Thursday, February 28, 2008

Things we lose, things we gain

A successful hunt yesterday. I was watching Maxine and Anya work one in a line of brushpiles leading to the edge of the field, where Stekoa was perched high in a cottonwood tree. The bunny we were searching for apparently snuck out the back door, but unfortunately for him, his intended escape route took him directly beneath the hawk. Stekoa plunged straight down and hit the rabbit like a cinder block.

The hunt over, I followed the usual procedures: Fed the hawk, snacked the dogs, loaded everyone back in the Subaru, field-dressed the rabbit, offered my thanks to the powers that be, and drove home. But as I changed out of my muddy brush jeans, I noticed that my pocketknife—the one I had used to clean the rabbit—was missing.

It's not an expensive knife, in fact just a "gimme" from work, but I'm used to carrying it and it's usually the first one I reach for. So, although I hadn't planned to get out today—I've allowed Stekoa's weight to spiral out of control; he was already overweight yesterday, and then I had to reward him for catching the rabbit—I drove through the drizzle back to the field, well south of Lincoln, to find my knife.

It's odd how a spot remembered as being distinctive—a certain patch of tallgrass between plum thickets, just off the mowed verge of the access road—can expand to encompass so much more ground just a day later. Even knowing exactly where my car had been parked, and working from there, I couldn't find the precise spot where I had knelt to clean the rabbit. The gutpile had already been scavenged, by a coyote probably, and the wood-handled knife (if still there) blended in too perfectly with the brown grass and other vegetation. Lost for good, most likely.

A wasted trip? Not at all. I hadn't planned on getting out, remember, and if not for my fruitless search for the knife I wouldn't have been there when the snow geese arrived. Wave after wave, transiting overhead for a good fifteen minutes, thousands or maybe tens of thousands of geese overall. Their high-pitched barking is somewhat less musical than the sonorous honk of the Canadas, but in some ways more of a treat, since we're fortunate enough (I know not all my neighbors see it this way) to have Canada geese year-round. The arrival of the snow geese twice each year is an occasion. The pocketknife merits a disappointed shrug: easy come, easy go. Days like this, the waves of geese—unless Alzheimer's gets me—are mine forever.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

p. 123 game

Here are the rules, as my neighbors in blogspace are playing:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I'm going to change the rules just slightly, with the following justifications:
  • No one has officially tagged me.
  • This is still a baby blog; I may or may not have five readers. No idea who's dropping by or how often.
  • One book???

So instead of tagging five people, I will tag five books. The first is, in keeping with the original rules, the closest book to my computer. The others will be recently read or consulted books from around the house.

Its double coat is composed of a soft, dense undercoat and a straight, hard overcoat, somewhat longer on the tail, and usually colored red. Other acceptable colors are sesame, red sesame, black sesame, black and tan, white, and light red. The white markings on the muzzle are a characteristic of this breed.

—Toyoharu Kojima, Legacy of the Dog: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide. The dog referred to is the shiba inu or "little brushwood dog", a breed most popular as a pet (an estimated eighty percent of the dogs in Japan are shibas) but still occasionally used for its original purpose as a hunting (and hawking) dog. Originally from Nagano province, shibas are also known as yamadashi no inu or "dog for the mountains". [Yoji Hagiya and I collaborated on an article about Japanese hawking several years ago, so I was glad to see a familiar dog on p. 123!]

Moving from my office to the rec room, but sticking with dogs...

A note on leg humping and "showing lipstick": These two activities will definitely embarrass your owner, but they are strictly last-resort techniques because you'll undoubtedly embarrass yourself in the process. There is a time and place for both leg humping and badly timed erections, but if your goal is to look smarter than your owner, stick with the techniques listed above.

—From "How to Make Your Owner Look Like an Idiot", in The Dangerous Book for Dogs by Rex & Sparky. We already had The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls, so how could we pass this up? And, by the way, have I mentioned how glad I am to have two female dachshunds?

