Saturday, February 14, 2015

Attacking Hawk Mystery Solved

Would there be a happy ending for our Sparrow Hawk visitor?

(Part 2 of 2)
(Part 1, the beginning)

Operating on the information given to us by the Fish and Wildlife agent, we set out to find a possible nest that the hawk(s) were possibly protecting.  Armed with an umbrella I bravely headed out to investigate the abandoned horse trailer in the pasture.

Of course, no sooner had I come within the "attack perimeter" than the hawk made an appearance.  He flew straight at me from the nearby tree.  Now, this bird is not that big, but I have to say, it's rather unnerving to see a bird of prey, no matter how small, making a bee line for your head.

I ducked, of course, and covered my head with the umbrella.  The hawk popped it with it's claws, then flew away and landed on the nearby fence, staring at me intently.  Gathering himself (or herself), he/she launched another attack with eyes looking straight into mine.  It attacked again and again with the same relentless intensity.  Abandoning my search, I scrambled back to safety, flapping my umbrella as I ran. This bird was possessed.

 I had managed to get a peek into the trailer and saw no evidence of a nest.  We watched the hawk for several days, trying to see if we could locate a nesting area.  Nothing looked promising and there were continued attacks. Everyday. To everybody.   It was beginning to look like there was going to be a bad ending for the hawk visitor. The prevailing answer to the problem was "You're going to have to shoot it".  Not cool.

Hawk Mystery Solved

As luck would have it, someone suggested the hawk might be an escaped "trained" falcon.  That could explain the bird's behavior.  It was just trying to land on a human, any human, to be fed.  Calls were made, emails were sent out and, as it turns out, there was a falconer nearby who had lost her bird sometime ago.  She volunteered to come by and check  if this hawk was hers.

The lady falconer, with my neighbor bravely assisting her, stood in the area where the bird always attacked. It didn't take very long for the hawk to show up.  Following the falconer's instructions, my neighbor held out her arm invitingly.  He landed on her head, of course!  But, she held her composure and the hawk was captured.

It wasn't the falconer's long-lost falcon, unfortunately.  Apparently, Sparrow hawk's don't live that long in the wild, so it was a long shot anyway.  But, she told us it was a female and that she would take it home with her.  That was the best plan for the hawk, since she was not suited now to be on her on in the wild and would live longer in captivity.

So, the beautiful Sparrow hawk's behavior was explained.  She was not attacking, but simply trying to join back up with a human, as she was trained to do, nothing more.  She let us touch her and pick her up as tamely as could be.  The old gentleman, who had been attacked repeatedly for days, took one feather as a reminder of her. He's probably missing  her now on his trips to the mail box.

Farm Resources

Organic liquid fertilizer for pastures
VermaPlex® in Spring 
It's almost Spring -
Time to apply VermaPlex®
to the pasture.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Visitor From Mother Nature

We recently had an unexpected visitor who caused quite a stir.  Turns out it had a story.

While feeding the horses one day, our neighbor came walking over and told me about a small hawk attacking him that morning.  As he was walking to his  mail box,  the hawk swooped down and hoovered over his head.

A sparrow hawk pays us a visit

My neighbor, alarmed of course, waved the bird off, but it kept coming back again and again as though attacking his head.   These "attacks" happened every time he walked through the pasture and also in and around his barn.

A few days later, I was walking through the pasture near my  neighbors fence, looking for a shoe my horse had thrown.  I walked along, scanning the grass with my head down.  Suddenly, I felt something grab my hair.  I immediately guessed what it was and instinctively waved my arms over my head to shoo away the "attacker".

When I ventured a look, I saw a small hawk fly away and land onto a nearby tree-top, staring back at me intently.  As I watched him, he prepared for another descent, straight at me.  I ducked and waved as he came over me, only inches away from my head.

This "attack" continued until I beat a retreat back to the barn and away from the fence.  The bird  flew away into a clump of trees over in my neighbors yard.

