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...