Friday, August 29, 2008

tomorrow is

her birthday. The mate, the one I lost to cystic fibrosis last May.

Tomorrow: one year 4 months without her. It seems like much longer; so many things have happened. A new house, the first and possibly last I will own, a new girlfriend come and gone already, people entering and exiting my life: other CF patients, nursing staff, doctors (temporary friends, I suppose), new neighbors. Different places to hike and hawk, old furniture and clothes replaced. Twenty pounds I hope to never see again. New bird, come and gone too. A psychotherapist -- never felt I needed one before, but my friends told me I was a wreck after the breakup with the girlfriend, and I had to agree.

Yesterday, I happened across Querencia in the used bookstore (looking for Borges, found Bodio) and read it today. It begins at the end, with a restless loneliness and oppressive weather. I knew very little about Betsy, Bodio's partner, but within 25 pages I knew the book was about her. I skipped to the end, spotted the word 'pine,' and knew tragedy lay ahead.

This has been a year of suffocation, it seems. The mate, the sharpy, and now reading about Betsy. I'm not normally superstitious, but every one of her cigarettes Bodio mentioned got laid on the pile of warnings that I'm destined for the same fate if I don't stop bullshitting around with "trying" to quit and not actually quitting.

Maybe tomorrow is the day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

another 3 crow day

It's always fun to go someplace where the crows don't know your car and do not expect Harris hawks to come barrelling at them. Their reaction speed was incredibly slow compared to the "trained" crows: they would see the hawk, freeze, maybe attempt to hunker down, look for an exit direction, and squawk their last. Four flushes, three catches, and the one he missed was at starlings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

this was good.

a fat piece of ginger, about 2.5" x 1.25", sliced coarsely
2 stalks lemon grass, chopped into 1/2" pieces
4-5 cloves garlic
leaves from 5 stalks basil
about 1.5 oz light soy sauce
about 1/4 cup olive oil
4-5 T Thai curry paste (pick your favorite)
1 T salt

Whirl it all up in the food processor (as fine as possible unless you don't mind chewing lemongrass fibers) and marinate your chicken in a bag overnight. Barbecue.

If you can't find curry paste, that's okay. There's a lot of ways this can be varied with good results -- the essentials are the ginger, lemon grass, garlic, soy sauce and oil. Balsamic vinegar adds a different zip and lime juice would probably be good too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

rules for wait staff

I don't usually encounter bad service in good restaurants, but I got some today. I waited tables for about a year. I'm generally forgiving of mistakes and allow for when the restaurant is busy. I normally give the standard 15% or a little more. However, when too many mistakes happen or I get disrespect as a paying customer, that tip starts trickling away at an exponential rate.

So listen up:

Even if I've ordered another drink, if I'm drinking the water, tend to my water glass.

Do not give me tons of singles in change. If I need them, I will tell you. If I tell you specifically I want a larger bill for change, give it to me without question. (I was actually asked, "You don't want to leave a tip?" -- a question that made me want to nix the tip entirely.)

Do not ask me if I want change when the change amounts to a significant percent of the bill. You took my order and handed me the bill; of course you know the total. As much as you'd like a 30% tip, it simply will not happen unless you've given outstanding service, great entertainment, and have offered me your daughter's virginity.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Over the weekend I did all sorts of crap I'd been neglecting since my life was hijacked by flying a small accipiter. Along with cleaning his box for the last time and putting away the sparrow traps, I mowed the lawn, mopped floors, vaccuumed, all that nonsense. Cleaning is just something you do after someone dies. Part of it is getting yourself to a pre-hijack state, part of it is cleaning your memories along with the mess.

I should probably leave the sparrow traps out anyway, just as supplemental food for the Harris. Dessert, more or less; something different and always fresh.

I gave Mr P some vertical jumps yesterday (he didn't pant until 80, which told me he was still in surprisingly good shape after 2+ months of sitting and molting). Today we caught 2 crows. He was a little stubborn coming out of trees (glove hawking him occasionally would probably fix this), but otherwise he made it look insanely easy. As usual. I wouldn't say car hawking has lost its thrill, but sometimes you want to see the hawk having to work for the quarry.

