Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Digging on the Dogs

Gideon faces a raccoon.

Today was the first really hot day in the field -- really too hot to dig, but Doug was coming down from New York and stopping in Fredericksburg to pick up a tiercel Harris Hawk, so we had scheduled the dig a couple of weeks ago thinking it would be below 90 for sure. Nope: 95 degrees in the shade -- not that there was any shade.

We started off at 8:00 AM as Doug has to cut out to pick up the hawk by eleven. The short story is that while there were a lot of holes, and the dogs showed some interest, it was clear there was a big problem: we had had a couple of weeks of heavy rains, and the creek had shot its banks by quite a lot. Weed rafts in the bushes showed the water rise had been at least six or seven feet above normal. The holes had been flooded, and the critters had abandoned the creek for either the trees or perhaps the railroad embankment one field over (an active railroad embankment, so we do not work it with the dogs).

Another problem was that the grass at water-side had been left uncut and was standing better than 6 feet tall and blowing pollen like smoke. I have walked a lot of fields in my day, but I never seen pollen roll off of standing grass like this. Wow!

At one hole, Doug and I heard a splash that was much bigger than a frog. My guess was an otter.

About a half hour before Doug was to go, we lost Mountain. We called, and walked the bank, but he had clearly tucked in some place. My guess was that it was a raccoon or a possum, as she will generally move off of a groundhog after a point (maybe 20 minutes)  and if she hears me calling. She will not move off a fox, a coon or a possum, however.

I walked Doug back to the vehicles, put Gideon in the crate in back of the truck, and then headed back out to find Mountain. I followed the tried and true technique of just stopping and listening.... moving a bit farther and doing it again.

Eventually I heard her -- in the ground and with a nice rhythmic bay. I put my hat in a sapling and my locator box (taped bright yellow) high in a fork right over the hole, and went back for the gear.

I met the farmer on the way back. She noted that she had swapped out beef (Angus) for dairy cattle (Holsteins) and when I enquired about the new fence up near the old dairy barn, she said she was going to get two llamas. Cool! And yes, she not only had otter in the creek, but also a couple of beaver that had chewed up about 50 of the small trees planted a few years back. She had called in a trapper to take care of the problem.

With her permission, I drove the truck up about 20 feet from the hole. It was smoking hot, and no matter how soft the ground, this was not going to be an easy dig due to the heat.

I listened at the hole, and it sounded like a raccoon. Excellent.

Long story short, after two and a half hours, I got Mountain out of the hole and swapped in Gideon for a little baying (Gideon's first raccoon), before filling in all the holes except a bolt hole for the raccoon to escape after we left. This farmer wants groundhogs taken off, as they break down the stream banks, but she wants fox, possum, and raccoons left unharmed, and I am only too happy to oblige.

Doug texted me from the road -- he got his new hawk and is working on a new name for the bird. Excellent on all scores!


Seahorse said...

After seeing the picture of Gordon below, I went over the Doug's blog last night and read that he'd lost Gonzo. What a sad thing. Did they determine whether it was WNV? I'm intrigued about this buying of hawks, and just about everything else about falconry.

Yesterday was an INSANE day to be digging! Glad you got Mountain out o.k.


PBurns said...

Not sure. Hawks and eagles can live a long time in theory, but most are not that fortunate succumbing to disease, parasites, infection, damage from prey (as you can see with Gonzo, a squirrel can wreck a hawk in quick order), impact with powerlines, windows, and fences, cold, and starvation. Gonzo was a much loved and respected bird.


Jenn said...

A good day, despite the heat.

I like that some of your hunt is 'catch and release' - this is, I think, the first mention of that here.

PBurns said...

Groundhogs are generally dispatched (though not all), while everything else is generally let go. Lots of pictures on here of critters released.

In the UK, of course, becasue the animal rights morons stuck their beak into areas they did not understand, the law REQUIRES all fox to be shot while bolting the hole. Yep, that's right: the law requires the fox be dispatched, requires that the most dangerous kind of dispatch to humans and dogs be done (a moving animal shot on the fly), and requires the kind of dispatch that is most likely to leave a fox gut-shot and dying in a ditch.

seeker said...

The Animal Rights Morons makes them kill Foxes?? So how do you shoot them if guns are illegal? Proving once again why we revolted against English rule.

Debi and the TX JRTs

PBurns said...

Guns are legal, but mostly just shotguns so you are looking at a shotgun blast on a running fox. Might be a problem (esp, with a .410 which was the most common gun for dispatch in the hole and the only one a lot of folks own). I will not run down british game laws, only say that I am glad to be an American with the best wildlife management in the world. Not perfect, but still the best.