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MHC Winter Field Meet 2013

February 12th, 2013

MHC Winter Field Meet 2013

The annual Michigan Hawking Club Winter Field Meet was hosted in DeWitt Michigan on Saturday February 2nd, 2013. This year was another great turnout for fans of Raptors and high-powered bird watching.  The day was filled with Falconry, hunting adventures, and all the ‘Hawk-Talk’ you could handle.  I spent the morning out hunting with a large group of folks and the afternoon at the Community Center being an ambassador to aspiring falconers.  It was a long day of falconry culture and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Hunting

Cedar and I led a hunt with over 30 people in the hunting party on a cold February day.  Our morning started out by assembling the hunting party by getting folks organized and arranged in a convoy to drive out to the hunting spot.  After a fifteen minute ride out to a vacant field behind a shopping center, we got jessed up and donned our hunting gear.  I gave a quick introduction to Cedar and our faclonry hunt and then we were off into the field.  The hunting morning provided a great show to all those folks who came out to get an introduction into falconry.  Cedar was exceptionally gracious in flying close to the group and giving great chases on the rabbits that flushed.  For a young bird and a large crowd in the field, she did a great job and put on quite the show with several great chases, spectacular flights, and a great wing-over that just missed the mark.  It was a successful hunt, but no game in the pouch.

A second hunt after Cedar’s was with a goshawk.  The spectator gallery watched off to the side for this hunt, as goshawks can be quite picky about the hunting conditions and other folks in the field.  A short hunt in a small meadow flushed one bunny and two pheasants, which were quite unexpected considering the cold weather conditions for the day. The small hunting crew consisting of the Austringer (holding the goshawk) and a few brush-beaters walked the perimeter of the meadow and around a corn field before springing a pheasant from it’s hideout.  I snapped this picture during the hunt and captured a great shot of the action.

Raptors

Once I was back at the community center and ate a great lunch (the White Chicken-Chili was the *BEST* ), I had some time to talk to other falconers with their birds as well as other first-time visitors to the winter field meet.  One of the falconers brought her Golden Eagle, a rehabilitation animal, to the meet to show folks.  I was amazed at the size of this amazing raptor as well as the intensity of the eyes.  She had a great personality and was good ambassador for falconry. 

The other raptor that stole the show was ‘Yepa’, the Snowy Owl that was trapped in early December.  The falconer had been training her for two months and said that while the training was going well, that she was far from being free flown for hunting.   Owls, while intelligent, are difficult to train because of their personalities.   Owls do not follow the same basic training patterns as other raptors because of their hunting adaptations and methods.  Hearing and auditory cues are a big part of the training program and it’s up to the falconer to figure out what sounds and attentions that the owl responds to during the training.  Yepa, the “White Princess” was very well mannered while on the falconers glove and was amazingly alert and focused while on display.  I was personally awe-struck at her disposition and the amazing color of the eyes.   I can only imagine what training a Snowy Owl would entail.

 

New Folks

My day would not be complete if I didn’t have several ‘Hawk-Talks’ with folks looking to learn more about raptors and the sport of falconry.  I usually bring in Cedar after a little bit of lunch and a few minutes of rest.  Once Cedar came inside for a short educational session, I enlisted the aid of one of participants to help me with Cedar’s beak.  After several months in captivity, Cedar’s beak began to get quite large and was in need of coping.  Coping is like trimming your nails, but for raptors.  So with my assistant’s help, he held Cedar while I performed the coping on Cedar and made her look more dignified.  The assistant was grateful for the opportunity to assist and he learned something about caring for raptors.  In fact, he said that it made his day.  I was glad that I could provide a good experience for him. 

The Annual Michigan Hawking Club Winter Field Meet is a time of year that I look forward to with great anticipation.  It’s somewhat like “Christmas” for falconry, as there are many folks to visit with, goodies to eat, and a variety of falconry goods and wares to look through during the auction. I hope to continue to be part of such a great event for many more years to come with the Michigan Hawking Club.

 

-Cheers!

 

 

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Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet 2012

February 7th, 2012

Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet 2012

 

Intro

This past weekend was the yearly Michigan Hawking Club Field Meet. This is the only meet in Michigan that is open to the public where folks can come in and go out hawking with experienced falconers and their birds.  It is also a big day for fundraising for the club each year with the silent auction of falconry items and then after the dinner, the live auction.  Many folks from all over donate items to the club specifically for the auctions. Artwork, falconry equipment,  and several other types of outdoors and hunting items.

I was looking forward to flying my PFRT* “Sable” in the meet but she had been sidelined earlier this year due to some injuries sustained while hunting. Regardless of not having a bird to fly, I was determined to enjoy a great day of falconry with some wonderful falconers and some exciting birds.

