Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Video

Doc is still flying great, catching snipe most hunts. This past Sunday he had a very long hunt. He flew for over 20min and chased about 6 snipe, catching the last one. Here's a video of this hunt. And you'll want to watch this full screen in HD for best quality. The video is a little long, almost 9min but Diana shot almost 20min of video.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another Snipe

Doc has had his ups and downs this week. After his last snipe I decided to try him on doves. I found a nice flock of 100 birds and Doc took a great pitch. I started flushing doves and Doc started ignoring them. He watched dove after dove flush right under him without interest.

He finally folded up and put in a half hearted stoop at a dove forcing it to cover. He remounted but continued to ignore the doves. I finally called him down to the lure. Not sure why he's hesitant about doves but this is the second time he's done this.

The next flight, a few days later, it was rainy, warmer and windy. I had a few snipe spotted and released the beast. Doc flew downwind and mounted but when he came back to me he had lost most of his pitch. He stooped a sparrow, losing the rest of his pitch. Then he just flew around my head looking for the glove. I finally gave it to him and took him home.

Today I wanted to try a spot that is wide open with very little cover. We drove into the field and immediately flushed 5 or 6 snipe. Doc took a nice pitch but started after some unknown bird way off downwind. We watched as he chased it across the sky and then back across the sky and we eventually lost sight of him.

I saw a few small flocks of black birds swirling around where he was last seen and I started waving a pigeon around to get his attention. After quite a while Doc came flying in low across the field and I called him down to the lure and hooded him.

I decided that I'd let him take a rest and work with the Red Necked Falcon, Bubba, and then take Doc to another spot and try him again.

The second hunt was fantastic. Doc took a great pitch and stooped 4 or 5 snipe, remounting back to 500' each time. He eventually caught one in a long stoop into the wind and ended up following it in to cover and catching it on the ground. He chased two others to the ground and lost them and put in many stoops. This boy loves snipe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snipe #5

Doc has been flying very consistent this week. I think the cold weather has really helped (tough to take a good pitch in 85 degree weather). He's flying 500' and staying very close.

This was the second snipe we flushed today. Doc was 100yards up wind and he closed on the snipe very quickly. The snipe bailed into shin high grass with Doc right behind him. Doc missed on the ground and the snipe blasted back up with Doc right behind. The snipe sought cover again but Doc was on his butt.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red-Necked Falcon (Red-Headed Merlin)

My new little bird arrived last night (or rather this morning at 1:30am). He's 150g of pure coolness.

Thanks to my buddy Keith Richman of CA for sending this little fella to me. Keith has been flying him all summer and decided to let me have a crack at him. He was bred by Bill Meeker who will hopefully have some of these guys available to the falconry community soon.

Snipe & Dove Hawking Video

Sunday I took a small group of people out to watch Doc hunt and Diana took some video. Doc flew great putting in several blistering stoops at snipe, Diana caught one of them on video and I have a slow motion clip of the flight. When Doc pitches up you can see him do several barrel rolls as he flips over and resumes the chase. Diana didn't get the whole flight, it's VERY fast, but he continues chasing the snipe across the field.

Doc ended up catching a Dove, you can barely see it on the video it's very blurry. But he stooped down and hit the dove then grabbed it out of the air.

This video is best watched in the HD version, full screen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Comparison of Snipe Hawks

I've been asked this question several times now so I thought I'd write my thoughts here.

"Are there differences in this passage bird versus other falcons flown at snipe?"

Well, I am very early into my season so I don't feel comfortable making much of a comparison at this point but I do have a few initial observations.

The first, obvious, fact is that Doc has caught snipe quicker than any other bird I've flown. I caught him on Oct 11th, he was free flying on Nov 2nd and caught his first snipe on Dec 6th and has gone on to catch two more this week.

By comparison my best Barbary was obtained in June and didn't catch the first snipe until Nov and not another until Jan.

Doc, as I would have expected from a passage bird, has very good flight skills. He's powerful on the wing and has a natural tendency to stay upwind of me waiting for a flush.

When a snipe flushes there is NO hesitation, he comes down fast and determined. The tail chase he had a few days ago was nothing short of amazing. My Barbary's have tailed snipe and pushed them a few hundred feet up and forced them back to the ground to catch them but Doc's chase seemed to go on forever and he was at least 500' up, truly amazing.

His manners are still wonderful, he hoods well and has not tried to carry.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doc, Snipe #3

Well he did it again. Doc's flying great and put snipe #3 in the bag, that's back to back snipe days.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2nd Snipe

Doc caught his second snipe today and I saw one of the most amazing flights I’ve seen. The weather here has been way too hot for good falconry with highs in the mid 80’s and lows around 70 and today wasn’t much different but Doc flew great.

He cast off and flew downwind and began to climb. A group of black birds caught his attention and he headed farther downwind and started circling over the flock which was now packed into thick cover. He continued climbing but stayed downwind ¼ mile.

