Sunday, November 26, 2023

Hawk Diaries: Speaking of Horses!

 This morning we were planning to go crow-hawking with Kaya, but when we weighed her, we discovered that she was "too fat to hunt." She was 1060 grams, and while we'd have taken her out at 1045g, 1025 is better and 1060 is just too high. Plan B was to wait a few hours and go out around noon.


HELLO PLAN C!!


We'd planned a few weeks ago to meet a falconer friend and her Saker falcon Smilla at her friend's stable where we would try horseback riding with the birds, but M and I were struck down with Covid and had to cancel. This morning quite spontaneously the friend (IH) sent a message and asked if we wanted to meet and ride in the season's first snow. 

We are the least spontaneous people you don't know and I really can't stand winter, snow, or being cold*, but after a quick consultation with M, I started scrounging for my riding pants, boots and helmet! Smilla and her human couldn't come, but we will all surely meet next time!

* Blame it on Wisconsin! 44 years of that, and I've had enough!


Seriously, does it get any better than this?


We arrived, met IH and her beautiful Icelandic horse, Kvikur, and got Kaya out of her travel box.


Kaya: "Whoooaaaaaa, WTH?"
Kvikur: "'Sup?"

Kvikur was totally cool, like nothing can rattle him. And he's already met Smilla the falcon, so this was not his first rodeo, as they say. Kaya, on the other hand... As reported earlier, she has been in the presence of horses, but not frequently. And never on top. However, we really do believe she trusts us and has learned that she's safe when she's on my or M's glove.

At first we walked a bit so Kaya could get used to Kvikur and his human, then I handed Kaya to M and hopped on. M handed Kaya back, and she tried to settle in. 

"Mom?!? You sure about this?"

IH took the reins and led Kvikur so I could focus on Kaya until we knew how she'd handle this. M tromped along and snapped pictures the whole time, and although you'd think we would have thought to take ONE photo of the three of us with Kvikur, we did not. Next time!

IH has longer legs than I do!
I could just barely reach the stirrups, but no matter.

It was cold but ok, and then it wasn't. 😂 SchneeregenSchnee, wind... And still, I was happy as could be, riding with Kaya! It was a lovely ride and I can picture all kinds of horse & hawk adventures for the future!




Look at the pup!
This is how he spent the whole walk! 😍

I don't need to write much more - the photos say it all. What an amazing and fabulous experience this was! We are so grateful to Smilla's human, IH, and Kvikur for this day. 


I've loved horses all my life, and now falconry IS my life. What could be better than combining the two on a snowy day?


Falknersheil!!!




Saturday, September 23, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: Curious Horses

 OMG, what I would give to have photos or video of today’s hawking experience! 


M and I took a guest and Kaya crow hawking not far from Horb and it was tough going at first. We saw hundreds of Rotmilane and common buzzards, but not so many crows. Those we did see flew out of range too quickly. But twice we passed a horse farm with an occupied pasture where there were a bunch of crows. Each time we drove past, those who were out of the pasture flew into it knowing they were safe there. I won’t launch Kaya into a pasture full of horses, especially with an electric fence. I finally asked M to drive to the farm, and I found the owners outside. I explained what we were doing, they were enthusiastic, told me to go ahead and the horses won’t be bothered, and showed me where to unplug the electricity to the fence. We got back in the car, drove about 150 meters, and I tossed her into the pasture at the unsuspecting crows. 

What can I say? I love horses!

The one she picked out had taken off, and she flew after it in hot pursuit. Once the crow is airborne it’s unlikely she’ll get it, so I got ready to call her back. But she wasn’t going to let that crow go, and she grabbed it out of the air! She pulled it to the ground, I ducked through the fence and raced the 50 meters to her to do my job. I’d asked M to come as quickly as he could, and thank goodness. The horses found the goings-on quite interesting and meandered over to have a look. Kaya was ok with that up to a point, but they kept coming closer. By then M was there and I told him to stand between the horses and me so I could finish things with Kaya. That was probably also when I said, “OMG, you have to get a photo of this!” He stood protectively between us facing the horses, but more and more of them came up and formed a sort-of U-shape around us. Kaya was secured and still had a death grip on the deceased crow but wanted to get the hell away from the horses. Among the steeds there was some commotion and I hoped M wouldn’t get kicked. 

