Falconry, the second year.
During the summer of 1998, while Kiera was molting, she suffered another
accident while on the glove and fractured her other leg. She underwent
surgery, had a pin inserted into the leg, and proceeded to heal uneventfully
while continuing to molt into a beautiful adult bird (I'll have some photos
of her adult plumage here as soon as I get all my film developed ($$$).
Although her injury healed well, I decided not to chance flying her through
this fall and winter; I was terrified that she had brittle bones and would
get hurt again. I felt she'd be fine in the wild, but was not cut out for
life in falconry equipment. I decided to release her, which I did on October
1, 1998. Here's the story of that fateful day.
Oct 1, 1998
Today's the first day of my freedom; I ended my job yesterday after
14 years. I'll be unemployed for a while; the first time in 25 years. I
figured I'd sleep late; 'till at least 5:30, but no, I was up without an
alarm at 10 of 4 as usual. I had a rough day yesterday leaving all the
friends I'd made over the years, and I knew today would be even tougher.
It's a cool grey day; fall is definitely in the air, with temps only
in the low 50s, and overcast skies. Pam came over at about 9 and we sat
around for a bit, then I went out and grabbed Kiera with a towel. I brought
her inside and coped her beak, then cut off her bracelets and attached
the two metal bands provided by Stan, one for each leg. I took her back
out into the mew and let her loose, and left her to chill for a while.
About 10:15 I grabbed my glove and a nice warm quail, went out and
got her on the glove. Hmm. 1485 grams. Good and chunky. I gave her the
quail and she happily fed up on it on the glove as I sat there and cried.
When she finished, she sat for a while and looked around. She picked at
her feed and the glove, making sure she had gotten all the food. Then,
she looked around a few more times, crouched a bit, and leapt off the glove,
flying up and landing on top of the mew. She sat there as I watched with
tears overflowing my eyes, and after a few minutes, turned back and gave
me a long look, then leapt into the sky, flying up and landing on the top
of a tall cedar tree in my back yard, looking out over the valley below
the hill my house is on. She sat ther for a while, her sails set in the
breeze as the top of the tree rocked back and forth. We sat watching, and
then she took off heading for the next tree, and then the next one.
Suddenly, she was off! Flying strong, riding the updraft off the side
of the hill, with a few crows in hot pursuit. She circles around, gaining
altitude, looking very strong. The crows seem to multiply. We head out
to the front yard where she's now flying, and she heads east, towards the
wide open spaces of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, an open space military
area that's thousands and thousands of acres of rolling hills and ground
squirrels (and not much else). I watch for a while as she learns about
crows. Then, she is joined by another red tail, apparently the resident
adult female, although no crabbing occurs at all. Then, the local female
coops comes and joins the party, as if they're all saying "welcome to the
neighborhood". She flies around a bit more, coming overhead once, and then
Tears fill my eyes again as I walk back inside.
Goodbye, Kiera. Thanks for a year full of wonder and learning that
I'll never forget. I fell in love with a red tailed hawk, and now I've
let her go.
Vaya con Dios, Kiera.
That was a Thursday Morning. On the next Saturday, Oct.3, we went
on a trapping expedition. Here's how it went.
(By the way, trapping of hawks is legal only with the proper government
All people involved in these stories had proper permits in hand
at the time.
Do not attempt to trap raptors or other protected species without
Friday, oct 2, 8:00 pm
After a long hard day of final trap prep, vehicle maintenance, jess/bracelet
making, packing, and attempted sparrow trapping (no joy on the latter),
Pam and I are off to Sacramento to Richard Smiley's to meet him and Morgan
Campbell to get an early start on our early sat trapping trip. By 9:30,
we're in Richard's living room, watching him build standoffs and tie nooses
for his trap (and I thought I waited till the last minute to do these things!)
as we tell hawking stories and make plans for the am.
By 1:30, we figure we'd better get to bed if we're going to get up
by 4:30 to hit the road, so we roll out the sleeping bags and hit the sack.
