Saturday, April 29, 2006

storm to desert

After all these jokes about California's secret shift northward into Oregon, suddenly the spigot got turned off. It's springy near San Francisco, and summery in Modesto where we went hawking, around 80. I couldn't manage to stay out there very long. I don't handle upward temperature shifts well, and the coolness at home exacerbated the contrast.

Even though Harris hawks are native to southern deserts, they align themselves as needed to their environment. They do fine as long as it's over 15 degrees Fahrenheit. P used to live in the Sacramento area, so he's more accustomed to heat, but after living with me three years, even he was a little surprised. After about six flights he had his mouth open. He had some fabulous flights, but he kept losing them under the brush. The bunnies were dashing from bush to bush – about 25-foot runs, long enough to get him going after them, but too short to catch up before they hit cover.

There was a nice breeze going, but every time I paused, the sun burned into my scalp and inside my shirt felt like a jungle. I lasted just under an hour. The headache crept up and clamped down on my temples. P had had about fifteen or so flushes without a catch, and was starting to play stubborn accipiter again.

So we went home, air conditioner blowing over sprayed-down falconer and sprayed-down hawk. If I do this several times in the next couple weeks I'll get used to the Central Valley heat. But the first time every spring is always a rough one.

On a more pleasing note, P had a damn good flight going for a rooster pheasant the other day. I heard it crowing but because the sound was bouncing off a building, I thought it was 80 feet further north than it was (they're out of season now). P passed over the pheasant, curved away, and tried to surprise it with a quick turn-back. If I had enough wit I would have noticed the difference in the flight, that he was going after a pheasant and not a jackrabbit. If I had enough wit I would have run forward to distract the pheasant. But as I've said before, I have to work to be a decent falconer; for me it's not an intuitive skill. I was standing around admiring the wing-work, and suddenly the rooster was crapping and cackling his panic, and my poor old bird is on the ground.

But I'm always glad when he goes after birds (he also went after a hen mallard a few weeks ago, but she fought like a tornado.) He's always been more feather-oriented than fur-oriented and I never want him to stop thinking of them as valid quarry.

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