The Okie Hawker
Duck Hawking Don’ts
By Dr. Ken Riddle
Today I almost became a victim of duck hawking. When my peregrine stooped through a flock of mallards on the flush I was unable to see exactly what happened. There were a couple of small willows on the side of the hill above the pond blocking the view. To complicate matters, seven mallards and a gadwall had put back in and were swimming around nervously in front of me and would flush if I moved. I knew my bird had whipped around and was on the ground somewhere 200 feet away. I just squatted there waiting to see what had happened and searched the location of the supposed knockdown through my binoculars. Nothing! And then suddenly a drake mallard charged downhill towards the pond with my peregrine riding her back. They quickly crossed a low wide mud flat bordering the drying up pond and ended in the water with the duck dragging my bird into the deep. At 8 feet out and the mallard completely under, the peregrine was somehow able to turn toward shore, and, almost neck deep, she slowly began to rise and row towards the shore.
I had hawked this pond many times before, and now I was running across spongy, caked mud, where before there had been a 40 ft inlet to the pond bordered between high cat tails. Moving as close as possible to the water’s edge on the far side, I nervously conducted a visual search of the surrounding area for something to fish her out with if she made it to the bank with the duck. Nothing could be found. I had just taken my creance out of my hawking bag on Saturday so that I could clean and polish the bag in preparation for my trip to the Falconry Festival in Abu Dhabi.
I was at least 8 feet from the water as she struggled to reach the water’s edge, but I could get no closer without sinking into the crust-covered, but soft mud margin that now constituted the wet shore. She stopped in about 4 inches of water, and try as she might she could make no more progress against the drake’s struggle in the opposite direction. I waited until it became apparent she might loose the yardage she had gained and be taken out again. I then made a calculated decision to make a hopping advance to grab the duck. I knew from past experience that my boots, and probably my jeans up to my knees would get muddy. I took three giant hopping steps toward the duck and falcon but the second and third were not the hopping kind and on the third and last step my left leg went down to my crotch and my right leg went down up to the bottom of my jean pocket. I twisted to the side, sinking in mud above my left hip pocket and just barely grabbed the mallard’s wingtip and settled into the ooze. I remember there was no bottom to touch with my left foot, and struggling with my right leg, although not as deep, was as useless as the left. I reached out with gauntleted left hand and grabbed caked mud on the top that quickly turned to paste below, and the bottom was only slightly thicker in my fingers. I didn’t panic but I quickly realized I was stuck! Instinctively I pulled the duck (and falcon) up against my hawking bag, which was still on the surface, and on top of my Ziess binoculars and began to push on all three to try to move my right leg and body forward. I simultaneously clawed with my left gloved hand, which did provide some, but minimal traction. Attempting to move my left leg was almost fruitless. However, the hawking bag and duck acted like a snow shoe (mud shoe) although I cringed with every push thinking of the hours I had spent first cleaning it with saddle soap, and then treating it with leather preservative only a few days before. At least 15 minutes went by as I wormed and squirmed my way inch by inch back to the bank. I had to stop and rest several times. While resting I took small consolation knowing the two hundred dollars in my wallet and the now mud-soaked telephone in my left pocket (which I couldn’t even get out) was of absolutely no use to me. I was a “pterodactyl in the La Brea tar pit”. The local airport was only ½ mile away and I imagined some pilot seeing my hunter orange Oklahoma Falconers Association hat and muddy body lying in the mud. But somehow I was making progress and I finally dragged my muddy carcass up out of the black muck, exhausted, gasping for breath, black and glistening hands and elbows, solid grease below the belt. I was suffering from muscle cramps in my abdominal and pectoral muscles and they still hurt 30 hours later. With the mallard wing clutched up tight in my right hand and the peregrine clutching his neck, the thrill of the hunt was gone. “Don’t laugh, It ain’t funny”. When strong enough to stand, I dug out the “humming” telephone and somehow got the battery out. Then, the muddy end of the leash was threaded the through jess slits, and finally with the duck’s head secured in my mud-covered gauntlet I trudged my way 250 yards up the hill and back to my truck. I took off my boots and all my clothes, threw them in the bed of the truck, and drove 7 miles back to the ranch in my socks (the bottoms were relatively clean, the tops covered in stinking black mud). Home at last I hosed the mud off of the peregrine’s feet, belly, wing tips and tail. Everything else got completely hosed except my receiver’s removable handle and canvas case. The hawking bag was saturated with mud, and mud was found in all the pockets including a mass in the lure pouch. The hawking bag John Hoolihan made for me 31 years ago has taken on a new significance: I would not have made it out of the mud without it!
THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Ponds in my area are down 3 1/2 to 4 feet and we had 2 ½” of rain last week. If you are duck hawking in similar conditions heed this warning! Take a line along in your hawking bag that can be used to retrieve a falcon and duck. A long line can be used to wind them up and retrieve them or at least to loop it around them with a thrown rock as a weight and drag etc.
Don’t run to the water’s edge across a previously flooded pond bottom, especially where the upper end of a marshy inlet may have silted to an unknown depth. Cows meet their demise this way. It almost happened to me. It could happen to you!
A couple of salient points: although not mentioned above, two facts were factored into the decision to “take the plunge” 1) the falcon was already tired and I knew she would not let loose and therefore might drown if pulled out into deep water again, and 2) although I had my live lure in my bag and could have offered it up as a transfer, I didn’t relish loosing the duck! “The falcon and the duck were going home”. I should have prioritized that to include I was going home!
Fred Q. Casler
1903 – 1965
Early Oklahoma Falconry History
an article written about Fred Casler
by Dr. Ken Riddle:
Although falconry has been practiced for less than 100 years in the United States, Oklahomans have witnessed some early, quality falconry dating back to the mid 1930’s.
Fred Casler, a pioneering Oklahoma falconer trapped and trained his first raptor in 1935.
Fred Quiggle Casler was born in Delta Ohio January 3, 1903. His father was a dentist and Fred attended Dayton University. He joined the Army Air Corps in the early 1920’s where he learned to fly, and became an accomplished aerial photographer. He married his wife Helen, a native Oklahoman from Wewoka in 1928. He then left the Army Air Corps and went to work for Fairchild Aerial Services until he was laid off due to the depression economy. He then moved his family to Poteau, Oklahoma where he established a small portrait photography studio and then later to Tulsa where he established the Tulsa Aero Exploration Company in 1938. Fred established his business in the building now known as “Boulder on the Park”. At that time he resided with his wife and 3 daughters at 945 East 36th Pl. in Tulsa. To care for his falcons he built a small hawk house with attached grape-arbor shelter on a shaded lawn, and provided a clover-shaped bath for the falcons.
Fred trapped his first falcon, a prairie falcon, and trained it in 1937. During this time he hacked a kestrel and had trained hawks.
Fred joined the National Guard in the summer of 1940 and was subsequently sent to Australia for the entire year 1941. When he returned from Australia Col. Luff Meredith, the base commander transferred him to the army base in Great Falls, Montana. Col. Meredith is known as the “Father of American Falconry” and undoubtedly transferred Fred to his command because of a friendship and his interest in falconry. They remained good friends and trapped and flew passage peregrine falcons together until near the end of their lives. When Fred returned to Tulsa from wartime service he found his business in shambles but was able to get it running and back to some semblance of productivity. Tulsa Aero Exploration Company purchased a Lockheed P-38L Lightning aircraft in 1946 to be used in aerial photography.
In 1949 Fred moved his family to a small ranch southeast of Tulsa. The ranch was located just north of the land on which Union High School stands. Fred flew his peregrines there almost daily during season. He was an artist, and made hand-tooled leather falcon hoods, brass and silver falcon bells and hand-made falcon swivels. He would not sell these but rather gave them as gifts to falconer friends. Fred was truly a role model for young falconers and mentored a number of young falconers in the 1950’s and early 60’s. He was an active conservationist who devoted his time to educating the public on the value of Oklahoma raptors at a time when they were considered vermin. It was common to see 30 or 40 red tailed and red shouldered hawks hanging by their feet from barbed wire fences: victims of a senseless slaughter by gun hunters. Fred maintained a “breeding project” for peregrines at his Broken Arrow ranch for many years. Although they never bred (wild-caught peregrines were too nervous and unsuited for captive breeding), Fred had the right idea. His plans included opening the specially constructed breeding chamber to allow the young to fledge and return to the wild in a unique reintroduction and conservation project.
An article in the Tulsa World newspaper highlighting Fred Q. Casler, President of the Tulsa Aero Exploration Company demonstrating the powers of flight of the peregrine falcon during a lure-flying exercise for Audubon Society members.
