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he digital age and its implications for the print and publishing industries have been moving at an astounding pace over the last couple of years. The technology now available to us as publishers is incredible, and here at IF we’re embracing it wholeheartedly. Alongside the printed version, we’ll be publishing simultaneously, a free-to-read digital version of the same magazine. International Falconer and its intelligent, informative and exciting content will now be available to everyone with access to a computer and the internet, no matter where they are in the world. The digital platform will compliment the printed version and allow us to distribute IF in a new, dynamic and media-rich way. We strongly believe this is the way forward for magazine publishing and we’re with it the whole way. Take a look at page 35 and see how IF is welcoming the online world. Enjoy the issue! Seth


4 The art of falconry

In her studio behind the tourist-filled streets of Dorset’s Lyme Regis, artist Christine Allison is breaking new ground in the world of bird of prey painting as Anthea Simmons discovers.

12 South African Falconry Association field meet 2010 Mark Williams makes the long-overdue return journey to South Africa to visit friends and take in the annual gathering on the rolling grasslands a couple of hours south-east of Johannesburg.

18 Game on! Leaving the worries of the modern world behind him Nigel Hawkins escapes for a moment to a place where only one thing matters...catching your next meal.

22 The true cook’s hawk

Accipiter gentilis has for centuries had the moniker of ‘the cook’s hawk’ and for very good reason as Keith Talbot finds out.

28 The line – death, despair and medication The death or illness of a hawk makes one think and leaves an unforgetable mark as Ben Crane explains.

37 Bovine thyroid and the moult

Talked about since medieval times as an effective means of speeding up the moult, Lee Brindley decides it’s time to take a closer look.

40 Redtails and bushytails Peter Malcolm gives us an in-sight to his years of flying a North American hawk at a North American quarry in the woodlands of England.

44 The helikite reviewed Brian Morris has always been a keen advocate of the delta kite but it has its limitations in early season still air conditions. Could the hybrid helikite be the answer to the problem?

Editor: Design & Production: Advertising & Subscriptions:

Seth Anthony Terry Anthony Sarah Fogg (Europe & RoW) Donna Vorce (N.America) Tel: 402-364-2470

Subscription Rates: (4 issues inclusive of postage) UK - £24.60 Europe - £26.40* North America - £29.40* (when paying by credit card) $51 USD (when paying by US check) Rest of World - £29.40 GBP* Published by: International Falconer Ltd P.O. Box 91, Carmarthen SA33 5YF, Wales, UK Telephone: +44 (0)1267 232785 *Overseas subscribers please note that we can only charge credit cards in GBP and the conversion rate to your currency will fluctuate. All credit card payments can also be made via our secure server at

IMPORTANT - NOTE FROM THE EDITOR The Editor wishes to point out that International Falconer features articles from across the world which inevitably include a variety of management, training and hunting methods. Some practices in one country/state may not be legal in another. It is the responsibility of the falconer to know and strictly adhere to the laws and regulations relevant to the area(s) he/she lives and hawks in. For the good of the sport NEVER do anything that you are not entirely sure is legal. International Falconer welcomes contributions for articles both written and photographic. Please check our Submissions Guidelines at before sending material. Though every care will be taken, the publishers will not be held liable for any manuscripts, photographs or other material lost or damaged whilst in their possession. The contents of this magazine are covered by international copyright laws and may not be reproduced, stored or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise without the prior consent of the publishers. The opinions expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of the publishers or Editor.

Cover photo: Female goshawk by Seth Anthony

48 Book review Ben Crane takes a look at the newly-published title A Young Falconer’s Walkabout from Hancock House. INTERNATIONAL FALCONER NOVEMBER 2010


Falconry THE ART OF



ROM THE bas-relief found in the ruins of the palace of the Assyrian ruler, Sargon II ( 722 – 705 BC) to the computer-generated eagles in The Lord of the Rings, man has sought to capture something of the majesty of some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring predators. For centuries, the sport of falconry was inextricably bound up in wealth, status and fashion and nowhere is this more apparent than in its depiction in art and literature. In 1494, the European bestseller lists were topped by Guillaume Tardif’s Art of Falconry, commissioned by Charles VIII of France in 1494. This sumptuously-illustrated compendium of the sport covered everything from the equipment to be used to the early diagnosis and treatment of illness in hawks. The manuscript is full of lifelike studies of hawks in flight and on the perch. Both this work and The Book of Hawking and



of demand for paintings with a hawking theme, as if paintings showing the nobility and proud ferocity of the birds somehow conferred the same qualities on their owners. This aspirational element is paralleled in woodblock falconry scenes bought by wealthy commoners in Japan in the 8th and 9th centuries AD.

As in Europe, hunting with hawks (Takagari) was strictly regulated and confined to the Samurai classes, with ownership of the ‘higher order’ hawks to the highest echelons of society. Silk panels from Persia, showing the Persian elite riding out, hawks on fists and Mughal miniatures depicting falconry scenes were highly collectable in the 16th and 17th centuries right across Europe, but in all these depictions the emphasis is less on the drama of the sport and more on the costly trappings and rich costumes of the falconers. They are largely social commentaries, though a rather unusual piece by the Dutch Golden Age painter, Christoffel Pierson (1631-1714) strikes a rather different note with an exquisite trompe l’oeil of the equipment of falconry, showing hoods, lures and jesses in hyperrealistic detail, confirming the sport’s ancient and, to this day, largely unchanged heritage. The identification of wealth and social exclusivity with the art of falconry remained the dominant feature in the sport’s depiction in sporting art and aristocratic portraiture in Europe right up to the early 20th century. However, another strand was developing concurrently. The hawks themselves became the subjects of rigorous, anatomically-accurate depiction by the likes of John James Audubon (1785-1851), who painted life-size studies of the New World’s raptors. His work in America was echoed in the ornithologist John Gould’s work in Britain (1804-1881). But these paintings, and those of the watercolourist, Archibald


