Enjoying a beautiful moment on a cool yet sunny spring day with my husband, two dogs and Gracie. I took a bunch of photos and here are the best of the bunch.

Pretty Girl

Pretty Girl

Gracie has such an intense stare with those golden eyes.

Beautiful Profile

I thought this shot had interesting angles and colors.

More intensity from a few steps back!

I'm continually in awe of her - just stunning!

This was a defensive stance to make herself look larger as our Golden Retriever approached.

A stately pose!

The sky is so blue here. I love the shadow under her wings and sun on her breast feathers

There's a turkey vulture (top right) that kept circling above us

Again - pooch coming a little too close!

Do you ever feel like you're being watched?

Yikes! It's more than a feeling!

Ok, think exit strategy...that tree looks good up there.

The film on her eyes is the nictitating membrane which protects their eyes when hunting, flying at fast speeds or feeding their chicks, keeping their most precious asset clean.

Can you feel any mice or squirrels in there? Falconers regularly check the keel feeling the musculature and level of fat on the bird.

On a recent hunting trip in South Georgia, these falconers and their hawks hunted together for squirrels, a common prey for the Red-tailed Hawk. The photos illustrate three different hawks (Gracie, an immature female, Scout, an immature male and Heath). If you look closely at the photos, you will be able to tell a difference in the appearance  – their size and coloring (you also might see a squirrel, racoon and armadillo!).

Click on the “expand” button on the bottom right corner to view larger images, then sit back, watch, relax and imagine  you were there…

Many thanks go out to Bart, the photographer who braved the forests and took these photos.

 South Georgia Hunting Trip
I couldn’t resist adding this one by itself – my Husband (above) running after Gracie who has a squirrel in her talons…

When I hear my husband’s falconry tales, I listen in amazement and wonder how I’m going to explain the next adventure to my readers. I have to admit that his take on the story is usually a short, to the point, ex-New Yorker recap of the situation. However, knowing him as I do, there is so much color, drama and adventure between the lines that I just have to write about it!

Hailing from the Bronx and surrounding areas, he grew up with fine-tuned street smarts and survival instincts that many a hunter would envy. Maybe he’s not an expert yet at the greener sports, but he’s got that 6th sense that will serve him well in any situation.

One thing about falconry that everyone should know is that a hawk is not a pet. It’s a wild animal that can be dangerous if not handled appropriately and safety has to be number one not only for you, but for your bird. That being said, when confronted with a wild hawk on the loose, this short story should give you confidence (as long as you have fresh meat on hand – and it isn’t you).

As you can see in the image below, there are three mews connected to the barn by an inner doorway, one on the left, center and right and each one is designed to house one hawk. What you can’t see is that connecting the three (on the inside) is a third room that unites each section and acts as a safety area in case one of the hawks was to escape.

My husband’s hawk, Gracie, is in the center mews (if you look closely, you can see two perches through the mesh wall). The left mews houses Scout, our cousin’s hawk and the right mews is currently empty.

The other day, my H decided to feed Gracie from the lure in her mews. He was wearing his falconry vest and had the lure and food in his back pocket. As he was about to open the door to her mews, he sensed something behind him (yep, anti-attacker-stalker-mugger-smarts). As he turned to look back, he saw a hawk coming out of the doorway of the unoccupied mews and into the “escape” room towards him. This was one of those moments when “act first, ask questions later” was the wisest choice (and besides, hawks can’t talk). Out came the lure from his pocket along with its bounty in order to distract the hawk from attacking the food which was located near my husband’s _ _ _ (rhymes with bass). Luckily, it ended up being Scout who had just escaped from his mews. He ate the food, hopped up on my husband’s glove and was quickly returned to his perch.

Although street smarts is mostly applied to the urban setting, I think there is a place for it in the outdoors .  Perhaps it is otherwise known as common sense (as usually it’s knowledge that isn’t learned through study of theoretical material). It seems that survival in any setting would involve an understanding of how to function properly in your environment.

As my husband later said:
“You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

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

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

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.

My husband is teaching Gracie to fly from the perch to his gauntlet. He fed her a little mouse for breakfast, which she quickly Houdini’d and I was able to catch on film. This is the first chance I’ve had to take some candid photos of her in the daytime. The morning light was in my favor and I enjoyed the results as the hawk is so captivatingly beautiful. Here are a few of them…

Close-up Series

What a stare!

MMMouse

On the glove

Inquisitive look

Now, off to breakfast and needless to say, I won’t be having any Mickey Mouse pancakes!