Life as a falconer, insect systematist, and double Masters Student (or a look into the mind of someone who is questionably sane).

29 August 2006

Another sesaon in the books. It went ok although it was definatly more frustrating at points then the last 2 seasons have been. Guess its expected though since fieldwork isnt all beer and skittles as Dr. Petterson would say (although he was describing passing the Lacey Act at the time). But all in all it was a good time as always. Finished up the season in style with a final ft davis trip on wensday to pull malaise traps and see all my friends in the area. Even got a free coke from jimmy the mechanic. Wensday night went out to DQ with Clay and a bunch of people from tpwd including Misty, a biologist working near kent. Nice to finally get to meet her. It was also nice to survive the evening shift since as I was running around trying to hit this bunny with a knife I ended up chasing it into this bush. I looked down and saw a snake shed. It looked kinda like a rattlesnake shed but I couldnt be sure. So of coure I took another step towards it into the bush. This set off the rattlesnake which was about a foot away from my foot. I jumped abotu 5 ft out of the bush and decided I had done enough rabbit hunting for the day. Typical it would happen 2 nights before I leave, happens every year. My 1st year I was running roads with Ryan and Lauren and came across a pissed off Mojavie (so of coures we had to take pictues of it). Then last year I had just gotten my pellet gun and Paul, a Baeza attendant, and I wer out shooting bunnies. After wandering around the rocky area for a while Paul commented on the lack of rattlesnakes. I took another step and sure enough the rattling began right at my feet. Thanks Paul. Thursday during the break we met up with Paul, Lauren, John, and Chrissy for lunch at Ms. Tonys for a late birthday/end of seaons lunch. Gotta do the thursday buffet at least once a season. After this we moved the freezer to Hazels room and then Lauren and I looked at bird pictures for the rest of break. Evening shift was uneventful excpet for my 7th flat tire which occured right at the gate, good times. Friday was spent fixing the tire then finally hitting the road for AZ. Stopped in Crucsis on the way to pick up wine and eat lunch. The plan had been to stop in El Paso, but we apparently made a wrong turn and when we noticed the area getting a bit shady then the signs that said boarder 1 block we decided to head back north and to not risk another near boarder crossing just stay on the highway until Crucsis. As an added bonus being in NM ment I could eat Blakies. I even called the rest of the family to rub it in. When we got in we took the mews tours and after looking at the gos and the aplo headed towards the tribred. Harry mentioned something about having feathers to imp in, and so I figured he was talking about us imping the feathers while we were around. So I asked him if we would be imping and he said itd be up to me. I was a bit confused and he said I had no clue what he was saying but id figure it out in a minute. So we all went out to the back mews and in with the tribred. After looking at him for a bit Harry asked what I though of him. I figured it was a nice looking bird and he said it was mine if I wanted him since he knew I was looking for a small bird hawk. As Harry was feeding the horses I asked how much he wanted for the bird and he said I could have him for a nickle. He then told me about his grandfather buying him a motercycle when he was 16 and a car when he was 18 and that when he was a kid in the depression his allowance was a nickel, which he and his friend would use to buy a candy bar once a week. Then we fed the quail and the pigeons. Back to the house for our dinner time. First home cooked meal in who knows how long while discussing falconry, dogs, and all the normal topics. I slept in my normal room near the garrage, funny thing is I've spent more nights in that room than I have in my room in allen in probabily 7 years since I've been sleeping on the floor in the living room with my dogs since I was a sophmore in highschoool, and before that it was the floor somewhere in the house. I've actually started to think of that back room as mine when I visit. 515 came way too early, but since AZ doesn't switch their clocks it felt more like 715. We stood around until Paul, a possibile apprentice, got to the house, then we loaded up the Aplo and the Gos along with the pointer, Mozart and the Fiest, Schebert, and took off to the field. The Gos went first and in typical gos fashion decided it didnt like having other people in the field and flew across the field and into a low spot prompting a telemetry hunt. Once Harry retrived him it was time for the Aplo. The Aplo was a bit unsure of more people in the field also, but figured it out after a bit and caught a few insects. After a while Harry tossed it a sparrow which it caught pretty easily. We then backed off to see if she would cashe, but she ate a chunk of it then carried it back to the suv and ate the rest there before flying over to Harry. Once we got back to the house it was feeding time. Harry took care of the Aplo and the Gos then we went into the tribred's mews. I weighted the bird then put him back on a perch and got the food ready. Harry, Paul, and Lauren left and I took the bird back up. He ate a bite then realized I didnt have a good grip on the meat and took off with it. Knew I should have asked for a smaller glove. He carried it off and started screaming at me, so I sat for a bit then when it was apparent the bird wasn't going to do anything other than mantle and scream I left and we ate our breakfast, then talked birds most of the afternoon. I went and got the tribred and had it on the fist for quite a while. He did well, only baited once and it was when I was attempting to hood him. He screamed for a while, but started to quiet down after a while. Me, Harry, and Lauren switched off so I could make phone calls trying to figure out the tx regs on health certificates. Paul left after a while, so it was just the 3 of us talking birds as usual. The bird started getting a bit ansy so I put him back up and called it a day. We went to a Fish and Game guys house for a bbq, so that was nice. Tried Scotch, yeah its definatly an aquired taste I havn't quite aquired yet. Next day we went back out hawking although we only took the Aplo with us this time. She did better with having more people in the field and had some nice bird flights. She caught her sparrow and cashed it, but we couldn't find it so sent the dog in. Schebert found it and tried to eat it, I grabed it out of her mouth but had it in sight of the Aplo who flew over, grabbed it and ate it. Once she was done back to the house where I bagged the tribred on a sparrow in the mews then ate breakfast. After breakfast I fed my bird a bunch of pigeon (up to 328g, very high for the bird) without him trying to carry or doing much screaming. His manners weren't too bad and he didn't mantle much on the fist. Loaded up and hauled it back to Valentine. Lunch was the care package Beth packed up for us before we left, definatly handy. Gave Hazel a quick stick shift driving lesson then off to bcs. Drive was uneventful except for the rain and made it back around 330 AM. Good times