Hunting, written by Dame Juliana Barnes, prioress of Sopwell Priory and published by the schoolmaster printer, St Albans in 1486, probably mark the height of the sport’s popularity in Europe but even after it began to dwindle in the face of competition from the firearm, there was still plenty


Falconry THE ART OF

Thorburn (1860-1935) have a certain sterility to them. The hawks, whether at rest or in flight, are certainly strikingly beautiful but devoid of passion or energy. Not surprisingly, perhaps, given that they are ornithological reference records. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the birds have become the stars in most paintings, but their portrayal often appears to owe a debt to Audubon and Gould. To date, they have not had a champion of their sheer power and physicality in the way the horse has, for example. Delacroix, Stubbs (think of Whistlejacket) and, later, Munnings, freed the horse from its supporting role in courtly portraiture and focused instead on its muscular athleticism, strength and pentup energy. By contrast, bird paintings have tended to fall into two distinct categories: the minutelydetailed study, often showing the hawks hooded or static on their perches, their plumage painstakingly executed in a sharply realistic style; and the work which sets the hawk in the context of the landscape. The latter approach is probably exemplified by Sir Peter Scott, in whose work geographical

Christine in her studio tucked away behind the tourist-filled streets of Lyme Regis.

context is almost as important as the accurate depiction of the bird. Even when shown in flight or mid-stoop, there is a curious stillness about the hawks, frozen in time, a near-photographic record of the hawks’ movement. Artist Christine Allison has adopted a radically and refreshingly different approach. A visit to Forest Falconry in southern England’s New Forest, ignited a passionate love affair with raptors. The piercing, unflinching gaze, the aura of astonishing vigilance and sensory



acuity, the latent power evident even in the resting bird and then the jaw-dropping display of speed, strength and agility in flight combined to send her rushing back to her Lyme Regis studio to get painting. She started with the golden eagles (Forest Falconry have three). She drew them quickly, in charcoal, with quick, energetic marks, working big scale before moving on to the Harris’ hawks. Even in black and white, these drawings exude vitality. The birds are clearly poised for action, intent

and intense. Working from her sketches and photos from her day, she began work on a series of large canvasses up to 2 metres in size. Christine is not a falconry expert. She is a painter but for her, her love for the bird and her love for the paint have become one and the same. The bird drives her to paint and the paint takes her to the bird. “I was just blown away by the birds”, Christine says. “I can’t get them out of my head. I’ve painted eight huge canvasses so



A steppe eagle comes straight for you, wings outstretched, challenging you to duck.

far...and finished and framed four large drawings...but this feels like the start of a really big body of work. It’s all very exciting. An obsession, really. I never thought I would be happy to work from photographs but it is really the only way to to have a reference for the work. Now, world famous photographer Richard Austin is capturing the birds on film



for me, he understands what I am looking for in an image, the shape, movement and attitude of the birds. I have spent quite a lot of time watching them in action, so I feel I understand their mechanics, as it were. My long experience of life drawing really came into its own because I am trained to observe and understand what lies beneath.

Having that foundation allows me to concentrate on what this work is really about...the ‘WOW’ factor of these awesome creatures. I am driven to try to tell that ‘WOW!’ story, to convey that feeling I get when I see them fly. It’s about impact, emotional and visual. That’s the effect the birds have...and I know it isn’t just me who feels that way.


It’s why so many people all over the world love the birds and love the sport as much as they do”. She spends as much time as she can in her studio, tucked away behind the tourist-filled streets of Lyme. The space is filled now with vast canvasses. Two easels hold work in prog ress...oil paint can take weeks to dry and she can’t wait around!





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Falconry THE ART OF

She works with extravagant, energetic strokes, applying the paint thickly, the palette knife loaded with a composite of pigments which mimic the tones in the feathers. She layers the paint on, building up a thickly-encrusted surface which can be scratched, gouged and manipulated to convey the colour and texture of the bird’s plumage. The result is something electrifyingly new in this field. Full of energy, drama, passion, awe. The birds seem to fly straight out of the paintings. A golden eagle straight to camera, its eyes totally focused on its prey, somewhere beyond the viewer. A Harris’ hawk, so full of movement that you would swear you could hear the beat of its wings. A steppe eagle comes straight for you, wings outstretched, challenging you to duck. This work breaks new ground. Startlingly contemporary, it allows us an emotional response to these fabulous creatures. It enables us to experience again that heart-stopping feeling we experience when we watch the birds at work, wheeling high in the sky, plummeting to earth in fearless pursuit of their prey, representing something way beyond the conventions of society, the sport or their highly-evolved status in the bird world. No. To look at these paintings is to know what it is to be alive. ■




Photo: courtesy of Mark Williams


HEY SAY that once you visit South Africa, something always draws you back there. This July I returned there with my son Gareth for a long overdue visit with my old friend Mark Holder who I grew up hawking with back in the UK and who had since moved to South Africa about 10 years ago, long after I came to live in Canada. The first part of our visit entailed a seven-day visit to Kruger National Park, something I would highly recommend to anyone visiting South Africa. It was a photographic trip adventure that I had been planning and in spite of not being able to leave the vehicle I did OK. The second purpose of my visit was to stay, relax and hang out at Mark Holder’s bird of prey centre in Dullstrome, which he owns and runs with a mutual friend Mark Bett, also an ex-patriot from the UK. My plan was to take in some local hawking. Unfortunately Mark Holder’s black spar has sustained an injury prior to my arrival so we did not get to fly it.