Fred made presentations on falconry to local Wildlife and Conservation organizations all over the southwest. A 35 minute, color, 16 mm movie by cinematographer and falconer Morlan Nelson entitled Modern Falconry was shown. The 1950’s film featured Morley’s passage gyrfalcon “Tundra” hunting ducks and pheasants.
Fred in the back yard of his Tulsa ranch just north of present day Union High School. Five ponds surrounded his home. The premises included a homing pigeon loft and a pair of high-ceiling free flight mews for his peregrines. In addition to making beautiful hand-tooled falcon hoods, brass and silver bells, and traditional swivels, Fred also attempted captive breeding with his peregrines and paired them in special-built facilities with nesting ledges that would be successful today if the right birds were employed. Indeed they were facsimile prototypes of the successful 1960’s Cornell breeding chambers. He even planned to open hinged barred windows so that the parents could fly in and out after the young hatched!
Peregrine trapping on Padre Island was an exciting fall activity. The Wooden Scotch box headset was one used for many years on Assateague Island by Dan Slowe who was an excellent falconer, game-hawker, and friend to Fred.
Fred, Erick Skov, and Dan Slowe in Corpus Christi Texas, 1962
Dr. Jim Enderson professor of biology at Colorado College conducting peregrine migration studies. Fred was a master bird bander. He and Dan Slowe cooperated with Jim by providing banding and peregrine movement data on the Texas beaches. Photo from 1963.
Fred Casler hood pattern. The beak opening was small, so that it could later be cut to the hawks gape.
Fred Casler hood, generously donated to the OFA archives by Mr. Bob Collins
The mascot for Edison high school in Tulsa came about in part, because of Fred. Below is an excerpt pulled out of a letter between Fred Casler’s middle daughter Jo Ellen Doremus, and Dr. Ken Riddle. She wrote:
“The Edison eagle was an eagle that dad was rehabilitating at the time I was a freshman, and we were organizing all of the symbols at Edison. I was in the first graduating class, so as a freshman, I was in the top class (for all 4 years). As a class we got to choose colors, the mascot, etc. I don’t remember all the details of how it happened except there were some who suggested the "Edison Light Bulbs," And most of us didn't like that. I probably opened my big mouth and mentioned that we had an eagle, and that Dad would bring it to games...which he did.”
A write up by Mr. Casler about falconry in Oklahoma, submitted to the American Falconers Association in 1941. By 1942 the club was called the Falconers' Association of North America, and by 1953 it was called the Falconry Club of America. It's members list at that time still included Tulsa's Fred Q. Casler of Aero Exploration, and in 1956 the club makes a reference about Fred living at RR 4 in Broken Arrow.
Fred died March 19, 1965 after landing his Cessna during the throes of a heart attack. A non-flying passenger was riding with him. A soft crash landing at the end of the runway was the only secondary incident associated with the landing.
The Perfect Pigeon
By Scott Larsen of Malad, Idaho
I am personally dedicated to flying Passage Falcons in my pursuit of the Art of Falconry. That’s just me. I love the challenge of Passage Falcons and I have flown Prairies, Gyrs and of late, Peregrines, both Anatums and a Texas trapped Tundra. So, I normally think of myself as a traditionalist in the way I pursue Falconry. Having said that, I have always been open to new ideas on how to shape these birds into high flying machines capable of delivering for me what I consider to be high quality Falconry.
I’ve “trained” many falcons, mostly Prairies, but also Passage Gyrfalcons as well, by using Pigeons, Kites, and Balloons. I have over the years always returned to Pigeons and decent quality, rising air to shape my young passage birds, because it not only works pretty well, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
To take a Passage Prairie, for example, from the trap all the way to hawking game the way I like to do it, I start by of course getting my Prairie just tame enough so I can pick her up off a fresh kill. Once I have that accomplished, my next step is to turn her loose one day, no creance, and as she’s flying up and away, climbing and distancing herself from me, I yell “ho” and serve her an “easy” Pigeon. And so it begins. Eventually, she is climbing, catching a piece of air on some days and on others just climbing with her own powers of flight, in an attempt to arrive at that magical spot in the sky that will make me serve her a Pigeon. Good old fashioned Operant Conditioning. There hasn’t really ever been a great substitute for it that doesn’t have certain and sometimes overwhelming drawbacks for a Falconer who likes to keep things simple.
The balloon and the kite, for examples, do indeed convert themselves into a Falcon’s most prized reward and for which she will climb her heart out to rise up to and catch. But in my experience, it only accomplishes so much. Mostly it builds a pretty darn well conditioned Falcon and it orients her to climb somewhat too, but only to a certain degree and for a sole purpose. Ultimately, game hawking is what really gets in between their ears and turns them into climbing machines, because they are doing it for a purpose other than for the sake of climbing mindlessly into the sky to an object holding their food!
I could go on about all the reasons why I don’t like the balloon and even more reasons why I don’t like the kite, but suffice it to say they are both a huge hassle and can both be very discouraging when there is either not enough wind or too much wind on a given day! I always hated that! I have ballooned with a certain amount of positive results and I won’t deny that at all and I don’t think guys are silly for “ballooning” their Falcons or for using other contraptions to “train” them. That would be like thinking it is silly to use modern telemetry, just because the old timers used bells.
What I have found, and not necessarily intentionally, I call “The Perfect Pigeon” and it isn’t a pigeon at all. It’s a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter. (It could be any brand, but that’s what mine is.) I don’t simply put the drone in the air and have my falcon go up to it, take the bait off a line and float down to the ground every day. I have personally developed a technique that transforms the Drone into a training Pigeon, but not just a Pigeon. A Pigeon that does EVERYTHING right, virtually EVERY TIME!
I discovered this idea by necessity and by chance. A couple of years ago, I had a Passage Prairie Falcon that I trapped very late the winter before. She was a Natural! She flew into the heavens and even very early on, she’d be in the sky for 30 to 40 minutes and I would not have a visual on her. Only a signal. She flew very high for game hawking. She slew Sharptail, Partridge and even Sage Grouse. Her first Sage Grouse, she killed from a spectacular pitch of 1500’ or higher. Anyway, one day, she hit a mallard duck head-on and she broke her leg doing so. I spent a good chunk of change at a very good Avian Vet’s place to get that leg fixed! I wanted to give this Prairie a chance to come back and return to be the great game hawk she had been maturing into rather quickly before the accident. Well, after her leg was repaired, I started flying her again, but it was after about 3 months of stagnation. She had lost her wild condition and when I’d cast her off, the first thing she’d do is go off looking for a fence post to weather on. Such a frustration to me because before, she had never, ever landed on anything, not one single time! So, I thought, well, maybe I should buy one of those stupid drones and see if I could get her to go to it and get her back in shape that way.
She hated the drone with a passion. Not the drone itself, but the whole scenario. So, as is necessary with Passage Prairies, I decided to lean on her a little harder and give her a greater sense of urgency. Eventually, I got her going to the drone immediately when she was unhooded. Then, things got interesting.
Each day I would set the drone a little higher, maybe 200’ high and then 300’ the next day and then 400’, etc. but, I would make her chase it up to staggering heights once she became really committed to chasing it upwards. On the Phantom 2 one can remove the factory set ceiling and allow it to climb as high as it will go laterally, so use your imagination, but also use care and fly it sensibly, depending on the location you fly your falcons in. To shorten this story, the Prairie Falcon would basically fly away from the drone, as far as sometimes a mile, maybe farther, as she chased it up, because if she came into it on level flight, I would raise the drone and make her miss the bait. So, as it seemed to me, she would fly very far away and feign disinterest in the drone and would climb much, much higher than the drone. Once she felt she was high enough that it could not out climb her anymore, she would begin her attack run and it became the thing I looked forward to the most each day! She would come in so fast that when I would finally locate her coming in, as the radio signal would be getting stronger, there was no way I could out climb her and she’d easily over take the bait, usually in a sharply angled looking stoop, or so it seemed from where I stood on the ground.