22 August 2006

So the roadrunners out at the site are pretty unwary. This one was maybe 3 feet away from us when I took the picture.

So Angel though we were overfeeding and would run out of quail before the end of the season. So Katie and I counted quail that evening. We had exactly enough assuming that we kept feeding the same amount (in reality the number decreases as time goes on)

My grandfather pointed out the dangers of climbing under jacked up vehicles, so to put his mind at ease I figured Id put up this one showing we were using 2 jacks just in case.

Heres one of Kos on release day flying into a bush. More to follow I'm sure.

21 August 2006

Life at the site has been ok, the road has gone to hell over the last week- there are now 1-2 ft deep ravines at random spots along the road which are invisible until youre in them. No more flat tires though, guess ive found all the sharp rocks already. On a totally different note I finally turned 21. Went to alpine for the occasion after getting off work about 9. Hazel and I picked up Aaron and went to erics house where he and ryan were we all hung around until it was midnight and I could get into the bar. Got to eat brisket and sausage while arguing about deer. The non texans didnt realize how big wtd hunting is in texas and that in reality deer are worth more than cattle to many ranches these days. This led to a discussion of exotics in tx, illustrated by a variety of skulls that eric had. Which of course broke down into the totally nerdy (but what you expect from me and my friends) discussion of skull morphology and sagital crests. At 1200 we listened to Everclear and then the Road Goes on forever and the Party Never Ends then loaded into erics truck and went to the blues. After convincing the bouncer that it was after midnight so I was legal I got my stamp and we went in. Got my first beer- a shiner, what else? and found Pancho and Carl who were already at the bar. There was a band that wasnt too bad. Drank and danced until 2 then we went back to Ryans house and argued about GIS for a while. An added bonus was sunny (ryans pointer) slept with me, made me miss my pointer- 1 more week until i get him back (and he goes on a major diet). 530 came way to early and it was time to head back to van horn. Dropped Aaron off in Marfa then went to the site. Hazel got us stuck in the mud on the railroad road, and even after I messed with it for a bit 1 wheel was still stuck we were kinda pivoting around it actually, never seen that before. Since we were in about a foot of water I couldnt just get out and see what was up, instead I managed to climb out of the truck and into the bed so I could jump up and down over the stuck wheel. It caught and we got out and made it to the site. We grabbed t-bones and drove down to valentine to bbq them up. On the way there were a couple scaled quail crossing the road and instead of flying away they flew into the windsheild. They were in pretty good shape so I grabbed them and we threw them on the bbq also. Yeah I'm a redneck. Steaks turned out ok although the fire was too hot so one side got pretty seared. Noone had ever seen steaks being constantly rotated while cooking, guess thats just another thing my family does strange. Then it was back to the site for the evening shift. Back at the otel I grabbed some dinner then Hazel and I went to the piolet so I could actually buy my first beer. However there was no shiner or anything remotely drinkable (it was all 40s of what you would expect to find at a gas station that also serves as a greyhound stop). So we left but in the process ran into Angel who said hed be at the bar in a bit. So we headed to the bar and after a while Angel came in and got me a Corona (they dont sell shiner at Gilberts). Only problem was the bar only takes cash which he didnt have. But never fear Peter the otel owner had already told the bar tender he was buying our beer. All in all a pretty good birthday.

16 August 2006

Since my last posting ive had 2 more flats and gotten stuck. Yeah its impressive I know. After the 2nd one of the day I had had enough (although I know some pretty cool tire changing tricks, can change them in less than 10 min, and could probabily even patch them if i had all the cool machines mechanics have). So I broke down and bough a new tire. I even upgraded from a 4 ply to a 6 ply. I think i scared the mechanic when I started talking in as Katie calls it fluent tire. This is what happens when youve changed more tires in the last month than most people do in years. Gotta love wtx roads after major storms. There are now at least 3 places in the road where you drop about a foot. To make it really fun the spots are invisible until your on them. Whats happened is weve had about 3 inches of rain over the last few days and the roads flood every time. In the process theyve been cutting channels through the road and these widen and deepen to make the large ditchs that have been plaguing my existance recently. This morning I got stuck on the way to the site. I wasnt too deep, but there was another truck that had spent the night out there, along with a 150 that got stuck shortly after i did. The 150 got out and left the other truck and I to figure it out ourselves (he was from florida so thats expected I guess) Damn hippies. I tried sticking 2x4s under the back tires and backing up onto them with hazel pushing. Got one side out but not the other. Chrissy came out and between the 4 of us we jacked my truck up (bumper jacks are pretty cool), wedged a bunch of rocks under the stuck tire and with the 3 of them pushing got my truck out. The other guys truck was a lost cause so we gave him a ride back to van horn to get his buddies oil truck which had a cable long enough to pull his truck out from the "dry" part of the road. Never a dull moment out here i guess.

14 August 2006

Heres an Aplo through the scope. My camera fits perfectly onto the scope so I can take some close up pictures. Just have to work on focusing now and lighting now.

I love west texas sunrises. Thats one of my favorite parts of this job being totally in tune with sunrise and sunset. You miss out on some cool ones being stuck in a building.

Female Aplomado between Marfa and Valentine. She was probabily one of last years birds since she was molting her tail and starting to get some adult brest and head feathers. It would have been a great trapping set up, she wasn't spooky at all. One day...

Katie and I changing the tire on Laurens truck. Weve become very efficent tire changers these days. The p-fund always teaches useful life skills, tire changing is one of them (others include novel ways to tell sour milk and how to fix everything from scopes to fences).

This is one of our Aplos on release day. It was 105F in the shade and apperently it decided that under the shade blind with us was a good perching spot for a few minutes.

