Vineyard Trip 2011

I fought back tears as we drove away.  It was so much fun.  Tom is exhausted at night, but thanks his lucky stars every morning when he wakes up to this.

Vineyard 2011 Valley and water.jpg
Vineyard 2011 Paradise.jpgVineyard 2011 Panorama with lakes and mnt.jpg

I think I could live in his working trailer for a long time if I got to live somewhere as beautiful as this.  My days were spent cleaning his work/living place, medicating a sick hawk, cooking for several hungry workers, and blaring my car horn at invading starlings while scaring the crap out of the occasional car full of half drunk wine tasters (not intentionally of course!).  We flew falcons, saved and released a wild Shrike from a sparrow trap, munched on table grapes fresh from the vine, chatted with another falconer about growing up in Ireland, learned to strum on an Irish Banjo, flew kites… need I go on.  One more month and Tom will be home.  All these pictures were taken with my iphone 4.  I didn’t even take my dslr out of the bag.

So beautiful hereWe're grape!View from my trailer on the vineyard

Vineyard 2011 Field Workers.jpgVineyard 2011 local fields harvesting CA.jpg

Vineyard 2011 HarvesterVineyard 2011 Peregrine flying.jpgVineyard 2011 Tom Flying Falcon.jpg

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vineyard 2011 row of vines.jpgVineyard 2011 Rows of Grapes.jpgFlying kites.jpgVineyard 2011 Grapes Pinor Noir.jpg

Heartland of CAWill eventually be $300 a bottle Pinot NoirI love abandoned buildingsGrapes for as far as the eye can seeSunset SilhouetteGrowing flowersTom and ThurgoodCanning Section at Vons SM.jpg

This Vons has the largest canning section I have ever seen!  My local store only has two types of jars and they are nearly impossible to find.

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Bubblegum Alley whole.jpgBubble Gum Alley.jpg

This was our favorite stop on the way home.  Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California.  Brae insisted, apparently Judy Moody has been here.  Yes that is all chewed up gum, 2-4 inches thick down the entire length of both walls.  Yes, it is nasty, but smells a lot better then you think.

*Due to naughty job poachers (yes, seriously) I cannot tell you exactly what vineyard that we are on or where, only that we are somewhere off the 101 freeway from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  In August it’s Paradise here.


Protecting California’s Grapes with Raptors

Hanging grapes

We got up early Saturday morning to get Tom on the road before the morning fog burned off.  He’s leaving for 2 months to work on a vineyard with his falcons.  Yea, read that again.  Vineyard, falcons…  Pretty amazing right?

Harris Hawk on Farm

A few months ago our plans were just an idea.  A risk.  A leap we could take which may push us further along our list of goals, or throw us down a well of debt and unemployment.  We have normal average goals like buy a house, take a trip to Europe, build a savings, live life the way we want.  In our current situation those were never going to happen, so we decided to take a very planned and scheduled leap into fate.

Tom flying Hermes

What was the plan?  For Tom to transfer from one contract to another.  This means that we will have to move wherever the company puts us this winter.  Right now, I don’t know where that will be yet.  For now, he is living on vineyard somewhere in California scaring away all the little birds that feast on the grapes.  He absolutely loves to do vineyard work.  In Tom’s opinion its a falconer’s dream 8 week vacation and you get paid well too.

Grapevine in the sunRow of Grapes in the sun

So what is he doing exactly?

The company Tom works for is Airstrike Bird Control.  They offer bird abatement services to orchards, vineyards, farms, landfills, airports, schools and office buildings.  Pretty much anywhere you have too many pest birds like seagulls, pigeons or starlings.

GrapesTom Flying Gloria on vineyard

The sugar content in grapes begins to skyrocket during the last 6-8 weeks before the September harvest attracting all kinds of birds.  I have heard that more than half a vineyard can be eaten in a weekend.  Usually vineyard owners hire 5 guys on quads to shoot pyrotechnics all day, to the dismay of his non-vineyard owning neighbors.  Some companies even shoot them out of the air with shotguns full of bird shot!

The problem with these tactics is that pyrotechnics can cause fires and its late summer in California, the wildfire state.  Many agricultural towns in CA have outlawed the use of pyro to avoid burning the town and its thriving agriculture to the ground.  Not to mention the strict rules the ATF instituted this year.  Now you must have a special license through the ATF to buy and use pyro.  This pretty much eliminates pyro as an option for most companies as the license is expensive and time-consuming to obtain.  As for shooting the birds out of the air, that is barely legal and in my opinion irresponsible and immoral.

Tom flying Shirly on vineyard

To protect the grapes, and other crops/landfills/airports sustainably we use trained falcons and hawks, which hunt the birds and chase them away.  A flock of starlings, or any bird, will not understand what happened when a gunshot or noisemaker goes off.  They fly away because of the scary noise, but they don’t associate the noise with the location or understand what happened and why.  This means the same birds will keep coming back everyday to feed.

Harris on Hunting Perch

If you fly hawks and falcons on a vineyard or anywhere else, suddenly the little birds understand that bigger hungrier predators have moved into the territory and they had best move out before they become dinner.  Being chased off a vineyard by a hawk sticks in their minds.  It’s an ancient fear, to be eaten by a hawk, its natural for a prey species to avoid areas that are hunted by their predators.  In effect, they avoid the vineyards with hawks and gorge on those vineyards that don’t.

Vineyard row

As much as I will miss Tom I am excited for him.  He has worked so hard over the last 2 years that he totally deserves this.

If you would like more information about falconry-based bird abatement or Airstrike Bird Control you can visit their website at

And be sure to tell them Tom and Melissa sent you!