In 1997 I became a falconer. I spent much of the year before that studying a lot of available literature; went to the State Dept. of Fish And Game and took the falconry exam, found another falconer to be my sponsor for the two year apprenticeship period, built a mews (hawk house) and weathering area, built or purchased the large collection of necessary equipment and supplies, laid in a supply of high quality hawk food, had the inspections done, sent in checks to various state and federal agencies, and waited. And waited. And finally received my apprentice falconry license in the mail! And all that was the easy part.
Doing all that earned me the right to go out and get myself a hawk, which I did the second week of October. Her name is Kiera, and she's a passage (or first year) Red-tailed hawk (Buteo Jamaciencis). Here are some photos of her and some stories about our adventures together.
Here's the first photo of us taken just after her capture
|Here's another shot of those first few minutes.|
|A closeup at home.|
Kiera's a fast learner. I've rarely had to show her anything twice. It took a little while to get her out in the field flying because of my work schedule; I was limited to weekends for a month or so due to a temporary situation at work. After that was resolved, I was able to start taking midweek days off also. In between field days, I would work with her indoors in the evening, jumping her to the glove for tidbits. Before long, she was coming to the glove outdoors about 100 feet on a creance without hesitation. It was time to cut her loose and see what would happen.
With my heart in my throat, I untied the creance and removed her swivel.
I said a little prayer and dropped her off my glove to the ground. I turned
my back and walked away about 50 feet. I put a tidbit on my glove and turned.
Before I could even get the whistle blown, she was off and pumping towards
me! With a gentle flare of the wings, she touched down on my glove just
as she had been doing while tied to the creance. What a blast! She has
since repeated this return many times, and it still gives me a rush every
The following are excerpts from my journal telling the story of what has happened since that day with Kiera.
Well, I got Kiera out for her first hunting today. I don't mind admitting that I was pretty nervous about letting her loose after game. I really didn't know if she'd take off or come back. She was a bit heavy; 1175g; I was hoping she'd be in the 1150 rang e, but oh well. We've had rain for the past few days, and I've got commitments tomorrow, and we got a break in the weather so off we went.
We (my sponsor Pam, Kiera, and myself) headed out to a field we know. It had been raining most of the morning so it was pretty wet out. Headed out into the field, watching to see her reaction. Once I started kicking at brush, she started paying serious attention to what we were doing. After a while, we kicked up the first jack. HO HO HO! Off she went. For about 10 yards. Then she pulled off and circled once up into the sky about 20 feet. My heart was in my throat. Then, around she came, turning, and headed straight back to the glove! Oh, man, to have a wild hunting hawk return to me voluntarily for the first time! What a thrill! That felt really, really good. We kept at it; couldn't seem to get within a hundred yards of a jack before it spooked. Got a couple more slips and she took off after them, but knew real fast that she wasn't going to catch them. Got 2 fair pheasant slips; she tried on those, but they were too quick and she was a little heavy to really chase them. Then we got a good jack slip. She chased for about 30-40 yards, then pulled off and went to the top of a solitary tree and sat there looking for the jack. We tried to kick something up, but no such luck. I came up to the tree, got into her vision, and put up the glove. Down she came, pretty as you please. Another big smile on my face. Pretty good flight, but she still isn't too serious. But she's getting better. She's got to try harder if she's gonna catch these big things.
We walked or I should say trudged; the mud was pretty thick throughout most of the fields, for a while longer. Didn't kick up much of anything, so we decided to call it a day. On the way back to the parking lot, we kicked up another jack. HO HO HO and awa y she goes, pumping hard and closing! After a flight of about 75 yards, she folds up to slam this jack, who at the very last second makes a hard left turn, leaving Kiera committed to the end of the stoop. She hits the ground right where this jack should have been. :-)
After a second or two, she realized what had happened, and took off in the direction the jack had gone, but with a 1-2 second head start, he was a LONG way off. She flew up to a fence post and sat there. Would not fly back to me, so I walked over to her, put out the glove, and she hopped over to it. She was tired and so was I. I'm pretty out of shape; this hawkin' stuff is gonna get me down to hunting weight in no time! I fed her a quail leg and a couple of tidbits on the glove, rewarding her for her good flight. She almost got that jack. She tried hard, just didn't know jackrabbit trick #47; the hard left turn at the "last" minute. :-)
I was really happy with the whole experience. Had a great time, but I'm pretty tired and sore afterwards. But I finally did it! I got her out chasing game. That feels real good. And then, she kept coming back to me. As a first year apprentice, that's an experience I just can't get over. What fun! I'm gonna enjoy this.