Well, so all of that got me excited about flying her on game again because she hadn’t landed on anything for three or four weeks when I’d cast her off. So, we went hawking. Guess what…. The first flight when we went hawking, she took off and found a post to go land on!! I wanted to cry. I decided that I would let her go, now that she was in great shape again. Then, the next day I thought, “Scott, why don’t you cast her off today and as she is leaving to find a perch to take, launch the drone and kick her into her routine that way?” So that’s what I did. She was flying away and as soon as she was far enough away that I knew I could out-climb her with the drone, I launched it and she immediately turned around and kicked it into high gear. Up she went in her usual routine of chasing it up out of sight, basically. The next day I did the same thing, except I waited a little longer before I launched the drone. The difference??? Well on that day #2, she was flying away from me, looking over her shoulder wondering if the drone was going to take off! Just as if I were going to serve her a sealed pigeon as I would normally do in my former operant conditioning method of shaping a Falcon. Each day I waited longer and longer and pretty soon, I couldn’t out climb her with the drone and she’d take the bait in a powerful stoop as the drone was going up as fast as it could. So, guess what… The next day, when she was about 400’ high, I launched the drone alright, but this time the drone took off from about 300 yards away and she couldn’t overtake it, so then began her really high ascent into the heavens to get her reward! Each day she was climbing higher and higher, not knowing when nor from where the drone was going to appear. I had her going up 800’, “Waiting on the Drone before it was even launched”! It was then that I knew I was onto something. I had seen this cure her from wanting to go land and transform her back into a flying machine that wanted to play the game with me.
The transition to game hawking with her was easy as pie. Again, think about it… she was climbing in anticipation of being served the drone from the ground. So, hawking was a natural and easy step and one I fully expected she’d change over to immediately, without hesitation. I was right. The first time hawking was out in the same area behind my house and we went after Huns. When I had some Huns marked down, I unhooded her, cast her off and she took to the sky immediately and why wouldn’t she? When she was about 600’ high, I flushed the group of Partridge for her and she immediately stooped and I think she put one in the bag on that first transitional flight back to wild quarry! There was no “transition” so to speak. It just happened naturally because she was conditioned to climb in an effort to dominate the quarry below her, whether it was a silly drone or on that day a group of Hungarian Partridge.
If you’ve ever ballooned or flown a kite you know that transitioning a Falcon away from it is difficult in the early stages. You’ll sometimes yell until you can’t yell anymore and the Falcon simply won’t look down at the pigeon you just served her! She’s floating around up by that balloon, wondering where in the heck the food is!! With my technique, there is no transition chore to be accomplished. She will stoop on the quarry flushed the first day you show her live quarry. (Unless of course you’re training an eyas that has never killed anything in flight or on the ground… and even then, she might pull the trigger anyway.)
(By the way, that marvelous Prairie Falcon I took through this entire program was going great, but when I’d take her up to fly Sage Grouse in short sage country, she’d go sit on a fencepost. She did NOT want to take a beating on big grouse again I guess, so one day, I decided to cut her loose and did exactly that. I knew the training method was valid, but I knew that she was never going to take to Sage Grouse again like she had before, so the place for her was back in the wild. That very afternoon, late in February, I trapped the biggest female Passage Prairie I have ever trapped, to take her place and I have shaped that Falcon this very same way and from the get-go. It has worked flawlessly. We are hawking wild quarry now and this 990 gram trapped weight female Passage Prairie flies very high and she takes on all quarry relative to long wing Falconry.)
So, I also tried the technique on a wild taken Eyas Anatum Peregrine. It worked flawlessly. She was, for lack of a better description, the absolute most stupid Falcon I have ever been around when she was learning to fly and kill. I won’t go into all of that, but she was just slow to learn everything! When she finally caught the vision with the drone, she flew it as good as that first Prairie Falcon and maybe even better. I would fly her to it twice in a session almost daily. She muscled up very quickly and she would come into the drone in full stoop sometimes to take the bait. Then, after she’d eat the first meal after coming down with it from the drone, I’d have the drone ready to launch again, or I’d be getting it ready to launch again, and she’d be back on the wing waiting for it to take off again for her! She started the waiting on thing automatically for me and I had her climbing up to 1,000’ high, waiting on the drone! I developed that Peregrine for a friend of mine, so I transferred her to him and he came up to watch her fly pigeons the day he took her home and needless to say, he was impressed with how she performed.
So in the preceding story, you can see the progression or the “training method”. It is quite simple. You do not need a big, super fast, expensive drone either! A DJI Phantom 2 is adequate and they are cheap now-a-days too! You WANT your Falcon to catch the drone in the stoop! That’s the idea! So a drone made of Kryptonite is not necessary! When she’s going too high for you to out-climb her, just move the launch point to a hidden location a couple hundred or four hundred yards away, or whatever. That teaches them what they need to learn. Do you see why the drone is the perfect pigeon? It flies perfectly every time! It not only does that, but it flies straight UP and makes the Falcon chase it straight up! It teaches her to fly high in order to dominate a large airspace. That’s what we are looking for. You can use the drone to teach them to remount too!
I’ve got some rules and hints for you to follow and here they are below:
RULES FOR USING A DRONE AS “THE PEFECT PIGEON”.
Never fly your falcon to the drone without bait. You only want to show her the drone if you plan for her to take the bait. Otherwise, with this method, there is no sense in using a drone. Always have bait on there for her to feed herself. Whether just climbing to get made to the drone in the early stages or flying to take a position above it. In either case, she needs bait on the drone. You do not want her to strike the drone out of frustration like Prairies and Gyrs will do to a balloon when they get way up there and there is no bait! I’ve seen it multiple times over the years. I know you can raise the drone to discourage her from hitting it and then serve her below, but that is totally unnecessary with this technique and actually counterproductive. If you show her the drone, you are committed to giving her the bait on it every single time! No exceptions. Otherwise, like the balloon/kite, once they think they might get served below, they fly to the contraption with much less energy and may even quit on it.
Always have a full charged battery. You can get about 22 minutes out of a Phantom 2 if there isn’t much wind and if you are only using a dead starling as bait. 22 minutes is usually enough unless your Falcon is fat and taking its sweet time. If that’s the case, consider managing her stomach better. (That’s a whole ‘nother topic.) When you get to the part where she is waiting on for the drone, the drone won’t be in the air very long at all when she is taking the bait in full stoop. I’ve never had any significant issue with the drone losing battery power, not even in flights to its maximum height when the falcon has to climb even higher to overtake it! (I have four batteries for my Phantom 2 though, so I can train multiple birds in a morning.)
When the Falcon takes the bait, turn off your transmitter to the drone and let it go land itself where it took off from and you go out and take care of your Falcon. The drone will find its way home and take care of the landing stuff all by itself. I’ve never had mine crash on auto-pilot landings. Ever. They are really quite amazing.
Use care and caution in big wind. The drone will fly in a pretty big wind, but battery life is greatly reduced, so don’t push the height limit in stronger winds. Battery life can be half of normal life. Just something to be aware of.
Use about an 18” to 24” diameter parachute with about a 20’ to 25’ leader off the bottom of the drone to keep the parachute release tube from being able to be flipped up over the drone and into the props. By the way, the parachute is a great way to stop a Falcon from carrying such a lightweight bait or lure. They are amazing. Love’em.
Make sure your parachute set-up allows the chute to slide out of the release tube with almost zero effort. I accomplish this by having the hanging bait pulling on a variable tension release clip that releases the moment a falcon tugs on the bait and then the chute falls out in sequence.
THE ROUTINE FROM START TO FINISH:l
Only fly a Falcon to the drone that has learned to kill and feed itself. Get that accomplished first.
Get your Falcon “made” to the drone to where she will chase it up with gusto every single time.
Make her chase the drone up. Make her miss it and have to keep mounting up to catch up to it. (Don’t over-do it though. Let her be successful each day before she gives up. You have to watch this very carefully.)
Once she is very fit and taking the bait either in an angled stoop or just on level flight, but enthusiastically every flight, switch her to flying with no drone in the air.
Cast her off, with the drone totally ready to launch over behind your truck or somewhere close by. As she is leaving and wondering what’s up, launch the drone and make her chase it up.
Each day wait longer until the day when she has the height to overtake the drone in a stoop. Count that flight as your first real big success. You WANT her to catch it!
The next flight, place your drone a couple hundred yards away from where you think she’s going to be mounting up and launch it over there and make her chase it up.
Keep increasing the time you let her fly and mount up and keep increasing the distance away from you that the drone is launched. I’ve launched my drone from 500 yards away, no kidding.
Once she is going the height you want her to mount to, either go hawking, or throw her a bagged “somethingorother” and then, Go Hawking with her!
