Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Shop Local: Poultry Farm Shop

This blog post combines two of my favorite things: Falconry and shopping in local farm shops!

It's perhaps not a post for vegetarians, but Kaya is not one of those and neither are we.

Our mentor showed me this farm shop in Neustetten, a tiny town about 18 km / 20 minutes from home. The big grocery store is just four minutes away by car. Is the drive worth it, with gas prices so high? 

ABSOLUTELY!!  (especially with our electric car...)

This is the shop connected to a chicken farm, and our mentor told us they slaughter on Mondays, which means on Tuesdays they have fresh chicken and chicken parts for sale. So whenever we're running low on tidbits for Kaya's training, I make a drive here on Tuesday morning. I buy two packs of Hühnermägen (chicken stomachs) and today I also picked up Hühnerherzen (chicken hearts).

Gross, you think? I beg your pardon! This is Swabia, where generations ago many people were poor. Nothing - or very little - from the animal, be it cow, pig or chicken, was wasted, and Innereien (offal, giblets) were turned into delicacies that are still enjoyed today. Ok, not by me, but when I told my Schwiegermutter what I'd bought this morning, she did not know if it was for Kaya or for us. A family friend has cooked Hühnermägen and according to her, M liked them when he was younger!

In fact I plan to get there within an hour of the shop opening, because I want to make sure they're not sold out of the giblets. Because the demand is perhaps not SO high, these bits are also not expensive. From one package I can get portions for 12 training sessions, and it only costs €2,50.

Hühnermägen rinsed and ready to be cut up for tidbits.
It's just meat, really.

This shop is not just about chickens. They sell fruits, vegetables, spices, fresh herbs, plants, flour, oil, canned and jarred goods, nuts, noodles, and today I saw traditional German Christmas treats like Zimtsterne, Lebkuchen and Schoko-Vanillekipferl

Later I spent half an hour cutting one package of Hühnermägen into tidbit pieces for training, and when we trained Kaya this afternoon she had fresh (not frozen-thawed) tidbits, which she must have enjoyed even more than usual.

At the end of training; she's still manteling
to let M know she'd happily take some more.

These local farm shops are one of the many reasons I love living where we do - basically out in the countryside. We will keep doing what we can to support these shops even though they're not as convenient as the big stores where all the goods arrive on delivery trucks from who-knows-where.

I bought more today than what Kaya needs, of course. I brought home some Hähnchenkeulen (drumsticks) to make Jamie Oliver's Hit-and-Run-Chicken, along with all the vegetables that go in it. Bananas, raspberries, and shelled walnuts topped off the items I snatched up. 

Their special for this week reflects another southern German tradition:

November 1st is Allerheiligen (All Saints' Day) and November 2nd is All Souls' Day. Allerheiligen is a stiller Feiertag here in the south, which means stores, schools and businesses are closed and people visit their relatives' graves, decorate them for the season, and light candles. The shop is offering Grabschmuck, or decorations and flowers most fitting for the pre-winter planting.

On the way home I stopped at another favorite family-owned shop - the bakery in our neighboring town. Fresh bread, rolls, croissants, and a sweet treat. Those were all for us humans, though. Kaya is all about the meat.

I wish you a happy end of October!

Friday, October 21, 2022

An Unexpected Bath

Today, after a Corona-Zwangspause (forced break due to my Corona infection) we finally went out crow hawking again. The drive to the meeting point, where I met Br and a new Jungfalknerin took 90 minutes, and both birds were finished within an hour! It was a successful morning, and after a such a long break I was relieved and proud of Kaya for getting her crow.

When out hawking you never know what you'll experience, and almost every time I come home with a tale to tell M (who has mercifully been spared Corona, despite my infection including symptoms and the two of us not really isolating from each other as we should have).

Kaya just after our Zwangspause, looking wistfully at crows
and wondering if we're ever going hunting again.

I'd arrived at our meeting point about 8 minutes late, and in the mean time Br and JF (Jungfalknerin) decided to take a round with Hekate and see what they could find. I got Kaya out of her travel box, attached her telemetry sender, showed her that it was raining, and put her back into her dry box to wait. About 20 minutes later I saw Br's car approaching the parking lot, disappear around the curve, and that was it. 5-6 minutes went by and they didn't appear. I'd seen another truck over there and thought maybe they'd run into trouble, when suddenly my phone rang. It was Br. Fifty meters from where I was waiting, Hekate had her prey!

Right, so she was done for the day because it was a special kill. And a muddy one!

So Hekate got a treat in her travel box and got to nibble while the three of us took Kaya out. 

We drove about and got a good look at the usual spots, spotted a murder of crows (did you know a group of crows is called "a murder"?) on a field in a good position, turned the corner, Kaya kept her cool, I launched her at just the right time, and BAMM! She had her crow, too! That was less than 30 minutes after we'd started.