Friday, August 15, 2008


under a bay laurel a few trees over from the nest tree. The grave is neither large nor deep, but he lies facing the east. It's quite possible some carrion eater will dig him up, but that doesn't bother me much: the body is only the vessel, it is the body that fails. The self, spirit or soul if you will, is unending.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

it was asper

This morning he was visibly worse, eyes sunken, gaping widely for breath, wanting to sleep at every opportunity. He was completely unfussy about anything. Even though I'd brought his weight up, his breast felt thinner. The vet found a small aspergilloma ball at the bottom of the trachea, too far down to remove with forceps, which would have helped his breathing for the time being. But asper being a fungus, it would just be a matter of time before it started growing again.

In order to live, he'd need to get tracheal injections twice a day for two weeks. He would have to stay at the hospital for the duration, which would basically ruin his training, both as an imprint and as a hunter. I'd go through a lot of expense only to have to release him. Not much of an option.

I chose euthanasia. The five sparrows and one towhee in my traps are now free.

Tomorrow I'll take him back to the nest site and bury him there.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

not dead

Since he's not dead, maybe it's not asper but just a cold. I kept his box slightly warm last night and, though he's still wheezing this morning, things might be a tiny bit better.

Eyes are still clear and alert, urates look good and copious, fecal also good but quite small. Overnight weight loss predictably more than usual.

More later.

8:30 pm.
Okay, I think he may have either aspirated something or have something stuck in his esophagus. He's been shaking his head a lot, and making motions similar to (but not exactly like) casting. He still looks energetic and alert. He took a bath, which is always a good thing. Even though he's up 5 grams, his behavior on the glove is calmer, which to me indicates he's under some stress.

I gave him a small chip of Spartrix as a prophylactic, and will be feeding him boneless meat until we see the vet tomorrow morning. Hopefully an Xray will show exactly what's going on, and if it's a bone, hopefully they can take it out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

now I'm worried

He started wheezing today. I don't want to think he has asper but he's an accipiter -- he easily might.

On the weekend I'd joked to K1 that the bird had suddenly turned into the Godfather (Godfeather?): his scream was a tiny rasp about a quarter of the normal volume. After I took off his neck mount he sounded normal again, and I assumed that was the problem. And that may have been the problem -- I don't know what the early stages of asper look like.

Yesterday I noticed he was breathing a little harder than usual. There was also some spiky feathers under his mandible like they were wet. His behavior was normal as was his scream.

Today he was definitely breathing hard after chasing towhees. To my amusement he caught and killed a deer mushroom, and was very possessive about it. After I called him back we drove around a little more and I started noticing a different squeak -- the wheeze. I thought it was something else, but after we took another chase I definitely heard it was coming from him. I fed him his daily portion on the lure, took him home, weighed him, and fed him up on some fresh sparrow.

He's in his box for the night. I can hear his breathing even though he's at rest. I don't know if I'll find a dead bird in the morning. If not, I'll take him to a vet I know in Oakley.

It's possible he's got a bone stuck in his throat... could be something easy like that ... he flew pretty vigorously, ate with energy, his eyes look good, mutes too. We'll just have to wait it out and see. We'll take it easy for a day or three and either he'll make it or he won't.

Monday, August 11, 2008

towhee two

Slowly but surely Curly seems to be getting more consistent. At this point, if I lost him, I'm sure he'd be fine taking care of himself. We hunted this one off the glove, and he was at 83.5 gm. The towee simply wouldn't leave the area -- wise, because the shrubbery had nothing but airspace around it. We chased that guy through three sets of bushes, getting four short but intense flights. Finally, getting to the end of the line, the towee tried to dive over and back in, but the sharpy nailed it.

I think this brings us to catch #10, not counting an unknown possible kill he may have done the time I lost him overnight. His first catch was 23 days ago. Two towhees, a robin, a killdeer, and the rest English sparrows. I'm not usually a counter -- I have no clue how many crows, and have forgotten how many CTs and jacks I've taken over the years -- but the sharpy is all my own creation, and thus a little bit special.

