It's go time peeps! We've spent the past month or so laying the groundwork re: what falconry is all about as well as how we caught and trained our dragon. Now it's time to turn her loose and catch some game!
Tonks & Dora have been hunting for about two weeks now and have 12 rabbits in the freezer already. Lily is still waiting out the molt - and for the weather to cool a bit. She'll likely be hunting by mid October.
So, where are we going from here? Dunno! That's the thing about doing a blog in real time - I don't know in advance what's going to happen either. Primarily we'll be following the Harris' Hawks , and later Lilly, week to week over the next six months as they progress through the hunting season. We'll also make an effort to incorporate some new falconry info into each week's post. Those first four posts really were the 30,000 foot overview -- there's a whole heap of stuff we glossed right over.
To wit: We have (so far) condensed this into 16 minutes of reading:
This week we'll walk through the process of getting the birds ready to go from the mews to the field, what we actually do while we're in the field, and how we manage to get everyone home again.
They'll go from the mews:
Into their travel boxes, called Giant Hoods, which should be made of Aluminum or Coroplast for easy cleaning:
We've all seen raptors at a demonstration at some point and the ones that were being actively handled were always wearing some sort of gear, referred to as furniture in falconry parlance. I'll do a separate post later specifically on all the equipment we use but for now realize that the furniture they wear in the mews is different from what they wear in the field. Specifically, we need to switch from mews jesses (with slits at one end to attach to the leash) to field jesses (with only a micro hole or no slit at all).
mews jesses on the left, slit-less field jesses on the right:
While we're switching out the jesses, we'll also attach their radio transmitters (with a range of 60 miles) and bells (with a range of about 60 yards) - both of which are invaluable in quickly locating a hawk in the brush:
Into the falcon mobile and off we go to our pre-scouted hunting field! Emphasis here on pre-scouted because what use are we to the hawk if we take her somewhere where there is no game to chase?
Our hunting fields are anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes away, and the hawks somehow know exactly where we're going. They're able to count every turn and uncannily start fidgeting within 5 minutes of arrival regardless of the chosen field.
Once there, we turn on the transmitters and release the birds onto their T-perches - we use extendable painting poles with a perch attached on top:
Riding 15 feet in the air on the T-perches as we walk around gives them an enormous visual advantage - an experiment we did one year revealed they see 80-85% more game on the T-perch compared to riding on the glove.
We usually have some sort of planned route to cover the field, which never, ever works out exactly as planned. (I'm looking at you, Dora!)
The general idea is to produce at least 10-12 flushes (called slips) in a two hour hike. The birds are good for about two hours before tiring and if we can give them a dozen chances they'll catch at least two, and sometimes three, rabbits in that time frame.
On a kill site
When they do catch a rabbit we need to do a couple things:
-Offer protection as the time they spend on the ground is by far the time they are most vulnerable to predators - and predators make a bee-line to a caught rabbit.
-Help subdue and humanely dispatch the rabbit. The birds will do this themselves given enough time but in the wild there is a tendency for the eating to start before the prey has fully expired - something we're definitely not okay with in this setting. How? Well, we can't really shoot it now, can we? We can't use a blade either lest a hawk grab it and ruin her hunting career. We'll use either cervical dislocation or thoracic (chest) compression as the fastest, most humane way to do so.
-Trade off the rabbit. For the first few kills, we'll let a young hawk have her fill to reinforce the catch-reward connection. Long term, however, this is problematic in that she's going to be too heavy to hunt for the next week or so if we let her crop up. We need to get the rabbit away from her while also feeding her a measured portion. The art of the trade-off accomplishes both by simultaneously offering a portion while removing the rabbit from her sight. Remember, raptors are visual creatures - if they're not looking at it, it's not actually happening. Falconer's also happen to be master magicians is this regard. With a pair of Harris' Hawks, we'll simply remove a forelimb for each bird as two forelimbs just happens to be a day's ration.
We'll dress and stow the rabbit while they're eating. For the first rabbit they'll be ready to hunt again in 10 minutes or so. For the second rabbit, will clip them back in to the glove through those pin holes we saw in the field jesses above and head home when they're done eating. Note: rabbit number two nearly always gets caught at the absolute farthest possible distance from the car.
Here are a couple two-rabbit hunts to pull everything together: