Falconry in the Valley
of the Mississippi
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Seasonal Log 2008/2009

Update: 24 February 2009:

Happy Mardi Gras!

My season is done now, ended with a nice day in Texas taking 6 birds and a rat in good company. See here for a little blog about the day, although the hawking is not mentioned.

On 31 January, Ernie slammed into a discarded piece of sheet metal while hunting in New Orleans East. I didn't notice any problems until the next day, when his performance back home was very poor. Here's what he looked like on close inspection:

So I put him up for a couple weeks and flew him again; he improved along with the wound, but was still not 100%. So I gave him another week off, which brought us to last weekend's hunt in Texas. Although he was much improved on this latest hunt, I decided to go ahead and call it closed.

For this injury and other reasons, I hunted less often than in any year since maybe my first year in college. But thanks to the wonderful Harris hawk and a fantastic little dog, we made the most of it. Here's the final score:

186 birds
23 rabbits
98 misc.
in 72 days afield.

That's 2.9 birds or rabbits (ie., intended quarry) per hunt. Highlights included a day taking 6 rabbits, another day taking 9 birds, and of course, my first pheasant ever.

Until next year, Cheers!

Update: 24 January 2009:

Just when you thought I would be quiet for another month, here I am again.

My hawking partners distinguished themselves today, not for the first time but as well as they ever have.

Ernie caught 6 birds, three of which he took over Rina's points, and one after she re-flushed it toward us. Rina's points were all beautiful and surprising, she twisting backward in midstride to lock up like the Tin Man or a stalking cameleon. Her chest expanded full and her nostrils flared. Her eyes shined. Her front left foot slowly. Came. Up. And she waited.

I just step forward and tell Rina to Get It Girl, and she trots in to put up the bird into Ernie's feet. It looks like someone else's life. Someone else's dream. More proud of them I couldn't be.

Update: 23 January 2009:

Okay, so it's a monthly blog. Apologies again to both of you.

And speaking of months, there is only one month of hawking left in the 2008/2009 season. By and large (or "by in large," if you prefer that construction), it has been a good season.

The weather has been cooperative---following Hurricane Gustav, that is. A few cold snaps made coat and headgear necesssary, but it rarely rained and was generally mild. We are entering fast into Spring; I predict the last month of the season breezy, sunny, increasingly warm.

To date, Ernie has over 160 birds this season, and more than 20 rabbits (most of those from the week in Amarillo). A fair number of rats round out his score. Rina has taken a few birds herself and a couple squirrels. We've eaten everything except the small fry in one gumbo or another.

I was telling a friend, or several friends, recently that I see my time in falconry getting tight. I hope I mean tight and not short. But there's no question I am hunting less than I have been (3 times a week now instead of 4) and there is no certainty things will change for a number of years. I've known falconers at this stage of life to take a break from the sport; and I've known others to divorce. The latter has rarely improved their hunting schedule, at least in the near term. And some of the former never came back. Neither are tollerable options.

So what's the problem? No problem. Life is good. My job is busy and the kids are demanding, which is their job. Shelly is hustling hard like always. And yet, there is less time, and there is less energy for making time or for resolving the conflicts that making would engender.

Nonetheless, for when I can get out, I have a wonderful hawking team. Ernie is everything I could want in a hawk: he's talented and eager and tame as a kitten. Rina is a hunting fool, a pointing, flushing, chasing and catching machine. Together they're like the Wonder Twins, just fine solo but unstoppable when their powers unite.

I have an equally wonderful group of falconry friends as well, some local though most flung farther away. Yet even this year I was able to meet up with most of them and get a little hawking in with each.

This is my 25th year in falconry. There is not a lot more a man like me could want.

Update: 22 December 2008:

As if in response to my question, "Is it worth it?", another last-minute-notice hunt provided as good an answer as can be had.

It was cold: 31dF with a steady north wind and no sun. The hawk and dog were super-charged and hair-triggered, snapping off at every tiny movement. The first flight came as Ernie flew circles over the running dog and stooped to intercept a flushed sparrow. That one missed its mark, but 4 more went down the hatch within the next 45 minutes. Rina winded and flushed three of them perfectly (the fourth was a simultaneous discovery), giving us plenty time to get into position and catch the birds as they rose in front of Rina's nose. She did the same or better on two others that Ernie chased but cleanly missed.

Rina was the star today, working naked in a freezing wind. Ready for more.

Update: 21 December 2008:

A morning hunt became possible at late notice, a regular happenstance. Any additional episode is welcome, expected or not, and always taken. Although it's difficult to practice falconry on a last-minute basis, at least with a Harris, it is possible.

We had a good hunt. The front came through last night and brought a stiff, cold breeze and overcast sky. Most of the slips were downwind, and Ernie caught the first three birds to flush in a row, all on the wing. Two more were taken in cover after short chases. Rina ran about and accounted for at least one of the reflushes; she was in on everything, but the action was so fast it was impossible to say how much she contributed directly to the hawk's kills.

The past month or so has been like this: working angles for every hunt and making no more than three trips per week. Shelly's schedule has been tight and the kids' school and after-school activities a challenge to work around. The days are shortest now.

I am constantly wondering whether it's right to do this. Except for the short period of my military school year, and perhaps the girls' first few months of life, this season has been my most halting, least continuous hawking effort. I am falling below an oft-stated threshold of four hunts per week as a "minimum standard."

What do you call falconry that falls below its own minimum standard?

What do you call the falconer?

Years ago I would have said falconry wasn't worth practicing three times a week. It would be difficult, at least, if not pointless.

I think differently now, knowing that with a dog and a Harris and the kind of hawking we do, three days a week is plenty to keep the team in shape and keep the score card ticking upwards.

But I am a duffer now, without a doubt. A weekend warrior. A hack.

I want to start a survey of my older friends, those whose falconry has passed through this period (the young family and career concerns) and emerged intact on the other side. What have they learned? What have they lost or gained? Was it worth it? Did they have any choice? Who is really keeping score?

Update: 7 December 2008:

Apologies to both of you who check in here regularly---I haven't been able to access the site from campus so updates have been inconvenient. We are back now from the NAFA meet and have enjoyed a number of good days locally since the big trip. Tally from the Texas week: 12 rabbits, 1 pheasant, 1 sparrow, numerous rodents. Eric's merlin caught a sparrow and flew at numerous others, as well as blackbird flocks.

This morning Ernie took two local rabbits, an old tusker with a prominent tumor or old injury of some kind on its leg (healthy otherwise) and a very young one (further proof they breed year round here).

So far the season total is about 107 birds, 16 rabbits and numerous misc.

Update: 14 November 2008:

We are swimming upstream. The girls have dropped one after-school activity, removing Thursday as an open hunting day. And with the end of DST, the Tuesday hunt after their gym class is out as well. This leaves weekends and Wednesdays, and me to rely on friends to watch the girls while I hunt.

Next season I might have to start in August to make up some time. I don't see a way around this situation until the girls are driving.

But thank goodness for Harris hawks. Even though they lose fitness and get somewhat out of their groove on such a reduced hunting schedule, they still succeed where other hawks would fall apart. We are enjoying good days in the field when we can get them. There are maybe 2-3 more hunts to be had before we leave for Amarillo. We'll make the most of them.

Update: 7 November 2008:

After Tuesday's disappointment (the hunt I mean--not the election) I was eager regain some ground---wet ground though it became.

After the hawk's first catch, a white curtain of rain enveloped the trees to the south and moved silently toward us. The wind freshened and pushed against the hawk on his perch. The rain began and was soon pelting the three of us on our transect of the field's north end. Rina tucked her tail and ducked her head but kept hunting. Ernie seemed not to notice the rain at all---a typical hawk reaction. I was quickly soaked and glad I had thought to wear a ballcap to shield my face.

We slogged on, catching a couple more birds and waiting in the downpour while Ernie ate them. Rina did her best to huddle up under banks of bent johnsongrass and wait until we resumed our march.

The sun finally reappeared, sitting just over the horizon. The wind slacked, but cooler air moved in behind it and raised hair on Rina and me both. Ernie roused and kept looking for game.

Update: 5 November 2008:

My Election Day hunt (first one after the end of DST) was a bust. I arrived at the field at 5:30pm, which was long after sunset and deep into twilight. We got three or four flights as I jogged quickly from cover to cover, the last one buzzing out into the pitch black and ending somewhere unseen. Into the land of the owls.

I found him on the ground after a panicy search and scooped him up for good.

If I can't find a solution to my too-late Tuesdays, I will be down to three hunts per week, a new low in my falconry career.

Update: 30 October 2008:

Tuesdays are tight hunts. I bring the hawk with me while dropping the girls off at gymnastics practice. We get there at 5 sharp, rush them in, and I run back to the truck for the twenty-minute (from the gym) drive to the field.

I can't bring the dog; there's no room in a Ford Ranger for the five of us. So I plan to hunt the thick spots on Tuesdays, where I know the dog would have difficulty and things would be more difficult for me also: This can make whatever we catch in the failing light more satisfying. If I leave having caught less (so goes the reasoning), I'm compensated for it by the knowledge of conspiring circumstances.

Well, hell. None of that works when the thick field is gone.

My good and generous friends south of town have left me a fine (really, a perfect) field intact for my use. But in order to do so, they have had to mow the rest of the property to lay in enough hay forthe winter. It caught my breath, just a hitch, to see the gleam of the setting sun in the windshield of the tractor and the plume of rising dust that was my honeyhole.

I turned the truck around, as I have many times before, and headed for my last refuge.

We had a perfect hunt---albeit without the dog, who would have been useful and happy in the thin cover. Ernie caught birds and ate birds and caught some more until his crop was full and he was shifting his chin above it just to see straight. The weather was good, a cold blue sky above us.

This weekend I'll have to fan out in search of new ground.

Update: 22 October 2008:

The world's financial system might be in turmoil, but we've entered a very stable period in my falconry. So we know at least one thing remains predictable: I'm still flying fat.

But it has been fun, and productive nonethless.

I've missed a couple hunts (yesterday's for example), which, on my schedule and with this gorgeous weather, I hate to lose. But if you eat six or seven birds on Sunday, you're likely to still be high on Tuesday. That's the way the jelly rolls.

On quarry per hunt, we're knocking 'em out of the park. Rina and Ernie are like a cast of Hoover-vacs our there, sucking up snack food left and right. Every hunt in recent memory has gone well, worry-free and enjoyable for all, except perhaps for the snack foods.

A short meeting with the ranch foreman got me a few more weeks of availability on my favorite field, an empty paddock of about 35-40 acres covered in lush johnsongrass. It will be baled for hay at some point, but for now we're in high cotton.

Update: 10 October 2008:

A Habit Most Fowl

I have a weight problem. This is widely acknowleged among my peers, and I've admitted it myself in print numerous times. I am not proud of it. It just is what it is.

I cannot seem to keep my hawks at hunting weight.

The past couple weeks have been typical: We start at a good snappy weight, something like 615 or 620 grams. Mind you, that's not skin and bones. This hawk would be sharp-set around 550. But after the first day and couple birds down the hatch, we don't see 615 again for a month. In fact, we gain about 6 grams per hunt, every hunt, until...

Until what? That's the question. And in a pervese way, I kind of want to know the answer.

Last night, sallying forth with a hawk just over 661 grams, I got a taste of what the top end might look like.

Now, we did good. Ernie caught game about every ten minutes for over an hour. Rina did her job and contributed to that score. But for the first time ever, Ernie picked up a bird in his beak and hovered out of the grass with it at the approach of the dog. He settled back a few feet away, but this trend (aka "carrying") is not something one expects of a Harris hawk, nor does one wish to encourage it. Safe to say a Harris can carry every bird it can catch, should it decide to.

Also for the first time, Ernie dropped a bird he already accounted for. In this case, the three of us looked up from the site of the catch to see a skunk ambling past us with its tail in the air. Ernie flared his wings and dropped his catch and leaped up to the pole in alarm. Rina stood dead still, trying not to breathe. We all turned and got out of there fast.

This morning? Three molted body feathers lay in the hawk box. My hawk is fat enough to molt in mid-October.

So what's the cost for my weight problem? I'm going to lose my chance to hunt this weekend. That's a given. But moreover, I'm going to risk losing the team cohesion I've spent over a year to build---Ernie's getting into the habit of flaring at the dog and shuffling around on the ground instead of eating. And if my hawk starts carrying, or decides (heaven forbid) to go on a walkabout, I risk losing him, period.

Hi. My name is Matt Mullenix. I have a weight problem. I pledge today to take some control of my life. Thank you.

Update: 2 October 2008:

Wherefore do we love the Harris hawk? What makes this strange bird so popular and an outright compulsion to some?

Everyone with an opinion weighs in eventually. The bird's obvious ability as a gamehawk is only one part of the answer. Lots of hawks catch game (though fewer in such startling variety). But add a calm demeanor and sociable nature, a physical toughness, a mental flexibility, and a good appetite to this great gamehawk, and you have the stereotypical Harris. A crowd pleaser.

But if trying to reduce my own fascination (and fondness) for this hawk to a single trait, what I appreciate best about this bird is its capacity for culture.

What is a Harris? A Harris is what you expect it to be, nothing more and very rarely less. It conforms to the normative behavior of its group, as quickly and thoroughly as this norm can be communicated. Training the Harris, in light of this, is mostly an act of rapid enculturation: "Look here," we begin. Eat this. Follow me. Chase what I chase. Quit when I quit.

In its capacity to conform to the norms of its immediate group, the Harris resembles---but I think surpasses---the dog. It is easier to retrain a Harris than a dog. It is easier to teach an old Harris new tricks.

When you accept the charge of a new Harris, remember your role. The bird is not your tool, it's your acolyte. The bird is watching you, looking for direction; it wants a leader, not to be dominated but to be educated in the norms of its group, to be assisted in its work, and ideally, to be inspired.

In the absence of clear leadership, the Harris will operate independently, but it will then resent your intrusion. Never forget that this very capable bird can find, flush, and catch its own food. Throughout much of its range, the Harris is in fact as solitary a hawk as a red-tail. But the Harris we know (from Mexico north) has become something more. It wants something more.

The Harris hawk we know wants to belong.

My hawk and my dog are two parts of a tiny society. I'm the third. We have numerous shared understandings, that include each others' roles, and each others' unique abilities and limitations. We have expectations of each other that amount to promises. I believe the three of us are motivated, consciously, to keep our promises and to hold each other to the same standard.

If you ask me what's so special about flying a Harris hawk, that's my answer.

Update: 1 October 2008:

Did the first month of the hawking season already pass?

Yep. Amazing. But I do start early and give myself an extra month or so to ease into the season.

I posted a few pics from the last hunt of September here.

Update: 25 September 2008:

"Dominated by high pressure" is an unfortunate phrase that bears no relation to the fine feeling one gets when blessed by a persistent mass of cool, breezy air and mounds of mood-enhancing sunlight. We are experiencing something very much like Fall weather here in the Land That Fall Forgets.

My friends in Florida report five migrant merlins trapped. I'll post pictures when Eric gets them to me.

On Tuesday's hunt, I was surprised to find "my" female harrier once again tipping her wings over the field and keeping an eye on Ernie's whereabouts. Harriers are hallmarks of the hawking season here: their annual visit corresponds almost exactly to the six-month stretch of available hunting. Incedentally, if you think harriers are harmless to hunting hawks (wow--some serious alliteration in this paragraph!), you don't know them well.

This bird is just a big, bouyant Cooper's hawk, as quick on the wing (and the wingover) as anything, and more than capable of killing a Harris on the ground. Their bird-eating is considerable, and the range of species they will tackle mirrors the Harris almost exactly.

I am more than happy to share my fields with the harriers each year. But I keep my eyes on them. So does Ernie.

Update: 22 September 2008:

I am hunting new cover. It borders the grassy pasture in which I usually roam, but it's coarser stuff, full of cockleburrs and doughnut-shaped patches of a thick flowering weed. All of it about waist-high. The cover is broken by irregular lawns of turf, bitten down pretty well by the cattle. Water stands in long drainage ditches, keeping the field dry enough to crack wherever turf or other foliage fails to cover it.

The cows complain at us, shuffling or jogging away while bellowing pathetically, but then they fill in behind us as if we might feed them. Rina, who doesn't chase stock but is interested in them, wanted badly to play with one of the calves yesterday. Had I let her, I might have gained a sheppherd to add to my one-dog kennel of pointer, spaniel, terrier and sighthound.

Rina looks so natural in this country. It suits her surprisingly well. She covers the ground nimbly, using the cattle trails and leaping over cover when necessary. Her thin black coat shows the dust in the slanting sunlight, giving her the look of a stock horse or some other working domestic animal, which of course she is.

But she is also a wild thing. She hunts this strange broken pasture like a jackal, keeping up with me by running twice as far at twice the pace but never missing stride. Always appearing where she needs to be. Her narrow face and long ears tune in to everything. When the game's a foot, she's on it, pushing through and tunnelling into stuff my armored legs find prickly.

Rina flushed several birds and rats for the hawk, a couple of each with such perfect timing the prey seemed to have volunteered for their roles. The two hunters are joined now by as strong a bond as I have with either of them. Where Rina goes, so goes Ernie overhead and expectant. When Ernie sprints after a wild flush, Rina sprints after him. Wherever the game puts in, pressure comes soon and from several angles.

This system we have is more highly evolved than I would have expected, or in fact, than I intended. One of my aspirations in falconry is to practice a form that is portable, one that operates under the widest possible range of circumstances. It is a value born of a tight schedule and the need for versatility. Versatility and simplicity.

But with the dog, the variables increase beyond estimation. They increase beyond control. It may be just by accident that it works so well, but however it happened, it is clearly a product of this place. It is a system unique to certain cattle pastures in certain parts of southeast Louisiana, a certain distance from the Mississippi river levee. Outside those parameters, it is a different system.

Update: 17 September 2008:

What a difference a few days can make in September. As the curtain of post-Ike humidity rolled east, a wave of cool air has moved in to claim center stage. Walking the same cover on the same farm after such a change is like strolling across another country.

After a good hunt, made fuller by an early start and air cool enough to support sustained motion, we drove home with the windows rolled down. The dog stuck her nose out her side and I put my elbow out of mine. The winding twilight River Road seemed relaxed, at peace for the first time in recent memory. It was again possible to imagine it as a rural road: What is in fact a small wedge of remnant cow pasture and woodland might as well have stretched across the parish.

Driving north in a truck with a dog, our elbows and noses in the wind, I wondered, When was the last time I saw the sun set?

Update: 15 September 2008:

In the backwash of a hurricane, when all that remains is a steady south wind pulling up from the Gulf of Mexico, the humidity in Baton Rouge is exquisite. It's like breathing through a warm washcloth, or trying to. We are accoustomed to moist air in southeast Louisiana. But this stuff is in another league altogether. You can feel the tropics in it. Smell the rainforest.

Think of hunting in mid-morning in high cover, the sun breaking clouds more often than not, breathing that heavy steam and wearing brush pants, calf-length rubber boots and a long sleeve T. Mosquitoes and ticks upon you. Bug dope and sunscreen running off your brow and into your eyes. Your glasses fogging and welling up along the bottom rim with sweat and wet lotion. Your ballcap soaked dark.

Does anybody do that? Why on Earth?

Because that's all there is. That's what we're talking about when we talk about the early season.

A prospective falconer called yesterday, saying he's ready for his test and excited to get his permit soon as possible. There is no hurry, friend. No hurry a'tall.

Update: 11 September 2008:

What kind of hawk is Ernie? Of what quality? Of what character?

These are easy questions to ask but hard to answer in a meaningful way. Are hawks so different from each other? Can Harris hawks, in particular, be recognized as individuals when they are so commonly described as "clones"?

I think so, but I wonder if it's possible to know the character of a hawk before he comes fully into his own. In a Harris, that may take three or four years of regular and successful hunting. Until then, however high his score, he might best be described as promissing or suitable.

Ernie is a promissing and very suitable hawk.

He is not, by what I've seen thus far, a superstar. He is probably not in Harry McElroy's "10 percent" category: Such hawks are, despite the above rule of thumb, recognizable early in their careers. I count my old Pico as a superstar and use him to measure others against. I've had only him that met that standard, although I've seen hawks flown by others who would qualify.

What does that make the other 90 percent? If they are Harris hawks, and well-bred (as Ernie is), almost all of them will succeed in spades. Ernie, depite moderate speed and only a season's experience, is capable of catching a wide variety of game and rarely disappoints by the end of the day. He is mild mannered to an almost ridiculous degree, a trait that endears him to me while proving highly practical in his acceptance of all things. Such a hawk does not get in his own way by fearing dogs or strangers or new environments.

Ernie has a good appetite, always a plus and a trait his breeders rank high among their qualifications for pairing mates. A hungry hawk, regardless his body weight, is a hawk motivated to hunt. Hovering someplace above "appetite" is drive or passion for the hunt, and it takes quite a number of days afield to determine this extra something.

Ernie does seem to love the hunt. His enthusiasm for the field is dog-like, and his willingness to follow any distance and take any reasonable chance to catch can be counted on.

But he seems not, depite the recent wire fence collision, reckless. Recklessness is a curious and terrible trait that some of the very best hawks will have, though they tend not to have it forever. Usually some disaster comes of it.

My money is on the long bet. I like a hawk that likes to catch and does so every day. But for that extra 10 percent, over the long haul of a hawk's many potential years of hunting, there is just too high a price to pay.

Update: 8 September 2008:

Thanks Isaac for the reminder to blog. I need reminding to do most everything lately. It has been a long week.

We've been to the field twice so far. The first day started well.

Rina charged around me like a jet ski in calm water, so happy to be back in the field she could hardly contain herself. The air was cool and dry thanks to a brief cool front that passed in the wake of the hurricane. We hit the pasture around 6:30 pm, a nice time to be out no matter what time of year.

Ernie also seemed pleased to be back at work. His head snapped left and right and wings flared at slight movements in the grass. He bolted at something and bound to it near my feet. A wood chip, about the size and shape of a mouse. He had it good and wasn't letting go. As I wrestled him for his fool's gold, Rina stopped running and turned into the wind.

She made a beautiful point in the slanting light and held it. You could tell it was all nose and no eyes; she wasn't poised to pounce, just pointing a bird she knew to be in the grass about four feet away.

I was quietly cussing at Ernie and prying his talons from the soft wood one at a time. I got him free and re-focussed just in time for Rina to lose her head and run up the bird. We got a flight but it was hopeless. I was at least happy for Rina and proud of her.

We chased a few more that rose well ahead of Rina and without her apparent foreknowledge. A final set-up turned out too good to be true. After chasing a bird into cover, Rina and I advanced with hawk on pole and a barbed wire fence too close behind us. The bird lit for the fence and threaded between it, leaving Ernie to collide with a strand, spin around on his axis and hang by a wing. Full speed to zero.