Within an hour, one member of the party (who shall remain nameless) begins
snoring to beat the band. Earplugging and attempting to ignore it is absolutely
futile, so I eventually wake said person and get them to roll over and
suddenly it's almost too quiet to sleep :-)
Next thing we know, Richard is standing over us waking us up. After
our morning ablutions, we hit the road, armed with coffee and junk food
from the local AMPM; not even mcdonalds is open that early. We drive north
from Sac, heading for Colusa county. As the sun rises, we are in the open
fields, rice paddies, and rolling hills of northern CA, waiting for that
special young RT who's looking for a free meal. Hmmm. Where are they? Finally,
we come across some bumps on poles. The adrenaline level rises. Four pairs
of eyes peer out from the green and rose tinted lenses of fine birding
optics (we have 5 prs of binocs, 2 spotting scopes, a camera, and 2 vid
cameras for 4 people; that's almost enough <G>).
Scanning the poles, we start honing our ID skills. Nope, that's an
adult. So's that one. So's that pair. But they're beautiful birds. We see
a bunch of real dark morph birds; solid black breasts and heads, deep red
tails. We see a very light morph, as light as the normal eastern RTs that
we NEVER see here in CA. We see cinnamon colors. We see Kestrels. We see
Great Blue Herons. We see Kingfishers. We see Loggerhead Shrikes. But no
juvenile RTs. Off we go heading for other venues.
Now, we know we're taking a chance here; the weather has been cold
(50s) for the past week, but a week is not usually enough to push the immys
south around here, but a storm is forecast for this evening, so we're hoping
that they'll arrive in advance of the storm (It turns out to be a gorgeous
day, with nary a cloud in sight).
Anyway, as we travel along the back roads of northern CA, we run across
an area that seems to be seeded with pheasant. We count groups of 7-10
every few hundred yards along the road. We must have seen well over
a hundred within one mile. Morgan is chomping at the bit. "Where's Shadow
(His fem. Harris') when I need her??" We could have literally fallen out
of the car and caught these birds ourselves; to heck with the hawks! And
no, I'm not telling anyone where this was, so forget it! We'll get back
there sometime soon, you can count on that.
We finally spot an immy RT in a tree. As we glass the bird, we notice
a semi truck partially on the road a bit farther up. What it's doing out
her on this back road is anyone's guess, but we wait it out. eventually
it moves up a hundred yards or so, stopping right about where the bird
is, and of course, she blows and heads for the next county. Oh well.
We toss a trap a bit farther along, looking at a bird in a tree that
eventually turns out to be an adult. Well, at least we tossed it. Woke
up the bait.
This is turning into an excellent bird-watching trip if nothing else.
We see sandhill cranes, wilson's warblers, white faced ibis, egrets, bitterns,
red shouldered hawks, pintails, canada geese, Pied-billed grebes, and others,
including LOTS of the infamous insulator hawks. By 11 am we've been out
for many hours and finally stop into town and get some lunch and take a
break for a while.
After lunch, it's back on the road again. We're putting a lot of miles
on Richard's Aerostar, and we're getting sore necks from trying to see
out the windshield from the back seat. As we finally take a turn south
onto hiway 99, we spot a gorgeous huge light immy rt perched on a fence
post right next to this busy road. We scope it out. There's enough cover
on the side of the road to safely toss a trap within sight of the bird,
so we make the set. As I toss the trap, the bird flares its wings but stays
put. we drive off, turn around, and then work our way back to a vantage
point. We find out the bird blew sometime after we left. Sigh. Such a pretty
girl, too. Off we go down the next side road, spotting another juvie in
a tree over the road. We turn around and toss the trap. Hmm. She's watching
it. Good. Come on, sweetie. Free mousies. She watches it for about 3 minutes,
then unfurls her wings and swoops down on it. The adrenaline level in the
truck rises by about a thousand percent. As she dives, we all suck in our
breath, only to expel it again as she flares out above the trap and returns
to the tree, not really liking what she sees. Something looks funny about
her, but we can't quite put our fingers on it. After a minute or two, she
dives again. this time going straight down into the grass where the trap
is! Oooh, boy, did the excitement level just climb!
We wait. There's a wing flap. Nothing. Then another. Nothing. Wait.