|Here's a photo of my mews when it was under construction; the wood framing was up, but not the metal bars. It now has 1/2" EMT conduit verical bars with 3/4" spacing on all the open areas you see here.|
Well, I took Kiera out hunting today, hoping we'd get her first jack. Instead I ended up with a hurt bird. We went out to an area I know and started walking the field. It was a pretty breezy day. In order to get her a good downwind slip, we were walking with the wind at my back. I tried to keep her turned the other way so she'd be more comfortable on the glove, but a gust would come up and she'd bate. There aren't any fields in my area where I can put her in a tree and still find game, so she's fist hunting at this point. She's bating pretty hard now, so we stop and change directions so she can face into the wind, and we'll try for a crosswind slip.
After a while of not kicking anything up, I notice she's starting to favor her right leg, not putting weight on it. I start checking it out, and sure enough, she won't put weight on it at all. Uh Oh. We start walking back to the truck. Luckily, I think, we're facing more or less into the wind so she'll have an easier time of it. By the time I got back to the truck, she could barely stay on the glove. I gave her an exam, and didn't find any obvious broken bones or dislocations, so we headed back home. I figured she sprained a muscle or tendon while bating. I called my raptor vet, and she agreed. I'm going to perch her inside for a few days in the "giant hood" room, a room that's hawk proof and can be kept completely dark. My vet says that the first 24 hours will be the worst, but after that she should show improvement. I'm going to watch for swelling (none now) or other developments, but I'm hoping she just pulled something bating hard in the wind. I remember one pretty awkward bate/recovery, and I think that's when it happened.
Well, sat morning came and she was holding the leg up and the foot clenched like I've seen her do frequently, so I figured she was feelingng better. I left for the day for my shift at the museum and an afternoon hunting with Pam's Gos and Harris. I returned that evening to find she had reverted to holding the leg straight out and down and still refusing to put any weight on it. I tried calling the vet, but that was sat pm, and by that time it was too late to do anything until Monday am.
Of course, now my mind is starting to tell me things (I hate it when it does that), and I was starting to think dark thoughts about what was going to happen to her, what a complete screwup I am, look what I did to this bird, etc, etc. By Monday morning I was a complete wreck. We had a big windstorm sun night, all kinds of things banging around and getting knocked over outside, so I didn't sleep much either. This morning I went to work, knowing that Pam was going to pick me up and we'd get Kiera in as soon as I could get her an appointment.
Meanwhile, I hadn't really slept, I couldn't eat, and I was as close to panicking about something as I have been since I was a kid. All I could imagine was that she had a non-repairable injury, she was going to have to be put down, and I'd killed her. On the way back from work, Pam had to keep telling me to breathe, because I guess I wasn't. We finally got to the vet, with Kiera hooded and wrapped in a towel (which she took with great aplomb; she slept the whole trip over to the vet's). Julie (the vet) ex amined her and after a few minutes of palpating finally told us that there was some looseness at the top of the knee joint. She wanted X-rays to rule out a fracture, but thought that there might be some ligament damage at the knee. My heart sank. I know h ow hard ligaments are to heal, and how critical they are in a raptor's leg. She said that these types of injuries can often make a bird non-releasable, and that it could be a permanent injury. She wanted to take x-rays and palpate her under isofluorane an esthesia to compare the two legs without muscle tightness, because she said some birds just have loose joints, and what she was feeling, if bilateral, wasn't necessarily serious. So we walked off to the x-ray area, and I held Kiera while she went under the anesthesia. Then I laid her down on the x-ray table and let the techs do their thing as Pam and I stood around like nervous parents. The tech came out after about 10 minutes (or at least it seemed that long) and handed Julie the first x-ray. "How the heck did she do that?" she cried. It turns out she has a proximal tibial fracture; a clean break not quite 2/3 of the way up the tibia, with the fibula intact. The bone displacement is minimal; none side to side and only a little bit from front to back. The fracture is right in the middle of the meatiest part of her leg, and the muscle mass is holding everything together well. Bone calcification is already forming, bone mass is good , and there are no fragments lying around. There's no apparent nerve or soft tissue injury at the site, and no swelling anywhere.