I collected Kaya with her crow and headed back to the fence. M followed.

So did the horses.

And several cows, one that looked rather butch.


Kaya got her reward for a job extremely well done while we and our guest recapped the events on the safe side of the fence. Then we went back to the farm to talk with the owners and tell them we’d been successful! They were happy to hear it. The woman said she sometimes gets dived-bombed by crows when she’s riding, and the man said the farmers around grumble about the crows picking in the fields and destroying young crops.


The WasserbĂŒffelhof

We stopped at the water buffalo farm vending machine for an ice cream treat and had quite the audience of others shopping there. Then the owner of the buffalo farm also came by and chatted with us – he also said he’s thrilled to hear we’re after crows in the area.


A family-friendly photo of Kaya manteling
a kill from a few days ago)

Kaya got a leg and a wing from her crow in her mews when we returned and is so stuffed she can’t see her feet. But she’s screaming about her adventure to the neighborhood, or perhaps she’s just screaming at our neighbor who is minding his own business and trying to get some yard work done.


Our season officially opened with Kaya's first success on September 3rd, and since then she's grabbed 7 crows and her first-ever Elster (magpie)!


Until next time...

Falknersheil!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Hawk Training Diaries 1

What an adventure!

I have no photos from today, so I'll just include a few recent ones of Kaya.

LĂŒften (airing out) in the garden on a breezy day

This morning we set out at 8:45 with Kaya to meet our mentor, "Br," for yet another go at getting Kaya into hunting mode. In this, her second season, she’s flying free really well from glove to glove, but she has not attacked the crows we’ve set her at, nor the dummy crow yesterday. So today we were going to try again after she had some thinking time.
Graureiher (grey heron) on our neighbor's roof a few years ago.

On the country road between our village and the next, suddenly a Graureiher (grey heron) took off from tall grass right on the edge of the road (neither of us had seen him standing there), right across the road and directly into our car. With Kaya in the car and nothing with which to capture or secure the heron, we drove on an agonizing 4 minutes to meet Br. M waited with Kaya while Br and I drove back to the heron, who was now sitting in the middle of one lane of the road. Luckily it was Sunday morning, not much traffic, and no one else had run into him. We herded him off the road and into the grass, Br got the large net out of her car, and after some tromping through long, wet grass, caught the angry bird. She covered him with a towel and her jacket, making sure he could still get air, laid him in the back of her car, and on the way back to our meeting point she called a friend of hers who runs a NABU Vogelauffangstation (bird rescue center and sanctuary), taking in injured birds to treat and either re-wild or keep at the center, or - if needs be - put to sleep. She left a message, and since the heron was as comfortable as he could be under the circumstances and in a quiet, dark place, we decided to see about getting the training done with Kaya while waiting for her friend to call back.

Kaya once again flew toward the crow dummy but then just wanted to land on it ladylike rather than fiercely grabbing it as she must do to hunt, so mean Tante Br swung it out of her reach. Never mind this, then, we tried a different tactic. Twice Kaya flew from my glove toward the crow dummy, which Br snatched away when Kaya didn’t attack it. Each time she had to fly back to me to start over. Kaya finally got frustrated enough that she ATTACKED the crow dummy! She got a thawed chick for her efforts, and we did it again. Having realized attacking the crow dummy means getting a sizeable chunk of food, she went straight for it a second time. Then she was allowed to eat until she was full.


Back to Herr Reiher, the heron. As we were walking back to the car, Br’s friend called and said someone will be there at the center even though it’s officially closed on Sundays, and we can take the heron there.

M took Kaya back and gave her another reward in her mews, and we probably won’t hear from her again until Tuesday. She’s stuffed.

Br and I drove to Mössingen with Herr Reiher (40 km/35 min), the young woman on weekend duty met us, Br unwrapped and held Herr Reiher while the woman from NABU checked the bird over, and they put him in a cage lined with a blanket where he could rest until a vet could see him. I filled out a form with my contact info and where the bird had been, and Br and I left to take care of her animals (mice, quails, and a hawk). I hope he’ll make it.

