European Kestrel (a small falcon). Photo by quaddie

The Kestrel (photo by deoroller)

I came across this beautiful poem about the Kestrel, which is a small falcon only a little bigger than a Robin. It’s distinctly colorful and when it hunts, it “hovers” in the currents of the wind.

It was written by Gerard Hopkins and published in 1918. He admires this remarkable bird of prey alluding that it controls the wind as a man might control a horse. The kestrel then suddenly swoops downwards and “rebuffs the big wind”.

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,
dapple-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend; the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it; sheer plod makes plow down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Now that you’ve felt his immense delight for this bird’s prowess and design, watch this video of the kestrel floating on the currents of the wind with its eye to the ground for a tasty morsel.

I loved how Hopkin’s described the Kestrel as “daylight’s dauphin, dapple-drawn Falcon.” You can see in this video the beautiful dapple coloring in its wings. The Kestrel is also known as the “Windhover” as it requires a slight headwind in order to hover.

Enjoying a beautiful moment on a cool yet sunny spring day with my husband, two dogs and Gracie. I took a bunch of photos and here are the best of the bunch.

Pretty Girl

Pretty Girl

Gracie has such an intense stare with those golden eyes.

Beautiful Profile

I thought this shot had interesting angles and colors.

More intensity from a few steps back!

I'm continually in awe of her - just stunning!

This was a defensive stance to make herself look larger as our Golden Retriever approached.

A stately pose!

The sky is so blue here. I love the shadow under her wings and sun on her breast feathers

There's a turkey vulture (top right) that kept circling above us

Again - pooch coming a little too close!

Do you ever feel like you're being watched?

Yikes! It's more than a feeling!

Ok, think exit strategy...that tree looks good up there.

The film on her eyes is the nictitating membrane which protects their eyes when hunting, flying at fast speeds or feeding their chicks, keeping their most precious asset clean.

Can you feel any mice or squirrels in there? Falconers regularly check the keel feeling the musculature and level of fat on the bird.

On a recent hunting trip in South Georgia, these falconers and their hawks hunted together for squirrels, a common prey for the Red-tailed Hawk. The photos illustrate three different hawks (Gracie, an immature female, Scout, an immature male and Heath). If you look closely at the photos, you will be able to tell a difference in the appearance  – their size and coloring (you also might see a squirrel, racoon and armadillo!).

Click on the “expand” button on the bottom right corner to view larger images, then sit back, watch, relax and imagine  you were there…

Many thanks go out to Bart, the photographer who braved the forests and took these photos.

 South Georgia Hunting Trip
I couldn’t resist adding this one by itself – my Husband (above) running after Gracie who has a squirrel in her talons…

The Blogging Room

Once again, the Outdoor Blogger Network has put forth a writer’s prompt: Lets see where the Outdoor blog ‘work’ gets done. I love a challenge, especially an easy one (does that still qualify as a challenge?).  Most of the time, when I ponder about which word to use and if I have to look it up in the dictionary, I am sitting in my living room late in the evening with my husband, lab and golden retriever.  As I was blogging today (and reading the OBN post about where we write when we blog), I looked down and the perfect photo op appeared to include with this post.

Thanks pups!

I’ve always been amazed whenever I’ve seen a water buffalo protecting their young or banding together against an adversary. They’re courageous, extremely protective and utterly indomitable. Here’s my first attempt at drawing one.  My original pencil drawing has more contrast and some of the quality and much of the fine detail was lost in the transition to photo on my iPhone, however, I think you get the idea.  I used a 4B, 6B, 8B and HB pencil. For a larger view, click here.

Last Saturday, January 15th, 2011

3:50 a.m. – the alarm squawked, or was that my husband? He had been up since 2:30 in anticipation of a state annual falconry “Field Meet”  where falconers convene to hunt, share stories, styles, tips and tricks. Included is a banquet (I imagined roast squirrel with pine nuts, a mouse cheese plate, possum stew and rabbit jerky), but it was actually much less sensational… steak, shrimp, and salmon (rabies-free!).

4:45 a.m. – My H, brother and cousin and hawks departed (or so I later found out, as my own self wasn’t up yet)

7:30 a.m. – they arrived at the meet, just in time for a photo shoot and then off to prepare for their first hunt.  Gracie was dressed in her jesses and bells, ready to roll. A woman had graciously offered her property (almost 300 acres) for the falconers to fly their birds.  My H, brother and a falconer family trio headed to the woods and my husband volunteered to fly Gracie first as she seemed to be at a good flight weight.

She was anxious to fly and when released into the trees initially followed well. Eying a squirrel, she chased it into a nest and jumped on it, but the little creature was stubborn and refused to come out (poor sport!). The hunters waited a few minutes to see if the squirrel would budge, but to no avail. It evidently knew what its fate could be (banquet fare?). They decided to walk on to another area, but unfortunately, Gracie’s mood changed and she didn’t follow.