After about 10 min of this he finally started making his way back to me and took a 300’ pitch right overhead. The dog (Duncan) and I started running around looking for snipe. We finally flushed a bird and Doc was a little downwind but he stooped hard and was in pursuit. He pulled in behind the snipe and got very close but the snipe evaded him. But he wasn’t about to give up.

Doc was 10’ behind the snipe and very determined. The snipe began to climb with Doc right on its tail. He stayed 10’ to 20’ behind it all across the sky. I watched the chase in binoculars as they climbed up to 500’ and started coming back towards me. After a good two to three minutes they were now flying right over my head 500’ up. As they passed over me the snipe began to pull away. I yelled and waved and Doc pulled off the chase. It was the most amazing snipe chase I’ve seen, I couldn’t believe how long he pressed this snipe.

Doc was now right over head 500’ up and circling for the next flush. We ran around frantically searching for another flush. A sparrow flushed and Doc made a short stoop, losing some pitch. Then another snipe flushed and Doc was locked on. Just as he was about to close the deal the snipe slammed down into a small marsh 300 yards away. He hovered over the spot but wouldn’t go in after it.

Duncan and I ran over as Doc remounted. We waded into the thigh deep water and Duncan put the snipe back up. It flew out of the marsh and Doc easily flew it down over the field, claiming his second snipe of the season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The NAFA meet & Amarillo Hawking

I’m just back from the 2009 NAFA meet and TX Panhandle tour. I had a great time and Doc flew well. I didn’t fly him in OK because of 20-25mph winds but once in Amarillo on Wednesday the wind speeds were much more doable.

Doc flew great on ducks and came very close to putting one in the bag. I had a great time hawking in Amarillo with Matt Mullenix, Jimmy Walker, Brian Millsap, Matt Riedy, Heather Gast, Ken Jennings and a few others.

Here are a few pics of the meet and the trip. Oh and I bought a new Canon 7D camera just before the trip.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Almost Hawking

Well, we're almost hunting. Doc did great today, going up 1,000' to the bait on the kite. Tomorrow the plan is to send him back up 1,000' to a target on the kite and release a pigeon under him. This will be our first real "flushed game". If he does well with this then we'll be looking for wild game.

Doc's weight is now up to 450grams and he is flying very strong, he wasn't even breathing hard today and he had quite a climb into a 10mph wind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

After much internal deliberation I have decided to go back to the kite. I’ve trained plenty of birds with the use of pigeons. I had a gyr/peregrine that would spec out daily from the use of pigeons. But this was before kites and if I had to do it again, I’d use a kite.

After two days of letting Doc fly around aimlessly, letting him chase pigeons and waiting for him to decide on his own to go up (which I have NO DOUBT, he would have soon) it just didn’t feel right to me to know how to use such a valuable tool and leave it in my truck. I wouldn’t forego lure training or hooding or telemetry or any other advancement in the sport just because it wasn’t done in the past. My name is Eric Edwards and I love my kite. ;-)

So the quick run down: on free flight #2 I tried the kite but he ignored the bait and just flew around. Flight 3 and 4 were without kite, I let him fly and served a few pigeons, he got up to about 50’ and did check out the field some. Flights 5 and 6 we were back to the kite. On flight 5 he immediately recognized the bait and rang right up to 30’ and pulled it down. Day 6 he went up 200’ immediately to the bait.

I’m sure it’s just me but I’m much more comfortable with the direction of my training right now. I’ve trained enough birds to know that the key to training any behavior is clearly communicating to the bird what you want. The quicker the bird understands what you’re asking of it the quicker your training will progress.

For me it’s all about hawking game as soon as possible and I think the kite will get me in the field quicker. I plan to have him up to 1,000’ by the end of the week, serving game under him. Next week we’re hawking. (that’s the plan right now anyway)

I really appreciate ALL the advice and input I’ve gotten on training Doc and I’m always all ears. I’ll take all the free advice I can get.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

To Kite or Not to Kite????

My initial plan for this bird was to treat him like every other peregrine or Barbary I've flow in the past 8 years and train him to the kite.

I like kite training as a transition from the creance to game hawking. When you train a peregrine or any falcon to "wait on" your goal is to have a bird that will fly high up into the air and circle overhead, waiting for a bird to flush. There are many ways to accomplish this and I've used most of them, but I’ve found the kite to consistently produce great results.

But, naturally there was no kite training 40 years ago when falconers last trained passage peregrines and most of the experienced passage guys suggested the kite was not needed.

The second day of free flight I put the kite up to 800’ and put the bait 10’ off the ground. I unhooded Doc and he just sat on the glove staring at me, probably wondering what I wanted him to do. Previously I had always put him on a perch to start our training. He looked at the bait and back at me and finally took flight.