Kaya (l) and Hekate (r) sitting on their perches
at a restaurant in Reutlingen Br and I brought them to last week

We flew Br's Harris hawk, Hekate, 15 times or so between us, and each time Hekate landed on my glove and got her measly tidbit, she looked at me with lowered head and threatening posture as if she wanted a piece of me. I’ve lost my fear of her in such situations, but once when she landed in a way that I couldn’t quickly secure her jesses, she grabbed the fleshy part of my upper arm and squeezed. She means business! Happily, when she has her talons stuck in my arm, she can’t also attack my ungloved right hand, so I was able to get hold of her jesses to secure her. Br told me to “scream” at her (Hekate) using the same bird-tone she was using with me. That’s what Harris hawk parents do to keep their kids in line. So I did, and I wish I had a photo of Hekate’s face at that moment: “What the…?!?” I did it again and she let go of my arm.

This is about establishing the pecking order, which Hekate and I have to work out every year from scratch. She's on a diet but still pretty heavy, and that makes her grumpy. She wants me to think she is above me in her little hierarchy, but that doesn't work for hunting together. So I have to show her I'm not afraid of her and also that she can't get away with attacking my fleshy bits.

M then picked me up and at home I was able to enjoy a scrambled omlette made with the fresh quail eggs Br and I had gathered from her girls.

By the way, I now have a large net on order to keep in our hunting car. Should be here by Tuesday.


Until next time...

Falknersheil!!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Kaya's Hatchday

Today is Kaya's SchlĂŒpftag!!


Kaya hatched on April 22nd 2022 and so today she turns one year old! So much has happened in this bird’s life since that day. In the beginning she was just a ball of fluff that her parents fed and smothered to keep her warm, without any siblings to share with. She briefly had a foster brother, but that didn’t go as well as the breeder hoped, so he was taken out again.

She spent the next weeks without a care in the world in the mew with her parents, eventually outgrowing Dad and outliving Mom. In early August when she was 15 weeks old, we drove up to Hessen to get her, and that’s when she had her first real contact with humans. She was not particularly thrilled, but I’ll write about that day on our “Gotcha-day” anniversary.

This post will show one photo a month from the last year, the first two from the nestcam of the breeder.

Apr 2022
Mom Colly brooding her eggs.

May 2022
There she is! At this point we were calling her Cora.
Look at those big feet!


June 2022
M and I take one last mini-vacation in the Schwarzwald
for our wedding anniversary. 


July 2022
Despite the nightmare of dealing with the Bauamt and the VeterinÀramt,
Kaya's mew was finished and ready a week before she arrived.


Aug 2022
Despite her initial fear of us, 
here we are 3 days after we got her.

Sept 2022
After much training and some failures, 
Kaya gets her first crow!

Oct 2022
Having a chat with "Dad" after training.


Nov 2022
When we're not out hawking, we go on walks.
This was at the Rauschbart Biergarten overlooking Horb.

Dec 2022
Family photo after a successful hunt

Jan 2023
Sitting on one of our favorite benches
during a cold winter walk.

Feb 2023
Another successful kill on the last day of the season.
Crow #22!

Mar 2023
"Singing" on her perch in the sun room.


Apr 2023
Hawk yoga (stretching ALL the way)



What will the next year bring?
Photo: Jon K.


We have enjoyed this first year of her life and hope she is content with us as well. She seems to be, in that each time we set her free, she comes back to us - so far even when we don't have a tidbit on our glove. We look forward to every day with her. She looks forward to every meal.

22 April, 2023
Today's your day, Girlfriend!
Hatchday menu: Wachtel (quail)


Until next time...

Falknersheil!!


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Hawk Molting Diaries 1

As I explained in my last post, crow-hawking season ended in mid-February. We have to wait until August 1st for crow and magpie season to open again, and Kaya gets to molt in peace and have her meals served to her instead of having to catch them herself.


But just like an athlete on break doesn't just suddenly quit exercising, we eased her into her life of leisure. We still took her out for training, which is flying between M and me for tidbits, sometimes landing in a tree between us before continuing on. Our cue for her to find a tree branch is when we leave our gloved arm at our side rather than holding it up with a treat. Sometimes she skips the tree hoping we'll change our mind, and when we don't she lands on the ground nearby. When we hold the glove up she flies to it, often first running on foot toward us. That is completely adorable, but we haven't caught it on camera yet.