The hawk continued his daily attacks on my neighbor as he made his customary trip down through his pasture to check the mail box.  It was a puzzle.  Was the bird protecting a nest?  It's late fall and nesting season is long past.

My neighbor called the Florida Fish and Wildlife office to get some help and information. The agent was baffled and said he'd never heard of hawks attacking humans repeatedly, unless there was a nest. He said it was possible for young hawks to get confused and try to build a nest in the fall.  The behavior described sounded like nest protection, so this seems the only logical explanation.

The agent, using a photo emailed to him, identified the bird as a Kestrel Hawk (or Sparrow Hawk). The birds are protected and we wouldn't want to kill it anyway, but something had to be done.  I could avoid the area, but my neighbors were being attacked in their barn as well as out in the pasture.

The agent said the options were limited.  If they picked up the bird and relocated it, it would just come back.  We could look for a nest and get permission to remove it and hopefully solve the behavior problem.

When the bird attacked while the neighbor's wife was holding her new-born baby, that was the final straw.  Something had to be done.

Sparrow Hawks don't build nests.  They use tree hollows, abandoned nests, and they even lay eggs on the ground.  There's an old horse trailer in my pasture near the area of the bird attacks, so we thought we should check to see if the nest was in it.

What happens next?.....

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Growing Winter Tomatoes

Here's a look at our heirloom tomatoes we're hoping to keep through most of the winter. These are the ones on the outside at the south of the house.  A couple are still on the porch, with me.

Frost cloth at the ready...

Heirloom Tomatoes Wintering In Florida

Remember, these are the tomato plants produced from seeds we saved from last year's tomatoes.  Despite a couple of frosty nights, our Johnson German transplants are doing just fine, thank you very much.  Just got through pruning off the some big fat suckers and re-potted them for next spring.

A big fat sucker, there on the back.

Above is one sucker we missed.  It will make a nice tomato transplant to keep on the sun porch.  I know, "move over, Digger".  The porch is getting a little crowded, already.  What with the new bamboo starts and other not-cold-hardy plants ol' Bill's been moving in.  There's hardly room enough for my toy collection.

By planting a few suckers along the way, the tomato becomes "perennial" and, in theory, you'll never have to buy tomato seedlings again. We'll see.... Wouldn't that be nice?

Here is one monster bloom that's opening up on one of the tomato plants outside.

Is that a sunflower or a tomato blossom?

By trimming off the suckers, providing constant water via a drip, and laying on the organic worm castings with  a weekly dose of VermaPlex® liquid, the plant is getting maximum nutrition for fruit production.  The bloom stems or "fingers" are particularly stout and thick.  Shouldn't be any blossom drop.

When  the suckers are left on, the plant is putting all it's efforts into growing the offshoots and not into the one stalk with it's blooms.  I know, I know, it's difficult to trim, especially when the suckers are thick and healthy.  But it's absolutely necessary.  Besides, they make excellent new plants.

One thing we learned is to put the trimmed off sucker straight into moist potting soil, rather than a container of water to form roots before planting.  The fine hairs on the stem grow into roots right away and the tomato plant performs better.

Here are some of the tomato suckers we planted in this way last week.  They're doing fine, no wilt at all.  One was knocked over (I had nothing to do with it, I swear) and you could see the roots already starting on the stem. Just have to keep the potting soil very moist.

Recycled containers make great transplanting pots. Ugly but cheap.

We kept two tomato plants for the porch, just in case the outside ones take a hit.  Never know how cold it might get.  One year, we had three days of 12-15 degrees overnight.  It could happen again (please, Lord, no.)

Not as big and stout as the outside ones, but still growing and putting out blossoms.  And they're safe!

Our plan is to let one sucker on each plant go until it's big enough to transplant.  At least until we have enough transplants for the winter and spring.  That way, the mother plants won't be too stressed and overworked.  We'll see how that goes.

For now, that sun ray landing on my cushion is getting m-i-g-h-t-y tempting.

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