Upstairs now, from room to room...

Notable collections in the American Museum of Natural History and the Heye Foundation in New York have been transferred to the new National Museum of the American Indian. Senator Barry Goldwater was known for his collection.
Kachinas of all sizes and shapes dance their way through paintings and other art forms, including jewelry, ceramics, and crafts too numerous to describe.

—Kathleen Cain, describing one of the many Native uses of cottonwoods in The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion.

The cover featured the now-famous illustration of Chief Joseph, for whom one of the company's most famous designs is named, arrayed in a Pendleton Indian robe. Even though Chief Joseph is the most famous Indian leader associated with the Pendleton Mills, photographs of Umapine also appear on the company's promotional material, sometimes in a full-color portrait, and others (notably the 1927 catalog) in silhouette. In fact, the image of Umapine became something of a visual trademark for the Pendleton company.

Language of the Robe: American Indian Trade Blankets, by Robert W. Kapoun with Charles J. Lohrmann.

I wondered what she had felt like, lying on her face in the corn stubble knowing that death was out there in the blackness and that her only chance was to remain absolutely still until dawn. Now, with Jake and I near, and the pheasant illuminated by the flashlight, she began to eat very much like normal. But I looked closely.

—From my favourite book, The Rites of Autumn by Dan O'Brien. His peregrine, Dolly, had killed a pheasant at dusk and then been spooked by a great horned owl. This episode happened out around Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Oshkosh, Nebraska. The refuge and the ranchland surrounding it comprise some of the most beautiful shortgrass prairie you'd ever want to see, complete with long-billed curlews, ferruginous hawks, sharp-tailed grouse... Just go if you ever have the chance and see for yourself. But don't tell anybody else, okay?

I should really get back to work now, but I invite anyone reading this to play. You can use the original rules, my rules, or whatever modification works for you. Enjoy what you find!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A quiet week

I've been too busy to blog...and may stay busy for another week or so with editorial duties. Hawking continues, but a good day afield doesn't necessarily translate to a good story. Meanwhile, I see my mouse-and-vole post has attracted no attention (or at least no comments) whatsoever. And that's fine. Any falconer who reads this knows some days are just like that. And non-falconers have no particular reason to care.

Actually, falconers sometimes have reason to be grateful for the apathy of the outside world. The alternative is often hostility, scorn, or at least disbelief of the things we care about:

Ye ryse before day, and sodeinly run out of the doores, as though thine enimies were at the threshold, and all the day after ye run about the pondes and waters, woodes, and bushes, filling the ayre with sundry outcries and evil favoured houlings. And in this pastime ye spende your breath, which is meet for some greater matter; with whiche spirit your forefathers made their enimies afearde in battayle, and in peace mainteyned iustice. At nyght when ye come home, as though ye had achieved some great enterprice, ye syt within doores, declaring how well that byrde flue, and how well this byrde hath endued his meate: How many feathers of the trayne, and how many of the winges are remaining or lost. Is not this all your skyll? Is not this your love? Is not this your felicitie? And is not this al whiche ye requite to God your Creator, to your countrey that bredde you, to your parentes that begate you, to your friends that love you, to wit, your Sparhawkes, or your ernshawes [herons?] skimming in the ayre, and some piece of a torn foule, and swet, and dust, and your nyghtly storie of your lost daie? Unto this ye be always valiaent and unweeried, and unto earnest business, weake and daintie.

—Francis Petrarch, "Reason's answer to Joy". Thomas Twyne translation, 1579. I ran across this in Nick Fox's Classical Falconry. And yes, this be my love, my felicity, and all my skill.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Caught five! Fine print below

My hawking has suffered since the NFA meet a couple of weekends ago. I was laid up for nearly a week with a bad cold, and missed several more days staying home with Ellie when she in turn got sick. Additionally, Maxine was sidelined with some sort of neck or back strain, leaving only Anya to help me find rabbits on the few days we were able to venture afield.