Wait. Then another, with that characteristic backwards-falling look of
a bird with its foot caught in something. We zoom forward like a police
car on the cop shows as the sting comes down. Almost to the trap, we see
her fly up off the trap and head out towards a fence post in the field,
dragging a leg. Uh oh. We knew she looked funny. She's got a bum left leg.
We think the worst, that she's ripped one of the noose clusters off the
trap and is hurt. We retrieve the trap and count the nooses. They're all
there, none missing. Whew. Her leg problem is her own doing, not from our
trap. We watch her for a while as she sits. No apparent problems; she seems
to be dealing with her bad leg all on her own. Don't want her. Been there
done that with leg injured birds!
At that point we head back the last few miles into Sac. It's close
to 5 pm by this time and we are all getting pretty burnt. We spot a few
more birds, but nothing we can set for.
Back at Richard's, we transfer our stuff back to our truck, say our
goodbyes and head out, thinking we might get a set or two on the way home.
We stop by one area we know of, and sure enough, there's a pole with a
lump on it. We glass it. Two lumps. One very dark adult, solid black breast
and head, with a juvie right next to it. We work our way around to get
in position to drop the trap. As we get closer, yet another adult comes
up and lands on the same pole, so now we have a dark morph adult, a rufous
morph adult, and an immy, all on the same pole, We drop the trap, drive
off, and wait. But these birds are all watching intently in the other direction.
Something has their attention, and it won't be drawn back to us. We try
to spot what they're looking for, but the terrain hides it. As we look
back to the pole, the immy is gone. Where did she go? She's not flying
around, did she hit the trap? We drive around to a spot where we can see
it, but she's not there. Oh well. It just wasn't meant to be today.
14 hours, thousands of birds, at least a hundred hawks, but no success.
Sounds like a typical first trapping day. We head home, happy with the
day's results. A gorgeous day, good company, great bird watching, and a
bit of trapping adrenaline thrown in to sweeten the pot. What more could
I ask for?
Later this week it'll be off to raptor heaven; Butte Valley at the
CA/OR border and see what we can find. For now it's home for a good nights
A few days later, Pam and I set off on yet another adventure. Here's
how it went.
Monday, Oct. 5, 1998
The alarm rings, bringing me from my slumbers into instant awakedness.
Time to pack and go. A quick shower, coffee, and breakfast, then I load
the pile of stuff into the truck. Trap, license, clothes, binocs, license,
food, tackle box of hawk gear (did I mention license?), all of it finally
in the truck and I'm off. Oops. One last item. I grab one of Kiera's feathers
for good luck and slide it into the strap on my sun visor where I can see
it as I drive. I pick up Pam, load her stuff. She asks me if I brought
my license :-)
By this time, it's 12:45 am. The five and a half hour drive ahead of
us should put us into Butte Valley at the Oregon border just as the sun
is coming up. We spend the first hour talking about raptors and our upcoming
adventure, as two raptorheads like us are prone to do. Then, as the excitement
drops from its peak, Pam curls up in the passenger seat of the Toyota and
drifts off. I drive on through the night, keeping company with the semi
trucks and the full moon, its light casting a surreal glow on the open
fields and rolling hills of the northern Sacramento Valley.
Tuesday, Oct 6, 1998
We pull into the Worden truck stop, just across the Oregon border,
the only visible activity for many miles in either direction. It's a cold,
crisp morning; it's still below freezing here in the open high sage desert,
and the sweaters come out of the clothing bags. We head inside and order
up a good, hearty breakfast. Our blood sugar and caffeine levels replenished,
it's back across the border into California. We drive west, through the
border town of Dorris, heading out onto the gravel back roads that crisscross
and surround Butte Valley. The sun is just starting to lighten the sky;
we can almost make out the tops of the power poles that follow the roads,
or is it the poles that the roads follow? Today it seems like the latter;
the roads are there solely to allow us access to the poles, and the supply
of young Red Tailed Hawks we're hoping to find. We pull to the side of
the road, get out the Bal-Chatri and with a short prayer to the gods, place
a coturnix quail in the chamber, and get back into the cab, trap in hand.