Well done, Lass!

Check out my muddy boots!

I had to pluck her and her prize out of that muddy field and bring her over to the less-muddy road where she could fill herself up while I scraped off my boots. Since she's still learning she gets to enjoy her kill before we pack her up again, which means she gets to eat until she can't anymore.

The three of us enjoyed her success on top of Hekate's, chatted about all kinds of things in the rain, and when Kaya showed signs of slowing, traded her crow for a yummy thawed chick - which wasn't easy because her right claw was cramped into the crow. I put her soaking wet into the travel box with a drumstick and we returned to the parking lot.

The drive there (near Kehl in the Rhein valley) was relaxed but crappy because it was pitch dark most of the way, rainy, foggy, serpentiny, and the headlights of on-coming cars are blinding in those conditions. The drive back was much nicer, though it still rained the whole way. I stopped at the top of the Schwarzwald to take a photo of the beautiful scenery.


The fall colors really were quite beautiful, but of course not where I could easily stop. Kaya wanted to get home anyway.

When we got home I put a wing from her crow into the mews on the perch we call "the balance beam" but put her inside on her perch in the sun room to wait for M to return for lunch and to hopefully dry off a bit.

I don't know if she looks as wet as she is, 
but she is WET!

Here you see her Kropf (crop) full of crow -
the bulge under her throat.

I had her step on the scale out of curiosity, and she was 1100 grams - 200 grams more than she was when we set out this morning! That might be the most she's packed on in one day since we've had her. Not all falconers let their raptors fill up on their first crows, and while I see the sense of maintaining a more constant weight, this is how Br does it and we're ok with it, too. Kaya had a "diet day" yesterday, which raptors in the wild often have as well, albeit unplanned, but today she got to see that a successful hunt means a full belly (and crop)!

When I brought her into her mews, she quickly spied the wing on her perch and flew to it as if she were starving. But flying with a full Kropf is a little awkward, so she missed what she was aiming at and only caught the perch on the bottom, dangling there momentarily like a bat. She regained her footing, grabbed the wing, and then thought a moment where she wanted to take it. She always opts for one of the corners of the mews, so she jumped down. Again the full crop and the crow wing in her clenched fist caused her some trouble, and her flight to the ground was more of "falling without style" and she landed in her bathtub!

Good thing she spent 20 minutes drying off...

She's now standing on her waterlogged dessert, half manteling (because she can never be sure I don't want a bite of that deliciousness for myself) and likely confused. I backed up and assured her the dessert was hers alone, but I couldn't help snap a photo as I encouraged her to get out of the tub.

Then she dragged her dessert into the corner, gave me the side-eye again, and just sat there. She was likely too stuffed to really tuck in.


But she's been quiet in her mews for several hours, forcing out a squawk only now and then for heaven knows what reason. I was happy to see (on our surveillance camera) that she was able to fly back up to a corner perch and then over to her balance beam, which is under the roof. She's still there, doing extreme preening. It's surely going to take until at least tomorrow to get those feathers back in order. But it's not cold, and if we're in doubt later we can bring her inside to sleep where it's dry.

I think Kaya is proud of herself.
And she should be!

I am SO glad to be healthy again and back in action with Kaya. It's a long drive sometimes, but it's worth it because she needs that success. Going for walks and sitting on benches is nice and all, but she was hatched to hunt! And for a young bird, she's good at it.

Until next time...


Sunday, October 2, 2022

Hawks & Babies

Today I'm going to tell you why having a young raptor in your life is quite a bit like having a new baby. You can trust me; I've had them both.

As I sit here typing during an evening rainstorm - worrying about my dear girl, who was sitting, last I saw her before it got too dark to check on her, on the one perch in her mew which is not protected by anything, not even tree branches - I can tell you I'm wondering about pneumonia. Why the heck did she not fly to the perch under the roof while it was still light out?!? Should I go get her? Ok, it's not that cold, but I wouldn't want to be sitting out there in this. 

And absolutely, when I'm cold, I worry about her being cold. If I could put a sweater or rain jacket on her, I probably would.

So there's one of the similarities of being a new parent and being a "parent" to a hawk: You worry about them all the time. You've left them in someone's capable care (Kaya is safe in her mew when I'm gone) but the entire time you're away you wonder if they're really ok. You know they are and yet you worry anyway.

When they're squawking, you wonder what's wrong. Why is she screaming/crying? She's had a good meal, some exercise, a good poo, attention, a walk... She's sitting there on one leg and all floofed up - both signs of contentment for a hawk (less so for a baby) - so why is she still squawking??

indoors, on one foot, but squawking

Worse is when they're quiet. Why is she quiet all of a sudden? What's wrong? What's she doing? Should I check on her? If I do and she sees me, she'll scream again. Better to just enjoy the quiet. But why is she still quiet? She's still alive, right? (Visions of a dead hawk dance in my head as I imagine the guilt I'll feel for not having checked earlier.)