Mark Bett meanwhile had a nice female African peregrine going and I spent a few very early cold mornings hawking Orange River francolin with him with some success. The final stage and deliberate timing of my trip to South Africa was to take in the South


African Falconry Association (SAFA) field meet. My previous visit nearly nine years ago demonstrated to me the high standard of falconry now being practiced by individuals there like Alan Harvey, Tim Wagner and Francois Breedt to name but a few. I was thrilled to see some

South African Falconry Association Field Meet 2010 Words and photos by MARK WILLIAMS

more great hawking this time around in an organised falconry club environment. The setting could not have been more idyllic with beautiful thatched cottages in the middle of nice rolling grassland with good numbers of both avian and mammalian quarry situated a couple of hours

south-east of Johannesburg. As was the case in my first visit to South Africa the hospitality was great. There is something about the bond and camaraderie between falconers that breaks down cultural and language barriers anywhere in the world. I can’t begin to count

the numerous falconers who have contacted and visited me during their travels to Canada. It is almost like they are a distant relative or something. Such was the atmosphere and general hospitality shown in South Africa. Also everyone likes to see good birds fly and nice dog


Author with the late Ron Hartley’s African hawk eagle.



The camp was an idyllic setting.

work and there was plenty of this at this SAFA meet. I get to see longwings fly every day in the season here in Canada so I was particularly interested to see some of the different shortwings flown, particularly the black spar which I hear so much about. There were several mature and immature birds at the meet and all flying well. I will not forget the first spar flight at a Swainson’s francolin. It was underlined by the preconceived expectations I had compared to the stark contrast of reality. Off burst the francolin several yards in front of us with the spar seemingly taking its time to leave the fist. The spar appeared to be slowly flapping behind yet the distance between predator and prey never widened as the flight took on several hundred yards. What my eyes were seeing and my brain could not decipher was how relatively slow the wing beats of the spar were in relation to the francolin and yet how it was quickly catching up and staying on the quarry. My only analogy would be that of comparing the snappy wing beat of a peregrine with that of a slower, deeper rowing motion of the gyrkin. So it is with the black spar. Unlike the rapid wing beat of the gos, the black spar has the



A pointer gets to know an African goshawk.

powerful rowing motion and their deceiving little gyr-like motor is able to suck up quarry from great distances previously not seen in an accipiter. Several flights were over several hundred yards which all but the very fittest of the goshawks I’ve seen in my life would normally have pulled off. They almost made it look too easy and I would have loved to have seen them fly some of the smaller more challenging birds like long-claws that ring up high in the sky. The hawk eagles are yet another fascinating bird we don’t see here in Canada. I saw a few at the meet including the 30-year-old bird that the late Ron Hartley took as a chick and is now being flown by a friend of the late, great and highly respected falconer. These hawk eagles were being flown mostly at night at scrub hares which are like small hares or jackrabbits. I must admit I was a little tense throughout the evening flights as

barbed wire fences (which are both prolific and higher in South Africa), often became part of the scene. Creative by necessity and although still a third world country, often experiencing difficulty in getting many items and products we take for granted, South African falconers certainly seem quick to recognise and adopt good ideas or practices when it comes to falconry. I was surprised to see that for example 80 per cent of birds wore Marshall

trackpacks, frequent reference was made to Ed Pitcher’s new book and variations on kiting and bird training were widely and eagerly accepted. The only practice I still found archaic was the common habit of driving everywhere with the hawk on the fist while out hawking. Here in North America that hand is generally reserved for a mug of coffee or other essential nourishments while driving about looking for set-ups. Considering how much more South


Black sparrowhawks in adult (above) and juvenile (left) plumage.





Africans pay for their vehicles than Europeans and certainly North Americans do, I was surprised they allowed the front seat or stick shift to become a mute catcher. On the subject of new things in falconry, the taita falcon looks like a great hawking prospect for hunting small birds. Unfortunately I never got to see one fly but apparently these birds have a very tame nature and their demeanor and personality reminded me of a colourful but thick-set merlin or micro gyr. I anticipate that with some birds now in captivity for breeding prospects, we shall see some of these little fellows flown and I will be interested to see how they fare as game hawks. Something I had not expected while there was to be freezing my butt off and this became a subject of great teasing for the locals to someone supposed to live in a cold Canadian climate. Knowing it was winter there and having previously visited in May when it was milder I was not expecting it to be THAT cold! I guess July is dead of winter for South Africa. I did not bring enough warm clothes and never got to wear my shorts which my young son thought was a good thing anyway! Most mornings the birds baths were frozen but by late morning they’d melted away. This being said it has been the coldest winter they have had in some years and reminded me of our late October weather here in Canada...except I dress for that. In spite of the cold early mornings, by mid morning if the falcons had not had a flight they were almost certainly going to thermal, of which I saw a lot of. Several of the birds took

An Orange River francolin.

awesome pitches and made great stoops at the main quarry we pursued, Orange River francolin. There were great numbers of the bigger Swainson’s francolin but most were to be found too close to cover and better suited to shortwing flights. There was abundant check in the form of other small birds and abundant black shouldered kites but few negatively impacted our flights. The field meet was rounded off by a great banquet and raffle as is traditional at most field meets I have attended around the world. I had reacquainted with several old friends while there and made many more new ones. I am drawn to the South African culture and diverse wildlife both as a hunter and photographer. My son, Mark and I left the meet with long time friend and good falconer Tim Wagner who took us to stay with him in Johannesburg and we spent the last two days of our vacation going sand grouse hawking. I had heard a lot about these gamebirds and was curious and excited to see them flown. Practically all of the game birds I had seen fly,

which were various species of francolin, have a flight more like our partridge. Some of the good peregrines and lanners made flying them look too easy. This was not to be the case with the sand grouse which were super fast like our North American grouse. The interesting difference when I held one of these highly-prized gamebirds is that they appear a cross between a pigeon and a grouse. Their flight is much more pigeon-like than grouse-like and boy can they move, however the details of this hawking deserve devotion to another article at a later date. The world is getting smaller and even for someone halfway across the world, the costs of travel is getting more affordable. I highly recommend South Africa as a country worth visiting for those looking to see incredible wildlife and a different type of hawking with different raptors and quarry. No question I shall return to South Africa yet again, but sooner than later. ■ MARK WILLIAMS www.canadianwildlife

The beautiful taita falcon appears to be a great prospect for game hawking. INTERNATIONAL FALCONER NOVEMBER 2010




Photo: courtesy of Nigel Hawkins

Words and photos by NIGEL HAWKINS

It was one of those typical late season frosty days with crystal clear blue skies. The days when all your senses seem alive; as you take a deep breath your nostrils tingle and you can feel the cold air biting against the walls of your lungs.