There. The first silhouette on the crossbar two poles down. In an action
soon to be repeated many times, we pull to the shoulder, raise the binocs
and try to decipher the dark shape we see. Before we can even get the binocs
to the eyes, the bird blows off the pole, sweeping in an arc across our
field of view. It's an adult, dark red tail catching the early morning
light. We drive along, the same scenario playing out several times. These
adults are skittish birds. This is an area where hawks are still shot,
although it's getting a lot better thanks to the annual presence of the
Bald Eagle Conference and the attendant education and awareness that comes
from it and other conservation efforts. Anyway, the adults don't need much
of an excuse to vacate a pole quickly.
We continue on, eventually spotting our first perched immy RT. We position
ourselves to provide a good drop, pass by and it's "trap away"! We head
on down the road, around the corner and make the first of many U-turns
in order to sit and watch. We watch and wait. The bird looks at the trap,
looks around, looks back at the trap, looks around some more, and takes
off off the pole out into the field, as if to say, "I don't think so!"
We retrieve the trap and head on.
A few miles down the road, the road starts following the edge of the
hills lining the valley. There are hills and coniferous trees on the right,
and open hay fields, recently mown and baled, on the left. As we come around
a curve, suddenly we spot an immy, then another, then another, all bailing
out of the trees at our approach. We slow and drive through, watching as
they circle around and come back to the poles. This is looking pretty good.
We spend the next hour or so trying to convince one of these birds to investigate
our trap, but they're not really interested. They sit on the poles for
a few minutes, then head out into the fields, land, and chow down on rodents.
We count dozens of RTs out in the fields, walking around like crows, nibbling
on mousie morsels. It's hard to get them to come to a trap when there's
so much free food available out in the open. We wish we could drive out
into the fields and set the trap out there, but it's private property and
we have no idea where to contact the owners.
This field would be a great place to set up a blind and a dho-ghazza
or bownet. There are a lot of interesting birds out here. We see many very
dark dark-morphs, with dark chocolate bellies and chests with an orange
wash to the breast. We also see one obviously dark-morphed immy; a truly
beautiful bird that we try for an hour or more to trap with no success.
She moves from pole to field to pole to tree, checking out our trap intently,
even overflying it for a closer look several times, but refuses to have
anything to do with it. Too bad. She would have been a gorgeous bird. Big,
We are having great luck bird-watching. As we drive around the valley,
we spot goldens, swainsons, kestrels, and even get to watch a merlin fly
past us, land on an irrigation wheel, and pluck and eat a small bird. We
spot bluebirds, juncos, magpies, and numerous other small birds.
We drive on a bit farther down "juvenile hall". This area is loaded
with immy RTs. Good shelter, good food source, it's no secret why they're
here. We come to a corner where an immy is perched on a pole, with what
looks like another on a tree directly across the road from it. Looks good.
We drop the trap and drive down, turning around and watching. As we glass
the birds, we watch the second one intently. It's a really strange looking
bird; lightly marked and an odd shape to the head. we then realize that
it's an immy ferruginous hawk, not a RT. As we make that realization, we
also notice that the RT on the pole has made a dive for the trap! The ferrug
watches in amusement as the RT foots at the trap, then with a full 360
degree twist, falls over, caught by both feet. We drive up, toss a towel
over the bird, and proceed to untangle the feet from the nooses. This BC
works good, people. The trap is built from the plans in HC, with the metal
ring, standoffs, and cloverleaf noose clusters. This bird has 13 nooses
on its feet, including one that managed to get the whole foot. We get the
bird loose from the trap, but notice that the feet are really small. I
feel the bird's weight in my hands. It's a small bird, a male, with short
toes and talons. Not what I'm looking for for hunting jacks. He's a pretty
bird, and I look at him for a moment before releasing him back into the
sky wishing him well. Pam's not sure about this. Sorry Pam, but I don't
know anyone in this area that's been successful with male RTs; I had one
problem season and don't want another. I'm looking for a big female, not
a male. I feel confident that another bird, the right bird, will hit my
trap before too much longer.
We travel on a while longer, but it's getting to be late morning and
the temperature is rising quickly into the high 60s, and the birds are
starting to leave the poles and soar. We decide to call it a morning and
go get some lunch, then head on up to Juanita Lake in the mountains and
take a break for the afternoon. It's gorgeous up there, a mountain lake
surrounded by conifers, with no one else around. We lay out the sleeping
bags and try to sleep, but with the flies buzzing us, the ants crawling
on us, and the chipmunks trying to steal our quail, we have no success.