Lets see since the last post ive had drum roll please 2 more flat tires. Shocking I know. The big issue is the road is totally washed out and theres tons of exposed rock and bottles. Not to mention the foot drops that appear out of nowhere in different spots after each rain. Good times. Other than that the birds are doing well, weve been getting some good rains, and having fun running around wtx. Last night was spent in Valentine where we had an unplanned hack gathering. The plan had been for a bunch of us to go to marfa and meet up with a couple others down there but on arriving at the house we rapidly lost motivation to continue another half hour south. So upon consulting with Lauren we decided to stay and maybe go shoot a bunny for dinner. We went over to Angel and asked if we could throw a bunny on the bbq, but he said there was enough meat for the 4 of us. We figured steaks, pork, and chicken sounded ok so no bunnies met an untimely end. Well as expected one thing led to another and the party didnt break up until the early morning hours (but not before angel stated singing itsy bitsy spider and dancing to the music the means girls were playing). So all of us crashed there- 7 people and 7 trucks as Hazel calls it a truck convention. We all woke up at 600 and it was back to work. Other big news is a bird from one of the other sites appeared today, at first i though she was one of my birds that had been gone for a couple days but then i got a better view and realized the m looked more like a h. This is the 1st time ive had birds from other sites come to my tower, usually my birds ditch my site after a while and join up with larger sites to the south. Seems like a good chunck of the birds eventually end up at one site.

12 August 2006

Been a while since the last one. Since then I've gotten a second flat, gotten stuck a second time, and have gotten really good at driving through water up to my doors. Weve had quite a bit of rain off and on which is definatly needed. Big news recently has been eating rattlesnake for lunch. We were hoping to make it a wildgame lunch but since i wasnt able to nail any bunnies with rocks or knifes we only had the snake. Ive come really close a couple times and even hit one once with a rock and another with the knife but no kills. I have a whole new respect for kos catching bunnies, the pellet gun makes it look so easy this has been a nice challenge. A few days ago we had 4 different families 3 orders and 2 different classes interacting. A roadrunner came in and grabbed a baby cottontail. It was screaming and the mother chased the bird (with baby in beak) away. The Alpos launched off the tower and chased the bunny until this swainsons hawk appeared out of nowhere and started chasing the bunny. The aplos decided that was not allowed and took off after the swainsons. They chased it about a mile before coming back to the site. It was pretty wild.

07 August 2006

Well the trend continued with truck fun on the road. I'm a firm believer in anyone doing fieldwork should be able to fix basic car issues, for examle changing tires. This car maintnace will usually occur at the least oppertune times, for example in a lightning storm, on a muddy wet road, and best of all in the dark. Yeah that was the story of my yesterday. After a leisuerly day in van horn (highlight was ms. tonys with lauren) we headed back out to the site. It must have rained in the mountians west of the site cause water was pouring onto the road. It didnt get as high as a couple days ago but it was enough to make things intersting. We made it to the site and watched birds as usual. All our birds left around 2030 so i pulled food while katie packed up our gear. Getting back on the road I went over this huge rock I look at every feeding time and think I should move and never get around to doing it. I also totally forgot that my cell phone was still in the blind and we took off for the otel. About 2 miles from pavement I remembered my phone so we turned around and headed back to the site. Katie stayed at the gate and I ran to the blind, grabbed my phone and jumpped into the truck since it was starting to rain again and I wanted to make it back to pavement before dark so if we got stuck again it was at least a little light. I collected Katie and we started back down the road. After a few miles and some major lake crossings i noticed the truck was pulling pretty bad and the noises were sounding a bit wierd. Great. So I stopped the truck and hopped out. Sure enough my front driver tire was looking pretty bad. No problem, ive lost count of the number of tires ive changed over the years in wtx. Those ranch roads (and air machines at a certian gas station in kent) are hard on tires. After the 2 of us won the struggle to bring the spare down we finally got things rolling. Within a 5 minutes we had the truck jacked up and the lug nuts off. Something about not parking on the only rock and with the jack point over the spot farthest from the ground probabily had something to do with it. We swapped out the tire and were back on the road within 30 min. Not too bad. Wes had gotten into town while we were gone and picked up a pizza for the 3 of us. Pizza is always good.