IPULL UP at the end of the rutted track, being careful not to break my neck on the ice as I dismount my trusted Land Rover hawking wagon. As a stream of consciousness runs through my head I complete all the standard operating procedures. Goshawk first, secondly the dog, then me . . . check telemetry receiver, check batteries in transmitter, check contents of hawking vest . . . Ahh! Don’t forget the dog whistle! Then, finally, check hydration bottle for myself. Deep down I know it’s going to be a good day as my male goshawk steps from his hawking box onto my glove, feathers ruffled slightly. His eyes adjust to the light and just by his demeanour I can tell it’s GAME ON! It’s only a two minute walk from the car to the woods where a few of my pheasant feeders are positioned and, as my newest addition to the pack, Luga, a 22month-old German shorthaired pointer, gets to find his nose, I slowly move through the

woodland. Shafts of sunlight penetrate the winter canopy and have a strobe light effect on my eyes, the shadows of branches interrupting the beams as I walk along the leaf covered path filled with an intense energy from the electric goshawk in yarak, the freezing weather and young, slightly hyperactive, dog. I enjoy watching him quarter and using the wind to his advantage, stopping every now and then to test the strength of scent caught

orange eyes, silencing me with his glaring intent. Anticipation of the point is all part of it for me and it’s not long before Luga looks like someone has paused a video tape, one paw up in a typical calendar pose about 60ft away. Awesome! I love it. My senses go into overdrive thinking of all the possible scenarios, then…BANG! Up it gets! (Why does it still make me jump after witnessing it thousands of times?)

Bert, named after the famous austringer.

Luga, a German shorthaired pointer, the newest addition to the pack.

from something familiar upwind, and noticing that all the hard work and training is starting to pay off. My senses are in overload, watching the dog work and awaiting a point, then switching my focus to the goshawk’s head bobbing and weaving side-toside and stretching hard just to squeeze out the last few millimetres of view from behind an ivy-clad tree trunk. There is a part of all this head movement that I think is hilarious and as I have a slight chuckle to myself, Bert (after the renowned austringer who inspired my training methods), looks straight through me with his piercing


The melanistic cock pheasant is on a mission. Rising like a Polaris missile out of a submarine it is at what seems like full speed after only 7 to 8 wing beats! He is 100ft away in a flash but unfortunately for him Bert has been to the same briefing and is on his tail, matching him move for move, in and out of the trees and over hedgerows, not a wing beat missed. Committed to the maximum, just waiting for a weakness to show or for his target to slow slightly, Bert bides his time in the pheasant’s blind zone. As they both go over a small clearing, now around 500ft away, the beautiful cock bird makes a


fatal mistake. Just as he enters another woodland and about 20ft high, he tries to put in and make cover but the missile is only feet behind and reads him like a book. Bert throws up at a 90-degree angle and then shoots down in an eye-popping vertical stoop that must pull around 6 or 7 Gs, taking him in fine style just before they both hit the ground. I arrive a few minutes later after my mad dash through brambles, around bushes and over hedgerows and fences, ready to give him a hand to subdue his prize. I then sit down and relax while the hawk plucks and breaks into his well deserved meal. After a fair reward of warm meat and blood from the neck, we are off on our next escapade. A few hedgerows later Luga locks up again. Odds on it’s a pheasant or partridge as his tail seems to expand a little and shakes vigorously from sideto-side, quite the opposite to a rabbit point.

I give Luga the whistle command to flush and the familiar alarm call of an exploding pheasant echoes in the woods behind. The sound of flapping wings primes my second-season missile and he launches from my glove without any persuasion, sights firmly locked on and working hard to close the 80ft gap about 6 inches off the ground, closing his wings as he skims the hedgerow. Contouring the ground, he gains with every pumping wing beat, intent on closing onto his target. Crossing into the next field they turn right and it’s only now that the speed at which they’re both travelling can be truly appreciated. I should be running to give my charge the backup he may need in the ground battle but am awestruck watching him gain on the sprightly pheasant. My legs seem glued to the spot waiting in eager anticipation of the conclusion to this awesome spectacle. The pheasant lifts his wings up 90 degrees, braking hard, to enter cover but yet again the parent-reared Finnish male is too close and binds to him in that fine aerobatic style which most goshawkers would agree is the way in which we try to engineer all flights. Running over I can’t help grinning to myself; looking down, shaking my head in disbelief, thinking how privileged I am to have witnessed such an event. Bert is panting, subduing his well-earned meal and looking up at me. I make in for a quick despatch and break into the carcass to help reward him and instil the positive reinforcement feeding-up process. I lie down next to Bert while he enjoys the warm meat, sometimes pulling heart or liver out and

hand feeding him: he may have the courage of a lion but he’s a pussycat on a kill. I feel an enormous amount of satisfaction when lying on the ground next to the team. I am in goshawk world, where the only thing to worry about is where your next meal is coming from. I grab a handful of plucked iridescent feathers from the

ground, a frozen spider’s web glistens in the sunlight and, as I look up at the gin clear sky scarred with white jet streams, I can hear the unmistakable tinkle of a tail-mounted Noble bell being put to use as Bert satisfies his appetite. Whilst reluctantly walking back to a human world, I take time to reflect on what Bert has

I sit down and relax while the hawk breaks into his well-deserved meal.

floor and place them under Luga’s nose, praising him on a good point and excellent work. I notice the world that most disregard: the spring snowdrops are trying to push themselves through the solid, ice cold,

been kind enough to show me in his world; a harsh one in which survival of the fittest is order of the day and one into which I have been drawn every day for the last 8 years. ■



Photo: courtesy of Keith Talbot

The True Cook’s Hawk Words and photos by KEITH TALBOT

Author’s first day on the hill with goshawk Ember.