We take a walk around the lake, finding eagle feathers and castings under
Bald Eagle perch trees.
By 3 pm we're back on the road again, tossing the trap for the immys
we see, but again with no success. We decide that these birds subsist on
a diet of strictly rodents, and our quail just isn't attractive enough
for them. We had tried to get sparrows and wild rats before we left, but
had had no luck in doing so. We decide at that point that we should head
up into Klamath Falls, find a pet store, and get us some rodents. We drive
off, trying to beat the clock hoping to find a pet store before they close.
We get lucky and find one that will sell us some baby rats. A bit bigger
than the average mouse, and still quite active.
By this time, it's almost 6 pm, and we're pretty worn out. We find
a hotel on the north side of town, and as we pull in it looks like a Cabelas'
truck exploded in the parking lot. Waterfowl hunting season opened here
last weekend, and the parking lot is full of boats wrapped in camo, black
labs, decoys, coolers, neoprene waders set out to dry, and any clothing
accessory you can imagine patterned in camo. We get a room, shower, and
are fast asleep by 7:30 pm
It's been a wonderful day. Got one bird and know the trap works well,
saw plenty of beautiful birds of different types, and had a great time.
Didn't get a bird yet, but that's OK. Tomorrow's another day.
Wed., Oct 7, 1998
The alarm goes off, and I reach to turn it off. It seems like I just
put my head down a moment ago, but it's been nine hours. Slept like a rock.
We shower, feed the animals, pack, and head for breakfast again. Blood
sugar and caffeine levels once again restored to normal levels, we head
back to "juvenile hall". Our anticipation grows as we once again get enough
light to make out the football shaped silhouettes on the poles. We approach
the area where we had tried so hard yesterday, thinking that now that we
have rodents, the trap will be much harder to resist.
On our first pass through, we spot only a couple of birds, and we go
to the end of the stretch and turn around. By this time, more birds are
out, but they seem to be bypassing the poles altogether and heading from
the roost trees straight out into the fields to feast on rodents. We get
a few decent sets, but the birds seem to have already gotten a pretty decent
meal and don't seem interested in our trap; either that or they just feel
it's much easier out in the field. The number of hawks out there seems
to suggest that.
We've changed the bait for today. We now have a coturnix quail and
two young rats in the trap, hoping the rats will move around and annoy
the quail, creating enough movement to draw in the hawks. However, it's
a cold, clear morning, with temps in the 20s again, and as we watch the
trap through binocs, we see that the rats are huddled up underneath the
quail. Grrr. Silly animals. That's what we get for using pet store bait,
We spend about an hour once again trying to tempt the dark youngster
from yesterday down to the trap. She watched it intently, flew over it
a couple of times, flew from tree to tree trying to get a better look at
it, but in the end, she flew out into the field and pulled a mouse out
of the ground instead. She's a smart one; the one that got away.
We decide at this point that it's time to blow this joint and head
out to the area north of Tule Lake, about 35 miles northeast of Butte Valley.
It was recommended to me by a falconer that lives in the area. There's
an area there that is farmland, crisscrossed with rural roads. We drive
out, spotting a prairie falcon that takes off from a pole as our truck
passes by. We also watch northern harriers course the open fields, playing
in the light breeze. As we drive down one of the back roads of Modoc county,
we spot an immy RT on a pole. She's a beautiful bird, very white with just
a hint of dark markings on her chest. Pam tosses the trap as I drive past,
but I'm going a bit too fast and the trap lands upside down. Ooops. We
look back to see the bottom of the trap sticking up in the air, the bird
still on the pole watching it curiously. Sigh. We go back to retrieve it,
check the nooses and bait, which is now just 2 rats, since the quail was
not doing anything except providing a warm blanket for the rats, who were
quite happy to snuggle up under its feathers.