Yesterday marked the return of the full team: Stekoa, Maxine, Anya, and myself. Naturally, I had high hopes, and the hunt started off fine. We got a couple of nice rabbit flights along the edge of a spot I call "Fangorn Forest": a dense planting of cedars surrounded by more open habitat. Fangorn has no undergrowth in the usual sense, as it is too dark under the canopy for grass or shrubs to grow, but the gnarly tangle of interlocking branches make it a formidable obstacle. Rabbits easily run through it, and the dachshunds can run in after them, but Stekoa can only follow from above until a rabbit breaks into the open. I can enter only stooped or crawling, and with great difficulty in either case; when I emerge, I'm usually scratched and bleeding, but grateful not to have lost an eye.

The best flight started with Stekoa perched high at the very edge of Fangorn, facing directly toward me. I flushed a rabbit only twenty feet or so from Fangorn, and naturally it ran straight toward the promise of safety—which also happened to be straight at the hawk. He launched toward me, immediately did a wingover into a vertical stoop, rotating 180 degrees as he went, and leveled off to follow the rabbit under the tree he had just left. I thought for a split-second he might have grabbed it, but the rabbit continued into the depths of Fangorn with the dogs on its trail, leaving Stekoa and me standing on the outside listening to the fading sounds of the chase.

We resumed our hunt—Stekoa flying up and over Fangorn, I making my way laboriously through to the other side—but things fell apart soon afterward. The cedar-dotted tallgrass area on the other side was alive with small rodents; in just a few minutes, Stekoa caught at least four voles and a mouse—the gamehawking equivalent of filling up on bread. When it became clear he had lost interest in following the dachshunds and me, I did the only thing I could: called him down to the fist and called it a day.

Here's an article on mice and voles I wrote several years ago for the Nebraska hawking journal. [By the way, if you want to get back here, use the "back" button on your browser; the "Go back" link at the bottom of the article will take you to the main Flatwater page.] Enjoy...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dogsledding, January '08

For a recent anniversary, my wife Susan treated us to a "family adventure weekend" at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. One of the highlights, for me at least, was an afternoon of dogsledding.

I have a bookshelf (well, half a bookshelf anyway) of books on sled dogs and dogsledding, and follow the bigger races via Internet in a casual way, but until last month everything I knew about the sport was vicarious. (Now only about 95% of what I know is vicarious. It's an improvement...) After years of anticipation, the experience did not disappoint.

I could easily become a hardcore musher, except for the fact that I'm already a hardcore falconer. The two activities would be difficult to reconcile. Let me save several paragraphs of exposition and boil it down to the essentials: Time, space, and money, none of which are over-abundant as it is. Vicarious dogsledding and the occasional tourist weekend will have to do until I win the Powerball. (And since I never buy a ticket...)

I suspect, though, that falconers and serious mushers have a lot in common. The most immediately obvious similarity is the tendency toward what is often termed obsession but is really just true dedication. Dogs or hawks take precedence over life’s other priorities: Homes are chosen, jobs are taken (or not taken), vehicles are selected, all based on their compatibility with the animals. Serious mushers, like good falconers, are not hobbyists.

Mushers also share a bit of the true falconer’s disdain for “pet-keepers”, although they can afford to be less militant. Dogs, of course, are domestic animals, so the ethics of keeping them from fulfilling their natural role are different. Still, it is obvious from observing the dogs that they are happiest when they are running and pulling as they were bred to do. (This point is lost on most animal-rights activists, who tend to have little understanding of real animals. AR people may object to a dog being harnessed and “forced” to pull a sled, but it is clear that sled dogs feel more abused when they are left behind.)

On to some pictures (Susan took most of these, by the way):

Peter McClelland [below, with two of his dogs] of White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures was trained as a naturalist, but makes his living as a dogsledding outfitter. He also races competitively—he finished 10th in the '08 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon down in Duluth.