ALCONRY FOR ME living in Scotland, consists mostly of walking up through heather and rough grassland at the weekends around Edinburgh and during the week hunting wild pheasants in Fife, where I work as a vet. The land that I am lucky enough to fly on holds rabbits, blue hares and brown hares, which creates a very exciting walk around as you are never quite sure what the dog will put up next. For several seasons I flew an imprint tiercel German goshawk but at 1lb 6oz his size meant that only rarely did he put a hare in the bag and I decided a female would leave less opportunities wasted. Last year, with this in mind I went to collect a female gos from my good friend Roy Lupton. He is now breeding a good number of goshawks but I particularly fancied a youngster from his old imprint female, as she seems to produce consistently big young. I was very impressed at the three female to choose from, all were big and thanks to the diet of entirely quail, they all sported pure white feet, something that I consider of great importance.

Ember breaks into a brown hare.



The True Cook’s Hawk

Day three out of the aviary on the swing perch.

The colouration obviously is only what we see on the outside, much more important is the better quality feather, muscle and bone that comes with the best diet. I chose my youngster and named her Ember, I woke her for 72 hours to speed along the training; it seemed to work well and from that period she has been as steady as a rock. The training progressed quickly and 20 days later she flew free for the first time and caught her first rabbit. I was surprised at her natural agility and power, something that I wasn’t used to in a young bird. With such an abundance of quarry my aim was to produce as good an all rounder as possible. For the first few weeks I concentrated on rabbits in which time she caught them well and from the second rabbit became very adept at getting both feet


around the head. I then started to venture forth on to some marginal hill ground in which we would encounter rabbits and the occasional blue hare. I find this works well at encouraging a bird to take on big quarry as they get so excited launching at the next explosion from the heather that quite often they have caught their first hare before they know it! Ember shaped up well to this tactic. The first few blue hares she saw were a long way off and so she had no interest in taking them on, however once one got up in front of me it was a different story and she quickly had it secured. A good reward and back out the next day for more of the same is a good way to reinforce it and that is exactly what happened. As the season progressed she caught 45 blue hares. The last day of the season was particularly memorable


Ember binds to a brown hare.

hares is a fantastically exciting way to spend a day. Early in the season I had several days out with Ember and she put a few hares in the bag. They produce brilliant flights that can go for quite a way and they have an uncanny ability to dodge the hawk at the last moment then turn on the afterburners and make good their escape. Unfortunately as the season progressed, days out on hares became rarer as

pheasants took over and after a few tussles she lost confidence with the goliaths. I decided not to press the issue by pushing her weight down as she was taking on pheasants very well, though it is an aspect I hope to improve upon next year. You will often hear it said that “feather is the measure of a goshawk”. In previous seasons I have had little permission with good numbers of pheasants, but

with 5 out of 5 hares seen being put in the bag and a couple of these flights started in excess of 100 yards away running uphill. By this stage Ember’s confidence was supreme and you could tell as soon as she took off that she had no intention of letting the hare get away. I consider brown hares to be the most challenging of the ground game and walking the winter stubbles searching for

The True Cook’s Hawk thankfully this year I found some land that holds good numbers of wild pheasants and it really proved to me what pheasant flights can do for a gos. The first time Ember saw a pheasant she didn’t know quite what to do, however within a week of


showing her pheasants daily she was pumping hard after them for several hundred yards and had put two in the bag. She was hitting true yarak day after day and would be positively bouncing on the fist watching the dog running through the cover


and desperate to explode from the fist. As the season grew on I tried to hunt pheasants more and more and as they grew in strength Ember matched them, the flights of several hundred yards were common place, each wing beat was deep and powerful, eating

Above: Cock pheasants were becoming a regular catch by November. Left: Her footing abilities rarely failed on blue hares.

up ground between her and the pheasant. Being wild they seemed to know every trick in the book and would often dump like a grouse when put under pressure but every flight was adding to Ember’s knowledge and experience. One of my aims of the season had been to put a January cock pheasant in the bag, in fact Ember managed several to complete her 34 pheasants in the season. The last Friday of the season yielded my last pheasant and it was a perfect flight. Fern the cocker spaniel was working nicely through some flattened bracken in front of me when she checked back on herself and pushed out a magnificent full-tailed cock pheasant that rocketed off across me some 30 yards in front. Ember was off quickly and pounded after it, the sun glistening off the

cock pheasant’s back as she rose up underneath it and tried to bind but missed. The pheasant continued to climb and Ember elected to hug the deck pumping furiously to make lost ground on the pheasant, which was heading for a gorse patch 200 yards off. As it set its wings and began to glide down to the gorse, Ember pumped up to meet it and pulled it down nicely. I ran over and sat with her watching her pluck her prize, full of satisfaction with a good first season under her belt and a great building block to start from next year. ■




The lessons of preceding years should be positive. So by deďŹ nition each successive season becomes easier. But life is not like that, it never follows a linear path. Seasons come and go and some fall far short of positive. The death of a hawk, or its destruction through disease is an education that needs to be accepted and understood. Once in place, illness, injury and disease are lived out over a devastatingly slow timescale...