Before I continue with what happened after this point, I should note that my H asked if I’d write this story in the hopes that it may help another falconer. He was concerned that he may not retrieve Gracie, but luckily with team work, perseverance and advice from a master falconer, this story has a happy ending.

10:00 a.m. – He called Gracie, but she flew further away in an ever expanding circle.  Pulling out the lure, which should be a falconer’s most reliable recall (for the women reading this, think new Prada bag), he tried to attract her, but she was indifferent. This wasn’t a good sign and he knew he was in for some trouble (think lost Prada bag).

She continued to “bump” around (flying from one spot to another) and crossed a major road to a neighboring property. They were hesitant to enter someone else’s land (as you should always have permission before doing this), but the neighbor was notified and they jumped the fence. Losing sight of her at this point would almost eliminate the possibility of her retrieval. My brother tried to nudge her back towards them and they worked at this for over an hour.  She was now out of sight, but still within earshot. The situation was getting worse and my H decided to contact his sponsor who connected him with a master falconer who was also on the hunt close by.

tfw-free-flight001

"Bumping" from tree to tree

He offered a few tips for retrieving a reluctant hawk (here is my translation):

  1. Chick-on-a-rope: Hang chick (deceased baby chicken – let’s be clear now) on a rope from tree and dangle it about 2 feet off ground in her sight
  2. The Roman: Drag chick across the ground on a rope behind you (looks better if you’re on a horse)
  3. Military-Style: Establish a search perimeter, one person walks in the dirction of the hawk while the others circle around (remember the “The Fugitive”) and stalks the hawk
  4. Ole’ Faithful: Try the lure again

I guess begging wasn’t an option.

12:00 – Good News! The master falconer found Gracie by the road and alerted my husband.  My H ran to her location and followed her until she led him to the original tree where the squirrel had hidden. He blew his whistle – no response.  He tried “Ole-Faithful” and whipped the lure around with a jolly Ho Ho Ho.  Bingo.  Baby got his bird back.

P.S. When my husband returned home, he found this helpful quote in a recent falconry newsletter: “I have heard many stories of apprentice’s birds being lost.  I can say with confidence that if a good foundation is laid and the bird is at initial flight weight, it would be hard to lose her under even the most difficult of circumstances.  There is a litany of traditional excuses as to why a bird is acting up in the field or why she cannot be flown; “she’s not used to this many people”, “she doesn’t like your hat”, “thermal conditions are bad”, “it’s too windy”, and so on down the list.  But the truth is, she is not at the right weight.  A bird maintained and if flown at the right weight can be flown at any time of day, in any weather conditions and over any size crowd of strangers without the need for excuses.”  – excerpted from an article on weight management by Gary Brewer, author of Buteo and Bushytails.

P.S. I realize this was a longer post than usual and if you’re tired of reading (as I was after I re-read this), get a cup of coffee, clear your mind and look at some hawk photos or alternatively watch hawk tv below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PS2YozkWbTM

When I hear my husband’s falconry tales, I listen in amazement and wonder how I’m going to explain the next adventure to my readers. I have to admit that his take on the story is usually a short, to the point, ex-New Yorker recap of the situation. However, knowing him as I do, there is so much color, drama and adventure between the lines that I just have to write about it!

Hailing from the Bronx and surrounding areas, he grew up with fine-tuned street smarts and survival instincts that many a hunter would envy. Maybe he’s not an expert yet at the greener sports, but he’s got that 6th sense that will serve him well in any situation.

One thing about falconry that everyone should know is that a hawk is not a pet. It’s a wild animal that can be dangerous if not handled appropriately and safety has to be number one not only for you, but for your bird. That being said, when confronted with a wild hawk on the loose, this short story should give you confidence (as long as you have fresh meat on hand – and it isn’t you).

As you can see in the image below, there are three mews connected to the barn by an inner doorway, one on the left, center and right and each one is designed to house one hawk. What you can’t see is that connecting the three (on the inside) is a third room that unites each section and acts as a safety area in case one of the hawks was to escape.

My husband’s hawk, Gracie, is in the center mews (if you look closely, you can see two perches through the mesh wall). The left mews houses Scout, our cousin’s hawk and the right mews is currently empty.

The other day, my H decided to feed Gracie from the lure in her mews. He was wearing his falconry vest and had the lure and food in his back pocket. As he was about to open the door to her mews, he sensed something behind him (yep, anti-attacker-stalker-mugger-smarts). As he turned to look back, he saw a hawk coming out of the doorway of the unoccupied mews and into the “escape” room towards him. This was one of those moments when “act first, ask questions later” was the wisest choice (and besides, hawks can’t talk). Out came the lure from his pocket along with its bounty in order to distract the hawk from attacking the food which was located near my husband’s _ _ _ (rhymes with bass). Luckily, it ended up being Scout who had just escaped from his mews. He ate the food, hopped up on my husband’s glove and was quickly returned to his perch.