He keeps about a hundred dogs [dog yard pictured below], all Alaskan huskies. I'd hate to think too hard about his food bill...

The Alaskan husky is not a kennel-club recognized breed, but a mix in which Siberian husky (or occasionally Alaskan malamute) blood predominates; the balance can be almost anything else, and Alaskan huskies vary tremendously. Which is not to say that their breeding is haphazard: breeders in villages throughout interior Alaska, northern Minnesota, and other racing "hotbeds" (can I use that word for some of the coldest places you'd ever want to visit?) carefully select for speed and endurance. These are the dogs that predominate in long-distance races such as the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. (Some racers refer to pure Sibes as "Slowberians".) Several of Peter's dogs, in fact, are Iditarod veterans. I forgot to ask, but I suspect that many of his black-and-white dogs are part border collie.

[Mark and dogs.]

White Wilderness is not a "hop off the bus, hop on the sled" operation. Under Peter's supervision, we led the dogs from the yard, harnessed them, and put them in team.

[Top to bottom:
  • Ellie and instructor Heidi harnessing a dog. (This is Buttercup, says Ellie. I noticed a couple other Princess Bride names, including Fezzik and Inigo.)
  • Ellie grabs the neckline while IWC information services director Jess Edberg holds a dog
  • Neckline attached, Ellie looks for the tugline
  • All done!]

[More harnessing: Susan (not that you can tell) in top picture, Ellie and friend Matt below]

Finally, we hit the trail. The dogs, so noisy in the yard and while idling in harness, fell silent as soon as they got to work. In the quiet of the woods, the only sounds (apart from voice commands, used sparingly) were the hiss of the runners on good snow and the occasional call of ravens.

Ellie rode in the basket of Heidi's sled for a while, but later took command of the team herself.

Susan generously let me run the whole distance while she took pictures from the basket.

[Top to bottom:

  • If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes
  • Two teams crossing a frozen lake
  • Another team on the trail. I love these shots!]

Ten miles is a pretty short run for the dogs, but at the same time a pretty good workout for me, since I spent much of it running uphill with one hand on the sled. (The dogs are in much better shape.) Tired as I was, it was over much too soon. A transcendent high, a let-down...this is how addictions begin!

[Ellie's team at the finish.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stirred-up passions

Yesterday was a crucial day for U.S. falconers, the deadline for comments on the Fish and Wildlife Service's plan for a take of passage peregrines. I would like to think that all American falconers took the time to comment on the plan, but history indicates that is unlikely. Everlasting shame on those who shirked this duty/opportunity.

Falconry, as King James I (yes, the same James who commissioned the KJV) observed centuries ago, is "an extreme stirrer-up of passions". Partly for that reason, falconers have always asked that management decisions be made on an objective, scientific basis. In this case, the science is firmly on our side. By taking a conservative approach every step of the way, FWS came up with a bulletproof argument for the sustainability of passage peregrine take. In one respect, it's the ideal compromise: No one will be completely satisfied with the eventual result. Falconers will clamor (with some justification) for more liberal take limits, while the "antis" will be appalled if even one peregrine is taken from the wild—never mind that peregrine populations are secure and that an individual bird's chances for survival improve dramatically under a falconer's care.

I've been privileged to see several letters sent in by falconers (only a few of whom, incidentally, have plans to fly passage peregrines themselves) and their supporters, and I'm struck—not necessarily surprised, but struck—by the degree to which they go beyond the strictly objective and scientific to include the human and emotional. (See King James again.) I'm impressed with the everyday eloquence of these letters, and thought I'd share a few excerpts from my favorites:

Tony Huston, a well-known falconer and bibliophile, sets the tone here:

The literature of falconry going back to the 13th century is full of the most eloquent descriptions of the superior skills of the passage falcon over those that have been raised in captivity. I realize that, by speaking this way, I am going outside the normal strictly-scientific approach—but you will receive a host of letters in that vein and I don't want to repeat the same stuff ad nauseam!