The weather was unusually warm for a field meet in the early part of February.  It was 45º F and sunny.  A great day, perfect weather for falconers, not necessarily perfect weather for hawking, hunting, or rabbits. Last year at this time, the Lansing area had about 26 inches of snow and it was tough walking.  The cold and the wind made it difficult for walking and the birds had some troubles with flights. So the weather was vastly different from a year ago and I believe, was a contributing factor to the successful hunting that I was witness to.

Hunt I

In the morning, we were sitting around enjoying some coffee and bagels until it was time to go hunting with a small group of folks.  We went out with Falconer Dave and his PFRT* “Bandit.” Bandit has been doing very well on rabbits this year and the field meet was another good exercise for her in the field with an extra set of brush beaters. Bandit got three chances at rabbits in this small field that was thawing out quickly in the sunlight.  The rabbits had extra traction today without the snow, so on the last flight, all Bandit got was the tail.  At least Dave had a small trophy to take home for the day.  After a good morning of hawking with Dave and Bandit the brush-beater crew was getting hungry so we decided to make it back to the community center (meet hub) for some refreshments.

Hunt II

The second hunt took place after lunch.  With some good food consumed and excitement for hunting, I grouped up with Falconer Sue and a few other folks to go out to another hunting spot.  There are some days when I don’t mind being  the excursion leader, but being put on the spot to lead folks to a hunting area that I’ve been to once makes me a little nervous.  With a very chatty passenger, I had some difficulty keeping track of how to arrive at my destination and I inadvertently led a caravan on an extended detour along I-96 north of Lansing. In any event, we arrived at the spot a little late and got the hunting crew all suited up for a good squirrel chase.  “Indie,” Sues PFRT* was first out of the box, she was ready for hunting today and  has had lots of practice at squirrels.  She had two squirrels going about 60 feet up in this tree. The first one was caught by Indie right away, but the hawk had the squirrel between the crook of a branch and couldn’t get down, so Indie let the squirrel go, and the chase was on. The squirrel bailed down a branch and the hawk missed on the second attempt. As the squirrel made its way down the branch, it disappeared into a hole in the tree and the chase was over.

A second Squirrel appeared after Indie saw it and that squirrel, too, made it’s way into the same hole in the tree where the other squirrel went. Great, now there are two squirrels that Indie can’t get to.  By this time the brush-beater crew is all hacking at branches and making general racket to excite the squirrels.  A third squirrel was still sitting motionless in the very top of another tree.  This little critter was about 80 feet up and hadn’t been spotted by Indie yet.  The noise level started making the squirrel nervous, so he twitched just right and Indie was hot on her tail.  The squirrel bailed out, down the tree and nearly landed directly on my head. I saw the squirrel land on the ground just three feet away, and immediately Indie was on the squirrel.  I stuck my hand in to hold the head and Indie had no injuries or bites. Indie was traded off the squirrel without an issue. The hunting crew today consisted of some VIP’s and a family, and they were treated to a first rate falconry experience thanks to Sue and Indie.

Hunt III

Our third adventure took us away from the Lansing area up to St. Johns where we joined Jeff and another brush-beater crew already in progress.  Jeff’s 1xFRT** was on fire in the afternoon with one fresh rabbit in the bag.  Every ten steps that the beating crew walked put out another rabbit. After several flushes, the hawk connected on a cottontail and was traded off.  Another two rabbits flushed and the hawk got it’s third cottontail on the day.  The flights were quick and the hawk was fast enough, but it was very exciting to watch the hawk go after another rabbit and keep up with the large crew.

If you hunt often, having your hawk catch one rabbit is a great thing; you feel like an accomplished falconer for the day and you feel good that your hawk caught something worthwhile.  If you are lucky enough to have your rabbit hawk catch two  rabbits for a single hunt, not only are you doing well, and you have a great hunting spot;  you are having a banner day with your hawk!  This would be cause for lots of pictures and a great celebration at the end of the day. I’d be talking about it for weeks!  Three rabbits in a single hunting afternoon with the same bird is practically unheard of!  The hunt ended with three rabbits in the bag for Jeff’s hawk with a very excited hunting crew ready for more!