Don’t let her get Drone Bound! Get her off it as soon as you can. Only use it from time to time to tune her up if she starts forgetting what she learned from it before. (That can and will happen on certain individuals.) A tune up flight or two is all it takes to reorient them to “the program”. Fly her to the drone with the drone in the air one day and then the next day fly her and let her wait on for the drone. That’s the tune up routine. But, if you don’t get them off the drone, or you fly them to the drone a lot and only hawk a little, you are potentially going to have a Falcon that refuses wild game, especially hard wild game, and that will prefer to wait for her Falconer to give her that easy drone thingy. I have not had this happen yet, but I’m telling you, it is the natural outcome if you get her “Drone Bound” by over doing it. I’ve seen plenty of ballooned Falcons refuse racing homers directly below them and I’m convinced it’s because they are waiting for that easy option.
Some additional hints… When you are teaching them to mount up above the drone to catch it, sometimes you need to lower the drone as she is flying away from it to get above it, just to help her out a little bit. When she turns back around and sees that she has “climbed above it” now, she’ll start pouring it on to catch it in a shallow angled stoop and that will go a long ways toward convincing her to climb hard to get higher than the drone so she can dominate it and take it by surprise! Also, you can use live bait at first, but once they are made to the device, a dead starling or a dead cockerel or partial quail or whatever, is all it takes. The Drone makes it all “come alive” if you know what I mean. I would not likely try to get a Passage Prairie to fly to the drone twice in an outing, but I would advise you to get two flights per outing with a young, chamber raised individual, or with a Passage Gyrfalcon. They are so tame and easy to make in on even after they have food in their crop that losing them because they are full is not really much of a worry. Two times a day can make the process go much faster and you can be on your way to introduce the waiting on part, if you like. That’s how I started the wild taken Peregrine eyas on the waiting on portion of the training. It was automatic for her and she was, like I said, the dumbest young Peregrine I’ve ever been around!! (She wound up being quite a stellar flier though, so calling her stupid or dumb is pretty short sighted, but she has been my least favorite Falcon to be around in 30 years!)
Okay, so that’s a long enough article. I hope it helps you. There is nothing better than having a falcon mount up to your desired pitch and taking wild quarry with her in fine style. I think this method can help toward that end. It’s not NECESSARY of course, in order to make a Falcon into a high flier, but it is certainly ONE Way of accomplishing it and without so many pigeons that have to be either raised or gathered up every night out of barns, buildings, etc! The Drone really IS the Perfect Pigeon!
See a great video my son, Davis, shot with our Phantom 3 Standard w/an HD camera of the young Peregrine taking the bait off the Phantom 2 at a nice altitude and coming in quite steeply and fast. That is what we are trying to accomplish in the first half of the training! Also, pause it and look at the parachute set-up and notice how neither the drone, nor the chute release hardly even move when she takes the bait. Since Davis made this video, I have lengthened the line between the drone and the chute release tube to about 25’ long. Here’s the link: (Turn up your volume and watch it in HD too!)
Here’s the slip/tension clip I use to hold the bait to the line just above the chute release tube:
If you have any questions about this method of using the drone, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be happy to further explain anything the article doesn’t make completely clear. I hope this method will help many long-wingers develop good flying game hawks. Ultimately, that’s what we all strive for!
Fly'em High Boys!
My Experience With an American Kestrel
By Ryan Van Zant
I started my falconry life like many others. I flew a couple of Red-tails and even a Red-shoulder for a while. After my apprenticeship I switched gears toward flying big longwings and have done so ever since. This year started no different as I got my hybrid and Gyrkin going in the fall and was gearing up for another season of prairie duck hawking in Oklahoma, but Mother Nature had other ideas. This year was filled with long snaps of cold which kept the ponds frozen solid for weeks on end, making it really hard for me and the birds to get any momentum and really find our rhythm.
It was mid January and I was driving around checking ponds, knowing full well that all I was going to find was more ice. I needed something to change my mood, so I decided to do a little trapping to entertain myself. I happen to have a Corturnix Quail in the back of my truck and a B.C. under the seat and after putting the former into the latter I was in business. My original intention was to look for some of the interesting color morphs of Red-tails that were hanging out in the area but the first bird I saw was a Kestrel pumping her tail on the power line at the end of the road. I thought, “what the heck, I got nothing better to do,” so I tossed the trap under this bird. I really didn’t expect a Kestrel to show any interest in a full grown quail, but I was wrong. I had the bird trapped before I could even turn the truck around.
At this point I was just passing the time and turned the bird loose but now my interest in these little birds had spiked. I still couldn’t believe that this little bird would take on something more than twice its size. So I continued on.
Over the next 10 days I took advantage of our virtually year round trapping we have in Oklahoma with the new regulations now in effect. I ended up trapped 23 Kestrels, two of which were males and the only two males I threw the trap under. Number 23, however, looked slightly different than the rest. Her orange was a little more muted and the sub-terminal band on her tail was not nearly as wide or distinct as the other birds I had trapped. Could this be a passage bird? With the bird in hand, I snapped off a cell phone picture and sent it to experienced Kestrel Falconer, Jeff Byrum, to confirm my suspicion. He quickly agreed that she was indeed a passage bird and I made the decision to see what this small bird hawking was all about.
I’m a firm believer in a quick train, when working with falconry birds. I do my best to cut out all the extra steps of training. I got this bird eating off the fist the night she was trapped, flying across the room on day three, flying over my two year old daughter to the lure on day 5, and flying free outside on day 9. That was the part I knew how to do with virtually any bird, now the fun part, hunting, but car hawking was something that was new to me.
Even though I had trapped many Kestrels using full grown quail at this point I still couldn’t believe that they would just take to a Starling without giving them a few baggies to build some confidence, but I was wrong. With a Starling weighted down on a median in the back of an old parking lot, I planned to walk the Kestrel over to it and help her with this first one. I had just gotten her out of her giant hood, turned to walk around the back of the truck, when she bated and slipped the jesses out of my fingers. She didn’t fly off though. She made a straight attack on the starling, showing no hesitation at all! Wow, these little birds have no idea that they are small! Everything I had assumed about these little guys was proving to be wrong. The next day I did another baggie in my front yard while driving by in the truck. This was the first time in the truck for her since trapping but she saw the movement in the yard and was off in a flash as I rolled on by. No hesitation with either baggie so it was time to hunt!
I knew I had to be in Tulsa for work the next day, so I made plans with my apprentice, Daniel, to meet at his house and give this car hawking thing a shot. After what seemed like an extremely long day on the job, the time came to give this little falcon her first go. We jumped into Daniel’s car, put on her transmitter and were on our way. Starlings are not hard to find in Tulsa, and within 10 minutes we had our opportunity. There was a murmuration of about 30 birds milling about on the side of a steep downward slope away from the road that we were on. I brought the Kestrel up to the window on the approach, and after a couple of quick head bobs, she was off and barreling down on the Starlings below. She was quickly seen by the many pairs of eyes and the starlings made their break for it. The Kestrel adjusted quickly and snagged one three feet off the ground in the air! But the momentum was too much and Starling broke loose before they hit the ground. Almost a catch on her first slip! With a new found excitement in the car we continued on and quickly found another slip in a neighborhood not far from the first one. Again we made our approach and she shot out the window narrowly missing her target as she hit the ground. After regaining her composure, she took off into a backyard across the way with a deliberate intensity. Daniel and I jumped out of the car to see what she was after. We peered over the fence to find that she had flow after full grown chickens! Well, she was most likely flying at sparrows feeding on the chicken’s scratch but nonetheless she was into this hunting thing. I called her back to the fist and we continued our quest to get that first bird in the bag. After combing the neighborhood streets we passed on a few of the longer slips as we pulled up to a stop sign and noticed a single bird milling about on the side of the road to our right. The Starling never even looked up as we watched three cars drive right next to it. This was the one. We made our right hand turn, the Kestrel shifting her feet with anticipation. As we past, the falcon jumped off my fist and folded into the teardrop shape of her larger cousins as she disappeared out the window. A split second later we heard the eet eet eet of a Starling in distress! #1 was in the bag! Upon closer inspection we discovered that the Starling had a white stripe down the center of its head. This unusual bird reminded me of Stripe the Gremlin leader from the movie Gremlins. While listening to a conversation about naming birds a few years ago, I heard one falconer say that birds need to earn their names and I kinda liked that idea and have done it that way ever since. So my Kestrel finally was named Gizmo and I also took to calling Starlings, Gremlins; they do seem to multiply when they get wet.
