My good friend Karl Linderholm has already cut the bells off his female Harris' hawk, Clarice. She caught a pregnant rabbit a couple of days ago, which traditionally marks the end of Karl's season: We don't like catching pregnant rabbits any more than a farmer enjoys eating his seed corn. The third member of the Lincoln hawking trio, Mike Cox, will probably put Clarice's brother Hannibal up to moult soon as well.
Meanwhile, out in the Sandhills, Anita Johnson's tiercel gyr x peregrine hybrid, Riddick, finally caught his first sharp-tailed grouse. AJ has struggled with this bird: Although he started chasing sharps and prairie chickens early on, they are very difficult to bring to bag. Falconers usually take this in stride—the first season with an eyas longwing is essentially an extended training session, the foundation for future hunts—but some hawks can become frustrated by repeated failure. Riddick also had trouble keeping weight on, which affected his strength and climbing ability; AJ joked that he was afraid of heights—not something you'd want in a grouse hawk. But a few days ago, everything went right. A small flock of lekking sharptails flushed cleanly with Riddick waiting on high above, and he took one in good style.
[Photos courtesy of Eric & Anita Johnson:
- The flush
- Well-fed hawk and grinning falconer]
Anita did the exact right thing: fed him a huge crop of grouse ("He can't see his feet anymore") and called it a season. This can be a difficult thing to do. After tasting success, we naturally want more. This is intermittent reinforcement, and it's a powerful motivator—we use it to train our birds, so you'd think we'd be aware of its power, but all too often we make bad decisions in pursuit of another random reward. Kudos to AJ for her wise decision to end on a high note. Riddick's confidence should be boosted, and he can relax in the mews for several months with the thought: "I just killed a grouse!"
I'm still looking for closure as the season straggles to a conclusion. Stekoa, the dachsies, and I will make at least a few more trips to the field. If I'm very fortunate, here's how things will go: Maxine and Anya will flush a rabbit, Stekoa will catch it. It will be a male; no harm done to next year's bunnies. I will feed Stekoa a huge crop of rabbit, feed the dogs some as well, and call it a season. Later, I will smoke a pipe and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the rabbits we caught this year. For all the mice and voles we caught this year. For all the pheasants we chased this year, even if we didn't catch any. For all the grouse I've seen chased, all the quail that flushed close enough to make me miss my sharpie, all the ducks and geese that make me dream of gyrs and peregrines in a season yet to come. For all my relations: mitakuye oyasin.