She said "The prognosis just went from guarded to very good" and I was able to start breathing again. She says that Kiera's been doing exactly what she needs to do to heal the injury; sitting calmly on a perch and not banging around. No pins, no surgery; Julie says that a surgical repair might not provide as good an alignment as she's already got. So Kiera stays indoors on a perch in a dark room for the next 2 weeks. Then a return visit and further evaluation and hopefully a beginning of physical therapy and then flight again in about 4 weeks or so. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be elated that she broke a leg. Julie told me afterwards that she hadn't wanted to paint as bad a picture as it might have been with the ligaments, but I had realized it anyway. According to Julie, a c lean fracture, especially in the location it is, was the best possible scenario,. Anything else that wouldn't heal on its own in a couple days would have been much more serious. She did say that I didn't hurt anything by waiting a few days to bring her in . It might have even been better because if she had been examined earlier, the fracture might have displaced at that time.
Kiera is at home now, resting comfortably. She came out of the anesthesia well, slept all the way home, and looks none the worse for wear. She's probably in better shape than I am. I've been riding an emotional roller coaster today, and the adrenaline is wearing off. I finally got some food into myself and will crash soon. I know I've got a lot of work ahead with her. This isn't over yet. But I'm going to make some changes. First, when she's ready to go back into her mews, she will be freelofted. No more tying her to a perch in the mews. I don't want to put any further stre ss on that area in that respect. I'm also going to have to modify my hunting strategies and figure out how to hunt her other than just from the fist. At least I've got time to work all that out now. I'm just so relieved that I know what's going on now. Th e not knowing was hell.
I got lucky on this one. I've been praying a LOT the past few days, and my prayers have been answered in a pretty fair manner, if you ask me.
I'm going to modify my hunting style, even if that means having to find different areas to hunt in. Most of my hunting areas are open fields with no trees or high perches for her to sit in, so I've been hunting her from the fist. I've been holding her jes ses until we spot game and then letting her go. I suppose I was doing this to keep her from "flying away" when she bates. In hindsight, I feel that this is inappropriate for at least 2 reasons. One, because it may be what caused her injury, and two, becau se if I can't let her fly off the glove and expect her to return, I've done something else wrong. If she won't return, she's either too high, or insufficiently manned for me to have her out in the field, so there's really no good reason for me to be restr aining her on the glove.
I had no idea that a bird could fracture a leg from bating like this. I've spent a lot of time handling a lot of raptors, and most of them have bated much harder than this longer than this with no ill effects. It just goes to show you can't take anything for granted, I guess.
I can't help but wondering if there's something congenital going on here that causes weak bones. I've known other falconers in the area who've had the same problem with birds captured in the CA Central Valley. I'm wondering if there's any link between pes ticide use (it's a REAL heavy agricultural area) and bone strength. My vet's looking into any published studies about pesticides vs. bone problems; maybe there's something going on there.
Kiera's been living in my "manning room"; tarped floor, no light through the window, nothing for her to fly to to perch on. She's been tethered to a bow perch on the floor with the lights kept down except at feeding time. She's been making excellent progr ess. Each day she has had more and more use of the leg. At first, she kept it extended out and down in front of the perch. Slowly, she's been grasping the glove with it and starting to stand on it. The past 3-4 days, she's been putting substantial amounts of weight on it; using that leg to step up onto the glove, scratching at her beak with the good foot while perched on that one, things like that. Her appetite has been excellent. I've been really watching her weight; I'm keeping her at about 1280-1300g. She was trapped at 1300, and hunting weight was around 1150-1175. The weight watcher regimen has kept her other foot in very good condition. My major concern was avoiding bumblefoot in the good foot, since I knew she would need to stay on it for at least 2 weeks. Keeping her weight steady has been getting easier; I'm getting a better feel for when to load her up with casting material and when to give her just meat/bone/organ food. She's been getting adult quail and jackrabbit tidbits so she doesn't have t o tear at food and hold it with her feet. I've been supplementing her food with calcium carbonate and Vitahawk. I give her water from a spray bottle with every meal. She's getting fed twice a day and her mutes are normal and healthy. I gave her a padded b ed after the first 10 days; a grape crate with 3 towels folded up and laid across it. The first day she stood on it for a while; the second day she laid down on it in the am and I left the light on for her that day so she'd stay off her feet. She used thi s bed again a day or so ago. Today we went back to the vet for a follow-up visit. The vet was extremely pleased with her progress and rate of healing. The bone callus is forming well, the bone angle is fine, and her good foot is in great condition.