The LINE Words and photos by BEN CRANE



Death, Despair & Medication





EATH IN all its natural forms is silently embedded into every equation a falconer creates. Death is the definitive journey that we welcome and yet reject throughout a season. At one end of the spectrum we work toward it with every flight. At the other end and on a more complex level, death, illness and injury are the three cornerstones of fear that motivate excellence in husbandry, housing and conduct. Our feeble attempts at controlling this dichotomy will only ever truly be a dance on a pin head. No matter how well prepared we are, nature throws death and destruction at our feet to elate as well as trip, turn and cause pain. Some seasons are a cascading joy to behold; some contain incidents that have long term repercussions, while others are washed out completely. Only one thing is certain, all seasons and all falconers contain at their core, significant and shifting shades of death. My preceding years had been fairly scare-free. I had had a run of several successive years without any major upset, never crossing the line into destruction and disease. Of course, I skimmed the wire with minor issues, but had never made that slide into serious contemplation. In a strange way this gave me a false sense of security. Which without question, is singularly the most arresting problem faced by anyone of ignorance. Consequently the 2008 season was the worst of my career. I saw the death of the best hawk I had ever flown, then the serious illness of another. Aspergillosis took months to cure and brought the spectre of loss into the very real context of my life. It


bottomed out my reserves, forcing me to look deeply into my psyche and finally question the nature of the sport itself. On the flip side it also produced a profound appreciation of the pressures we place on the quarry and the hawks. It developed a wider and more transcendent place for falconry in my heart, solidifying the fact that counter intuitively, in death there can be life. By the time the season had begun, I had managed to drive my Harris’ hawk to Croatia, set my spar Daisy up in a pen with a musket, and had been given another spar from a friend, Rob Cowan. Mia was mature, moulted perfectly and resplendent in her adult plumage. Her darkening orange eyes were offset against slate grey feathers of a perfect hawk in excellent condition. Mia’s first week manners were atrocious; she bated and was very badly behaved. The heat and temperature made weight reduction tricky. But when free, she got her clogs on in fine style and took wild quarry on nearly every outing. She continued in this vein for the majority of her time in the field. Obviously not every flight was spectacular, but her strike rate was the best I had ever experienced in terms of walked-up quarry without beaters or adjusting the field in any way. But by mid September Mia was dead. I had to make a trip to Austria and it was a journey that cost me dearly on many levels. I had left her in the very capable hands of a friend and falconer who was also flying a spar. Mia had been fine for a few days, but then a cold snap had dropped quickly over the UK. She was up in weight, but unfortunately she perished. According to Robert


Penney, she keeled over on his fist mid feed. He crop tubed and rested her for 24 hours, but she could not cope with the stress. In this case death became a far more slippery agent provocateur. It causes ‘what ifs?’ and recriminations of ‘if only’ in the mind. Death in this context leaves a vacuum filled by the white noise of self absorption. Supposition is repeated on an endless loop until the mind makes it factual. The variables are always built around a human element that would not factor in the wild. In this context, the death of a hawk can only be seen as a selfish and shameful fact of falconry. I was wholly and unequivocally to blame. As far as I can tell, I should have fed Mia up for a few days before movement. But Daisy had been moved the previous year in much the same situation and survived. The only slight solace gleaned from this devastating position was that every effort had been made to bring her back from the brink. And any thought of recriminations were squarely laid on my shoulders. Mia’s life was not in vein but death’s lesson was this time learnt in an uncompromising way. It is something that will stain me forever. Over the next couple of months I decided to take a break, to re-gather my thoughts and begin again the following season. But within two weeks, my feelings of desperation were lightened by the gracious offer from Mike Reid of a goshawk for the remainder of the season. Bill was a stunning four-yearold imprint who Mike was going to use as a semen donor. Bill’s history was somewhat fuzzy and he had not by all accounts been flown in anger. But bad luck and

negative thinking had seeped deep into the core of my falconry. It had permeated my actions. My run of good luck, good grace and success had simply come to an end. At fat weight Bill was an absolute angel, but as the weight came off he began to get nasty, noisy and everything an imprint goshawk is allegedly prone to be. I suppose he had lost a lot of mental acumen in the years of being stationary, so it was a long slow slog for the both of us. His response was all over the place. He could switch from venomous, to lacklustre within the hour, his fitness was also diabolical. But as he got used to a regular routine, featuring plenty of flying, he settled down. On the run up to Christmas the dog pointed a rabbit in thick

cover. What transpired was a flash of grey under the bramble, a released hawk, a squirrel running up a tree and one seriously bitten, screaming goshawk. The bite was high above the feet on the ankle joint. Blood was pouring out of the wound and once I had washed and cleaned everything it was clear the tendons had thankfully been missed. Back home Bill was dosed up with antibiotics and left for a week for the wound to heal. It was around this time of convalescence that the slow deliberate rattling in his breathing became evident. Like bubbles blowing up through a drain, his chest heaved and ushered forth gurgling phlegm-coated noise. An hour-and-a-half later the vet diagnosed aspergillosis. Thankfully Bill was insured

as the cost of the endoscopies, surgery, drugs and further analysis touched the £1,000 mark. According to the vet, a combination of low weight, species susceptibility, trauma and antibiotics had exposed Bill to the aspergillosis spores prevalent everywhere in the atmosphere. In the surgery, the circular shape of the endoscope revealed a weird internal landscape and images of a hawk I would never wish on my worst enemy. Undulating organic surfaces were broken by spores as fungal growth curved and folded over the trachea. Frame three showed the bruised scarred tissue subsiding from a previous infection or the breaking bloom of a primary aspergillosis flourish. The spores


Mia’s strike rate was the best I had ever experienced in terms of walked-up quarry without beaters.


Itrafungol and Noroclav medication.

had set deep and localised at the lip of the air sacs. With a bit of delicate surgery they could be struck from the throat and with 4 to 8 weeks of intense medication he may pull through. The chances were very slim. Most goshawks die quickly. Up to 80 per cent perish. I can give you the facts of treatment and I can tell you what aspergillosis can be cured by. But the relentless emotional slog of owning and nursing a sick hawk is far trickier to explain. Treatment starts with the surgical removal of any plugs of aspergillosis spores. This is followed by 7ml of Itrafungol and 1.5 pills of Noroclav. The Itrafungol is a thick liquid that is shot into small clear capsules; the Noroclav is a chalky pink pill. Both are fed orally via bits of meat. The F10 is placed in a solution and poured in small doses into a nebuliser. A nebuliser is a pump and tubing system used on humans with serious lung and throat disease. Instead of a mouth and nose cup, the container is slotted into the side of a hawk box for 30