We move down the road a bit and turn around. The bird, of course, blew
off the pole as we retrieved the trap, but landed one pole away. We drop
again, successfully this time. The bird looks at the trap, looks over at
our truck, and puts a foot up as if to say "You've got to be kidding. After
that last toss you expect me to come to THAT?" After a while with no interest,
we pick up the trap and move off. Just down the road from that bird, there's
another one. We toss the trap again, and she immediately cranes her neck
over to get a better look. In just a few minutes, she dives off the pole,
but flies just past the trap to land on the ground about 4 feet away. She
stands there. And stands there. And stands there. She's peering intently
at the trap, watching the rats inside, who by this time are sitting ver-r-r-ry
still. She's not moving. After about 5 minutes of us holding our breath
and starting to turn blue, she jumps up in the air and flies off to a perch
a few poles down. Sigh.
We pick up the trap, rotate out the rats (we bought 4), and add a quail
and one rat. We hope that one of each will be the magic combination. We
drive down the back roads, passing an occasional adult and one immy sitting
just off the road, feeding intently on something. It looks up at us as
we pass, but immediately puts its head down and continues eating. Not much
hope of trapping that one. We pass several chances, but for one reason
or another, such as traffic, dogs, etc, they just aren't good sets. We're
starting to get a bit frustrated, but still having a good time.
A little further down, we spot a big dark girl sitting on a pole. We
slow to look at her as we pass, and drop the trap just as she blows off
the pole. We watch her fly along side us for a hundred yards or so, and
she's a big, heavy-bodied girl with wide wings. We get turned around in
time to see her land on another pole. We drop the trap across the road
from her, and she stays on the pole this time as we drive off. We find
a spot to sit and watch. I reach up and touch Kiera's feather, still stuck
in my sun visor, for good luck. She's watching the trap with great interest.
This is looking good. She turns her attention away from the trap, out in
the field behind her. We look off that way and spot another immy soaring
over the field, and then another, this one an adult. Oh great, the temps
are rising, and the birds are starting to soar. By this time it's 10:30
am already. There's another one. Now we have three birds, all soaring in
the field behind her.
Somehow, though, she sticks to the pole, still eyeing the trap. A few
more looks around, and suddenly, it's a quick dive right to it! Our adrenaline
levels go through the roof of the truck, leaving a big smoking hole in
the top of the cab. We watch intently through the binocs, waiting for that
sign that shows she's caught. Suddenly, behind us, a truck pulls out of
a side street onto the road the trap is on. Oh no; we don't want them to
see her, stop, and do something, so we start the engine and drive forward
hoping to get there ahead of them. And for no good reason, because they
turn into another driveway behind us anyway. Well, we're already half way
to the trap, so we keep going, seeing her mantling over it on the ground.
As we approach, she sees us, and launches herself into the air! She wasn't
stuck yet. Expletives fill the air in the truck cab. We drive on, smashing
ourselves for jumping the gun and driving her off.
Pam is watching her. She flies across the ditch at the side of the
road, and seems to land just on the other side. Hmmm. Maybe there's still
hope. We circle around and go back to our vantage point. We wait. And wait.
And wait. Nothing. Finally, after about ten minutes, I get out of the truck
and walk across the road and carefully ease my way to a spot where I can
see down along the ditch, trying to catch a glimpse of her. Nothing. A
little farther. Nothing. A little more. There! Her head just barely peeking
out of the weeds like a pheasant in the middle of gun season. I retreat
to the truck, and as I cross the road, I see her launch up from the weeds
back to her pole. I get into the truck and wait, my heartbeat hammering
in my ears. After a minute to compose herself, rouse, and mute, she turns
her attention back to the trap. Whew. Now the waiting begins.
We thought we had waited before; that was nothing. She puts us through
the wringer. Any other bird I probably would have given up on, but she
was showing so much interest in the trap, I couldn't bear to go and pull
it. She would look away and scan the skies every so often, but her attention
was always back on it within a few seconds. She even did the upside-down-head
tilt a few times. Finally she dives again! But she lands short of the trap,
a few feet away, and watches it. Our adrenaline levels are going on huge
seesaw rides today, folks. After only a few moments, she leaps, landing
right on the top of the trap! Yesssss! This time we wait. We learned our
lesson the last time. She dances around a bit, obviously not stuck yet.