The next several days were very similar. Go out, catch a Starling and that was it for the day. That following weekend, Jeff was in town and we decided to get the birds out for some fun. Flying multiple Kestrels at once is a lot of fun. Jeff had his bird, EP, on his fist while driving and I was in the passenger seat with Gizmo ready to go. We simply took turns with slips. I could hardly believe the birds paid little to no attention to each other. Giz scored first with a short slip on an unsuspecting target as she slammed into the back of the Starling’s head, smashing its face forward causing it have a mouthful of snow upon retrieval. It happened so quick that Jeff thought it was time for a double and I had to agree. At this time the Starlings were heading back up to the wires, but Jeff noticed 3 or 4 birds on the medium at the entrance to a strip mall. After a quick right, then a left, Giz launched herself out of the vehicle and made her approach low to the ground toward her target. The prey caught sight of winged death approaching and took to the wing, but not soon enough as the Kestrel made a roll to the right seizing her quarry out of the air. Her first double! This is where I was ruined, it was all downhill from here, and one was never enough again. I had spent so many years catching one duck or one rabbit and calling it a day. Now I had a falcon that was catching quarry that is not only a non-native species but also a detrimental one to many native birds that are trying to eke out their own survival. “This is gonna be fun,” I thought to myself and my personal challenge of how quick I could get to 100 Starlings in the bag was born.
In the coming days, 2 catches, turned to 6, then 8 in an outing with the majority of the days ending with at least two or three starlings in the bag. The flights also got longer and more interesting. One such memorable flight began with the spotting of a lone Starling feeding on the corner of a block just under a stop sign. We made our approach on what was sure to be a high percentage slip. As we pulled past and I extended my arm, Gizmo literally fell off my hand and out the window. I was puzzled by this as the Kestrel kicked into gear, flew right over my intended starling, and continued down the block at full speed just inches off the ground. Around 70 yards out I see 3 starlings take to the wing. Gizmo instantly threw up into the air underneath these birds, rolling over and snatching up her intended target a good six feet off the ground. Turns out she fell off my hand because she was looking at the birds further down the road and apparently never saw my intended target for her. And I’m glad she didn’t see it because the alternative flight was incredible!
Kestrels also seem to use their own strategy to catch their quarry. Many of the Starlings we caught were nabbed after turning to escape only to run into a tree they forgot was behind them. In the beginning I never thought much of this other than it was a coincidence. But as we caught more and more I started to realize that this was likely done intentionally by the Kestrel much of the time. On one such instance, I slipped Giz on a group of Starlings that were feeding along side of a house. She instantly took an arched approach out the window. Flew 30 or so yards to the direction we came from hooked around and then began her attack. The startled Starlings turned to fly, only to slam in the brick siding of the house. Gizmo chose her target and easily bound to her quarry. If she would have taken a direct approach toward the birds, they would have been able to turn and fly directly into the backyard of the house. She caught multiple Starlings using techniques that were obviously intended to run her quarry into stationary objects when this was an option and it became very clear that this was intentional on her part.
Over the next several weeks we racked up the kills. On day 39 we were sitting at 94 head and the plan was try and catch 2 or 3 that morning and shoot to hit my goal on day 40. The best laid plans are known to change though. As I was weighing the bird and gearing up to head out I got a call from Kent Carbaugh. He informed me that he was heading out to do some rabbit hawking with Jonathan Coleman and he just saw a bunch of Starlings feeding. I let him know that I was just about to head out and he and Jonathan should come along. Kent agreed and we convinced a somewhat hesitant Jonathan (he was anxious to fly his bird, and who could blame him) come along as well. We headed out from my house and caught the first Starling after making the first turn! I let the guys know that I was planning on catching just a few today and finishing my goal the next day. Not long after that and we had 4 in the bag and I was ready to call it a day, but Jonathan, who was now really into the task at hand was pushing hard to go ahead and hit that 100 mark. It didn’t take much twisting of my arm for me to be on board and we set out for the final two. Number 99 was taken just two blocks from my house out of a small group feeding under a mailbox. And there were still plenty of birds around to reach my goal. We decided to jump from the neighborhood to the shopping center across the way see what we could find there. We quickly spotted a group on the same medium that the first double was taken on. We made our approach slipped the bird and she hammered number 100 with all the force she had used on the previous 99 over that past month and a half. My goal of 100 Starlings was complete in 39 days of hunting!
I had little expectations when starting this Kestrel. To be perfectly honest I really didn’t think that much about car hawking. I came to realize though that there is more to car hawking than just mugging the intended quarry. There is quite a bit of slip selection involved and the falconer can actually control the difficulty of many of the slips, a luxury that is often not available when field hawking. Most importantly I had a lot of fun. Being that Starlings are an invasive species that is detrimental to native birds, I had no qualms about harvesting more than my fair share of them. This is not a practice that I would feel right about doing to a native game animal, not to mention it would be illegal. But a freezer full of Starlings for future food use is always a good thing. I think another Kestrel is definitely going to find its way into my falconry again in the future.
Lauren's adventure of hunting with Golden Eagles in Mongolia
By Lauren McGough
October 1, 2009
I'm in the westernmost corner of Mongolia at the moment. Went out for the first time this season today (the 1st) after hares around the city of Olgii (urban hawking - Mongolia style). I was surprised how much they look akin to Black-tailed jacks. A local falconer lent me his eagle to fly for the day (a four year old, mild-mannered imprint) - which incidentally it is great fun flying on these stout little horses. We negotiated some really steep mountain faces and slippery mountainsides - I forgot just how sheer those were and I was, at times, clutching the horn of the saddle in fear. The hares bolt uphill and into the rocks the second they get a chance, so we didn't manage to set-up a decent flight today, but did do some long-range lure work. I think my favorite thing so far has been galloping across the steppe, dragging a fox lure, and shouting some odd guttural Kazakh word as the eagle comes in to take the lure. We should really do that in Oklahoma. I'm told tomorrow morning there will be five eagle falconers stopping by my place, to pick me up to spend the day hunting in the cities' surrounding mountains. I'm a bit nervous flying tomorrow as I won't have a translator this time and I can only hope slipping order and field-craft will be intuitive. Although imprints are sometimes flown in casts, so...maybe I'll have a good story for you tomorrow! This weekend is the "Eagle Festival" as well. I attached two pictures; one is this ramshackle Russian bus that I took 1600km from the capital of the country to Olgii. We had two drivers who alternated during the 63 hour drive. Crazy. Next time I'm opting for the plane! Good hawking!!
October 3, 2009
Yesterday, the eagle falconers did indeed come knocking on my door and four of us rode far into the mountains. One of them was a boy that couldn't have been more than 15. We rode for about an hour and a half outside Olgii, wading through a river and galloping across a stretch of steppe to reach the place we were after. I'm really amazed the eagles ride as well as they do on horseback - I think it must be more energy-draining than bouncing around in a car. After a few hours going from mountaintop to mountaintop, a large yellow-orange fox bolted into a valley about a 1/2 mile distant and into the open. I needn't have worried about slipping order - all of us slipped our eagles at once! The first one off was a six-year old experienced bird - she pumped hard the entire distance, gaining real speed downhill in the dead air. She bowled the fox over - they tumbled together for an instant and then the fox was loose and managed to find safety in a wall of boulders. The other eagles didn't make it there in time. Lest this sounds terribly unsporting casting off four eagles at a single fox - my impression is that this is a rare occurrence. The vast majority of the time, one flies one's eagle alone, near where your family's wintering ground is. Old friends are meeting up in Olgii for the Festival, and are taking the opportunity to hunt together. Also, getting a proper slip is mighty hard work - with four eagles it isn't realistic to get that many good slips in a day, in most places. So - you might as well fly 'em all - especially considering what a fox or wolf pelt means financially. It is quite similar to casts of eagles being flown at roe deer in Austria. There is a good Youtube video of that entitled "Falconry with Eagles 2007" I think.
November 28, 2009
Dear Okiehawkers -
I've heard bits and pieces about the NAFA meet, and it sounds like a real success - good hawking of all sorts. I certainly wish I could have been there, Thanksgiving doesn't feel quite right without lots of falconry friends and hawk talk. I had a small Thanksgiving here in Olgii - there are four other Americans living in the city, Peace Corps volunteers, and thanks to care packages we were able to do a Thanksgiving dinner that wasn't too bad!
Anyway - I wanted to tell you all about the first and second foxes that I caught with my passage eagle (I use the term 'passage' loosely)! Near the end of October, after a harrowing twelve days in the wilderness searching for young eagles, we managed to trap a Turnik - a second year female golden eagle. She was in great feather, had molted very well over the preceding summer, and had feet and cere that were brilliant yellow. I was astounded at how fast training progressed, and on November 20th and 23rd, she made her first kills. On the kill eagles are fed the tongue of the fox and then traded for a hare's leg - never more.
