The following is from an email I sent to a friend regarding a recent Falconry hunting trip. This was my Lady’s first experience with Falconry, so I wanted it to be a good one…and it sorta was…
Before I get into the message I sent, let me set the stage first. Falconry is the sport of hunting with a Bird of Prey. In this instance we were hunting along with Chuck’s apprentice’s (Joe’s, that is) Red tailed Hawk, Rocky. We met Joe and Chuck at Denny’s that morning around 6:30, then went hunting shortly after. Chuck had a thing, so he didn’t stay out in the field with us for too long, just long enough to get us started (maybe an hour or two?). During that time Joe and Chuck attached a bell and a transmitter to Rocky, Rocky sat in a tree for a long time just chilling (“weathering,” as a falconer would say), a Cooper’s Hawk teased Rocky, and eventually we got to hunting.
Hunting invovled Chuck, Joe, and I grabbing sticks and tapping on the trees in the surrounding woods, trying to stir up some squirrels. However, these trees were heavy with fat green leaves, making it hard for the inexperienced hawk to see much even if we did kick up any squirrels.
OK, stage is set, here’s the message I sent to Chuck:
Wow, things never go quite as planned, eh? Thanks so much for letting the Lady and I tag along today! We really enjoyed it! I’m sure Joe told you the whole story, so I thought I’d just add my version of what happened with a few pictures (in chronological order, even!).
After you took off, we continued to mess around near where you left us. Joe and I were beating brush, Rocky was following on, and the Lady was keeping a weather eye on that hawk (watching him like a hawk! I bet nobody ever uses that idiom in this sport!). The Lady decided to head back to the car to check on our dogs, leaving Joe and I to the thrill of the hunt. Then, it happened. We heard Rocky’s bells signal movement. Thinking he was re-positioning, we both looked up to mark his progress through the foliage. Instead, that young hawk was quickly out of sight! He was booking it like he had a hot date across town or something! He had flown directly across the creek, so Joe started whistling and I headed off in the direction Rocky went…
So apparently the cover out here in Houston is thick as…well, I can’t think of a good enough example, so thick as a really thick thing! I wasn’t doing any good, wasn’t hearing bells, nothing, so I went back to Joe and the Lady, who had heard bells back towards the car. They had come to find me, however, because guess who was carrying the telemetry receiver when he went barreling off into the woods oh-so-helpfully (oops). So I handed that over to Joe and got to learn how it works (very cool, btw). Signal strength was ok, but growing weaker, so we booked it back to the car, where we had a good strong signal. We thought that odd, but chalked it up to inexperience with the receiver (or at least I did). Into the car we piled.
Down the road a bit we jumped out, whistled, twirled the lure, and swung the receiver. Another strong signal, still no bells, and general confusion from everybody. I think at this point the Lady decided to stay with our dogs and keep an eye out in case Rocky tried to come looking for us where the car had been. Joe and I piled back into the car and went to the park entrance. There we got a really weak signal. We then went across the road to the soccer field lot, where we got no signal…at this point, Joe decided to walk back, just following the signal and whistling/swinging the lure. The car was too restricted. He eventually ended up back in the park, heading towards the lot we met in. (This seems like a good point to note that when it is written out like this conclusion we should have drawn about Rocky’s location feels much more obvious, so just remember there is a plethora of details I can never hope to recall and Joe is merely an Apprentice and I’m not even there yet, so A + B didn’t quite equal C yet…) Just before the parking lot, I met him (after parking the car) and thought I heard bells, maybe muffled bells? And he was just commenting on the signal strength moving or acting weird.
And then I saw them.
Feathers. A whole pile of feathers in the taller grass of the ditch on the side of the road. Looked like a fresh kill, too. I edged closer, my heart plunking to the pit of my gut. Yup, I recognized hawk feathers alright. I’m not the greatest at hawk ID, so I weakly called out to Joe, asking if he thought these used to belong to a red tailed hawk? “Oh no!” I was fearing the worst of the worst. Something had happened, Rocky was now just a pile of feathers on the side of the road. Granted, they were banded…were his feathers banded that way? Hope kept trying to peek out, but no, the feathers spoke volumes…
Bells. Definitely muffled, but also definitely bells. Coming from the thick mess of vines and thorns right in front of us. What, was it maybe a dog with the rest of the hawk? But the hawk may also just be hurt. There’s no way for us to tell from out there because it’s just too thick, so Joe decides to go in and find out. Oh, no, where was Joe’s glove? Wait, here it is, now Joe’s going in and I’m on the side of the road, trying to guide him to where I hear the bells and where the receiver says the signal is strongest.
Through sheer willpower Joe overcomes the pain and sweat only Houston thorns can provide in October, but he eventually triumphs! He spies Rocky down in the middle of the thicket, with the carcass of another hawk! Thank goodness for the “Let it Lay” law. But a kill is a kill, even if it will go down as a misc.*, and the feathers wasn’t Rocky! We thought it might”ve been that Coops that was bothering him when we first started out, but neither of us was sure. All we knew was that at the end of it all, Joe and Rocky had a hawk on the fist and a kill in the books, respectively.
So all that just goes to show you that no matter how well you plan ahead, Nature’s always gonna do Her own thing anyway! It was a nerve-wracking time to be sure (I can only imagine how Joe must have felt!), but it was exciting to not have lost the bird and a great learning experience for all! Thanks for the chance to experience it!