Wednesday, December 6, 2017


The last day of the NAFA meet promised to be warm and windy (gusts up to 50 mph), so we left Stekoa in his box and Maxine and Anya in the hotel room. Jess and I had received an invitation for something out of our usual routine, in any case...

Chris Remmenga was hosting Minnesota falconer Chase Delles and his golden eagle, Dexter. Chris, who lives near Kearney, has cultivated excellent relations with local landowners and was confident he could provide Dexter with slips at black-tailed jackrabbits.

[Chase and Dexter.]

[Chris, our guide.]

Chris and Chase were good field marshals, and though some of the non-falconers occasionally struggled to keep a straight, evenly-spaced line, we were soon flushing hares.

[A jackrabbit, having evaded the eagle, runs back toward the line.]

The blacktails, naturally, used the wind to their advantage, and the first several slips were unsuccessful. We soon re-grouped with a view toward producing some cross-wind slips, and shortly thereafter Dexter had his first kill—a cottontail.

The rabbit was a good start, but we had bigger game in mind, and Dexter was more than willing. He's accustomed to taking multiple head in the course of a day; fist response was excellent (Chase called him to the fist dozens of times in the course of the hunt), and eagle and trainer clearly have a comfortable working relationship, as evidenced by Dexter's willingness to feak on Chase's hand.

Open-field hare hawking is decidedly a group effort; we had a field of approximately fifteen people, but I will note for the record that Jessica flushed and called the first jackrabbit taken, and I the third and final one. Dexter was an astonishingly good footer; more blacktails escaped than were taken, but none got away once contact was made.

[Large and in charge.]

This is, to a certain extent, golden eagle country—we noted a wild one working one of the fields we had already covered—but it was a treat to hunt with such a capable and well-mannered eagle. He certainly looked good in the landscape...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Jess and I picnicked Thanksgiving afternoon at a prairie dog town south of Kearney. Some of their holes were simply holes; others, the ones used for sentry duty, looked like little Vesuvii on the prairie.

The prairie dogs themselves kept mostly out of sight, but their usual paths of travel were readily discernible in the grass.

These were the only well-beaten paths; in an hour and a half, only one vehicle passed nearby. No complaints from us; we enjoyed the quiet and solitude as much as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine, and the sausage, cheese, dates, and apple cider that were our Thanksgiving dinner.

Had we had more time, we might have hidden under the only nearby tree, a red cedar, and waited for photos of the town's residents; as it was, there was hawking to be done, so we took our leave and presumably the colony returned to its normal routine under the Nebraska sky. (A sky that from time to time brings golden eagles and ferruginous hawks, so being underground is part of the routine, too, I suppose.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A week of hawks and dogs

I took some much-needed time off over Thanksgiving week—the occasion was the North American Falconers' Association field meet in Kearney, but as with the last time NAFA was in Nebraska, I actually split my time between Kearney and more familiar fields close to Lincoln. Still, it was good to focus on hawking for an entire week.

Stekoa did well, taking a couple of cottontails in addition to a mouse and, a first for us, a wood rat (a.k.a. pack rat). And the dogs clearly loved the combination of time afield and luxurious accommodations.

Some photos by Jessa by way of illustration:

Anya in the car, atop the cooler.

Maxine in the field, attentive as ever. Not to me, necessarily, but to the possibility that Stekoa might drop something edible.

Stekoa about to launch.

One of the places we hawked, on the south shore of Harlan Lake not far from the Kansas line.

Stekoa finishes off his wood rat.

The lap of luxury: Anya settles for a towel on the washroom floor, while Maxie considers ringing room service for more pillows.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Too personal

On seeing a kayak at the farm store:

J: "Why would they sell kayaks at the farm store?"

M: "The same reason they sell kayaks anywhere else, for boating. It's a one-person boat. A personal boat, you might say. [Faltering.] A one-personal boat."

J: "How about a tandem kayak? Would that be two-personal?"

M: "No, we can talk about that."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Mule deer near Van Tassel, Wyoming. Photos by Jessa.

Is it just me, or do muleys look like kangaroos from the neck up, especially in profile? They're ecological equivalents, anyway. Gorgeous critters...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Keep your fish

Our recent trip to the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska was not primarily a fishing trip...but to the extent that it was a fishing trip, the Pine Ridge, with its skinny water and hyper-spooky fish, left me soundly defeated.

The draw here, apart from stunning scenery, is salmonid diversity not available elsewhere in Nebraska. Rainbows and brown trout can be found in other waters, but for cutts and brookies, the Pine Ridge is the only destination.

Soldier Creek was going to be my primary spot, but the section I happened upon was largely choked with cattails. The few open stretches were narrow enough to step across, but only if one could manage to negotiate the steep, heavily vegetated banks without falling in. Not counting trees and bushes, of which I hooked plenty, I got one strike (and no hookup) in an hour or two of trying.

The White River was much more conducive to casting, a beautiful stream with clear banks and no overhead cover, just blue western skies and towering sandstone bluffs. Unfortunately, fish were few and far between, and no takers among them.

I had access to a very short stretch of Sowbelly Creek, a tiny sluice with one pool, where five or six brookies lay finning in gin-clear water. The moment I spotted them, they spotted me, and that was more or less the ballgame.

Because it was closest to our lodgings, and because intermittent reinforcement is a powerful motivator (I hadn't forgot that single tantalising strike), on our last morning I rose before the sun to have another go at Soldier Creek. I did find better water, but that's as far as my luck extended.

Jess reminded me that I've caught four indisputably wild trout this year, and assured me that given adequate time I would figure out these streams. And whatever frustration I experienced at least took place in glorious weather amidst some of the most striking scenery Nebraska has to offer. Still, it helped that we stopped at Grabel Pond, over by the old Red Cloud Agency, before leaving Fort Robinson. Catching and releasing a bunch of rainbows was a salve for my confidence.

And really, who really needs brook trout in their extravagant autumn colours? What's so special about a silvery cutthroat pulled from a coldwater creek, anyway? You can keep your fancy fish, Pine Ridge. I just have one question...

May I please come back next year?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Horses of Fort Robinson

I'm not certain if the horses at Fort Robinson State Park are descended from Army horses, Indian ponies, or ranch stock. I'm not even sure it makes sense to ask the question; it seems likely that they are a mix of all three, that such distinctions may not even be grounded in reality, as those boundaries may have been fluid for individual ancestor horses.

What does seem clear is that this is a fine place to be a horse. Watching the herd in this landscape, I was reminded of two quotes from Dan O'Brien's novel The Contract Surgeon. O'Brien is a man who knows and loves both horses and this country, and Fort Robinson is the primary setting for the book.

The first: "To a horse the Great Plains must seem an endless, luscious banquet, a land of equine dreams that touches his two dearest desires: his need to eat sweet, fresh grass and his passion for unfettered movement." And it is true that the horses here have good grazing and plenty of space.

But the second passage resonates even more strongly, when I consider a life lived completely in the elements...endless sun, wind, rain...sometimes to be endured, sometimes to be reveled in. O'Brien evokes "a climate that renders you powerless, punishes you at will, yet nourishes you by supplying what you need in doses small enough to make you grateful."

A damn fine place to be a horse.

[Photos by Jessa and Mark Farrell-Churchill.]