05 August 2006

The rain continues, its a beautiful thing. Weve needed it for sure. Its been good soaking rain so hopefully now itll green up. We went to camp meeting again yesterday and pretty much all everyone was talking about was the rain. Over the last 3 years I've come to realize how important rain is out here. You can tell whos got rain and who hasnt just by listening to the ranchers (or looking at the trucks since a mud covered truck is a badge of honor). If its not raining all the talk is about how much we need it and if the rains have come its talking about rainfall patterns. The spottyness of the precip out here is hard to believe until you live it. I've literally checked gauges where one has 2-3 inches of rain and the next pasture over got nothing. Over the last 4 days weve gotten quite a bit of rain which has led to some interesting happenings. As mentioned previously there was our 7 hr power outage a couple days back. Well today we got a ton of rain all around wtx. We had to trade in our pfund 4x4 so only had my truck to get to the site. We attempted to make it to the site but after making it through giant puddle number 1 stopped to take a picture. I knew the water was rising, but didnt realize how fast it was coming up. In the min or 2 i was parked there the water came up 2 inches and flooded an aditional 30-40 ft of road. We saw a car approaching from the direction we wanted to go, and they said it was even worse up ahead. We drove on to check it out for ourselves and sure enough it was higher than it was the day Lauren and I went out with Paul and Angel. An izsue came through the 2nd puddle and said it was rising and even if we made it through that puddle the next one was worse and there was no way the truck could make it. So we decided the birds wernt going to eat tonight and turned back around just in time to see the izsue and the car back out of the puddle. Guess over the last couple of minutes the water had risen to the impassable point. So the 6 of us got out and hung around the island we were trapped on. There was Katie and I, a father and his young son (in the Izsue and both named Francisco), and a middle age couple that owns 40 acres farther up the road (in the car). Me, Katie, and Francisco Jr. who was probibly 6 or so had a good time playing in the mud and foam that appears in the water down here. After a little over an hour the couple in the car decided to try and make it through since the water had droped a good 3 inches. They made it a bit farther down the road until an arroyo cut through the road and it got too deep for them. By now me and the Izsue had caught up to them and we decided we could probibly make it in our trucks. After exchanging numbers with the couple incase they got stuck I scooted over to let the Izsue through since we decided to have him go first. He made it through although his truck almost got flooded a couple times. We then took off in my truck. Almost flooded out a time or two but the red devil as Lauren has taken to calling my truck fought its way through the water. Then the troubles began. There was a hill of mud between this lake and the next one which was kinda chewed up from the Izsue. I started up it, got almost to the top when the truck finally remembered it wasnt 4x4 and got stuck. I tried a couple different things in hopes of getting it out but no luck. Francisco got his tow rope out and tied on to the trucks and pulled at it for a while but no go. However he managed to loosen me up enough that I could reverse again and this time hit it at a slightly different angle and going faster. After flooring it and saying a few encouraging words i made it up and out. We then continued down the road with no more close calls. Back at the otel Katie and I decided to run to the market since we were back earlier than normal. We walked in and there were the 2 Franciscos. Jr. was so excited to see us again he ran over to us and followed us around. It rapidly degraded into chased us around the store playing tag until his parents were done and the 2 of us had our grocerys. The rest of the night was spent at the bar next door where we played 3 games of pool. Definatly not shining moments for the pool game thats for sure. I think the p-fund needs a table in valentine for us to play on so when were in town we can represent the p-fund with honor not by knocking the balls back and forth until one happens to go in. By the 3rd game we werent doing quite so bad, but it still wasnt too pretty.
Pictures are here- i realized that there was a card reader in valentine that would fit my flashcard, so heres some pictures

As i mentioned in one of my earlier posts Paul totally burried his truck. It was up to his axle in front. Took the 4 of us 2 hrs to get him out. Note the birds in back (in the Uhaul boxes)

Lauren and I with 2 of our birds before putting them in the box.

Kos after I released her. She stuck around and actually followed me through the field even though she was 100g over weight. Too bad i didnt kick anything up for her on the way back to the truck.

More pictures to come later

04 August 2006

I realilzed how much driving I do when I looked at my odometer today and realized 2 things:
A- I've driven close to 7000 miles in the last month and a half
B- My truck has over 51000 miles on it, i've had it for 23 months, and it had .8 miles when I got it.
Something tells me I do a lot of driving.