After training she gets the rest of her meal in her mew. We always work it out that this food "magically appears" before she gets brought into the mew, though she has clearly learned what to expect. The important thing is that she doesn't see us provide the food, since we are trying to get her to stop squawking. One of the ways to encourage her to quit that is to make sure she doesn't see us as food providers. So while one of us distracts her with a short walk or just leaves her in her travel box, the other puts the food on her Futterbrett (feeding platform). Then one of us brings her into her mew and sets her free, she sees the food on the platform and attacks it, mantles over it while giving us the side-eye, and tucks in as soon as we back away. This is supposed to give her the impression that she "caught" her lunch. Whether she's fooled or not, you'll have to ask her.


The day she lost her first primary feather, I felt like a proud mom whose child just lost her first tooth! Although there's no feather fairy, she did get an extra thawed mouse that day. The feather was one of those that had broken, was repaired, and then the tip broke off as well near the end of the hawking season, so it didn't make for the best photo. 

This is her 2nd molted tail feather,
also a repaired* one!

*Repairing a broken feather is called schiften in German and "imping" in English. In the above photo you can see where it was repaired because just at the moment when we slid the new part into the still-attached bit, she flopped, creating that gap. The black thing attached to the base of the feather is the mount for her telemetry sender, which she wears when she flies free.

Since then she's lost two more tail feathers and seven wing feathers, plus hundreds of little ones, most of which I'm saving because...well, I don't know! The tail and wing feathers get saved in case we need to repair any broken feathers during the next hawking season, but there's not much reason to save the little ones other than because they're pretty.

The feathers on her back that are growing back are darker than her baby brown. That's easier to see in person than with a photo, although the one below does show it - the darkest feathers are the new ones. This is indeed her back; her head is turned around because she's looking at a pigeon that flew past behind us.


Molting is hard work hormonally, and it must also be very itchy. She spends a lot of time preening and scratching, especially when she's on her perch in our sun room and knows she doesn't have to keep an eye out for marauders like foxes, martens, and neighborhood cats. The fact that it's hard work is one reason why she gets ALL the food now - as much as she wants. There have even been days when she jumped onto her meal and just sort of sat there before tucking in because she wasn't all that hungry, whereas she never hesitated for an instant during hunting season.

She is showing a whole new side of her personality since starting the molt in earnest, and that is the stuff of future blog posts.


Until next time...

Falknersheil!!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: Season Recap

The 2022-2023 Beizjagdsaison (hawking season) came to an end yesterday, on February 15th. This was Kaya's first season and our first season with Kaya. She is 10 months old now and scored 22 crows for the season. We are proud of her!

Singing her victory song on a snowy day 
in the Black Forest after her 19th crow


She went from being afraid of us, the first humans with whom she had real contact, to enjoying spending time with us, to developing and showing us her charming personality, to also becoming a skilled crow catcher.

Ok, she's had ups and downs, so "skilled" is somewhat of an exaggeration for now. Sometimes she was just lucky. But she's got potential!

Her score seen more clearly is
Kaya: 21 successful days
Crows: 32 successful days
Remaining crows in the 18 Reviere where we hunt: 1145? (feels like 10,000)

That last number is a guess, but it is important to keep in mind that Kaya might get a crow one day, but there are usually 50-100 more circling in the sky above her who didn't get got. 

There were only a few days in which Kaya caught her crow on her first flight out. More often she'd had an average of 6 flights but no success. So while we went out hawking on 53 days, on each of those days anywhere from 2 to 8 crows escaped unscathed despite our efforts - meaning roughly 200 crows got away. And one goose.

The season ended somewhat abruptly on Wednesday when our friend and driver misjudged where she should turn around on a farm path. 

Oops.

Br phoned the JagdpĂ€chterin whose territory we were hunting in, sent our coordinates via WhatsApp, and she called back soon after to say a hunter friend of hers would be over within 15 minutes with a GelĂ€ndewagen to pull us out. That saved us having to call ADAC (the German AAA), which would have taken a long time and cost too much. It might have been fun to see the tow truck guy's face when he arrived and saw our hawks, though.

