one of two things:

1. She’s getting ready to do a Karate chop, talon-swipe-ninja move

2. She’s chilled out flamingo-like and tropical isle style

Number 1 = husband may end up with talons for earrings.
Number 2 = happy family.

Luckily, it was just part dream, part reality and he explained to me that when the hawk rests on just one leg, it can be seen as a sign that they are comfortable around you.  This makes sense as it seems they would be more vulnerable in this position.

I always wondered why birds stood on one leg.  Usually, when I do, it’s because my feet hurt or I’m in a Yoga tree pose.

I found this explanation from Birdnote.org:

“Birds’ legs have an adaptation called “rete mirabile”  that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs lie in contact with the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries warm the veins. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces by half the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.”

So, the moral of the story is, if you see a bird standing on one leg, it either only has one leg or it literally is chilling out.

Received txt msg from H at 7:12 a.m.:
She got the carpet, slice.
If u have can u bring
carpet clnr? Pls LU

Since Gracie graced our home, I’ve only just peeked in the doorway of the “hawk” room, not wanting to startle her.  But this morning, my H invited me to come all the way in the room to see her.  I cautiously crept in, edging around the outside of the room, trying to make myself look as small as possible and then slid down along the wall to the floor.  Her wings and shoulders arched up hunchback-esque to make herself look badder than me… and she was.  I kept on telling myself, “Don’t look her in the eyes,”  but it was like trying to avoid Medusa.  Where’s Perseus when you need him?

After my drama moment passed and my peripheral vision began to work again, I started to relax.  It only seemed to take a moment or two for her to let down her guard as we all sat in silence together.  The rule is: she can stare, we can’t.  A silent truce had just been made.

As I began to look around the room, I noticed a few spots on the towels that covered the carpet (and the one that had missed). Could this be what I had heard so many rumors about?  Is it slice? I asked my H and he said it was, and began to educate me about the intricacies of hawk poo.  Let me convey my limited understanding to the curious reader:

To Slice (verb) is the act of pooing at an angle by a hawk.  The speed of the slice (sph) depends on the type of raptor (i.e. if it’s a Velociraptor, watch out).

Mute (noun) describes a falcon or hawks poo, particularly the more solid ones that fall down (again, watch out). 

Mute (verb) The act of pooing. (also means to be silent, which is probably what I should have been on this subject)

Chalk/Whitewash (noun) white pee-like substance. (gag)

I invite any whose knowledge and expertise surpasses mine (the bar is set really low here) to further elucidate my readers on this fascinating topic.

P.S.
My H hasn’t had to use our “safe” word yet (in case something goes terribly wrong), which is “meatloaf”
He forgot what it was yesterday and thought it was “watermelon” which would have been really bad, because I would have ran to the grocery store while he was being wing-slapped by a wild hawk.