Instead I will try to give you a sense of what, for me personally, is at stake. Falconry has been the passion of my life, my refuge from all that is stale, boring, monotonous about human existence. Like any vocation, the deeper I have gone into it, the deeper I want to go. If I were a skier, it would be the progression from green runs, to blue, to black, to taking helicopters to the tops of uncharted mountains. Well, the passage peregrine falcon is the mountain that has been forbidden to me—for the soundest of reasons—for almost my entire falconry career. But now those reasons have gone, and I would like to have the poetry of this experience before I am too old or infirm to fully enjoy it and do it justice.

I speak to you not as a bureaucrat but as a fellow human being. Imagine being given the possibility of being able to do the thing that you most love and then some—to play a round of golf at St. Andrews with Tiger Woods, to have a private dinner with your favorite movie star, to fish for marlin with Ernest Hemingway....and you get some idea what being able to take a passage peregrine means to me.

Please, let your objective decision be influenced by the statistics and biological data, but realize that, in the grander scheme, what you are doing is allowing one of the most conscientious and dedicated groups on the planet to fulfill the spiritual ambition of a lifetime, one that will have no negative effect on the wild population of the creature we love most and may even benefit it.

Matt Mullenix over at Querencia, addressing FWS staff:

Many thanks to you and to all those who've worked hard to bring the prospect of a migrant peregrine take to the table. You have done so without the falconer's passion (though some among you were and are falconers) but rather on the strength of the best scientific understanding, and for this reason your effort is more sound and more worthwhile.
I have been a licensed US falconer for more than 20 years and have never flown a peregrine. For me, the bird has always been an icon of a past age and a vague dream of the future. Although I am unlikely to fly a peregrine (passage or otherwise) in the near term, several excellent falconers I know would love such an opportunity and would certainly make the most of it. It would be right and good for them to have that opportunity so long as the peregrine remains in sufficient numbers to allow it.

My good friend and fellow Nebraskan Donna Vorce:

Here it is in a nutshell:

The now recovered resource (peregrines) was banked, in the dry years, by falconers. They learned the techniques of breeding and other husbandry skills when peregrines weren't an environmental poster child and when there was no political gain or agenda. The burdens of time and money were cheerfully shouldered (merely!) for the love of the peregrine. It astounded this body of falconers that these birds and other raptors populations were crashing and falconers reacted by learning the necessary skills to keep these birds from possible extinction.

To deny this resource now to falconers would defy logic. I submitted other comments last year when asked, to this body of USF&WS noting this: That perhaps many of the anti-peregrine [take] people are simply unaware of the relationship between peregrines and falconers. Hence, I don't feel much of the frustration or anger others feel toward this group of well-meaning people. I feel that education is the answer to their feelings against the use of the resource by falconers. They need to know with certain confidence that we might not have peregrines today without those early falconers!

My dad, Paul Churchill:

I am pleased to hear that FWS is considering a proposal to allow peregrine falcons to be trapped on passage for use in falconry by highly qualified and trained individuals. Although not a falconer myself, I have a son who has had a deep interest in that field for several years and has successfully captured and worked with several species. Therefore I have followed with keen interest news of peregrines since my son participated in the last release of peregrine young in Colorado [actually, it was Montana] a few years ago under the aegis of The Peregrine Fund.

Now that the peregrine is off the endangered species list and is increasing its number, I am heartened by the possibility that my son and people of like interest and enthusiasm may have to opportunity to work with this magnificent animal, to teach and to be taught. The fact is that birds who are captured, spend a period of time in a partner-like relationship with a qualified falconer, and are later released actually have a better shot at a prolonged existence, and therefore of reaching the age when they can reproduce.

I urge the FWS to act favorably on the proposal and approve the plan to allow capture of peregrines during migration by trained, qualified and caring individuals.