Astoundingly, no bone was broken. After untangling him and examining the wing, a small hole could be seen in the patagium where the barb sank in and caught him up short. Later that evening, Shelly pulled a small feather from the wound and flushed with hydrogen peroxide. Otherwise, he seemed OK.

I gave him a day's rest and tried again on Sunday. Rina was along but produced nothing in the way of points or flushes, although I suspect there was little out there to find. At the end of a long hike we flushed a small mammal and Ernie caught it. There was not much in that with which to evaluate his flying ability post-collision, but it was a promising sign that any injury he has might be slight.

I fed him up and will give him another day's rest before flying.

Update: 21 August 2008:

We're off to a wobbly start. Ernie broke a primary high up on the feather, cause unknown, but the break was clean and straight, possibly mechanical in nature. With Shelly's help we got it imped back in place, and the position is perfect. We'll see if the weld holds.

Harris hawks don't break feathers. It's so rare I can't rememeber the last time I had to imp one. I have dozens of old ones at the ready, many years worth of molted tail feathers and primaries, saved with little expectation of ever needing them. But after Ernie's rocket-fast molt this year and so many feathers grown in simultaneously, I'm worried some fault may lie inside them. I may well need my spares this year.

Otherwise we're in good shape. His weight is in range and we've been excesizing in the yard for a few days. I show him the carry-pole, extended to 15 feet, and he pumps to the top of it in anticipation of a tossed treat. Repeat. Repeat.

We'll do this till Labor Day and then hit the field.

Update: 28 July 2008:

Ernie dropped two tail feathers on Saturday---unfortunately, they were two of the new ones! A Harris will continue to molt (breed, too) more or less indefinitely if he's well fed and rested. After having burned through the fastest molt of any Harris I've known, he seems ready to do it all over again so long as the vittles keep coming.

So the vittles are going to come in smaller portions now. One sparrow per day is my usual end-of-summer ration. It takes about a month on this diet to get a male Harris back to hunting weight, stress-free. I've been watching and slightly reducing the rations for about two weeks; but starting Sunday, I'll tighten this process, weighing the food and the hawk daily and starting the charts again.

Rina is ready, and has been ready, every single day since last season ended to get back into the field. Is it time yet? Is it? How about today? Hello? How 'bout tomorrow?

Her new thing is monitoring the sparrow trap. If she sits in the spare kitchen chair and pushes her face against the glass, she can see the trap and its contents in the side-yard. If there's a sparrow in it, she whines and comes to get me. I give her the head; Ernie gets the rest.

In other news, Charlie will be going to Dallas to join Smash. They have never flown together, but are both easy-going and gregarious birds and related besides. Smash is Charlie's nephew. Steve A., who will be flying them, tells me he was planning on a cast of males but didn't think it would happen this year. Thankfully, it took exactly zero arm-twisting to get him to change his plans. Both hawks will be in good hands.

Word is trickling in from all corners: birds are coming out of molt and falconers are gearing up. What summer plans that never came to pass will have to wait another year.

Update: 18 June 2008:

"Oh, is it humid out!"

Nana closes the kitchen door behind the dog, who tears around the corner of the house and sideyard to bark at another dog beyond the fence.

It's morning. The girls are brushing teeth and arguing. Their bag lunches and swimsuits are packed. I am writing at the computer, waiting for 9am and a cross-town drive to day camp.

We're making it in the heat and trivial boredoms of summertime. The dog is no longer anxious at the thought of being left behind when I get in the car; she knows that hunting season is over. Really over. She is resigned to evening walks and waiting until fall.

Ernie is almost molted. He looks like a new hawk in his new clothes, but he's the same old kid on the inside. 200 grams of balast have not changed his cheery outlook. He still speaks to me in familiar grunts and flips his head upsidedown when I pass.

Three months to go, more or less.