Perhaps she's quiet because she's
got something to think about.

And then there's their growth. Are they developing normally? Has she put on enough weight? Too much weight? What's the right weight? It's almost bedtime, but she seems hungry. Should I give her a snack or wait until tomorrow? 

Too chonky??
Naw, she's just all floofed up.

When she poos, I often take a quick look to make sure it's normal. I or we often have to clean it up inside because she shot a load right at the moment when we didn't have any protection like a towel ready - like a baby squirting in mid-diaper-change. And we have a load of poo towels (like cloth diapers) to wash once a week or so. 

It's still raining.

A brief flashback to Day 10: I was on a walk with Kaya and at one point she bated (threw herself off the glove for no apparent reason) and when she settled again I ran my hand down her back to settle her and...OMG! There's a lump! Only on her left side, I didn't feel the same on the right. M felt it and we came to the same conclusion - she'd injured herself! She wasn't acting hurt, she stood normally. But that lump! It felt like a bone sticking out. OMG.

I strode home and called our mentor, "Br". I tried to explain what I could feel, but my German comes out badly when I'm trying not to panic. She grabbed her birdy first aid kit and came right over. That was such a long 30 minutes! I'm thinking our dear bird is badly hurt, how could I let this happen, wondering how we'll live without her, speaking to her in soothing tones.

Br arrived, Kaya and I were sitting on our patio, Br ran a hand down Kaya's back and said, "This?
"Yes!" I'm choking back tears.
"Yeah, that's her elbow."

That boney lump can be felt any time Kaya has her wings folded in. I'd handled Hekate, Br's Harris, for an entire season but kept my hands respectfully off her. And apparently I hadn't thoroughly touched my own bird to know what is normal. Jeez... Since that day I have fondled and begrabscht her all over repeatedly so I now know what she feels like normally and will hopefully know when something's amiss - and when something isn't!

My weather app says the rain is abating. It is not.

Wonder what a wet hawk looks like?

That time she'd been in the rain while eating a big meal and didn't care she was getting wet. It was also warmer and during the day, so when she finished eating I brought her in to dry off. It took about 4 hours.

Another similarity to having a new baby is that your nice neat daily schedule, which ran your life for the last 10+ years, is history. Oh, you ate dinner every night at 19:00? You often cooked really good meals during the week and scoffed at those who scarfed down a pizza or some other quick meal? You prepared pretty healthy and balanced meals? You can kiss all that good-bye. The bird will stop screaming for a bit if you take her for a walk when "Dad" gets home at 18:00 (that's when you used to cook) and she "goes to bed" as it starts to get dark, which has been getting ever closer to 19:30. 

Oh, and neither hawks nor babies know about daylight savings time. So go ahead and change your clocks, but don't expect them to play along.

Kaya usually sleeps outside in her mew, but she often wakes up and starts calling around 6:00 even though it's still dark! I'm a light sleeper (was with my children as well) and at the first squawk I'm out of bed like a shot, slipping on my shoes and falconer glove, grabbing the keys to the mew and a head lamp and dashing out to get her, hoping the neighbors can fall back asleep again. I put her in her box in a dark room, and that usually buys us (and the neighbors) another hour. 

Those details are different with babies, but any mother and some fathers will recognize the whole "dashing out of bed at the first sound from the baby" thing. 

What about photos? Yes, we have hundreds and have only had Kaya for 2 months. Photos of her being silly, being serious, being curious, bathing, sleeping, drying off, on a kill, just sitting, with a full crop, and of course squawking - on the perch, on my arm, in the car, on a walk, in the house, on the porch, while training... I could write a Dr. Suess-like book about all the squawking she does.

Squawky McSquawkface

And then there's the coming home from wherever and wanting to touch base with her first, perhaps cuddle a bit, ask her how she's doing despite knowing she won't answer, wanting to check that everything is ok with her. I can check my emails later; first I want to see that she is ok. Sometimes that's just a peek through a cracked door hoping she won't see me and start squawking again, other times it's straight to the mew to get her out and do something with her.

She's doing Federpflege on me - 
fixing my bangs.

And finally, we thoroughly enjoy spending time with her! We love watching her develop, being a part of her (hunting) successes, helping her learn, laughing gently at her mistakes, praising her for good work. And we love it that she knows she's safe with us. When we're walking with her, she leans into us for shelter when it gets windy. She calms down when we assure her she doesn't need to fear the approaching dog or bicycle. And when she bates we just wait calmly while she gets back up onto the glove and pulls herself together.

She wants to be with us, too, and that's pretty cool.

Life will never be the same again.