K1 calls this month the trial by fire, and so far I've gotten hot but not burnt. I'm trying to find other birds in hawkable situations. There are marshy areas where one can find blackbirds, but they've been directed into lengthy canals. As I'm sure I've said many times before, SF Bay mud is like quicksand, only a little slower -- you cross only in places that are clearly passable, or risk getting sucked down to your waist. But these crossings might be a mile apart or more, so if the sharpy catches a sparrow on the opposite bank, I'm going to lose him for sure, hopefully temporarily. The starlings seem scattered, though I think this time of year they should be flocking for ripening fruit. Maybe it's a little later on.

But I have no complaints if he's getting towhees and robins.

Illegalities aside, that is. Only the English sparrow/house sparrow is legal. This is the mire the microhawker faces constantly: small raptors don't consult the Audubon Guide to know what they're allowed to go after. If I heedlessly kept going after sparrows, permanent loss is just a matter of time because of his carrying. I need to go after a slightly larger bird. Doves, though they're ethereally beautiful and damn tasty, are just too big for him. Starlings are legal if depredating crops, but here we only grow industrial parks and shopping malls. So I'm stuck having to take songbirds.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

naming conventions

I've finally decided to name this bird. Sometimes he drives me crazy, and hawking between 8 and 11 times a week is wearing out me, my tires, and my wallet, but I think I like him enough to bother. It doesn't rule out the possibility of release or giving him to someone else. Nor does it rule out the use of other names, like "Dummy," "Slice Factory," and "My Finger is Not a Sparrow, So Please Stop Pumping Your Talons Into It."

While he was still a young thing I occasionally called him Gleep in honor of Bodio's description of the eyas screaming while eating ("Scream! Scream! Scream! Gleep! Scream! Scream! Gleep! Scream!"), which he did do on mercifully rare occasions. But that's just humor to dispel the extremes of ambivalence. You can't help but love watching him grow and learn his job, but at the meta level the process is nerve racking.

He has one odd feather on his back that curls a bit more than usual, so for the moment it's Curly. Which makes me either Moe or Larry.

It's boiling hot out here today, and the little guy was nearly at weight at 3pm. I gave him 1.5 gm, boneless, well seasoned with water, and hope he'll be ready again at 6:30 or so.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

84 and snap

It's looking like 84 is a good one for now. He's been a titch quieter and, though I still make mistakes with slips, he seems more forgiving. K1 says once we come to an understanding (lol) I'll be able to bring his weight up a little, but for now we need to create the pattern.

We did a mix of carhawking and foot today. I'm starting to see how the towhee operates: it heads for the nearest shrubbery, and doesn't usually sneak out the other side, so I can kick it out. Industrial parks have these long lines of boxwoods or whatever up against the side of the buildings, and you can walk down the line kicking until the quarry pops out the end. However, the next set of shrubbery is usually pretty close, and the sharpy wasn't able to catch up.

In the midst of hauling through some stuff I entered a cloud of skunk odor and backed out fast. There was no skunk, but one had recently sprayed the bushes I was walking through, so my pants ended up smelling like burning rubber, and not the fun kind of burning rubber...good thing hawks don't have a sense of smell.

We kept cruising (and stinking) and got a few more slips. I hold his jesses a bit more loosely now; I'm in the learning stage in terms of seeing quarry, and I've muffed slips because of it. I don't want him to feel discouraged, so I hold him tight only when we're between likely areas.

I've loosed him at robins before, and they're pretty nasty little guys. They're aggressive, and yesterday they stooped him hard in tag-team fashion even when he'd landed on the roof with his human just a foot or two away.

Today, he got revenge, and beautifully.

The robin was freezing on the grass about 40 feet away. He studied the situation a moment, and flew out rising to about 25 feet -- then did a vertical stoop worthy of any peregrine. Totally faked out the robin -- it didn't know what hit him. They fought, I plunged in there, broke its neck, pinned it down, and immediately stopped all motion.

The musket started plucking within 10 seconds, and I knew he must be getting to a good weight. As with Tuesday's towhee he was much more forgiving of my right hand and showed no glove aggression. We had a brief, displeased spin when I did something (forget what, but I know it was my fault), but he recovered quickly and resumed eating.

He got a very good gorge and right now he's looking highly content, eyes half closed and occasionally pushing stuff into his pannel.

