USA - Passage Harris Hawk tales courtesy of Rusty Scarborough.
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29th of September 2002. PASSAGE HARRIS HAWK
I have arrived back from my trip to Arizona to take a
passage Harris Hawk. What a trip!!! Since you asked me to give an account of the experience
I will give it a shot.
I have flown Harris' hawks since my beginning in falconry....well not completely. I first found out about falconry from a man that flew a pair of Harris'. The very first time I went to the field with them the hen caught a rabbit at my feet. I did my penance with a Red-tailed Hawk (in the U.S. it is the required bird of "choice" to catch large rodents). I don't mean to knock the Redtail, but I knew I wanted to fly Harris's and had no interest in the Redtail and therefore had no fun with them.
My first Harris was a super bird named 'Rush' that I car hawked with for crows and starlings. I flew Harris' until 1999 when I got the Ferrug/Harris hybrid. I have flown a Harris along also though.
Last year at the NAFA meet in Lamar Colorado, I spoke with a man that had a passage bird that he had trapped a number of years ago. I really had never considered the possibility of ever having the opportunity to trap a wild bird. He gave me the particulars of how and cost etc.
My former apprentice and I talked it over and decided that we would both put in. You see for non-residents of the state of Arizona there are 10 permits given each year. These are given through a lottery draw. We both put in in January and with a post of $115.00 U.S, the ball was rolling.
In February I found out that luck was with me and not for my friend. So I started planning the trip.
There are two open seasons, one in May for eyasses and one in October for passages. I don't see much difference in eyasses whether from the breeding chamber or wild. So I chose the passage.
I did some research on areas of high numbers of birds and mapped out a route. My friend Francie and I headed out with a not-so-firm return date but supposed to be at work again on the 8th, having left on the 29th of Sept. After two days driving to Arizona from Arkansas we arrived in Tucson on the evening of the 1st of Oct. Up early the next morning we drove 183 miles and only saw 9 birds, all of which were adults. Mostly around houses and farms along a rural route. Finally I saw a bird that might have been an immature, but at a distance it was hard to tell. I threw out a harnessed pigeon and no attention was paid. Watched for a while and finally saw a profile of a full crop and feaking the beak. I then thought the white on the chest I had seen was the separated feathers from a full crop.
At this we retrieved the pigeon and headed back to Tucson and for supper. After which I called a local falconer whom the Game and Fish Department had told me of that occasionally assisted in locating birds. It was now about 3:00pm their time and sundown around 5:00pm. Tim was about to take his falcons out for a fly and told me of a couple of places close to where we were camped in the edge of the city of Tucson.
We drove to the first one, turned off the paved road and down the first dirt road, across a couple blocks to the end of the road and found a draw with dead eucalyptus trees. This is where Tim had seen a family group. All we saw were numbers of Mountain or Gamble's Quail. They were everywhere. So we turned around and decided to go find the next spot Tim had told us of. When back on the Street coming to the stop sign.......there were the birds on a utility pole. Four birds, three adults and one immature (the only one we had seen).
I crossed over the paved road and on to the side road across the street. The heart was beating and we realized we had nothing prepared in the way of traps. As I crossed over the paved road, one of the adults tail-chased a Mourning Dove and held close for some time until the dove put into cover. I jumped out and retrieved a gerbil for the BC and we started down the road. As we did the adults regrouped and started flying down along the road. The immature held on the cross-arm of the utility pole. We noticed one of the adults had something in its grasp. I threw the BC (Bal Chatri trap) under the pole for the immature and followed the adults.
When we were at the "T" of two streets the birds landed on the utility pole at the intersection and one started to eat what looked to be a snake. Looked back down the road I didn't see the immature on the pole. We scoured the scrub brush for her to have followed the adults and found nothing. I started to ease back down the road and see if she was on the BC. I couldn't see for a bush hanging out into the side of the road. I pulled along the wrong side of the road and eased up to see if indeed she was on the trap. Still no sight. I then noticed a car coming up behind me. I didn't want to bump the bird if she was not caught but I knew the other car would, so I pulled up and finally saw her on the trap. She bated and sure enough the BC followed. I screeched up to were she was and she had crossed the road up against someone's side fence. I jumped out of the truck and grabbed the trap and bird. I just thought my heart had beaten rapidly before, I was sure that Francie could now hear it pounding my chest.
A "gentleman" came up from the house and asked if
the hawk was caught on something and I told him I had trapped her and had a permit. He said "they were quite fond of their
Harris hawks" and I said "YES ! they are great birds aren't they". We crossed to the other side of the road and weighed and jessed her and put her in a giant hood and left but not before the gentleman came to have a look at my
Licence and permit.