Although street smarts is mostly applied to the urban setting, I think there is a place for it in the outdoors .  Perhaps it is otherwise known as common sense (as usually it’s knowledge that isn’t learned through study of theoretical material). It seems that survival in any setting would involve an understanding of how to function properly in your environment.

As my husband later said:
“You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

nametag

The Outdoor Blogger Network has put forth a challenge via their “Writer’s Prompt” to share with the blogosphere why we have so named our blogs.

Although the name of this blog may seem self explanatory, I thought I’d still share its humble origins.

When I learned of my husband’s interest in falconry, I thought it would be enlightening and helpful to other falconers if we created a blog about his exploits and adventures in this amazing sport.  As the moment grew closer to trapping his first bird, we realized that he was going to have to invest a significant amount of time and effort”manning” and training a new hawk, leaving him little time for laptop musings.  We then thought maybe he could use a blog to keep track of his progress (i.e. weight, amount fed, milestones reached, etc.) and many falconers use a blog for this purpose.  But then, the “day before” arrived, my H was ready for his first adventure and everything changed…

Twas the night before trapping, and all through the house
All of rodents were stirring:  4 gerbils and one sad mouse
The alarm was set, gauntlets ready and lunch made
Tomorrow was the day when the trap would be laid

I had so much fun listening (and visualizing his stories in my mind), that we made a last minute change and at the midnight hour, I became nominated as the official blogger for our family.

Voila, The Falconer’s Wife was born.

1318184_red_heart

A huge thank you to Joe and Rebecca of the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN) for featuring my blog as one of their “Featured Outdoor Bloggers of the Week.” When I first found the OBN, I was so impressed with the quality of the content, comraderie and spirit of adventure that I submitted my blog hoping to be included among such great company.  Alas, not only was I kindly added to their blog, but shortly afterwards  (2 days to be exact) they went a step further and added a whole new falconry category which now includes 2 other falconer’s blogs (Hawk Heaven and Tink’s Falconry Journal).

For their side of this scintillating story visit the OBN’s Featured Outdoor Blogger of the Week

Don’t be timid – check out the other falconry blogs on the OBN’s hot Falconry Category

And, be sure to take a moment and congratulate the other bloggers that were featured this week – but be careful, you might get hooked!

BTW, in case you didn’t know, the Outdoor Blogger Network is known as THE place for everyone to come, find the best Outdoor blogs, and enjoy our great outdoors just a little more!”

A Miffed Hawk

I dropped my husband off at the mews yesterday. It was lunchtime, a typical day and nothing unusual was in the wind. I walked into the barn with him and then into the mews while he was deciding whether or not to fly her.  Gracie was sitting on her perch, as usual, however he noticed that one of her jesses was missing.

Jesses (singular “jess”) are thin straps, traditionally made from leather, used to tether a hawk or falcon in falconry. They allow a falconer to keep control of a bird while it is on the glove or in training, and allow a bird to be secured on a perch outside of its aviary. – Wikipedia

My H looked all over the mews and a few minutes later finally found it stuck in the top corner of the roof of the enclosure. It was a mystery as to how it got there, but one thing was for sure – she was evidently having a bad day and quite short tempered (throwing a fit and stomping)!

Jess caught in mews

A Miffed Hawk

We have no idea how the jess ended up where it did (speculation is that she flew up into the corner and it got caught as her tail feathers were a bit damaged), but at this point, I left and went home to make lunch and let the dogs out. While I was gone, more adventures ensued.  My hubs decided to take Gracie out to fly her.  Now, there are actually 5 mews attached to our family’s barn and a Red-tailed hawk in four of them.  On the way back from their outing as they approached the barn, she flew up to a tree, then to the roof of the barn and then spotted her target which unfortunately wasn’t a squirrel, but was Scout, our cousin’s hawk sitting in his mews.  She pounced down to attack him, but was stopped short by the mesh roof.  He flew up to her in defense, but neither could get at eachother. I think she was planning on taking him out of the picture all together. Luckily, she was easily distracted and responded to a lure call from my H, losing interest in her next door neighbor. 

These birds are very territorial, and defend territories that range in size from 0.85 to 3.9 square kilometers, depending on the amount of food, perches, and nest sites in the territory. The female is usually the more aggressive partner around the nest itself, whereas the male more aggressively defends the territory boundaries. The birds will soar over their territory, mostly on clear days, looking for intruders.  – (Preston and Beane, 1993)