Hunt IV

With daylight dwindling down and the fatigue from the day catching up to us, it was time for one last hunt with a goshawk.  Falconer Dave got out “Spike” and brought him out to the field.  I’ve been attending field meets for about five years now and this was an event that I had eagerly anticipated; watching a goshawk flight after rabbits.  Knowing the temperamental nature of Goshawks, this hunt was going to go one way or the other; really good or it would be a bust.  Spike flew up into a tree in a central location in the field while the brush-beating crew walked around looking to kick out rabbits from the brush.  It took us a while before we were able to get a few going, and the rabbits seemed like they were popping out everywhere.  The goshawk had a decent perch with a good view of the landscape, but just didn’t give chase to any bunnies.  At one point, while waiting for the bird to see if it would take off, I stood still for a moment, catching the sunset as the sun lowered into the horizon. It was good to take in the moment and enjoy the light as it scattered rays of sun in all directions through the clouds.  Then I took a step and GAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!  A rabbit had been sitting still right under me and the next step he decided to bust out of that cover and shot behind me in the opposite direction of the Goshawk.  That was a hunting ‘first’ for me, actually stepping on a rabbit to make him flush.

That goshawk never did give chase to a bunny, and even appeared to turn up it’s beak at the quality flushes that that the brush-beating crew put out for him.  Sadly, it was a disappointing goshawk hunt, but it was still enjoyable to be in the company of some great folks.

A Good Day of Hawking

There were some falconers lamenting the fact that there was no snow and that the temperatures were warm. It was overheard from more than one falconer that they saw a Gardner Snake in the field. A Gardner Snake sunning itself out in February??? What’s up with that?  I for one, witnessed a great deal of excellent hawking today and enjoyed the weather. The two feet of snow from last year was impossible to walk through without the assistance of snowshoes.  But the warmer weather has it’s drawbacks too; for instance in one hunting place, the field had been plowed under by farm equipment, and the water had not drained off yet, making about 6 inches of mud to slog through with  a decent pair of boots.  Once the boots get covered in mud and weighted down, there is not much difference than trudging through two feet of snow.

The only thing that would have made my day better was if I could have flown my hawk “Sable” out today and her be successful on some game. That would have been the only way to make the day better, but I sure had a great full day of falconry. I’m looking forward to next year already!

 

-Chris

 

*PFRT – Passage Female Red-Tail Hawk

** 1xFRT – One-Time Intermewed Female Red-Tail Hawk

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December West-Side Field Meet 2011

December 12th, 2011

MHC West Side Falconry Meet, December 2011

Intro

The West-Side (of the state of Michigan) Field Meet took place this past weekend near Grand Rapids.   It was a great day full of hunting and adventure for those folks who came out to brave the cold and elements that go with hawking in cold weather.  Several falconers even stayed the afternoon to put on a ‘Hawk-Talk’ for the boy scout troop who came to the center to participate in earning an animal encounter badge.

First Hunt: Rabbits with Jaeger

The first hunt of the day took place close to the center with Jaeger, an adult male red-tailed hawk. There were five flushes in a lowland bowl area that had a small stream running through it to make things interesting.  Jaeger passed up all the slips for whatever reason.  Figuring out the hawks and their optimal hunting conditions is difficult for even the most seasoned falconers.  Jaeger’s typical hunting hour is late in the afternoon. Couple the additional brush-beaters in the field, the early AM hunt time, as well as the early morning cold temps, and well, it can make things unpredictable.  I’m always happy when I at least see game and get the hawk out for a few flights.  The hunting team gave it a good try.

Second Hunt: Falcon Flight

Falcons require large, wide-open areas in order to hunt their winged prey.  It takes them some time to get up to a reasonable height in order to stoop on their quarry. So, as the falconer narrated the orchestration of the hunt, the observers got colder and colder.  With the thin air, getting to an ideal height was difficult for the falcon to get up to it’s normal height of around 300ft. for a good stoop. So, the group of hopeful falconers and hawkers waited patiently until the falcon reached a decent pitch for the show. This late afternoon hunt involved a lot of standing around and waiting while the cold breeze chewed on your cheeks. Once the tiercel falcon (the male) reached a decent height, the falconer served up a pheasant for the tiercel and he barreled out of the sky and blasted the pheasant for a ‘bind’ and held on to the pheasant until they hit the ground. It was quite the sight to behold, especially if you haven’t seen it before. The falconer explained afterwards about eating and food rewards while the falcon plumed it’s meal and ate a good serving.

Third Hunt, Rabbits with Indie

From the Falcon flight, a good portion of the group drove over to small wooded area with some drainage moving through it for another rabbit hunt.  Indie was first out of the box and had a large group beating brush to provide several good flushes.  Indie took two good swipes at the first couple of rabbits and flew far ahead of the group.  There was a good brush pile near, so we flushed some additional bunnies which she also took a dive at.  On one of the stoops, she pulled some fur before the rabbit escaped into a near-by warren.  Some days, that’s the way it goes.