Out here they use make-eagles, a system that I think works well in Mongolia. The slips are often so distant, the flights so big, that it helps focus a new eagle on that object scooting along the horizon, and what the game is, when another eagle is pumping hard after it. There hasn't been any crabbing at all - the first eagle grabs the head and then the second takes the body. Interestingly, when my eagle was first flown with the make eagle, she would mirror the other eagle's movements, pitching up high and coming crashing down. Three foxes were taken in this manner (my eagle always coming in second) before we flew her alone. Now that she's flying on her own she's developing her own style. At first she had some close calls - knocking the stuffing out a fox but losing it, and rolling another but unable to get a secure hold before it too broke loose.
Her first kill happened like this: The fox was running in a straight line maybe two hundred yards off. She left the glove (we had a bit of height, maybe 50ft off the ground, not much) and tried for a straight-grab. The fox dodged to the side at the last second but she didn't hit the ground and was able get back her speed and try again. This repeated itself and then the fox ran around a gigantic stone that was on the ground. It was an oddly placed stone on the steppe, and was maybe thirty feet tall and fifteen feet wide. At this point my eagle pitched upward, looked down over her shoulder as the fox circled, and then dove and collided with the fox as it made it around the stone. It was particularly fun because this land was fairly flat, so it was easy for me to spur my horse to a gallop and race over there. I felt really intrepid! Usually its steep hillsides and I'm just plodding along downhill to try and reach the eagle.
The second kill was the opposite - we were on a precarious mountainside named "difficult stones". The eagle jerked like it saw something so I released her (I prefer out of the hood, but you get many more flights if you don't) - she flew quite far, pumping and serious, out of sight to another side of the mountain. We chased and found her halfway the mountainside down on a fox. It was incredibly steep though, and not real ground - all loose stones and sand. I was terrified! I had to get off my horse and walk it down - I fell several times and was exhausted by the time I reached my eagle. She had killed the fox by then and so I quickly traded. I wish I'd seen the flight, though!
After the first kill, my eagle hunting family slaughtered a sheep, broke out the vodka, and invited all the neighbors over for dinner to celebrate. Additionally, it’s been a great year for fox in this region, south of Olgii near the Chinese border - total I've seen eleven fox brought to bag. There are pages to write about how big some of these flights are and how incredible the tricks of both eagle and fox can be. It’s a whole different world out here!
Looking forward to hawking with you all again!
December 27, 2009
I just made it back to civilization - and wanted to share some thoughts and stories with you. I posted almost the same e-mail to the IEAA listserv - so I'm sorry for the repetition. Thank you all for the kind words following my last update! I really appreciate that.
Tim, you asked me what the Kazakhs think of me as a hunter. I can honestly say, that I've not had one discouraging comment about me flying eagles here (and I have very honest translators!). Many times, I've heard them say something like, "Look, here's a girl from America flying eagles, when even our own sons won't take up the sport anymore!" I've had eagle hunters give me the thumbs up when I pass with an eagle, or shake my hand when I return with a fox on my saddle. They are only nominal Muslims, and similarly, I think they only nominally care about traditional roles for women.
Mitch - my eagle was trapped in mid-October (funnily enough, I'm not sure of the exact day, my notes are a blur and not with me), was flown free on November 9th, and took her first fox on November 20th.
Since then, Alema has taken a total of six foxes and in all; I've seen 22 foxes caught by eagles this winter. Alema is Kazakh for "Milky Way", which I chose as the Milky Way is almost always prominent and arresting in the Mongolian night sky.
The way we fly is, of course, off horseback. This falconry would not be feasible in any regard without horses. The eagle hunters take the high road - we go from mountaintop to mountaintop. Most often, we have a "scare boy", someone who takes the low road, lags behind us about a quarter of a mile, and loudly rides their horse in order to flush foxes our way. These foxes are somewhat diurnal and it doesn't take much to get them running. But it is very rare that we get a close slip - our slips are far and the flights big. Very often, the fox is just a small rust-colored spot scooting along in the distance. The effect is almost like waiting-on flying, because the eagles cover such vast distances and can stoop hundreds of feet into a valley below. The style my eagle has developed is to power out over the fox, keeping her height. She'll even fly past the fox, then angle down, and finally teardrop stoop to the bottom. It makes for some really exciting flying. These foxes are every bit as wily as the hares at home, too. They sidestep, freeze, turn circles, and run in all sorts of unexpected directions.
Another common flight style is for the eagle is to skim the hillside, pumping hard, then using the momentum to pitch up fifty or sixty feet at the last moment before winging over onto the fox. I have to tell you guys about one flight we had - I could not believe it - I only wish I had been able to film it. We had a fox running DOWN a mountainside, which almost never happens. Just like hares, foxes know they've got the best chance of survival if they head up at high speed. Anyway, this fox was running down, and the eagle, Ana (Kazakh for a four-year old eagle), was pumping hard after it, gaining some real speed. They collided right at the edge of a cliff, and with all that momentum, the eagle FLEW with the adult fox in her talons. She didn't glide at all. At first I thought she had missed and was continuing on to give it another shot, but then I spied a writhing fox in her talons! She flew across a narrow valley and then hit another mountainside where we were able to reach her. The lifelong eagle hunters that I was with had never seen anything like it - nor had I.
One of my favorite flights I've had occurred at the end of the day. The eagle hunter whom I am apprenticing under, Kukan, had taken a fox with his eagle, but mine had come up empty, and hadn't flown that well that day in general. I was a bit discouraged, was aware of how tired I was, and wasn't so enthusiastic about the rest of the day. I was sitting on top of a snow covered grassy hill - it was the highest point around, but the terrain wasn't so dramatic and there was a gradual decline in the hills into the distance. I had the hood off and Kukan was attempting to flush foxes from our position, which isn't the most effective way to do it, but we were alone. My eagle suddenly sat up straight, bobbed her head, and bolted from the fist. Immediately after, I saw the fox - it was a rather grey colored individual and was cutting a path across our field of vision along the farther hills. It was on the edge of my sight in the fading light. She powered out there, kept her modest height, and flew past the fox quite a way. I was puzzled - was there another fox out there that she was going for instead? Then she circled back towards us. The fox, meanwhile, had froze, and then began running the opposite direction. When she wheeled in the air back away from us, the fox switched directions again. She seemed satisfied with his direction that time, and suddenly flipped over and slammed into the hillside - taking the fox. I felt elated! After I slip an eagle, I feel really awkward on the horse, like this big counterweight I have is suddenly gone. I was light as air that time though, and was shouting and whooping and pushing my horse to a gallop - but it still took me a good 10 or 20 minutes (it's hard for me to tell time in the heat of the moment) to arrive. By the time I did the fox was dead and Alema had broken in and was devouring the vitals. Against the snow it was quite a scene.
Later that night, while having tea with several eagle hunters, they told me how passage eagles will often wheel in the air over a fox to confuse it, or force it into choosing a new path, before they commit themselves.
I'll attach some photos from my last hunting stint.
--- 001 and 002 are Alema's third fox
--- 003 is our hunting group, ready to head home after watering the horses
--- 004 is my eagle on a Pallas' cat, a dangerous creature that looks like a snow leopard in miniature. We didn't fly it intentionally. We were flying our eagles in a cast, and the eagle that had actually caught it had just been traded off when I took the photo.
--- 005 the end of the day, my eagle took the fox on the right
--- 006 tea after hunting
--- 007 the "flying fox" - the scene after Ana (Kukan's eagle) hit the mountainside and was traded off.
--- 008 Alema on her sixth fox, in a very tight spot.
--- 009 the end of a good day, my eagle took the fox on the right
I've had lots of questions about the "gloves" on the eagles. They are called "iyakcap" or "legcaps" and are sometimes used as protection from very cold temperatures, but primarily as protection from bites. They are really ingenious - I didn't use them until my eagle got a bad bite - then one of the eagle hunter’s daughters helped me sew a pair. Most eagle hunters in my area near the Chinese border use them - but I'd never seen them before. I don't think they impact an eagle's success rate, either - they're made so the talons are completely exposed - and we've caught just as many foxes as when we didn't use them.
Another thing I am often asked about is the cold. We've had some absolutely frigid days where the hoods would actually freeze to the eagle's heads. Frost would develop around the beak opening from their exhalations. By the end of those days, the eagle's ceres and feet are orange colored, obviously cold. If we end up riding back as the sun is setting, or after sunset, when temperatures really plummet, our birds tuck a head beneath their wing even if we're cantering along at fast speeds. I'm not sure what the actual temps are, but I know it has gotten to -35 degree C at night in Olgii.