Off in the distance, a truck comes lumbering down the road. Uh oh. well,
we're going to wait it out this time. If she's gonna bail, it won't be
from us this time around. We watch as the truck comes down the road. As
it passes the trap, she launches herself away from the trap, only to be
brought up short by the nooses! She's caught!
We power down to the trap site, fly out of the truck carrying a bath
towel to wrap her in. I toss the towel over her so she can't see us, and
gather her up. She's caught by both feet, about eight nooses. I hold her
while Pam untangles the trap from her feet. I check her out. Big feet.
Dirty, with dried bloodstains on them, but no pox lesions, no bumblefoot.
I check her eyes. Clear, bright, big. Her mouth. Clear. No signs of trich
or pox. Her feathers. Perfect. All there, one stress mark on her left deck
feather, but otherwise fine. Feel her keel. Not too bony, plenty of muscle
on either side. She's a keeper! I slip the hood and a stockingnette on
her and we walk back to the truck, and drive off for a more deserted road
(where did all these trucks come from on this back road anyway??) to jess
her up. We did it. We've got our girl. As I get back into the truck, I
notice that Kiera's feather, which has been watching over me for the past
two days, is gone. She stayed around to make sure I found another bird,
and then she took off. Her spirit will remain with me forever, though.
I get her equipment on and we head off, leaving the stockingnette in
place for now. We stop down the road a ways at a grocery store, getting
liquids and snacks for us, and a box for her to ride in, so I can remove
the stockingnette. We've got six hours of driving ahead of us, and I don't
want to leave her wrapped up that long. I place her in the box with the
stockingnette removed, and she lies there, breathing hard and wondering
what the heck happened to her! "Momma told me about GHOs and eagles, she
told me about guns, but she never told me about this!"
We hit the road for the longest six hour road trip of my life. I probably
watched every breath she took. It was pretty warm in northern California,
and I was worried about her overheating and/or stressing out. I was able
to get some water in her with a spray bottle, but every time I'd try to
get her positioned to drink, she'd struggle strongly and I decided it wasn't
worth the stress. Three quarters of the way through the trip, she muted.
Good. I was worried about her holding that too long. Luckily, with strategic
towel placement, I was able to contain most of it, but my new truck has
been christened :-).
After what seemed like a week, we arrived back home in Concord. I carried
her into the back yard, where I put the leash on her swivel and got her
up on the glove. She stood there patiently, waiting to see what would happen.
Pam took a few pictures and we went inside. I placed her on the scale.
1275g, or about 45 oz. Just a little lighter than Kiera was when I trapped
her one year ago, but she seems more solid than Kiera did. I was surprised
to see her lighter, but she could have muted 40 grams, too. I placed her
on the perch in the manning room and she sat there, listening to all the
sounds around her. I rehydrated her with some pedialyte, then we stepped
out of the room and closed the door.
In two days I put almost a thousand miles on my truck, and finally
found a hawk in the far northeastern corner of California, in Modoc county.
I named her Modoc. The Modoc were an indian tribe that held out in that
area for a long time. I'm going to do some reading about them and learn
more about their history.
Her manning will start in the morning. Tonight we both rest.
Here are some photos of Modoc taken during the
first few days.
||Here's a picture of Modoc and myself as she got on the glove for the
Here's another showing her darkly barred tail.
||Here's one more, this one with slightly better lighting. It was almost
dusk when we got home, so it's tough to get a good look in these photos.
Here's a photo of Modoc after a couple of days. By this time, she's
eating from my fingers and walking around comfortably on the glove.
Here's another shot that shows off how dark she is. There were
a LOT of dark morph adult Red-Tails in this area, and it wouldn't surprise
me to see her turn into one next summer.
Here's a close-up of her massive beak. She's got a very impressive
bite, let me tell you!
May 26, 2003
Modoc turned into a fine hunter and partner. I flew her for 5 seasons. In the
spring of 2003 I released her back into the wild. Watch this space for the story
I wrote about her release. It will be published in the June 2003 issue of American
Falconry Magazine. Eventually I'll post it here, but buy the magazine first.
Look for some hunting stories about her in the future. I've still got my male
Harris' Hawk, Mojo. He's a fine bird that I've been flying for a few years now.
I'll post some more details about him soon...
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