Fourth Hunt, Rabbits with Sable

After Indie was done, we took out Sable for a flight at some bunnies.  The group walked to a field and flushed one rabbit quickly for Sable to give chase.  She perched really low in the brush and had a hard time coming back to the glove, or taking a higher perch.  So, I moved sable over to another perch and the group walked a field to flush game.  After coming up empty, Sable moved to another area, where the brush-beating group was moving towards.   A rabbit flushed and Sable gave a dive after it, if even half-heartedly.  The remainder of the hunt, Sable seemed unresponsive and wasn’t following well, so I called an end to the hunt and the group made it’s way back to the center to regroup.

Great Day of Hawking and Hunting

Hunting is an experience that most hunters *I know* simply enjoy the experience of being outside in nature and interacting with the wildlife and the elements.  Hawkers and Falconers take this up a notch by participating in the hunt with their birds and being a partner. Falconers live for the partnership with thier animals.  Today was no exception for several falconers who participated in the hawk-talk for the boy scouts during the afternoon.  I personally enjoy any opportunity to educate folks on the sport of falconry or raptor biology/ecology in general.

The hunting and game opportunities were very good, even if I was not witness to a successful catch today.  Just being outdoors and providing the opportunities for these raptors is a decent reward for the falconer.  The educational exeperience I was able to provide for some young outdoors people was rewarding as well.  I truly had a great day and am thankful to be able to participate with several other seasoned falconers. Thier insight, experience, and knowledge is one of the main reasons I attend these field meets, so as to soak up and learn every little tid-bit of knowledge that I can. I continue to learn something new each time, with each new hunting excursion and falconer.   I am truly grateful for their kindness and experiences.

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A Cast of Harris Hawks

October 18th, 2011

A Cast of Harris Hawks

 

 Social Raptors

Harris Hawks are different from other raptors in that they come together to hunt in cooperative groups called ‘casts’. They fly together to flush prey out of cover and then stoop upon it and wait for other group members to help assist with the kill. Watching them is truly incredible, the teamwork they use to capture prey and survive together.  The picture above is the full cast of four Harris Hawks out hunting a field. Click here for more detailed information on the Harris’ Hawk.

 

A Falconry Experience

Hunting with a cast of 4 Harris Hawks together is an exciting adventure.  This past weekend I had an opportunity to go hunting with three other falconers and their Harris’s Hawks. There were four Harris Hawks flying together in a cast.  This was truly an awesome hunting afternoon and being able to hunt with and watch these Harris Hawks work together was truly an experience. My sincere thanks and gratitude goes out to the other falconers for the hunting invite out to the field to enjoy a fine afternoon of falconry!

During the course of the afternoon, there were several stoops and dives, and the lead make-hawk connected on two cottontails.  That’s a good day in any falconer’s book!  Another thing that was interesting about the afternoon was the presence of other hawks out in the field. While we were out hunting with the Harris Hawks, the cast was dive bombed by a juvenile Red-Tail at one point. Shortly there-after, two adult Red-Tails appeared over the hunting field and screamed, proclaiming their territory.  A little later on in the hunt, a Coopers hawk buzzed through the hawks, drawing some attention. Upon exit from the field, I noticed a Peregrine falcon soaring high over head when I returned to my car.  I’ve been an avid bird watcher and raptor fan for many years and the sight of hawks and falcons always excited me.  It’s amazing that during the course of hunting the other native hawks all seem to come ‘out of the woodwork’ and show themselves defending their territory.  There is nothing like another large raptor out in the field to attract other hawks.  I’m amazed at how quickly they swoop in and make their presence known.

 

The picture below shows three of the four Harris Hawks scoping out a nice perch with a view of the field below.  All the ‘angles’ were covered by these three birds, so if anything flushed out, it would be noticed immediately.

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Field Meet 2011

February 6th, 2011

MHC Field Meet 2011
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Earlier this month, the Michigan Hawking Club held their annual field meet in DeWitt, Michigan.  While this was the central location for the club’s activities, the real fun happened out in the fields and surrounding area (Lansing, St.Johns, etc.).  I was able to get out into the field for a better part of the morning with some other falconers and we had some good results.  Our Morning provided two slips for another falconer, with a third slip successful on a rabbit. At least there was one successful hunter for the morning!  My morning with Tahoe was slightly troublesome, getting her out in the open field with more additional falconers was distracting for her.

The afternoon was the usual fun and hawk-talk with folks back at the community center for a great evening meal, along with the fun of the auctions.  Lots of great falconry items that went to a good cause.  Hope to see you at our next falconry field meet or club event!

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