Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

Fran and her other golden eagle -- Nancy. 
Mother’s Day is creeping up on me again.  I saved a little clipping last year that I happened to stumble upon on the internet.  My intension was to blog about it last year, but Mother’s Day slipped by.  Today I can’t find the website, but no matter.  I saved it on my computer.  I love the little clipping.  It may be far from accurate, but it does capture the essence of my mother, Fran (Frances Hamerstrom). 

Here is the little article.  I jotted down a note that it came from ‘The Backcountry Chronicler’.  When I first found it, I tried to figure out who wrote it, but I couldn’t find that either.

Note About Fran Hamerstrom – I had the good fortune of meeting Fran on several occasions. The first time I met her was in 1983 at an eagle breeding facility. I was able to witness her reunion with the eagle “Chrys” after a separation of at least 10 years. They obviously recognized each other.
The last time I saw her was at the 1992 National Falconry Meet in Lamar, Colorado. It was about 10°F and she was standing in the snow wearing sandals at age 82. My friends were amazed, but I knew that she still “skinny dipped” in the pond at her Wisconsin home as long as she could break the ice with an ax.
She broke her hip on a trip to the Amazon jungle at age 87 and died in 1998 at the age of 90. They don’t make ’em like that any more.

Fran did have a golden eagle named Chrys, and she had the rare good fortune to share a nest with Chrys.  Chrys had been rescued as a young chick and raised by someone else.  Chrys came to Fran as an adult.  In early spring Fran realized Chrys was ‘nesty’.  An attempt was made to artificially inseminate Chrys.  The attempt was successful in that Fran and Chrys built a nest in our big farm shed (Fran handed sticks to Chrys and Chrys placed them), Chrys laid her clutch, and promptly began to incubate.  In the wild. an eagle’s mate would have shared incubating duties …. So that fell to Fran.  Every day Fran plopped a hot water bottle on the nest and spent time doing nest duty while Chrys ate, bathed, and got a little exercise.  The eggs never hatched, but Chrys was given foster chicks, I believe red-tailed hawks, and was a doting parent.  At that point Fran’s job was easier.  She supplied Chrys with fresh road kill and let the eagle do the feeding.  

Eventually Chrys was moved to Cornell and, during a different spring, artificial insemination was successful! Fran took pride in that she helped develop the technique.   

I can well imagine Fran and Chrys recognized each other after a long separation. 

And Fran did break her hip on a trip to the Amazon jungle.  She liked to be a little vague that she was in town when it happened.  She slipped on the mud of the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru.  She didn’t even telephone me for help for over a week.  Finally it sunk in that she wasn’t going to get a hip replacement in Peru.  My brother, Alan, flew to Peru and brought her to me, in Oregon, with the broken hip.  I still wince when I think about seeing the X-ray.  By the time she got her new hip almost a month had passed.  She was tough!

But taking an axe down to the pond for a swim is a little much!  She might have done it once, and I will admit her regular method of bathing during milder weather was a quick dip in their pond; but Fran didn’t like a good chill.  She liked to say she had ‘lizard blood.’  She loved to get warm and thoroughly enjoyed going to hot places after my father died.  He was a good Scandinavian and preferred cooler climates.
Here is a photo from another hot place Fran traveled to after my father’s death.  One of her ‘Gaboons’ (students) ended up as a shiek’s falconer in Dubai, United Arab Emirdates.  Here she is enjoying the shiek’s falcons.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Owl Magic: Great Gray Owls

My last journal post got me to thinking about great gray owls …. Such a magnificent bird!  My head nearly popped a dent in the roof of our van the first time I spotted one.  We were zooming along in the central part of Yellowstone National Park when I saw one about 100 yards off the road.  Dale had the audacity to say, “Are you sure?” 

Of course I was! … and of course he knew it.  He was just teasing me. 

For over twenty years I always look extra carefully at that owl’s snag when we drive by.  Watching the lodgepole snag has been a lesson in how long it takes for a snag to weather in relatively dry mountain air – years and years.  The snag was recently dead when I first spotted the owl – lots of grey gnarly limbs.  The tree has gradually grown sparcer and sparcer as one limb after another drops. Hardly any branches remained the last time I saw it.  I wonder if it still stands.

We don’t expect to see a great gray owl when we visit the park, but we always hope.  Way back on September 25, 1992 our hopes were more than fulfilled.  We had been camping in the park, but by late on the 24th wind and snow made town look awfully tempting.  We tucked tail and headed to a motel for the night.

The storm passed and mid morning we headed back into the park.  We had just finished a picnic lunch when a great gray came swooping along the edge of the nearby lodgepoles.  Great grays do most of their hunting at night, but not always.    This one attracted immediate attention from a handful of photographers, but all too soon the owl disappeared into the forest.  We hiked the area for and hour and a half before catching a couple more quick glimpses.  Soon everyone had left the area but we were still motivated.  Slowly we explored meadows edged with lodgepoles.  We trudged and trudged.  It snowed a little, the sun teased us a little, mostly it was cool and cloudy.  I even carried an umbrella so I could protect the camera if we actually found an owl.

By 5 PM we were about done in.  We been plodding about in marsh grasses for a good four hours.  We were ready to head to camp; but then, way across the meadow we spotted a great gray owl!  Two great grays!  … no, three great grays!! 

A soft hoot floated across the quiet meadow.  Their hoot is so low I almost believe I am making it up when I hear one.
One owl appeared to be an adult and the other two were full sized youngsters.  Adults look quite spiffy in the cloak of soft greys and just a touch of pure white and black.  Immature’s markings aren’t quite as crisp. 

The adult was perched in a lodgepole at the edge of the meadow.  Big fluffy snowflakes started to fall again.  He tipped his head skyward and watched with quiet interest.  Fortunately the snow shower didn’t last long.  Late afternoon light improved.  We slowly crossed the meadow.

When we neared the far edge of the meadow, movement to our right caught our attention.  A youngster flew towards us and landed on an upturned snag in the meadow.  So close!  He watched and listened. 
Suddenly the owl spread its wings, flew a few yards and dropped into the tall grasses. 

He caught a mouse.  Well, probably a vole.  He immediately flew back to the downed log and swallowed his prey. 

His second vole came soon after, only this time his short flight brought him even closer to us.  He now had a problem on his hands. Dale and I stood still, but he wasn’t too sure about our presence; but, more important, he didn’t want to give up his prey.    He tried to fly off but he was stuck to the ground.  His talons held the mouse, and a bunch of marsh grasses.  Oh dear, now what to do? 

Eventually our owl gathered his wits and bent down and transferred the vole to his beak, thus eliminating the grass problem.  Off he flew to down his dinner.

We watched the two youngsters hunt for another half hour.  It’s a quiet process.  Lots of watching and listening, then a silent float down into the grasses.  Its clear to us the owls couldn’t see their prey, that they were relying of sound.  We were fortunate that these two weren’t experts yet, and that it took them a fair amount of time to catch their dinner.