Monday, August 21, 2006

sharpie obsession

Sunday evening I brought my video camera along and taped R as he hunted with the sharpie. He'd caught a good sized one in the morning already, and that evening caught two more. I was able to record one of the catches and two misses. The action happens in an eyeblink – a flight is about one second long, two if lengthy.

Interesting thing about the accipiter mind: it's really true, the more they catch, the more calm and happy they are. In many raptors, the foot holding the prey appears to have its own brain, unconnected to the one at the top. It holds and won't let go. Larger, non-accipitrine hawks often eventually figure out how to get the upper brain to talk to the lower brain. Letting go requires concentration, and they will comically stare at the foot until it reluctantly opens.

Typical accipiter, this bird has tended to space out after a catch, so neither brain was actually cogitating. It took some doing to transfer him to the lure, which he also clutched and spaced out on. However, after the third catch of the day, he transferred to the lure very smoothly, and hopped right back onto R's glove when the food was gone.

Three birds in one day called for celebration. We went back to his place with a six pack, hooked up the camera to the TV and watched it all over again.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

old turns to new

It's good to be writing again. The last couple months have been kind of difficult because I became a moderator for a very busy website. It temporarily ate up my free time (mea culpa; I let it), and I decided to step down, but volunteered to stay on until a replacement was found. I've been waiting several weeks, but no one so far.

But deciding to step down was good; it made me feel less responsible, which mysteriously made the work seem easier. It's a never-ending job, with easily 600-800 posts per day fielded by about nine mods and admins, plus old thread cleanup. The bulk of the users are youngish people (14-22) and emotional crises and weirdnesses occur; there's a vile troller needing to be dealt with, the occasional spammer, and people who simply do not read instructions.

Plus starting the hunting season brings new events and challenges, which I'd much rather be doing and writing about in addition to the fiction. Seeing R's musket was exciting. I love the accipiter at a visceral level, I love its reputations both good and bad. I had a used goshawk, one that had not been used well, retrained her to trust humans, and brought her back to being a successful hunter. I gave her away because she was screaming too much, and I'm not sorry I did; she required a huge investment in time, energy, and emotion, more than I had. My little grey queen hunted well for her next owner, too, so I know she did well by me: she had the opportunity to be a hawk again before she died.

I'd love to start my own gos from scratch, but for where I live and the mate's state of health, I see now it'd be much more sensible to get a sharpie. I'm a little more confident in my ability, and I'd have R to rely upon for advice.

sharpie fever

My friend R has a new eyass musket, which is coming along great. R got him at 12 days and is practically dancing with delight. Sharpshins seem to come pre-wired to catch; they don't need the grooming and encouragement that longwings often require. A few baggies, and he was up and running. I got myself up at 5:30 (ugggh) to be over at R's place at 6:30, and we drove out in search of small birds. The bird stayed on the fist really well, and we got some great flights. At one point I was looking over a culvert and begged the gods to make the video camera appear in my hand: a perfect, classic flight after a quail. Saw it all.

There's something about the accipiter shape and the way they move that even the 85-gram musket sends the words "power hawk" flashing in red lights through your mind. They're fast and direct and determined, and now I want one! R's was very tame and relaxed, didn't blink twice at a total stranger following him around.

After the sharpie caught two birds R let him feed up, and we went off to plink some food for his other hawk, which is still molting. I have a .22 rifle and a borrowed 12 gauge shotgun, and have shot a few other types of guns, but know very little about them. The .177 pellet rifle seems like a much better tool – it's extremely quiet and accurate in close range. With sufficient fps power small birds just drop. Non lead pellets are available, too, since you can't risk your raptor ingesting a lead fragment. The .177 was a spring action, ready when we were. CO2 pellet guns don't work for me because I would load one up and throw it in the glove box, but by the time I encountered a good shot days or weeks later, the gas was gone, a complete waste. I know, I should have left it empty and put the canister in at time of need, but . Plus a pistol just can't compete on accuracy. The only things I ever hit with a pellet gun were a pigeon and several raccoons. And I missed the pigeon twice.

So rarely do I get up in time for dawn that I always forget what a pleasure it is. The crisp air, the quiet, everything seems clean, even the dust that rises while you're crunching through brush is less dense than when you hawk in the afternoon. Few people are about on the sidewalks or roads. The prey birds are hungry and perhaps a little less cautious. We'd take ten or twenty paces, stop and listen for the rustles. It was very easy hawking compared to larger birds that take quarter-mile slips. The sharpie stayed within 80 feet all the time. I could see everything that happened.

And I'll probably go out and do it tomorrow evening. R says the sharpie is much more keen in the evening, so better flights are possible. I'd say the flights today were pretty hard to improve upon.

Update on P: the cracked feather clotted fully and he broke it off, partially taking care of half the problem himself. I'll try to cast him this week (shudder) and see if I can't put in a new one.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

healthy hawks heal fast

The blood doesn't look as wet as before. We did some vertical jumps today and he's using the wing a lot more. I'm feeling a lot better. Until I found the blood, it was possible that he'd sprained something. (If there was a break I doubt he could control the wing and tuck it up.)

