The usual, "UNUSUAL PETS" I have had! Chapter 5
A Falcon an Owl and Racoons
Chapter 5 (of 5)
Since we lived in the suburbs the most prevalent hawk around was the little sparrow hawk. We'd see them all the time perched on telephone poles by the field as their main diet was grasshoppers and mice. My bird watching excursions into the woods and fields with my binoculars led to a deeper interest in Falconry. I read all about it and made some hoods and jesses (Strips of strong leather for both legs) so I'd be ready for the day I got a hawk. One of the fields near my house had a dirt road through the middle of it with a couple small obsolete telephone poles along it. The road was closed for years and people would drive down it occasionally to dump brush piles and other items. There were no wires on the poles, just lone poles the sparrow hawks would perch on to view their prey. I'd watch them all day dive to the ground and come back onto the pole with a mouse or grasshopper.
One technique of catching hawks was to pad the jaws of a small coil spring trap (muskrat trap), tether it to the ground, mount it on a pole and watch. The telephone poles in the field were perfect, but climbing those poles with a set trap in hand was not an easy feat. After several attempts I realized I couldn't do it and the pole was so high I didn't have a lighter pole I could use long enough to place the trap on the telephone pole. But I did have my father's axe. An "Axe Man" I wasn't but I managed to cut the pole down. Then I dug a hole three feet deep therefore removing about 6 feet of length on the pole enabling me to get a trap on the end of the telephone pole as I slid it into the hole and propped it with rocks so it stood straight.
Yes it was a piece of work...and it did work! I hiked about a hundred yards away to sit in the shade of a tree by the road. Before sitting I turned to look at the pole with the binoculars - I could not see the trap on top! I figured darn, it fell off!.. so i headed back. To my surprise there on the ground was a sparrow hawk, unharmed and a young one to boot! The padded jaws worked well. I collected him and headed for home.
This sparrow hawk, being young tamed down immediately. He came to me for food right from the start and actually I wondered if he wasn't tame to start. I kept him in the basement for a while trying to train him but the training is intense and I really didn't have the time to devote to it so I decided to let him go after a few weeks. I'll never forget how beautiful that little falcon was up close.
Once I was given a screech owl to care for...it had fallen from a nest but was almost fully feathered. I named him Spook because of the spooky sounds he made. I took Spook everywhere. I put a jess on him and tethered it to my CPO jacket. During the day he'd sit on my shoulder and sleep. People would walk by me and say hello and never even notice him. Occasionally I'd stop to talk to someone and they'd notice Spook sitting there and ask if that was my latest taxidermy work. I'd say yes and then Spook would open one eye and turn his head half way around and back as if he knew what was said and wanted to mess with us. Spook was so good sometimes I'd put him on my shoulder and forget to tether him. One time I wandered toward this crowd that was watching a demonstration by a hypnotist. He had a stage on which there were a dozen people sitting whom he had just hypnotized. Everyone was watching the stage so no one noticed Spook on my shoulder...until he decided this was a good time to fly straight toward the lights above the stage and then to come back down to my shoulder. Not one of the hypnotists' subjects even blinked which was to me amazing.
Spook would fly through our house when I called him. Up or down the stairs, wherever he had to go to get to me. I took Spook birdwatching with me and one day we were out 'til dusk at the park by the river. We heard the distant call of a screech owl and Spook answered it. In a short time the owl sounded closer and before we knew it he was upon us. It was early spring and I guess he was staking out his mating territory. I held Spook out and in an instant the wild owl attacked him. Pulling Spook out of harms way I grabbed the wild owl out of mid air. Luckily I had gloves on,
It didn't take me long to get a recording of screech owls and that was my mainstay for birdwatching. Other frantic birds were attracted to the call also looking to chase any owl's that were around. I'd play the recording on my Walkman and the screech owls arrived on cue, often more than one and they would put on mating displays in the limbs of a nearby tree and often get within arms length of the recorder. On a second occasion when I brought Spook I snatched another screech owl out of the air, always releasing them of course (I know you were wondering).