That night she sat on my fist at Tim's house baited and regained the fist. The next night she leaned to take the tidbits I offered her. No she was a full breast and weighed 1043g (36oz). She lets me touch her toes and feet and never offers to foot me.....I am home with a great bird and a full challenge ahead of me.
It has been said by more than a few that I am blessed with uncanny luck in trapping. I have virtually always come home with a bird or helped apprentices catch their birds. One of my former apprentices said he would not go to trap unless I was along just for luck. I don't know if I am blessed with luck but the truth is I had a very nice and relaxing drive back home after having caught my first passage Harris' hawk on the first day of trapping. The next day we took her to the Game and Fish Dept. and had her banded then home.
18th of October TRAINING
The new bird is doing great, she came to me on a creance at 48' today and is only down 100g from trap weight.
28th of October
My new bird is coming to me at 50 feet on a creance.
1st of November
I flew the new bird free this week for three days I will get to go to the field this weekend thankfully to find rabbits. She is very calm and I can touch her all over, head, legs, feet beak... never seen such a calm bird!
3rd of November
Found no rabbits, but she did fly and follow well, keeping me in her sight. She got stooped by a wild Coopers Hawk a couple times and then we came in. I have named her Padawan (from Star Wars, a Jedi apprentice).
23rd of November NAFA MEET
Left Pine Bluff with my former apprentice, Francie Forrester, and friend Eddie Foutch. Got as far as Salina Kansas after getting a late start. Spent the night.
24th of November
Arrived in Kearney Nebraska at about 11:00 am. checked in the hotel and settled in the temp. was about 27 degrees F. Bought our out of state lisc. for $91.00. Went to Cabela's sporting store to pick up warmer clothes. Went to the hotel to register at 3:00 but it closed at 3:00 in stead of opening.
25th of November
Very cold in the morning but we headed out with Nova (Francie's new bird of 1 month) Rogue (my hybrid) and Padawan (passage Harris of mine). We drove to a town just 20 miles away around Minden NE. A lot of good looking farms and no one home (must have heard falconers were in town!). Finally found some folks home and got permission. They even told us where the best place for rabbits was, just down the road. Sure enough they were there. A tree-line that started at a point and went out between a harvested corn field and a fallow land of the land fill. As the tree line went out it spread to about 30 yards wide and overall about a half mile long. There was a five foot 2"x4" welded wire fence around the land fill. Nova did not respond well on a creance (she had only been with Francie about 3 weeks prior and the weather was drastically different from home, 70's to 80's during the day at home and now in the 20's all day. So we flew Padawan first. She followed great and made a chase at a fox-squirrel soon after release. She flew rabbits hard also. At the end of the day nothing in the bag but some fine chases. Rogue flew fairly well and made some chases but I thought she needed some weight reduction.
26th of November
VERY COLD and Windy so we went to Cabela's and Walmart. NO HUNTING today.
27th of November
Flew Padawan with some fine gentlemen from England (Harry, Bob and Chris). In what seemed just moments after a few chases, a suicidal bunny ran from the land fill towards Padawan in the tree line.
When it went through the welded wire fence Padawan was there to greet him....BY THE HEAD! What a blast, first kill. She let me approach and showed no signs of fear. We took lots of pics and I was on top of the world. I think the guys from the UK were impressed but you know its not easy to tell sometimes...
We flew Rogue and she made some very hard stoops but no catches.
28th of November
Flew with a great guy from South Dakota and his Red-tail today. No catches.
Flew Padawan and Nova in a cast for the first time in the morning and both made nice stoops at rabbits, but Nova would not stay up close to Padawan and lagged back.
29th of November
Planned to fly Nova and Padawan in a cast but when Nova was released the wind took her over the corn field and across the highway several hundred yards away. Finally recovered Nova and then flew Padawan alone. As soon as she was up she flew out over a weed patch in the land fell, a hen pheasant broke and Padawan was in chase. It out flew her so she circles the area again and seven pheasants flushed she made and impressive stoop but missed very closely (If she had caught I would have probably been difficult to listen to). We worked the field around where the pheasants flushed and bumped several rabbits but the wind made stoops difficult. Coming back towards the truck we worked a thick patch of weeds and Padawan flew out over in pursuit of a fleeing bunny. When it crossed the dirt road she took him by the head. We had the land owners 11 year old, nephew with us who had never seen falconry performed and he also was very impressed.
Meet pins were handed out at the banquet and we said our good-byes to friends old and new. What a great meet.
Since the NAFA meeting in November the flying partnership between Rusty and Padawan has gone from strength to strength. Fox Squirrel and Opossum (see inset) have been added to the game bag. Many thanks to Rusty for sending the write up of their experiences and photographs, and giving us an insight into Falconry in the USA.