A few other falconers I know have come to the consensus that flying during the molt promotes feather regrowth. I think the vertical jumps will help, as long as I don't overdo it; 30-50 is probably enough to get the wing moving and help circulation, which will promote healing. (A normal vertical-jump regimen is 100-125.) Some non-hunting flying will do good too.

It's surprising how fast hawks build muscle and recover when they're healthy. (When seriously sick, they are very delicate and can succumb with a dirty look, especially the smaller ones.) P looked like he was hurting bad on Sunday; Thursday he is nearly normal, and I imagine by Sunday he'll be fine.

There does seem to be a primary missing, though. The injured feather appears to be P3, not P2 as I thought. I can see the tip coming out; right now it's the same length as the coverts, so a little hard to tell. This molt has been pretty slow - possibly because I didn't fly him at all during.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sudden stop to the season

P broke a feather in the blood. A new feather has blood inside it for it to grow; as the feather matures the follicle tightens down, shutting off the blood supply, and any remaining blood dries up. If a new feather is bumped hard enough, the shaft may crack and the feather will start leaking. It basically screws up that feather for the season. It's not serious unless the feather fully breaks off high enough where the circulating blood can simply drain out of the shaft. It's just cracked.

I didn't realize this had happened until the day we went hawking for the first time this season. I was doing vertical jumps with him the day before. Something looked off, and he didn't want to do too many jumps despite being at weight, but I couldn't pin down a cause. This is a new one to me. The next day, in the field, the problem was clear: he didn't want to flap that wing. He started after some bunnies, but went to ground within 10 yards. In retrospect, one wing flapping is as comical as the concept of one hand clapping, but at the time, I was just trying to figure what the heck was going on.

Then I found the blood. Here you can see how the broken feather isn't sitting right at all. I'd noticed that this feather hadn't been shedding its outer coating, but again, to my failure, didn't realize its significance.
Here's a close-up of the damage :(

So what do I do about this? I need to wait, and see where we're at when the blood clots fully. Some people say to just pull the feather and it'll regrow, but there's just as many who say that could damage the follicle permanently. As this is a P2 I'd rather not run that risk. I think my best bet is to simply snip it off when it's dry, and depending on the condition of the bottom of the shaft, may be able to imp in a new primary. Here's hoping...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Relieved is such a lame word

I'm feeling like death swiped at me and missed, just about.

Quite some time ago, I inherited four acres of agricultural land, with a rental house. I've never been too involved with it. It's leased to a farmer who sent checks like clockwork, and there never seemed to be any problems. Last year the house burned down, and I decided I should replace it.

The water comes from a well on another property. When my dad bought the place in the 50s, he never wrote in an easement for water, nor have we ever paid for water. When I mentioned my plan to rebuild to the owner of the other property, I met with increasing resistance. First, the water is of unacceptable quality; naturally, she wants to protect herself from lawsuit. I explained I had restrictions on who I could rent to, and that I would have them sign an agreement regarding water quality (the health department has standard forms for this). Strange that she didn't have a problem with providing water for the acreage – just the house. She wouldn't give a hint about preferring a yearly flat fee from me, or a percentage of maintenance, or buying into the well. She whined about how she'd never been given any help to drill the well. (My psychic powers are just not very good, sorry.) Then she began bringing up other problems with my former renters that neither she nor the farmer had ever mentioned. Then she brought up pesticides and how my future renters wouldn't want to live so close to where they were being sprayed. This last one is not her problem, so why was she being so discouraging?

She's good friends with my tenant farmer. He leases her land as well, and they've known each other 50 years. He seemed like a nice enough guy, until the contractor needed to know where the well was. The farmer said he didn't know. He's been laying the irrigation pipes forever, and he doesn't know where the well is. Yeah, right. I must conclude that for some reason, they didn't want me to rebuild. If I was paranoid (which is a sensible way to view things, at times) I would say they were trying to push me into selling.

All this is the result of six phone calls to them, piles of calls to other people, and eight weeks. I was feeling completely fucked all ways, making no headway. I found a lawyer with experience with well agreements, and made an appointment. $350 per hour, and an agreement could take as much as six hours. And completely without guarantee that the well owner would accept any of it.

Enter angel #1, in the form of three wonderful people at the Health Department. They gave me the phone number of another neighbor who has a well with sufficient flow and negligible impurities. Today, ten days later, enter angel #2: said neighbor, who called me back. He was very positive, very helpful, gave me all kinds of information. He had enough water to provide the house and the acreage too. He has someone who would want to lease the land, and might have someone to rent the house. He's interested in buying the property because he likes the view as much as I do and my father did. If I was considering selling, he'd be at the top of my list. And selling is in the back of my mind. When I was younger I thought I might live there one day, but at the present time I know I won't.

It's like the sun has just burst out from the clouds. I have an option.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

bestsellers of 2009

I wonder if Monkey George ever thinks about the future. Specifically, the year 2009. By then, the books will be piling up and spilling over the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. "How George Bush Systematically Destroyed All Hope of Middle East Peace." "Name Your Price: How Bush Sold America to Halliburton." "Oil Explosion: The Loss of Cheap Gas in America." "Preventing the Next Katrina." "Bill Clinton: A Study of Successful Presidency." "Dictatorship in a Democratic Nation." "They Say They're Souls: The Death of Stem Cell Research by the Religious Right." And, at the top of the list, "The Worst President in the World."