One day my mother working as a nurse in a doctor's office came home for lunch. I was excited to show someone how I had trained Spook to fly where I told him. I coaxed mom to come down the cellar where I had several perches around for Spook and had trained him to fly to them on command. Mom didn't want to come down because she was in her white uniform and was ready to head out the door. She said, "I can't get my cloths dirty" and I said, "Just sit down in the chair at my desk in the basement and watch. It will only take a minute." Spook was on a perch at the other end of the basement and another perch was on the desk where I told my mother to sit. She had pulled the chair out so it was not under the desk. She had no idea what I was up to and I never gave any thought to the fact that Spook's flight path would take him right over her lap before landing on the perch on the desk. I commanded Spook to fly to the perch on the desk and right before landing he let one loose right in my mother's lap, all over her white dress. I heard my mother screaming in the basement but this time I was running up the steps to get away.
Shortly after that I built an aviary on a shed in the yard and Spook stayed outside. There was always a wild owl around the yard wondering about him....as did I.How could he do that to me? I mean to my mom!
The telephone rings, I answer. It's a friend and they say " we have a couple baby raccoons that were in the hollow tree we took down today...do you want them?" the last thing I heard as I ran out the door was mom screaming "Hey, hang up the phone when your done!" All I have to say about raccoons is they were the coolest pet. These two we raised from babies found in a big hollow tree friends of ours had removed from their property. Once weaned we kept them outside in a 10' x 10' x 6' dog kennel with a top on it. They slept in a small doghouse mounted on a tree trunk in the kennel and their companion was our pet Bengal cat with whom they played and slept.
Anyone could go into the kennel and the coons would greet them jumping for joy. They'd wrestle each other and you and just loved attention, and had a crazy four footed moonwalk when they got going. We spent many hours playing with them. I read that raccoons are the only animal that can be raised in captivity and then released to the wild and have no problem surviving so when fall came we released them in our yard which borders a creek and acres of woods. One disappeared immediately never to be seen again, but the other scurried up a tree, higher and higher until the limbs were too small to support it going any higher.
Oh well, we figured he'd come down when he was ready, but he next day he was still there. Another day went by and he was still there. We surmised that he just didn't know how to climb down, so since he was so far up in limbs no one could climb on we cut the tree down. It was only about 10 inches in diameter but very tall since it was competing for sun with the trees around it. He held onto the end as the tree came down slowly against the other trees. We played with him a while as he was happy to see us and then he was on his way.
We only had the raccoons a few months but they never tried to bite despite some rough play and a few baths they didn't like, but tolerated never even attempting to bite. Like most wild animals they can become unpredictable when older and we didn't want to take that chance. They left in good health with plenty of fat and a rabies shot to boot. We saw many raccoons year after year in our yard but if it was them they didn't seem to remember us.
Believe it or not mom, now 93 years of age, was no worse for the wear I put on her and she lives with me and my family, or we with her however you want to look at it!
Oh yeah, the horses.
Well, for some not an unusual pet, but for a boy from the suburbs a horse was a childhood dream - but I didn't acquire one until adulthood though. Excuse me, did I say one? I meant 4.
Yes, I bought 3 horses at auction for a friend of a friend of mine who assured me he had buyers for them. He was suppose to sell two for a profit that would pay for the one I would keep plus some and supposedly had buyers lined up. I'll never forget when I first came to the barn to see what I bought. There on a hill by the barn was a beautiful Palomino with some little guy on him. My friend said oh that is Billy. He works here and tests the horses. Just then I pulled in and watched the horse Billy was on rear up and fall backwards on the rider and out of sight down the hill.
I said, 'Wow is he alright?"
My friend said, "Oh yeah, Billy has been doing this since he was 8 years old! Your horse didn't hurt him, see he's back up on him already."
"My horse?" I said in disbelief!
