Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All wet

The Nebraska Falconers' Association autumn field meet was this past weekend, but Jessica and I missed most of it, rolling in well after dark on Saturday. What's more, we (inadvertently) left the camera at home, so we missed the opportunity to document what little hawking remained on Sunday morning.

The weekend, already somewhat odd, came to a bizzare close with Stekoa's turn. We flew in a small woodlot right across the road from the Schneidereits' little guest house; half an hour earlier, Daniel Parker's redtail had caught a rabbit (her first, although she had previously taken a fox squirrel and, improbably, a bluebird in flight!) in the same area. Evidently that was the only one above ground on this gusty day, for a half-dozen beaters and two dogs produced no other bunnies from the trees, and Stekoa seemed reluctant to follow us across the open, windswept landscape to another spot. So we worked an adjacent cattail marsh, releasing huge plumes of cattail fluff with every move, while Stekoa watched from the edge of the woods. He made several flights on voles, finally catching a large one and carrying it back to a sturdy limb.

Having eaten the vole, he watched us for a few moments, then launched from his perch overhead into a long slanting attack on unseen quarry, disappearing in the vicinity of a structure marked by two or three rusted steel arches which from a distance I took to be the framework of a now-defunct greenhouse. When I ran over, I found not a greenhouse but a cistern of stagnant water, perhaps thirty feet across and who knows how deep; the waterline was at least eight feet down the sheer concrete walls, and Stekoa floated amidst a carpet of duckweed which covered nearly the entire surface, while a vole ran around the rim just above waterline.

It was immediately apparent what had happened: the vole was evidently light enough to tread on the duckweed, which to Stekoa must have looked like a nice even lawn; expecting to pound the vole into the turf, he instead plunged into the chilly water. He was thoroughly soaked, his wet flight feathers little more than quillls incapable of generating lift, and coated liberally with tiny leaflets of duckweed.

I began to strip down, prepared to go in after the hawk, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and the party quickly began engineering a better solution. Several too-short limbs were brought over and discarded before someone fetched what was almost a tree in its own right; several of us lowered it down to Stekoa, he grabbed on, and we raised him up until I was able to coax him to the fist. While someone gathered up the gear and clothing I had left next to the cistern, another friend and I hurried over to the guesthouse and hosed Stekoa off, trading clean water for stagnant and rendering him somewhat less green.

I tried to feed Stekoa, but whether from shock or hypothermia, he was unable to balance well on the fist, so I returned him to his travel box, started the car and put on the heater; by the time we had packed and loaded, the interior was like a sauna. We stopped half an hour down the road to find him still quite wet but nicely recovered and with a good appetite; upon returning home, I moved his box in the house so he could dry thoroughly overnight. Fully recovered, I hope to fly him again tomorrow afternoon.

(Thanks to everyone involved in Stekoa's rescue—I know Donna, Eric & Anita, Daniel, and Rick all had a hand in it; if I've missed anyone, I hope the omission will be attributed to the chaos of the moment and my focus on Stekoa's immediate welfare.)


Phoenix Fire Falconry said...

Wow - this sport we practice never ceases to deliver heart-in-your-throat moments, whether from fantastic flights on quarry, or bizaare circumstances as a result of some of our hunts. Glad to hear your bird came out OK, and that you didn't have to take a muck bath. Yuck!

Mark Farrell-Churchill said...

Yeah, I was relieved about that my own self. Stekoa is fine, flying well and taking game whenever I have the time to get out, which isn't as often as I'd like, but that's life at the moment...

Mark Farrell-Churchill said...
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