He circled out and came back towards me and the kite but flew right past the bait. He continued to circle around but never went for the bait. I finally called him down to the lure and let him eat the food on the lure. While on the lure I unhooked the bait from the kite and walked it over closer to him. Once he finished the food he finally hopped up a few feet and grabbed the bait from the kite lure line.

I started second guessing my kite training approach and the next two days out (including today) I didn’t put the kite up and tried traditional pigeon training. He flew around both days making circles around me getting up to 50’ or so and I served him a pigeon when I thought he was starting to lose focus.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings but I think I may pull my kite back out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day of First's

There were two important first's today. First free flight and first bath.

I intended to fly him free yesterday but my plans were spoiled by a juvenile Bald eagle. I flew him to the lure on the creance and then just when I was planning to un-tie the string for the second flight an eagle flew right over us, looking down and circled 3 times overhead. I chickened out and did the second flight on the creance also.

But today there was no creance. He made 8 or 9 circles around me, making a few half hearted attempts at the lure then I threw it out on the ground and he flew right down to it.

Back at home he finally decided to use his bath pan and take his first bath on his shelf perch.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 18 & 19

Doc is probably more ready for free flight than I am.

The last two days he's been flying 100' to the lure, instant response, catching it in the air. He's very steady on the ground, allowing me to walk up and tid bit him on the lure and steps off to the glove with no problem. He's only tried to drag the lure away once and I was probably a little too fast walking up to him.

He's spending the day on his shelf perch unhooded and still takes the hood well. I usually hood him while he's eating on the glove.

I'm still undecided on my next step. I'm leaning towards putting him on a kite for the first week of free flying. I think it will help keep him close and will help to establish a good routine. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 15 to 17

We've had our ups and downs this week. I moved to football field at the local middle school and the first day there Doc threw a fit.

The moment I pulled the hood off he looked around, looked at me and bated like a wild bird for several minutes. I finally got him back on the glove and tried for a short flight but he didn't want to play at all. I took him home and did some tid-biting on his perch.

I spent most of the weekend at home working with Doc. He spent the weekend on the shelf in the living room, unhooded, and I did a lot of tid biting after his morning training sessions.

Sunday and Monday he did great at the football field making a few short flights to the glove then a few 20 - 30' flights to the lure.

I've heard all the stories about these super tame tundra peregrines that train up in two weeks but I did NOT trap one of those. I would say Doc is quite a bit behind in training and in tameness than a passage merlin at the same stage. But he is progressing every day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Doc, Day 14

Day 14, 445g

Doc is sitting the fist well, and still hooding well.

He made a 20' flight to the lure yesterday in the back yard. Tomorrow I'll have to move to a larger area to continue his training. He ate a quail leg on the lure then walked over and hopped up to the glove.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Doc, Day 13

Day 13, 448g

When I got home I unhooded Doc and let him sit on the shelf perch for a few minutes before training. He was much more attentive and stepped up to the glove for a few bites. I weighed him and he hooded with out incident.

I set up a block perch and creance in the back yard for our first outside lure flight. Doc was unhooded and placed on the block, I sat 10' away. I threw a garnished lure on the ground between us and he immediately hopped to the ground and walked over to the lure. He ate the quail wing and a few tidbits from my fingers and jumped up to the glove when he was done.

A perfect lesson for the day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Doc, Day 12

Day 12, 453g

Doc was a little slow to fly in the back yard yesterday. He eventually made a 20' flight then another from 15' much quicker.

I hooded him up and took him back inside and introduced him to the lure on his shelf perch. He ate what was left of a quail wing with some meat on it. I gave him a few tidbits on the lure.

He still has the terrible habbit of not regaining the fist on his own after a bate. I have to put him back on the fist after every bate. He's still a little nervous and doesn't like to be touched but he's getting calmer every day. He also doesn't sit well on his shelf for very long. I'm keeping him hooded at night and when I'm not home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Passage Peregrine

Ok, I'm going to do my best to blog the training and hunting with my new bird. I was lucky enough to trap a tiercel passage peregrine in Maryland. For the first time since 1970 the USFWS allowed the capture of 36 passage peregrines for falconry this year.

Florida did not get their rules in place in time to participate this season so I was left with applying for non-resident take in one of the state that were participating. I applied to 5 different states and was only selected by Maryland. So, it was off to Maryland.

Diana and I drove the 15 hours all through the night to get there first thing in the morning to trap. And we were lucky enough to find a tiercel that came down to a ring-necked dove in a noose harness.

Doc was trapped at 500g on Oct 11th. He ate on the glove the first night back at the hotel in a dimly lit room.

He was hoping to the glove on the 17th and made his first flights outside 20' yesterday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Making a Dho-gazza net

A few years ago I started making my own Dho-gazza nets. I looked around on the internet for years trying to find information but it was very scarce. And it's really something that you need to see to fully understand.