And I'm hoping all that skunk spray will wash out. I think my runners are destined for the trash, though.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

the fun just might be starting

My microhawker friends have kept telling me the fun is just around the corner. They've been telling me this for weeks. So far it's been a lot of gasoline, a lot of bags, a hawk that alternates between fussy and staring, and pretty annoying amount of carrying. In exchange, I've seen gorgeous flights and gotten at least some game out of it, but the work/fun balance was definitely on the work side. And I'm completely sick of sparrows.

But today was (hopefully) the hint of good things to come.

Somehow this bird has managed to avoid ever being around 85.5. 86 yes, 84 yes, never 85.5. The 10-hour weight loss was 4 grams yesterday, today 9, and he was at 84.8 when I got home. Close enough. I tidbitted him more than usual, just in case.

He understands the carhawking thing much better now, which is great. And I'm learning to distinguish between all these little birds with a glance.This was the result of a good flight after a towhee. He chased it into a bush, popped out and headed it off at the pass as it was trying to get out the other side. And it was too big to carry, muahahahaha. When I got there I could see the carrying impulse battling with the control/kill impulse, until I eliminated all confusion by pinning it down long enough for him to get his balance, and picking up everyone. He was hungry enough to not go into hysterics over that untrustworthy right hand as it stripped the skin off the towhee's head and squished out some yummy, yummy brains.

He settled fairly quickly after that, so we're really close to the right weight. If we can do this a bunch more times, then he should get his head on straight and work with me. The towhee should grow his ego too. So I'm doing the happy dance now.

Monday, August 04, 2008

almost a kill a day

The weekend has been (relatively) good. He's still carrying, but he's been catching and he caught one a day from Friday to Sunday -- that puts him up to 7 now. I'm nixing the sparrows for now -- I need to go after things that are too big for him to carry, and hopefully he'll need me to help him handle it. He snatched some feathers off a robin today, at 85.9 gm. It was pretty sweet: there were about 5 robins; 2 hunkered down, allowing him a second chance.

I was hoping to have him at 85.5 or 85-nought, but his weight loss patterns seem unstable. Usually when a hawk is fat, he'll lose more grams per hour than when he's lean, so it's a bit of a moving target, but it should be calculable. Weather is a minor factor because I keep him indoors at a steady temperature. So it seems to me his weight loss should be more predictable. Some days he'll lose 3 grams in the course of 10 hours, some days 8 gm. When half a gram matters, it seems hard to feed him the right amout in the morning so he'll be at a certain weight 10 hours later.

As for the very steady and stable Mr P, I flew him last weekend after 3 weeks of sitting around and eating. No muscle right now, but I guess I took the edge off his boredom. We had 3 slips and 3 catches, the last one in flight. The difficulties with the sharpy make me appreciate Mr P a lot.

Friday, August 01, 2008

up to #4 now

He caught his 4th sparrow this morning, weighing 86 g exactly, but he also has a carrying problem. He flew away from me and I had a hard time finding him the first round, and in that time he ate about half the sparrow. So he'd taken the edge off his appetite and wanted to hide the rest from me.

He kept flying away a short distance, but the shrubs were tall enough to make me haul out the receiver each time. We did this about 15 times while I did various things to try to get close enough to snap him to the glove. None of it worked. Sadly, I don't have the patience to sit back and simply wait, motionless, for the hour or three it would take for him to settle down and start eating. I can wait 10 or 15 minutes at best. Then I would do something that caused him to take umbrage and fly off. Then I'd have to find him again. Repeat.

After talking with my sharpy expert friend K1, I simply went home. That's just a few miles away. Instead of getting frustrated under a noonday sun, I spent the next five hours leisurely trying out a Filipino lunch buffet (not bad), reading the paper, cleaning the sharpy's giant hood, hanging out with Mr P, transplanting a tomato, answering some emails and playing a couple Flash games.

At 5 pm I took my lure and telemetry and went out there. Found him within minutes less than a hundred yards from where I left him. He came straight to the lure like nothing exceptional had happened. Perhaps foolishly, I got the sense he missed me. Even though I'm his sibling out to steal his food (which is why he carries to begin with), I am also the constant in his life.