Yesterday Lauren and I grabbed pizza in Marfa where the Pizza Foundation makes the greatest pizza in the world. We talked birds, falconry, and dogs (shocking I know) then went to Alpine looking for the passport picture place. After a couple attempts we were successful and headed back to Valentine. We didn't see any haggard Aplos this trip (last time we went to Marfa I spotted one on a power line. Turns out it was 2A). Watched some movies in Valentine- finally got to see the one about putting together Aplomado nest structures that Paul has been telling me about since 2004. Watching those guys weld the boxes (to music no less) makes me want to learn to weld. Over the last 5 or so years my bro and I have been wanting to weld, maria and I actually got him a welding mask one birthday. However my mom forbids us from buying welding stuff not even a keychain size welder from home depot. Dont know why, eddie and I would never burn down the house or anything... Guess shes learned from watching the 2 of us anything with fire is to be avoided.

It was an uneventful evening at the hack site, but when we got back to the otel the power was out and appeared to have been out for a while. There went our plan of finishing Three Kings since both our laptops were dead. So we went to Wendys. Only issue was everyone in Van Horn had the same idea along with the grayhound bus people. After standing in line for a while we decided to just drive to valentine and eat down there- it only takes half an hour or so and the way the line was going wendys would probabily be longer than that. So down to valentine where Lauren, Katie, and I talked birds for a while then Lauren and I lapsed into the typical falconry discussion of what bird to get next. We both want to pull eyas falcons and tame hack them so looked into that, but hen passage goses from wyoming look fun, or maybe we should get some passage falcons. So many birds and so little time.

A couple things I learned in Dominica came in handy today. The first was always take duct tape with you. Ive always loved duct tape and usually have some within easy reach, but after setting up a trap with a huge rip due to lack of duct tape I now never leave home without it. While going to Marfa I noticed Laurens truck was making a rubbing noise. Turns out she lost a mud flap and part of it was rubbing against the tire. A bit of duct tape to hold the flap back and no more rubbing (well at least until we got home and it came off when we hit a puddle). The second was to always have a headlamp. I had one in my backpack which definatly came in handy at the powerless otel.

Today Lauren and I went to Davis where along with the normal haunts of ours we went by the exxon to see Jimmy the mechanic. I was hoping to get the truck inspected but he was out of stickers so ill have to go back next week. Thatll be a good excuse to go harrass him again, I try and see him whenever I make it back out to west texas. We found out that one of the insect sellers also had an art gallery in davis so we went over there to see if he was around. His shop was closed but there were some cool bugs in the windows. I walked to the shop next door to see if they knew when he would be back. Turns out the shop sold rocks, mostly collected in the area. Ill go back sometime when i can take a good look at the stuff, there were definatly some neat looking rocks. Next was the Caboose for ice cream, i almost had a scare jodie though they were out of tripple chocolate but was able to find a couple scoops for me in back. Tragidy narrowly averted. On the way out of town we saw that the gallery was open so we stopped by and talked to greg for a bit. Turns out he lives near dave so next time im up there ill stop by and see the collection. No other big news in wtx.

02 August 2006

The rain has started, hopefully it keeps it up. Weve gotten a couple inches over the last few days here in van horn. I am pleased to report that I have not gotten stuck yet, maybe its because I know not to randomly turn right into an unassuming body of water like some people I know. We went to Camp Meeting, this week long gathering of ranching families that have been in wtx forever. The first one was in 1890, and the land it takes place on is used only for this event each year. There are 5 families who cook food and each has a shelter they serve their food in. I went with Lauren, Katie, and Chrissy and ate at the Millers. Bill Miller is an excellent cook, we had steaks. There must have been 150 people served by the Millers today. Its a huge family reunion reminds me of the get togethers we have in NM where its impossible to keep track of whos who and how were all related. It was a lot of fun. Back in valentine we switched Napoleon Dynamite for Three Kings. Not much else going on out here, sent in my 186-a for releasing my redtail Kos. I turned her loose a while back. I figure she'll be fine and hopefully will make some red tails as good as she was. I think next on the agenda will be a taita falcon if i'm lucky but if not itll be a tiercel prairie or maybe a merlin. I cant wait for trapping season!