There are also, of course, no telemetry or scales out here - when things go awry you have to rely on your eyes and your horse. It can be nerve wracking. A few times I've thought to myself, "This is it, I've lost my eagle", then I notice a strangely shaped silhouette on the mountainside and breathe a sigh a relief as I call her back. I can honestly say I now know EXACTLY what Frederick the II meant when he said "A fat hawk maketh a lean horse, a weary falconer, and an empty purse."!
Although for those interested, one of the eagle hunter’s daughters found a scale for me. She borrowed it from a relative and we only used it once, but at fly weight it said my eagle was 4.8 kilos or 10.58 lbs.
December 28, 2009
One thing I am bitterly regretting, is not bringing a Bird Guide, or just an animal guide in general. I'd never seen an animal like the cat before. Briefly looking on the Internet, it looks to be a Pallas' cat or, as Steve called it, an Asian wild cat.
I know of six that have been caught in the area where I hunt - none intentionally. Each time the eagle spied something in the distance and the falconer slipped the bird, not knowing what to expect. I've never seen one "flushed" or running. This cat was no different. It was the end of the day and we were working out way back to the road home. Kukan and I both had the hoods off our eagles as we were riding, just in case something flushed (we didn't really expect it). Suddenly both birds turned their heads in interest at something behind us, stretched their necks, and we slipped them. Sometimes we fly in a cast and sometimes we don't (that's a whole different post, right there). This time we did. My eagle took the high road, as she often does, powering out for an eventual stoop, and Kukan's eagle took the low road, skimming the mountainside. Ana, his eagle, got there first. She bound to something, I couldn't see what it was - my eagle sort of half-stooped down (you know how birds do when their target is no longer, or not, running) and hit the object. They were tussling on the ground an awful lot - I wasn't sure what was going on. When I got there one eagle was on the head, the other on the chest, and the cat had its legs stretched out in all directions. We dispatched it and traded the eagles.
The cat's tails are really lovely - super woolly and ringed - thick black and grey alternating rings to the tail's rounded bottom. We gave it to our scare boy, who skinned it and hung the skin on a wall in his house.
Oh - interestingly - we found a freshly-dead marmot about ten yards from where the eagles took the cat. I'd bet the cat had either been carrying the marmot, or just caught it, when we slipped our eagles!
February 22, 2010
Hope hawking has gone well for everyone. I've returned from another long trip in the Mongolian wilds, and thought I'd share a bit. Its been tough this winter. Mongolia is experiencing a "zud" or famine among the livestock. Bitterly cold weather and snowstorm after snowstorm as led to, so far, a third of the country's 43 million head of livestock dying. Here is an article from January, just when things began to get rough:
I've had confirmation from World Vision that it has reached -50 C where I have been hawking at night, and -30 C during the day. I am astounded at the cold - it makes November and December seem like a cake walk.
But that all aside, the hawking has been good. The eagles seem to relish the weather and the foxes are being found. Though it is difficult to ride horses through drifts of snow on the mountainside, we do find very fresh and telling fox tracks that often lead to a flight.
I've had particular fun this trip. Alema's footing seems to have improved - whereas in November and December she often would get her feet on a fox that would break loose, that almost never happened in January and February. We hawked a Siberian-esque winterscape. I frequently thought of the arctic when out hawking. (Photo 0887) I feel lucky in the number of sheer vertical stoops we've had - it really is like waiting-on flying. The eagles power out from the mountaintop, high above a valley where the fox is, then choose their moment and plummet.
Myself, I've changed leaps and bounds on horseback. I came to Mongolia with virtually no horse sense or experience, and little confidence. Its very rough and tumble riding, but boy is it thrilling. Imagine, after your eagle collides with a distant fox, jumping on your horse and whipping it into a gallop across the steppe. The wind in your face, speeding to assist your eagle. Its great. The horse is like an extension of yourself. Or, spying a fox running up and over a mountain, and galloping over as fast as your horse will carry you, hooded eagle with wings half-open in the wind, in an attempt to get a slip. I daresay there are applications for horses in eagle falconry outside central Asia.
Alema took her tenth fox and overall (I'd have to count) I've seen in the range of 35 foxes brought to bag by eagles this season. I was very happy with her tenth, because after speaking with several eaglehunters, that was the goal I set for myself when we started trapping. I'll describe a few flights:
Some foxes are very clever. One very orange-colored individual we chased around and around a few mountains for a day and a half. He seemed to always be one step ahead, and kept giving us the slip. We managed one flight, but he ran circles around a hill to cause the eagle to squander its height, then bolted across the steppe. The eagle pursued it into the steppe, but the fox turned ninety degrees at the last second and ran back to the safety of the tall mountains. We spent the night plotting how we could get the upper hand with the fox. The next day we split up on different mountains and managed to spy him running across the top of a mountain, refusing to go down either side (where the eagle would have had the advantage). From my point, on an equally high neighboring mountain, I slipped Alema. She powered out and, when five or ten feet above the summit, folded and took the fox. I was terribly excited - these foxes really are a worthy quarry. (Photo 0850)
The long flights are spectacular, but they give the fox alot of time to find refuge somewhere. I think of a case when we were on a high vantage point with two eagles unhooded. They bated at the same time, with real intensity - though we couldn't see anything it meant a fox. Both eagles were released and they seemed to fly forever ("Oi...Allah" one frequently hears the eaglehunters mutter in such an instance) into the distance. When just a speck, both eagles folded and went vertical. The first hit a mountainside in a miss, the second committed herself in a vertical stoop, but pulled out at the last second and landed. When we (finally!) arrived at the scene, there was a deep hole between the boulders where the fox had clearly gone. Eagle footprints disturbed the snow directly above - as Alema had been inquisitively peering inside.
Another day we found ourselves in mountains full of snow. It has fallen prodigiously the night previous, and it was tough going - both on foot and on horseback. The day seemed to drag on and by sunset we still had not managed to flush a single fox. We had one last sloping mountain to work, and then had to head home. The scareboy suddenly called to me to unhood my eagle - he had seen fresh fox tracks. I was on my horse, stomach in knots at what was going to happen. The scareboy slowly worked the area. Alema bolted. I couldn't see anything at first but then noticed a darker colored fox running along the gentle hills where the mountain eventually merges with the steppe. She did the usual technique - powered out above the hill, chose her moment, and went vertical. It wasn't a tremendous stoop, perhaps 200 feet, but it was beautiful. It ended with a spray of snow and a fantastic struggle. I was very worried the fox might get loose. I walked my horse down the steep part of the mountain, then when the snow was more manageable, leapt on and went as fast as I could. I kept between and then over the small hills. Every time my view was restored as I crested a hill, I hoped to see the eagle still on the fox. I raced past my guide, who sat in the snow watching it all through binos. When almost there, I saw the scareboy had made it to Alema and secured the kill. I breathed a sigh of relief. My guide soon came up to me and explained, "Lauren did you see that? Though the binos I saw your eagle grab the fox's front leg. The fox spun around and eventually she got her other foot on its mouth." No wonder it looked like a struggle! I gave the fox to the scareboy as a token of my appreciation, and they all said "Jacksa boldt" as we departed - a sort of catch-all phrase that means, "Good finish!" or "Good ending!". (Photo 0791)
The 0880 photo shows how the eagle's tuck their head under a wing once we start on the trek home. I don't blame them! The last photo is just for fun -- me and an eaglehunter on camelback. I like these shaggy camels, I've got to say. I've even heard stories of people using the hump as a natural arm-rest for their eagle!
Good hawking, everyone!
Text and photos above have been posted with the permission of Lauren McGough. Pictures are not to be used without the owner's permission
Miracles do happen!
By Mitch Wishon
It was opening day of duck season and my family and I were supposed to celebrate some birthdays with family. My plan was to run out and fly my gos on some bunnies, and then find a duck flight for my Gyr/Barbary Tiercel. After catching a bunny with my gos, I was off to look for ducks. After about an hour of driving and no ducks sighted, I decided I would let my bird fly and then just call him down to the lure. I attached his telemetry, unhooded him, and let him go. He mounted up nicely and was waiting on over head. I was just enjoying watching him fly and thinking of how impressed I was with this beautiful bird. He still had what it takes to be a great game hawk after 17 years. As I looked up to check his position His wing beat had changed to a very serious hard pumping pursuit flight mode. He was eating up some sky. Although I did not see his intended victim, I was sure he had a pigeon in his sights.