This was excellent news to hear. She's going to get about 10 more days of indoor rest, then we'll do another x-ray and see how she looks. Hopefully, if all goes well, she should be able to start flying again at that point. It will take a while to build up her muscle strength again at that point, but that's OK.
I took Kiera to the vet yesterday for her follow-up visit. I was hoping to get an OK to start flying her again. Unfortunately, she is still gong to need a few more weeks of "bed rest". The fracture is healing nicely; bone density and callus formation is e xcellent; however, the fracture has not grown in all the way across. The 4-week best case scenario that I had hoped for was overly optimistic in this case. It looks like 6-7 weeks instead. I was a bit disappointed; however, I'm truly pleased that she's he aling well. There are no signs of any foot problems developing, and she has been standing on that L foot with the R one tucked up sometimes.
So, a further recuperation period. Her weight is staying pretty good. I'm getting a nice handle on weight control through this if nothing else, and it's sure teaching me patience. I do wish I could get her flying at game though. It's not worth the risks y et, however.
I took Kiera in for her follow-up vet visit. She is now back in her mew instead of being cooped up in my spare bedroom! It sure felt good to take her outside again yesterday. We had a beautiful sunny day, the first one in weeks.
I have freelofted her in the mews. I initially gave her a t-perch in one corner and a swinging perch suspended from bungee cord in the other side, but she could not get her balance on the hanging perch. I replaced the hanging perch with a longer piece of dowel padded and then wrapped with the astroturf, attached to the mew walls at each end. She likes that perch a lot.
I'm supposed to give her about a week of bouncing around a bit to stretch out the leg and get used to activity before flying her again. Let's see, how many hours is that from now?............
2/27 She got her first free flight since the accident yesterday. Took
her a bit to get back to flying weight, but she did and after 2 weeks of
creance conditioning is flying hard and eagerly again. I've been working
her to the lure, getting her to take it in t he air. At first, she would
land and wait for it to fall to the ground, but after a couple of times
when it got put away instead, she started hitting it in the air. It's at
the point now where I watch her come in from around 100 feet or so away,
and then at the last moment, I toss the lure out to the side about 4 feet
off the ground. She has to make a hard tight turn to get it, and she's
been hitting it before it touches the ground regularly. The next step with
the lure work will be to increase the height of the toss. I'd like to be
able to get her to go vertical. She's also been getting vertical jumps
for tidbits to build her pectoral muscles and her aerobic capacity. Amazingly,
she doesn't seem to have any stiffness or soreness in the leg. Saturday
afternoon we head for our best jack field and get her chasing game. I'm
not sure if she has the stamina yet to catch a jack, but we're gonna give
it a try. The fields here are wet and muddy, which will hopefully slow
down the rabbits, but sometim es it seems to me that jacks can maintain
full speed through standing water!
I took Kiera out for her first hunt today since her accident. Here in northern CA we've had our first 2-day or more break in the rain this year, so we had a great day to go hawking. We went out and started walking. She was high on the glove, looking aroun d, and almost immediately took off pumping towards a clump of weeds. "Cool!" I thought. As she approached the weeds, out flies a meadowlark. Oh well, at least she went after something. She came back to the fist and off we went. She stayed pretty tight on the glove, standing tall, looking around, with the occasional flight off to land on a debris pile ahead. She looked like she was doing well.