I gave Kaya a snack while we waited.

The most important thing is that we gave her hunting opportunities as often as we could, and she came out of the season healthy and uninjured - hawking can be dangerous business! - despite one close call with a fence and that goose, or rather that goose's pals.

Her tail in that photo above looks rather shabby, I know. We had to repair two feathers during the season, one broke again, and a third broke a short enough time ago that we decided she could make it to the end of the season. I'm told young birds aren't very careful with their tails while hunting, but she'll learn with time. For now, goodness gracious, bring on the Mauser (molt)!

We'll still train her for a while until she doesn't feel like it anymore, and then she'll start her Mauser. She'll gradually get more food each day without having to work for it until we figure out what a day's serving size should be. Once a week she'll have a detox day of fasting. Sometime in March she'll start dropping feathers one at a time a few days apart and new ones will grow in their place. She should be ready to hunt again in August or September.

So what about that goose? One time out we passed a group of NilgĂ€nse (Egyptian geese) lying in a field. I know how wehrhaft (defensive) geese are, I've seen Hekate repeatedly show us that if we want a Nilgans, we're going to have to catch it ourselves, and I while I don't mind gutting a crow after a successful hunt, I'm not all that interested in geese. But I was encouraged to give her a try, so I sent her out. She definitely got the goose and clung onto it at first while its pals came to its defense, honking wildly and bashing with their wings. I ran toward the commotion, seeing nothing but wings everywhere, and yelled her name, not knowing what else to yell although I was trying to scare away the other geese, and by the time I got to her she'd given up and the gaggle was fleeing. Kaya was standing on the ground a few feet away, looking as if to say, "WTF?!?" Can't say I blame her, but she forgave me when I gave her a juicy tidbit.

These are NilgÀnse.
They're an invasive species and don't belong here.

On our last day of hawking, Kaya got two crows for the first time! Not at the same time, but Br and I were able to entice her off the first crow with a distraction wing (a wing from a previously killed crow) so she could continue hunting. I do feel like I witnessed the moment she realized that she was only picking at a wing when she had definitely caught an entire crow. She was sitting on my glove, paused with the wing, looked at me and furrowed her brow. Ok, not really, but that's what it seemed like. 

That's our goal for next season - to be able to get her away from one crow with a reward and then to go on and keep hunting - so I'm glad we ended on that note.

We had a good season and are proud of her and how far she's come. And now she gets to relax and get fed without having to work for her supper, while I get to start on spring cleaning and putting this house back in order.

Until next time...

Falknersheil!




Thursday, January 12, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: The 15th Crow

I‘ve been spending all my time with Kaya and therefore neglecting my blog and my household duties! It’s astonishing how much time one can devote to a raptor, though we spend more time interacting with her than we’d need to.

We’ve recently hit another milestone. On Dreikönigstag, the last holiday of the Christmas season, M and I went crow hawking with Kaya alone – that is, without a more experienced falconer with us – and Kaya got her 15th crow! The three of us have been out alone before, but we were never successful. Returning home without quarry isn’t all that unusual and happens even when we do go hawking with experienced falconers. The odds are in the crows’ favor most of the time.

This Revier is about a 20-minute drive from home and where we have been invited to hunt deer and wild boar as well. We have sat frequently in Hochsitze and have had sightings of deer, but we have as yet had no good chance to shoot and therefore no hunting success. The JagdpÀchter (hunter-tenants) allow us to go crow hawking there as well.

There is a Biogasanlage and farm in the Revier and we have often seen a murder of crows hanging around near there. I’ve missed several great opportunities by not being ready, so the other day I was prepared before I was sure there were crows on that field. On the far side of the building we all saw four or five crows on the field at a perfect distance for Kaya, and all but one took off too soon. I launched Kaya because the last one stayed on the ground nonplussed by her fleeing friends, Kaya flew up above and came crashing down on the confused crow and held on while they both screamed at each other. I ran over to them, “took care of” the crow*, praised Kaya for her good work, secured her to my glove and M snapped a quick photo.

Kaya's manteling over her prize to 
prevent me from stealing some noms for myself.