This little falcon loves pigeons and will chase them for miles. Last year Rob Rainy and I put him up over a duck pond. He took off in this same manner of hard pumping pursuit flight leaving the ducks sitting safely on the water. We jumped in the truck and followed the chase for about five miles. We arrived just in time to see him take a pigeon that was trying to take cover by a lady while she was filling up here car with gas. She was quite surprised as I ran in to grab my falcon and the pigeon right from under her feet. Rob was in the truck enjoying the whole scene.
I realized I better get right on this, or he could be out of the county before I caught up with him. By the time I got back to the truck I was not getting a signal with my telemetry.
My mind began to race. Had I turned on my transmitter? I knew I had, but with no signal I just could not be sure. I jumped in the truck and took off in the direction I last saw my bird. After looking for 30 minutes with no luck I was really starting to worry I made some calls for help. Rob and Greg joined me right away.
We thought for sure we had Princel found late Saturday night when Greg got a signal coming from a barn in the area.
We were disappointed to find that a man had just forgotten to turn of his dog collar after returning from a hunting trip.
Early the next morning, a friend arranged for someone he knew to take me up in an airplane to try to get a telemetry reading from the air. We covered about a fifty mile radius searching with no signals. I have had good luck searching from the air on other occasions, but it was not meant to be this time. I was just sick. I figured best case he had a failed transmitter, and worst case he had been killed. Either way, I did not think I would ever see him again. Every day on the way to work I would have my receiver, trying in vain to get a beep. In the evenings I would go back to the area where I had lost him. I would throw pigeons up hoping that by some chance he might come back by. Friday night I went to a ballgame with my brother and sister in-law and my sister in-law told me that she was still praying for my bird and that she thought God was going to bring him back to me. I do believe in prayer, but to be honest I just did not know if I should be praying for my bird. I did think about it a lot though, and decided that God did care about all the details of our lives. This morning when I left for work it was the first morning I did not take my receiver. I knew that my transmitter on Princel was not working by now even if it was working earlier. As I circled on to the cross town
(I-40, 20 miles from was I lost my bird) I looked up to the north and saw a falcon stooping some pigeons right toward my truck. He came out of the stoop and pitched up about 50 foot out from the bridge and right across from my truck. When he flared, I could see his jesses clear as day! This was crazy! I thought I must be dreaming! As I exited off the bridge I was thinking about what are the odds of me being in just the right spot, to see my bird finish off a stoop, come within 50ft. or so of my truck, traveling 60 mile an hour, 20 miles from where I last saw him. I had no lure or lure pigeon with me; I had given up on ever needing any. As I tried to make my way though the traffic back to where I saw him, I called Rob to see if he could bring a pigeon. Rob said he would go back and get one and head my way. I made my way close to where I had last seen him and took off on foot. I had a piece of cord tied to a stick that I was hoping to pass off as a lure. I was so close to where I had seen him flying but felt sure he was on top of one of the buildings by now, feeding up on a freshly caught pigeon. I was running around downtown whistling as loud as I could and swinging the stick on a string. I was just about to give up when out of nowhere my little miracle bird came flying down and landed right in front of me. This little bird is pretty wise to all my tricks after fifteen years of trading him off his fresh kills for what ever portion I thought he needed that day. My mind was racing with all sorts of thoughts on what to do next. I saw an old piece of plastic laying there and picked it up coaxing him in very close. He was looking to see if there was any meat in it. I decided I would make a grab for him knowing there was no way he would let me pick him up with out some food. I knew if I missed, he may go off hunting again and I would likely never see him again. I made a grab for him and caught him by one foot. He promptly planted the free foot in my hand. I had my bird back! The overwhelming rush of emotions just poured out. If anyone had seen me they may have thought I was a lunatic. I just want to say thanks to Eric, Rob, and Greg for all of their hard work in helping me look for him day after day. I also want to thank every one that took the time to turn their receiver on and try to get a reading from their area. Thanks to those who said a prayer for my bird that I would get him back. But most of all thanks to God for giving me my bird back in the most awesome, magnificent, miraculous way.
.After getting my bird home he was right on weight and his transmitter seemed to be working fine, but after further field testing the transmitter was week and not working properly.
ADVENTURES IN MONGOLIA
By Samantha Ohlmer
My journeys to Mongolia began when a falconer from Scotland advertised a personal trip with locals rather than a large tourist company. Every falconer hears about the Kazakh hunters and the eagles in Mongolia and I just had to go. I was sure that I would never have that opportunity again for such a personalized trip. So, despite knowing no one on this adventure I packed my bags and flew to Mongolia!
The first family we stayed with was a hunter known as Bashu. He and his family are the nicest people I could ever wish to stay with and they have effectively become my Kazakh family. During this first stay we hunted every day, I raced with Serikjan, Bashu’s youngest son, I got to know his grandchildren and just fell in love with the whole family. During this stay Bashu jokingly tried to get me to stay and marry his son, introducing me to people in the valley as, “his future daughter-in-law.” Which got me way more mare’s milk than I was capable of drinking. I was very sad to say goodbye, but we were scheduled to meet another family and had to head out. I promised them that I would come back next year and I am very glad I was able to keep my word.
The next family we visited did not represent what we considered good care of the animals in their possession and we quickly searched for another family that might have space for us. As luck would have it, the cook that was traveling with us was related to another eagle hunter named Shaimurat. We were able to stay in a currently unoccupied winter home and were welcomed to ride and hunt with him and his family. Being the crazy person that I am I agreed to more horse racing and partaking in other traditions.
Unfortunately on the last leg of the stay I sustained a direct kick to my knee from one of the mountain ponies, but I did not let that stop me. I was determined to make an impression. So, I rode for the rest of the hunt and proceeded to race horses again that afternoon. Which led to a somewhat voluntary dismount at a gallop. But I survived and they definitely remembered me! They told me I needed to come back for real hunting and again, I promised I would do my best to come back next year.
Almost as soon as I got back to America I began working with people to set up another trip. This time I wanted to share this experience with other falconers. I was lucky enough to have been invited and I wanted to pay it forward. I brought three lucky ladies with me and went back to visit the families I had promised.
During the year between these two trips, the leader of the Mongolian Eagle Society had heard of me and that I was bringing more falconers with me. He asked to meet with me upon my arrival. I had no idea what was heading my way.
I was very honored to be made the first American member of the Mongolian Eagle Society. I was asked to work with him and the society to help bring more falconers to Mongolia and to possibly help some eagle hunters visit America and see falconry in the US. He stated that so many of the newer generations have no interest in hunting and that eagle hunting is dying. They want to make it more popular so that young people want to stay in order to preserve their cultural heritage. He believes that if young hunters realize they can make a living and also meet other falconers from around the world it will prevent them from leaving and loosing them to city life. I happily agreed to work with him and to work on the relationship between the eagle hunters and American falconers.
After this meeting, we went to stay with Shaimurat and his family in his winter home. The next morning was our fist day out hunting for this trip and it would be a memorable one. Shaimurat made me a bet that if he caught two fox while we were there, then I had to drink on our last night there. That first day we caught two fox, which is unbelievably rare. This was also the first day where I got to handle Shaimurat’s oldest eagle. I had to practice some because the next day was going to be my first day on the horse with the bird. After showing that I was capable of handling the horse and the bird at the same time I was then allowed to ride on my own with the eagle.
There are no words to describe the feeling of being on the top of a mountain in Mongolia, on a horse, with an eagle on your arm, while a Kazakh hunter rides at the base of the mountain trying to flush a fox for you.
On my last day at Shaimurat’s I was dressed in one of his coats and we were determined to find a fox. The universe obliged and on that day I caught my first fox while riding with the eagle. It is a moment in my life that will be burned in my memory forever. We ended up taking a total of four fox during our time with Shaimurat and I definitely had to drink before I left.
We then moved on to Bashu’s home. I was very happy to see everyone, the grandkids were excited to see me and of course I had to race Serikjan at least once! I was able to ride and handle Bashu’s youngest eagle and the ladies that came with be were able to practice calling the eagle to the fist. We were able to catch one more fox while hunting with Bashu. We discussed plans for next years visit and the possibility of Bashu and Serikjan coming to visit America. I became much closer to the family and enjoyed spending time drinking tea and playing cards with them. During this stay Bashu let me know that he considers me to be his American/ daughter and he passed on his saddle bags with the hope that I take some of his happiness and good luck with me for the rest of my life and wished that I be blessed as he has.
We had to say goodbye much sooner than anyone would have liked, but we all knew it would not be my last visit. The little boys gave me the biggest hugs and kisses asking me to come back soon. I hugged my Kazakh family and headed back to life in America.
Currently I am organizing my next trip with a new group of amazing falconers and hope to continue growing the relationship between the Mongolian Eagle Hunters and American Falconers.