I finally learned how from my friend Jimmy Walker on one of his visits to Florida. Once I saw it done it was just a matter of practice. I've tried to explain it to a few people but I think this video series will make it much easier. It's not the most professional video but I hope it helps (just ignore the barking dog & screaming parrot).

If you want to make your own nets I recommend starting with the net making kit from Jann's Netcraft http://www.jannsnetcraft.com/

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, April 16, 2009

One Step Closer

I spoke at a FWC commission meeting yesterday when a draft management plan was presented to FWC commissioners. The draft plan was approved by the commissioners with very little input. A final plan will now be drafted and hopefully approved at the June meeting.

I hope we'll be trapping peregrines in 2010.

For immediate release: April 15, 2009Contact:
Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130

The world’s fastest bird is also resilient

The peregrine falcon is famous for its steep downward plunge, and that’s exactly what its population did during the past century when DDT usage in the United States nearly wiped them out. However, when the peregrine dives, it also rises with its prey, and that’s what has happened to its numbers in recent years. To keep those numbers soaring, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) directed staff to finalize a management plan for peregrine falcons Wednesday at the Commission meeting in Tallahassee.

The FWC decided in June 2008 to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s endangered species list. However, before delisting can occur, the Commission must approve a management plan. The final plan will come before the Commission for approval at the June meeting in Crystal River. The Commission also directed staff to bring a rule for delisting the species to the June meeting as well. “The peregrine falcon is a success story showing what wise conservation practices can accomplish for a species,” said Robin Boughton, the FWC’s peregrine falcon management plan leader. “This draft plan offers management strategies for the peregrine’s continued success.”

As a result of pesticide regulations and captive breeding-and-release efforts, the peregrine falcon made a dramatic comeback from precipitously low numbers in the 1970s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the species in 1999. Peregrine populations dropped from about 20,000 birds prior to the 1940s to 650 birds in 1965. Of the two subspecies of peregrine falcon that breed in the United States, there are now at least 1,900 breeding pairs.

The peregrine is known as the world’s fastest bird, averaging 25-34 mph during normal flight and reaching speeds in excess of 150 mph during dives for prey, which include doves and ducks.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shad Fishing the St. Johns

For years I have wanted to fly fish the shad run on the St. Johns river. Every winter shad migrate back to their spawning grounds and fly fishermen line the banks to greet them.

The past few years the shad run has been very slow and we never had a chance to give it a try. Last year I met a new falconer, John Reed, that lives on the St. Johns and he emailed last week to say "The Shad are running".

Walt and I spent all week tying up tiny flies and jigs and headed out for our first shad fishing adventure on Sunday. The water in the St. Johns was very low and "Puzzle Lake" earned it's name, I ran the boat a ground a few times.

We first stopped a few hundred yards down stream. Walt got distracted by large bass swirling near shore and he played with those while I tried my hand at shad fishing.

It's much more like fishing for trout in a stream. You cast upstream and bring the fly down at a natural speed, twitching slightly as it floats. It didn't take long for me to land my first shad. We ended up landing 12 shad by noon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Merlin Release

The end of the season is drawing near. Black Mamba, the suspected black merlin, had a great season catching nearly 65 sparrows this season, caching all but 4 or 5.

She cached the first sparrow she caught and continued that trend the whole season usually not even eating the head off of her victim.

I left her in the field on Saturday and Diana went back out Sunday while I was off fishing. While Diana was putting on her vest and gathering up some food Mamba came flying overhead.

She gave her a quail breast and took a few photos with her phone through her binoculars.

(Caching is a behavior in merlins. When they catch a bird they will take it to a stump, bush or thick grass and hide the bird without eating it. They will usually eat the head and hide, "cache" the rest and then return to hunt for more birds.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Offshore 2009

February is not supposed to be a time for trolling the Gulf Stream for big Dolphin (Mahi Mahi) but I don't think you'll be able to convice me and Spence of that any longer.

Spence let his merlin go in Jan so I think he's been sitting around the house getting the fishing flu a bit early this year. He talked me into an early season offshore trip this past Sunday. We left the port at 5:30am and ran an hour and a half through the dark to get to a spot we hoped would produce a Wahoo.

We got there as the sun had cleared the horizon and started to fast troll over some bottom structure. The Wahoo did not show so we continued out to the gulf stream. For over an hour we didn't see any signs of life, no flying fish, no weeds, no bait, just deep blue water as far as you could see.

We decided to troll for another hour and then head closer to shore to fish for king fish. Ten minutes later a 30lb bull dolphin slammed one of our ballyhoo and burst out of the water. I finally landed the fish 20min later.

In the next three hours we landed three more nice dolphin and a skipjack tuna and we lost three other dolphin.

The 2009 Offshore fishing season is off to a great start!!!!!