*Kaya is a Grifftöter (a raptor who kills mainly with her claws). In the wild, a Grifftöter will grab the prey, hang on, start to pluck and eat while the prey dies rather slowly. Nature is harsh. We falconers get to our bird as quickly as possible and end the prey’s life quickly and more humanely than the hawk would.

Our next step is to entice Kaya off the deceased crow using smaller bits of meat she likes – that day I’d thawed a Wachtel (quail) and portioned it to be ready. She was quite happy with the quail but had a Beutekrampf (the talons of one foot were cramp-locked on the crow) and even though she wasn’t interested in it anymore, she couldn’t release her grip. We tried everything we could think of and had seen others do, but in the end we just had to wait it out while she munched on the quail still attached firmly to the crow. 15 minutes after she’d caught the crow, she finally released it when going after the last tidbits we had left.

We were a happy trio in the end, because M and I felt we’d finally accomplished this on our own, and Kaya was stuffed with quail.

By now Kaya is up to 16 crows, which is quite good for a young bird only 8 1/2 months old! But lately it's so windy with strong gusts that we're forced to take some days off. Crow season ends on February 15th, so hopefully the weather will cooperate again soon.

Here’s to more hawking adventures!


Saturday, January 7, 2023

Crow Hawking Diaries: The Fence

On our first crow hawking trip of the year Kaya and I faced something we don’t ever want to have happen again! Anyone who goes hunting or indeed, simply has an animal – working or not – knows accidents and injuries are always a possibility. But when the reality hits nothing can prepare you for it.


We were out with my mentor (B) and her Harris hawk, Hekate, in a new Revier. At one point I launched Kaya at some crows that were sitting well on a field about 20 meters from the road. The crows scurried off and Kaya gave chase even though once the crows take to flight their odds of escaping are better than Kaya’s odds of catching one. As I was getting a tidbit out to call her back, B shouted, “She’s caught in the fence! Run to her!” I took off across the muddy field as fast as I could, running the 60 meters or so to where Kaya was screaming. She looked at me and I swear somehow knew I was going to help her. She didn’t panic more, at any rate, and thank goodness. She was indeed stuck in the fence somehow, and I couldn’t tell right away how or if the fence were barbed wire (it was not). I could see that her head was stuck. I threw off my leather falconer’s glove, talked calmly to her, and felt for where the fence wire was that must be trapping her. It seemed her neck was stuck between the straight top wire and the chain link below it, so I held the top wire and pulled gently on the mesh. That allowed her to get her head out, and she reached out immediately for me, grabbing my ungloved left arm tightly in her talons.

I lowered her to the ground and kept talking gently to her, stroking her and looking and feeling for blood or signs of any wounds. I saw and felt no signs of either, but she was still hanging onto my arm and screaming. Sharp as her talons are, I didn’t mind. B had reached us by then, and eventually Kaya calmed down enough to let go of my arm. I put my glove back on, got her up, and we trudged back across the field to our car.

Kaya seemed ok, but before we headed off again we flew her between us twice to see if she were willing and if anything looked askew. She flew as usual, and we determined everything was fine.

Neither of us had seen that fence in the distance, but even if we had known it was there, I would have set her at those crows. The fence was at least 60 meters away, and usually Kaya breaks off her chase before then. There are all kinds of potential dangers Kaya could face: a car or truck when we’re close to a road, a Habicht (goshawk) when we’re close to a forest, dogs - especially the unleashed ones, and manmade hazards like fences, wires, electrical lines and so on.

It is our job as falconers to look out for these and other dangers and not let our bird go when it’s not safe. When Kaya takes off, she only sees her quarry, not potential dangers. I was reminded that day of how fragile her life is and how quickly things can turn south. We were lucky. 

Hawking can be dangerous, but the safe alternative – not hawking and staying where there are no dangers – would not be in her best interest. She is a raptor and it is in her nature to hunt. If she could choose, I don’t think she’d prefer to stay in her mews. That's safe, but pretty boring. Her body language while hawking tells me that she really wants to do this. When she sees a crow, I can hardly hold her back to wait for the right moment. She wants to GO!

But if she had her druthers, I think she’d happily avoid fences in the future. And that would be fine with me, too!