minutes. This happens twice a day, before and after work, for 2 months. The whole process of pick up, pills, liquid and F10 takes about an hour. You can crop tube, but you still have to nebulise. Either way the hawk is under stress regardless of the process. In between this time the hawk should be kept in a quiet room under low levels of stress. I can also tell you that a hawk at fat weight flicks most of the capsules out across the room and that you need to develop a way of injecting it into breast meat and quail legs so that you can get it into his system effectively. You may also feed the Noroclav, go to work and come home to find small specs of foaming pink pill under the perch. I can also tell you that inside his F10 cube, with a nebuliser hammering away, he will bate and throw himself around at the noise and moisture in the box. The nebuliser is used for roughly 200 hours. This will break feathers and he will get them dirty. You will find that Itrafungol is a thick sticky liquid that jams the lid of the bottle, so when spilt overnight means a 5am trip to the vets before work to buy another batch. Not once will you see any distinct form of improvement, you will be constantly on tender hooks and the hawk hates you. It is time consuming, emotionally draining and more than once, to great shame, you will wish he had died quickly. Bill’s second return from the clinic was a marked and increasing success. Nothing on the outside gave any indication that this was the case. His breathing was laboured but his weight went up and he still had fresh eyes and a bloom. The


drugs worked from the inside out, but the two 30-minute doses in his container were more dramatic. I would open the door and like a cryogenic freeze case, a billowing mist would roll over the floor and Bill would poke his head out, his nares dotted with moisture. He would give a little sneeze and shake his head. Then still rattling like a maraca, would step up onto the glove and regain his place on the bow ready for the rounds again later in the day. In between all this, in the off hours, my mind was exclusively focused on re-imagining the situation. Of trying to understand how death’s spectre had sneaked up and how I could outsmart it next time. My mind swung between a corrosive hatred toward the sport and myself. Not to mention the sheer embarrassment of all this destruction I was causing. To what end and what purpose was falconry serving? Like the demise of Mia only a few months previously, as this less direct but no less insidious form of death manifested itself, I was captivated by the fear of failure once again. Clearly my attempts to dispel the death of one hawk by creating a harmonious space for another had fallen far short of his needs and my expectations. A tiny moment of choice or a change in direction could have moved this conclusion to a far more productive place. If only I had pushed him up by an extra halfounce, not slipped him at poor quarry, not taken him on, not rushed into the tail end of a late season, and not pumped him full of antibiotics. But I had done all these things and these frustrations and bad choices had come together and were killing




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A nebuliser was slotted into the side of the hawk box.

yet another hawk. Thankfully, Bill never lost faith in himself and he survived. As the weeks turned to months he got better and his breathing became silent. The third trip to the vets gave the all clear and the surgeon was very happy. I had muted elation; I was tired and not a little bit sick of falconry. Bill went on to become a decent semen donor and has by all accounts produced some fighting-fit youngsters. So what is it about the illness of a hawk that hurts so much? For me it will continue to be a question about the loss of bal-


ance and control. Why should a small dusting of play sand, a caramel lick on the lungs stand between me and the investment of time and the relationship built? On a subconscious level this transference of time and effort into emotional attachment is every falconer’s undoing. If left un-checked, emotion can slide into one-sided anthropomorphism and sentimentality. A sick hawk highlights the fundamental problem with this type of thinking. Ultimately I caused the stress which led to aspergillosis. I had become the cipher through which death


played out at the wrong end of the spectrum. The balance swung in favour of forces outside of my ability. I lost control and secretly on an intensely private level, lost faith in the hawk. It doesn’t pay to look at nature through anything other than the prism of pragmatic reality, otherwise upset and pain will follow. When falconry goes right it is singularly the most harmonious way to hunt. When it goes wrong the insipid touch of the falconer inculcates him in caused illness and sometimes death. The responsibility in owning, training and flying a hawk is therefore huge. Without the falconer these animals would be free to function perfectly. Our part in the equation should never be underestimated or dismissed. Putting such pressure on the hawk and its prey should never be a complacent act. There are absolutely no shortcuts. As soon as any hawk or falcon is released after quarry, the falconer positions himself on the front line between life and death on a multitude of levels. We are therefore in the un-enviable position of fully understanding the implications of death in all its quicksilver interchangeable glory. This is why we respect our quarry and hawks; death could take our charge at any moment. It is not particular about the line it crosses. Death will take you and me, it will take the blackbird the spar and the dog. This is the existential process of falconry, it is part of the complexity of life and it is what makes us truly feel alive. “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time” - Mark Twain ■



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Bovine Thyroid and the

Moult Words by LEE BRINDLEY


N THE SUMMER OF 2009 my Finnish goshawk underwent his first moult. I had hoped to begin the following season early, but was disappointed with the late start and the rate

at which he was moulting. Fortunately, all of his major flight feathers had re-grown by mid September but his body feathers were still an unsightly mixture of adult and juvenile plumage. Upon reading the book Understanding Goshawks by Darryl Perkins, I came across a method of inducing and speeding the moulting process and was eager to find out more information. the bloodstream. By feeding thyroid gland from another animal to a hawk, we can increase the amount of active hormone (thyroxin) in its system, thus triggering and increasing the rate of the moulting process. At this point, I feel that I should point out I have no professional medical training and my basic understanding of the process is taken from Understanding Goshawks where the subject is discussed by Dr. Pat Redig, former director of the Raptor Centre at the University of Minnesota.