So what do you think ? Does an adventure that starts like this get better or worse? If you guessed the latter you are right. To make a long story short the "friend" of my friend couldn't sell the horses and wouldn't let me sell them. We had to steal them out of the barn they were being kept at and truck them to another stable incognito. We took them two for a trail ride and walked them back behind the barn. Then we ran back to the barn and told the "friend" they ran off. While he went out looking for them we loaded all three on a trailer and split,
I did say 4 horses didn't I? Well a few years later a lady sold me a (rare) black Morgan mare she said was pregnant. Why didn't I learn my lesson? I knew never to trust horse people. Turned out the horse wasn't really a pure bred black Morgan and it wasn't pregnant. But it was beautiful and I enjoyed riding it through the woods after a long day at work.
One day I was doing just that, and coming down the road to my mountain house there were three deer standing in the woods near the drive. It was a beautiful spring evening. The birds were singing, everything was green, flowers were blooming and there I was one with nature on the back of my "rare" horse totally relaxed strolling along to go up the drive to my mountain home in the wilderness. Staring at the deer just as I was about to turn up my driveway I remember thinking how pristine perfect this whole scene was with the deer just frozen in their stance as I on my horse strolled by. But when the horse got even with where the deer were, they suddenly bolted...and so did the horse, sideways. The horse must have been more relaxed than I because evidently she never noticed the deer until they jumped. Mother nature took over, the deer went one way, the horse the other and I was left there in the middle riding the law of gravity, without a saddle. I never thought a horse could jump sideways so fast that I would be left in mid air (for a split second anyway - like a magician pulling a tablecloth off a table so fast the dish settings aren't even disturbed!). Miraculously I got up and walked the horse home a little sore.
A month later my back was really bothering me so I went to the chiropractor. Upon examining me he said, "You've had a serious fall recently."
I said. "No, not that I can remember." He insisted I had to have had a traumatic event for my back to be this out of alignment.
Then it all came back to me..."Oh yeah, a month ago I fell off a horse."
This horse would be the death of me yet. My driveway was a horseshoe encompassing an acre between it and the road. A "friend" told me I should tie the horse to an old tire and let her graze the acre. Dragging the tire would keep her from wandering off. I thought that made sense so I thought I'd try it. I tied two tires (just to be "safe") to a 30 foot lead and all morning one Saturday she grazed the front yard. She was doing fine but a tire got snagged on a big rock so I went out to move it. Well when I picked the tire up she was taught on the lead and got spooked by my throwing the tire down. When she reared a little the jerking the lead popped the tires into the air and they started rolling toward her. That was it, she took off down the horseshoe driveway with both tires on the lead bouncing in the air and rolling after her which didn't help matters at all! When she hit the blacktop road she slid across it, and popped back up on her feet when she hit the shoulder and then "Hio Silver awaaaay" she went (I could hear the William Tell overture playing as she galloped down the road and out of sight). The lead snapped leaving the tires rolling across the road in front of me.
I got in my car and started down the road after her only to watch her pass me at a full gallop only now going in the direction I was coming from. She ran past my house and down the road in the other direction for a half mile. When I caught up with her she was grazing in a patch of grass by the road like nothing ever happened. I parked and tried to walk up to her but she would move away and not let me get within 10 feet of her. But she kept on grazing. I thought for a minute. I didn't want to push her and scare her away. As I sat thinking all I could hear was the sound of her teeth ripping hunks of grass up. I thought maybe if I do the same I could get close to her so I got down on all fours and started ripping up hand fulls of grass as I crawled toward her. To my amazement she didn't budge, but kept eating. I was able to get right next to her continuing to pull at clumps of grass and she let me grip her bridle. When I stood up she was putty in my hands and we walked home.
It wasn't long after this she threw me going down my driveway. I went over her head and landed on my back, separating my shoulder. My head missed a small boulder by inches. Soon thereafter I found someone looking for a Black Morgan but since they are hard to find, they were willing to accept this one even though it wasn't full bred. I even got back what I paid for her.