We were walking through a thick area and I kicked up a jack almost right at my feet; I could have fallen on it if she wasn't on my glove. Did she chase it? No way. Didn't even look at it. Hmmmm. "Well, it's been over 2 months; maybe she's forgotten what t o do here".
So I figured we'd try some more. We kept walking, and soon I kicked up another jack, and again she didn't even seem to look at it. Grrrr. Off we go again, and then she takes off heading for a power pole out in the field. This is a good pole; there's no w ires on it and she can see a lot of area around her. OK, let's find her some game; maybe she doesn't want to hunt from the fist.
So we walk around to flush through the area that's most likely to have jacks in it. As we get near the base of the pole, boom! up comes a jack from almost directly underneath the pole. Does she take off after it? Naaah. Pam kicks up another one a few feet away. No way.
OK, I get the message. You're not gonna chase rabbits today, are you. So I waited a while, figuring if she won't chase, there's no point in trying to call her off the pole to the glove. I didn't want to reward her for sitting on a pole while I flush jackr abbits! Pam and I talked for a while, evaluating the situation. After a few minutes, I tried the glove and the whistle, which usually brings her like a shot. No such luck. OK. Wait a little while longer and then showed her the lure. She immediately came o ff the pole, came at the lure, and checked off about 5 feet above it, flew in a big circle, and landed on the pole again. Hmm. Never done that before. Picked up the lure and called her in again. Again, she comes down off the pole immediately, but checks o ff the lure again, this time landing on a fence post below the pole. Toss her the lure one more time. This time she binds to it, but tries to fly off with it. She lands with it, eats the piece of food on the lure, and gets up on the glove. I clip her in, deciding she's done for the day. We started walking back to the truck. We got to an area that I couldn't resist. She was up high on the glove looking around, so I unclipped her, and started kicking at the brush. Suddenly a jack springs from the clump I'm kicking; again, I could have fallen on it; but she didn't even tense her feet or follow it with her eyes. That's it. Clip her in and head back. She was at a reasonable weight for training flights in a familiar field, but a strange field with LOTS of open space and a high perch were just too much for her.
The other thought I have is that by being indoors and glove feeding for the past 2 months, she's getting fistbound. She has been getting most of her food on the lure the past 2 weeks, but she still knows the glove is the land of tidbits. We're going to ta ke a live quail and toss that for her tomorrow if she won't chase again, just to get her chasing and killing something. I was thinking of getting a bagged rabbit, but Pam says we're better off with the quail. I think I agree. She's taken the quail before; it should jog her memory; she hasn't taken a rabbit with me yet. She's chased them before her accident, but didn't quite catch them. So giving her a rabbit would be 2 leaps; killing game and killing game you don't know, where giving her a quail will only be one, killing game. I'm hoping that that will jog her memory if the overnight without her supper doesn't.
In our last episode, our intrepid heroine was passing up slips at jackrabbits after her 8 week convalescence period. Even though her weight was lower than her previous flying weight, she was still acting too high. I had theorized that perhaps her long dep endency on the glove for food with no live prey involved was causing her to forget the idea that chasing prey equals food. I was reminded that she's a passage bird and as such shouldn't have a problem with that concept once I got her hungry enough. That s ounded like good advice, so I dropped her weight some more, and Pam and I took her out to a field for some rabbit lure work. We had a frozen jack carcass that we've used as a lure for her before that she has chased with gusto. We set up a slip for her whe reby Pam pulled the lure line, the rabbit came out from under a piece of cardboard, and off she'd go chasing it, right? Wrong.
She didn't even look at it. Hmmm. Now what? We set it up again, and this time, when the yell went up, we were almost right on top of it. Out came the lure, and off she went, but sideways about 10-15 feet and a quick landing. Pam and I stood there with our mouths open wondering what the heck do we do now? Well, Kiera made the decision for us. She looked over to where the lure was, and decided to mosey on over there on foot. Just a "hmmm, what's that" kind of walk. So I went in after her, yelling Ho Ho Ho and Pam started pulling the lure line again. She hopped onto it and started pulling at the jack leg we had attached to this frozen rabbit's head. I figured that what she had done was better than nothing, so I let her eat. At least she had gone after somet hing in some way. When she had finished that piece, we decided to set up the slip again. What the heck, I still had a chunk of leg, may as well make her work for it. We set up the same type of slip in a slightly different spot, and went at it. This time s he flew off the glove and landed on it! Hooray. An improvement. I let her feed up on it.