Those were my favorites. Finally, an excerpt from my own letter, just for completeness' sake:

To end on a more personal note, I would like to write briefly about what the passage peregrine means. Some commenters are bound to note that falconers have access to large numbers of captive-bred peregrines, and more recently to limited numbers of nestling peregrines taken from wild eyries in the western United States. What these commenters may not know, or may not care about, is that these birds, however wonderful, are not the same thing.

Furthermore, the falconers I know are the finest people one could wish to meet: ethical, conscientious, enthusiastic, fully engaged with the natural world in a way that would seem alien to most Americans of this generation. Some of these individuals put their hearts and souls, along with more tangible resources like time and money, into peregrine recovery—beginning in the 1970s when there was no guarantee it would work. Compared with theirs, my contributions were minimal, might even be disparaged as jumping on the bandwagon at the last minute. But falconers as a group have worked, and waited, for this moment for decades.

The point I'm trying to make is that peregrines recovered largely because falconers, with the assistance of other entities including the FWS, made it happen. We should be allowed to renew our long, mutually beneficial hands-on relationship with the birds of our dreams, and in some cases our fondest memories: passage peregrines. Let our history resume where it left off. It is not only biologically feasible, it is simply the right thing to do.

[Thanks to Matt for starting this topic at Querencia. The excerpts from his and Tony's letters, as well as the concept, were borrowed shamelessly but with malice toward none.]

Friday, February 8, 2008

Snowshoe hare blanket

Jacquard wool blankets appeal to my interests in art, Native culture, and staying warm in the winter. My favorites have always been traditional Pendleton blankets, but recently I've discovered some nice designs from Faribault Woolen Mills in Minnesota. This one I had to have:

The coloration is slightly more subdued than the picture would indicate. The end stripes are a stonewashed-denim blue, providing a nice background for the stars/snowflakes. The grey is also a bit lighter, resulting in a more subtle contrast between the summer and winter hares.

I hunt cottontails, not snowshoe hares, but still... You gotta love a bunny blanket if you're a bunny hawker.

Honor the quarry. Always.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

NFA field meet, February '08—more photos

These pictures courtesy of Anita Johnson.

First, a few of the always-photogenic aplomado falcon—again, this is Jim's bird, Penny.


Next, a few of the dachshunds.

"The better to see you, my dear"—Maxine wearing her vest and a serious expression.

"Get a long little doggie"—Anya.

Anya on the move.


Finally, a couple of Stekoa.


...and after.

Monday, February 4, 2008

NFA field meet, February '08

I spent this past weekend at the Nebraska Falconers' Association field meet in the Nebraska Sandhills. A few of us drove up from Lincoln and Grand Island on Saturday, through "Little Poland". This area, including the towns of Farwell, Ashton, and Loup City along Highway 92, was originally settled by Polish immigrants, as one can confirm by reading the mailboxes along the road or by checking the local telephone listings. It's a beautiful area, and I can only assume that it reminded the communities' founders of the old country.

We hawked rabbits in the switchgrass-covered hills surrounding Davis Creek Reservoir, one of my favorite spots for its abundant game and stunning scenery. Mike Cox's Harris' hawk, Hannibal, chased a cottontail behind some cedars; we missed seeing the end of the flight but heard the squeal signifying success. Mike tried for a second rabbit, but Hannibal shut down after catching a large vole.

My redtail, Stekoa, also took a cottontail. Most of our bunnies are found by my second-year dachshund, Maxine, but this time her younger "sibling" Anya hit a hot scent, yipped, and started running up a game trail; seconds later, Stekoa launched in that direction, did a nice "tipover" (as opposed to a wingover) into the switchgrass, and bound to the rabbit. Score an assist for the puppy!

Saturday morning was devoted to longwinging. Eric & Anita Johnson guided us to a field where prairie chickens are known to feed in the morning, and after a bit of waiting the birds appeared. Jim Ingram's peregrine, Lucy, took a nice pitch and stooped hard into the flock after we ran in to flush. We couldn't tell if she made contact with any of the "ironbacks"—these birds can take a hit and still keep going—but if she missed it was close.