We went back home and discussed what had happened. We figured that she had indeed gotten disconnected from the concept of "chasing prey = food". We decided that she was going to have to kill all her food from here on out. So, 3 days later, it's off to the store to buy....a mouse. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh. It's embarrassing to have to enter your bird on mice, but you know what? She chased it as soon as she saw it! I think she might even have killed it before she swallowed it :-)
I got another mouse and repeated the exercise later that afternoon. Once again, she flew off after it without hesitation. This time she definitely didn't kill it before she started to swallow it. With visions of a dead hawk with a mouse hole chewed throug h her belly, I grabbed the last bit of mouse tail before it went all the way down and pulled out the still alive and kicking mouse from her mouth. As it hit the ground she grabbed it again, this time doing the footwork necessary to ensure her survival.
Today, we upped the ante. I brought her weight down a bit more, got a big gray rat and we set up the slip again. I called her to the fist a few times and her glove response was excellent. We headed for the slip and when the rat's cover was pulled, off she went pumping hard for it. She slammed the rat, killed it and started eating. She's getting it. I'd like to be able to offer her a bagged jack this weekend, so we're hoping Pam's harris can rustle something up for us. This little guy has taken several jac ks on his own now. for a 600 g bird, he's doing real well. We've got these big 6-8 lb jacks here, and he's figuring out how to hold them. He pinned the last one up against the corner of a chain link fence so it couldn't get away. Clever.
Went out this afternoon. Kiera was, unfortunately, a bit heavy, but the weather was unsettled, so I thought it might be worth a try. We headed out into the field. I decided not to let her fly off until we were well out into the field in order to remove th e temptation for her to fly to one of the tall power poles that line the perimeter of the field. We got quite a ways out, and she was looking around well; not her serious hunting mode, but pretty close. Suddenly, she took off like a shot. And kept going. And going. Hmmm. She headed for a series of poles that runs down a railroad track that bisects the field. This set of poles was about 500 yards off. She got near the poles and headed up towards one, but then turned away, kept going, and landed out in the middle of the field. Ah ha. There was another RT sitting on top of the next pole over screaming at her. Now she didn't want to fly off the ground so I had to walk all the way over and get her. Grrr.
We kept on going. I figured that since there were small jacks in this field and she was showing some interest, I'd give her another chance or two. She spent most of the next half hour alternately looking at brush for game and looking at the tree line off in the distance. We started heading back to the car. By this time, the sun was getting low and it was time to split. We kept kicking up brush on the way back, but couldn't find anything.
Suddenly, her attention was completely focused on some brush. We walked over that way, and the closer we got, the more tense she became. We got within a few feet of the bush. Whatever it was, it was holding tight. I got to the bush, kicked at it, and sudd enly the prey could stand it no longer and broke from cover. Kiera took off after it, giving a short chase before slamming down into the high weeds. She missed it, but immediately launched at it again as it was only a foot or so away. A few hops of that s ort and a pounce and suddenly Kiera had her first head of wild game! She broke into it and fed up on it. I took her up on the glove, happy that she had finally gotten her first game.
Oh. What was it, you ask? uh...well...ahem...uh...it was a big, bad, honking.....uh...mouse. :-)
That's OK, at least it's a start! We'll go out again tomorrow and try again. (BTW, no this is not an april fools joke!)
Last Sunday, Apr 12, I took Kiera out with 3 other people to a large area that in the past has been loaded with game. She's been out about 4 times a week lately, but either she's been a little too high and wouldn't chase hard after game, or we couldn't ki ck up anything for her. These late-season rabbits are really smart around here.
We walked along for a while and approached a grove of trees. From about 300 yards out, Kiera took off and I figured she'd head up into the trees and maybe we could kick up something towards her. But she didn't head for the trees. She started circling and soaring at about 100 feet up. She just kept circling overhead, and we all started kicking brush like crazy trying to get something, anything up for her. But nothing flushed. Not even a sparrow. Damn. A beautiful soar and no way to reinforce it without tos sing a live quail or giving her the lure, and she knew how to do those things already. She eventually landed in one of the trees, looking intently towards an area in the brush below. We started working it, and suddenly she stooped out of the tree and hit the ground hard. But the mousie got away this time. :-) We kept walking with her for the next hour and a half, and could not find one prey item anywhere for her. Not a thing. No jacks, no ground squirrels, no mice. Geez. 4 people, a bird that went into 3 nice soars, and nothing to show for it. Quite a frustrat ing day. It was really neat to see her soar overhead for several minutes at a time, though. I'd like to be able to hawk her like that next fall.
On the way home, Pam and I talked about putting the birds up for the molt. I really wanted to get Kiera on game before I put her up; she'd had a hard time with the leg fracture and had been trying hard, but just wasn't quite there. She's also out of condi tion; I wasn't able to build her back to peak condition after her injury. The time balance between hunting season and weeks of conditioning was a tough one to sort out, and I opted for getting her on game and had decided to work on her conditioning during the molt. So we decided that we'd give it one more try, and then regardless of outcome, put her up for the season.
So sat am came around. We went out to our favorite field. It's well over an hour away, but it's big and has a lot of game in it. We headed out into the field, and Kiera was ready to hunt. She was standing tall on the glove, looking around, and acting very businesslike. We got a ways out into the field and finally kicked up a jack, but it was one of those behind-you-after-you-pass slips, and it had a good lead. She chased a short distance but figured out quickly that she had no chance, and took off into a soar again. We tried hard to kick up game, but again, nothing. I think maybe I'm bad luck :-)
She went out of her soar over to a warehouse a few hundred yards off, sat, and roused. She looked around for a while. I'm noticing that she seems to like sitting for a few minutes when she first starts hunting and then will get back to business. She final ly, after about 5 minutes, came back to the glove and off we went. We noticed some jacks heading away from us a long way off, maybe 500 yards or so. Normally she won't even look at them from that distance, but today she paid attention to them. Good. She d idn't fly off after them, but at least she was watching them. I kept walking with her in that direction. We saw about 3 of them in that one area, so we headed over there hoping one would stick tight and we could get a good slip. Most jacks around here ten d to bail at about 200 yards this time of year. As we got closer, she was paying more and more attention to one area of brush. I headed that way and suddenly she took off like a shot! About half way to the bush a meadowlark bailed from the bush and she ve ered off. Those meadowlarks really get her going; they have a way of making a bush rustle that really turns a red tail on. Anyway, I noticed that she had only veered off by a fraction, and was headed towards a railroad embankment with some tall power pole s just beyond it. This was about 300 yards away and I figured "oh great, she's going back to those poles again". She's perched there before and I've needed the lure to bring her down. She was pumping pretty hard, though. As she got to the railroad embankm ent, she suddenly turned left and put on the afterburners, dove and crashed into something up on top! Pam and I went running like mad. Now, it's only April, but this is California and the weather changes here quickly. It was over 80 degrees, and running t hrough the brush in the hot sun was some kinda work! I'm not used to it, and I'm certainly not used to running that far after her. I had no idea she could power flight that far given her condition. So I'm hauling my 220 lbs. plus gear after her and hoping she's OK and that I don't have a heart attack before I get to her. I get to the railroad embankment and realize for an instant that it's a 20 ft sheer vertical embankment with no slope to climb, but somehow, I went straight up the side of it, looked to my left, and there was Kiera with a bundle of fur in her feet! She'd done it! I ran over to her and realized that she hadn't caught a jack, but a ground squirrel! These are pretty tough critters, and can sever a hawk's toe with one bite, so I knew I'd bett er get in there quick. I got to her and found her with a good grip on it but one toe in its mouth. She was biting at the eye trying to blind it. Clever girl. She had been a ground squirrel hawk before I got her; when I trapped her she had over a half dozen old and recent bites on her feet, so she was no stranger to these gray monsters. I grabbed the squirrel's chest with my gloved hand and started squeezing. In less than a minute, the squirrel let go of her foot and I was able to dispatch it and break into it for her. I let her crop up on it; she earned it.
Note: A version of this story was published by the Viginia Falconer's Association. It will be coming out in August 1998.
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