[Lucy coming in to the lure: Photo by Mitchell Renteria.]

We also tried to find a slip for Jim's Peruvian aplomado falcon, Penny, but couldn't find any quail. We did find scattered feathers where an avian predator, probably a prairie falcon, had killed a female prairie chicken. Eric noted that only prairie falcons and gyrfalcons are likely to kill chickens this late in the season; I might add great horned owls to that list, but the point remains that winter chickens are tough birds indeed. [Left to right: opposite primary feathers, breast feathers, tail feathers. Note the barring on the tail feathers; a cock's would still have the white tip but otherwise be plain black.]

Later we found other kill sites, including sharp-tailed grouse, bluebird, blue jay, and rabbit. Based on location and other clues, the likeliest predators were another prairie falcon for the sharptail, a merlin for the bluebird, a Cooper's hawk or possibly a sharpshin for the jay, and a coyote for the rabbit. These finds are a vivid reminder that there's a lot of living and dying going on out in God's country, most of it unseen by humans.
We also had a good deer sighting while Jim was off in search of his wayward Brittany:

They came out of a draw, heading straight for us. ("They're flocking this way." I was glad when Mitchell, who took these shots, got the Jurassic Park reference.) We were crouched with the breeze full in our faces, and only the click and whirr of the camera caused them to alter course.
Stekoa flew again Saturday afternoon, taking two rabbits in twenty minutes at an abandoned homestead west of Taylor. He dragged the first one under a rusty satellite dish. To my comment, "Wilderness hawking at its finest," Eric pointed out that cottontails prefer the suburbs anyway. Most of the rabbits I've caught in the Sandhills were found in similar situations, amidst deteriorating buildings, ancient farm equipment, and assorted debris. Shelter is where you find it...
Meanwhile, another party led by Mike Cox and Karl Linderholm flew Harris' hawks at Calamus Reservoir. Both Hannibal and his sister Clarice, flown by Karl, took rabbits there.
On Sunday morning, we flew Eric's hybrid falcon at sharptails. River is a gyr x peregrine cross, but her appearance leans toward the gyrfalcon side—in fact, to my inexpert eye, what she looks like is a saker. She tends to take her time going up, which drives Eric to distraction, but once she gained her pitch we quit sneaking behind the hills and ran in on the grouse. They flushed, River stooped and disappeared behind a hill; we waited for her to remount, but she stayed out of sight, leading us to believe she'd killed one of the sharptails. In fact, she'd missed and flown low to the ground back to our original position; using telemetry, we found her about forty yards from where the flight had started. Again, no grouse in the bag, but a good flight. We also saw a gorgeous white-tailed jackrabbit; the enormous hare ran at least a quarter-mile before disappearing over the horizon, and probably wasn't even breathing hard.
For the rest of the morning and into Sunday afternoon, the quarry failed to cooperate. We were unable to get a slip for Lucy, as the prairie chickens evidently were not feeding on this warm morning. And while Mike and Karl's party had seen bobwhites at Calamus Reservoir on Saturday, we were unable to locate the quail and so Penny went unserved again (unless you count a brief chase on a rabbit).
[Jim & Penny: Photo by Mitchell.]

The wind increased through Sunday afternoon, so Eric & Anita decided against flying River and her brother, Riddick. Mike and Karl having departed for Davis Creek Reservoir and then home, the last bird flown was Stekoa. We found a few rabbits back at the old homestead, but not nearly as many: The combination of Saturday's hunting pressure and Sunday's wind, we believe, put most of them to ground. Stekoa did make a terrific downwind flight on a huge (3 to 4 pound) cottontail; he bound to it and seemed to have it under control, but when I made in, it kicked Stekoa off and eluded my diving grab. Oh, well. Three rabbits in three days is more than enough for us.
Beautiful country, mostly cooperative weather, good opportunities at game, and the company of good friends: All in all, a great weekend!