Since medieval times, falconers have been aware of the effects of feeding the thyroid glands of sheep and cattle to their hawks but it was not until recently that the processes involved have become more thoroughly understood. The thyroid gland is common to most animals and it is this gland in raptors that is responsible for producing the hormones which naturally trigger the moulting process. These hormones are not destroyed by the digestive process, so when eaten by another animal, they will enter



Bovine Thyroid and the Moult

ian, that synthetic thyroxin could actually The thought of feeding alien hormones to be a safer option to use, as the dose could be my gos seemed a little daunting, and I could more accurately gauged. The problem with not help but be a little concerned about the using the natural bovine thyroid gland is possibility of causing negative effects on that the hormone content can differ greatly the hawk. I contacted Darryl Perkins via from animal to animal. There are many e-mail and expressed my concerns to him. factors which could influence the level of In his book, he stated that he had been hormone present in each gland, including using thyroid for a number of years and I breed, age, sex and health of the cattle. Only was keen to know if he was aware of any by using a synthetic substitute, would we be negative effects, whatsoever, caused by its able to work with known quantities. Dr. Pat use. Darryl was most helpful in answering Redig was beginning to experiment with the my questions and he replied that he had use of synthetic thyroid but for some reason fed thyroid to fourteen different goshawks the thought of this actually made me more and was not aware of any negative effects. I uneasy than using the natural gland. For decided that if my hawk was slow to moult me personally, a ‘natural’ again in the following year, I would give him a I decided that if my hawk animal product seemed course of thyroid treatment was slow to moult again in more acceptable to feed to my hawk than synthetic and log his moulting the following year, I would chemicals but I must stress progress compared with the previous year. Why he give him a course of thyroid that this was purely a was slow to moult, I am not treatment and log his moulting personal choice and based on no medical grounds sure. It seems that many progresscompared with the whatsoever. falconers have their own previous year. By June 2010, my search for idiosyncrasies which they a supply of bovine thyroid feel are necessary for a full gland had extended and a number of e-mails and speedy moult. Some swear by feeding and phone calls had been made. My goshawk pigeons, gerbils, rats or even a spoonful of had now begun to moult naturally but had clover honey. I have always been sceptical once again been slow to start and had so far and feel that the placebo effect often plays only moulted the juvenile feathers which he a role in the reported results. My hawk had failed to replace in the previous year. became quite nervous during the moult Despite being fed to saturation since the and because of this he was kept in a skyend of the game season (1st February) he light seclusion chamber and although the had in fact begun to moult even later than roof was completely open mesh, I felt that the previous year and was off to a slow start he was still not able to get as much access again. At this point, I was very pleased to to sunlight as he would in the wild (due to finally find a source of frozen bovine thyroid overlooking buildings) and I believe that this gland from another falconer. This gentleman may have been the main negative factor. had used thyroid gland to induce an early I contacted the local slaughter house to moult in his Harris’ hawk the previous year. make enquiries and was immediately met His hawk had always been a late starter but with disappointing news. Darryl Perkins he had reportedly managed to induce it to had experimented with bovine thyroid in begin and finish moulting a full month earlier the USA, where it would seem that the reguthan usual. He had used a 10-gram dose to lations regarding the harvesting and dispoinitiate the moult, followed by another 10 sal of internal organs is rather less regimengrams approximately halfway through the ted than here in the UK and my request for moult. He had saved a supply of glands in his bovine thyroid was denied. I began to wonder freezer to use the following year. I made the about the possibility of using synthetic short journey to the gentleman’s house and thyroxin and I made enquiries to suppliers of was presented with a plastic bag containing thyroid replacement medication (often used two very sizeable pieces of frozen thyroid to treat people with low thyroid activity). I gland. Whilst there, I was also able to see was advised by a friend, who is a veterinar-



the gentleman’s Harris’ hawk which was already well into the moult after his first thyroid dose of the year. I was impressed by the apparent results and was eager to try the glands with my own hawk. I was hoping for a slightly more dramatic effect than what the gentleman with the Harris’ hawk had achieved. Dr. Pat Redig gave a recommended dose of 15 grams. On 8th June 2010 I weighed out a 15-gram portion of the gland. The goshawk seemed not to care much for the taste of the gland but did eat it. That evening I spent much time trawling the internet and after reading a number of cases of people using significantly larger doses, I decided to feed a further 10 grams the following day. Darryl Perkins had stated that in all cases that he knew of, the first feathers had always dropped within three days of the first dose. My goshawk had already dropped a few secondary feathers but no tail feathers before the thyroid. Sure enough he then dropped his first pair of tail feathers three days after the first dose. Five days later, he had not moulted any more flight feathers and so I decided to feed him another 20 grams. After the promising result of the deck feathers moulting right away, things then went very quiet. Before the end of that month, I gave him a further seven doses of the gland but had noted no apparent acceleration of the moult. He had now consumed a total of 155 grams of thyroid gland...the entire contents of the bag! On 16th July 2010 I noted that he had four un-moulted tail feathers remaining. He had actually reached this point ten days earlier in the previous year! His breast feathers, however, did appear to be a little more heavily moulted than the previous year but he still had a completely brown head (feathers that were now two years old!) His head finally began to change colour in late July. I was now convinced that the thyroid had no effect whatsoever, and began to wonder as to why this might be. I wondered if the active hormones in the glands had been destroyed by the period of time that they had been frozen. Again, I contacted Darryl and asked if he was aware of the effects of freezing the glands; he replied that he had always given fresh glands to his own hawks. Darryl kindly contacted

Dr. Pat Redig for more information and was informed that the thyroid was “practically indestructible” and would not be affected by freezing. This left me feeling somewhat puzzled. Darryl suggested that I may have been given thymus instead of thyroid but my supplier had been accidentally given thymus before and was now confident that he knew the difference. I knew that thyroid glands varied greatly in their potency but could this gland have been so weak to have had no effect at all? I was certain that the gland had made no difference to my hawk’s moult; he dropped his final tail feather on 10th August (ten days behind the previous year.) The hawk’s new feathers seemed to be strong and in good condition, without fret marks. He appeared to be in good health, and generally unaffected in any way. Had there been any negative side effects to this treatment? I have spoken to many falconers who strongly disapprove with the use of thyroid on raptors and some are quite adamant that it is dangerous. These concerns range from excessive feather loss, to raised heart rate and even impaired eyesight. Despite these concerns, my research has still not led me to a single person who has firsthand experience with any of these problems. Of course there may be negative side effects that are not visually apparent, perhaps one of the most concerning being the possibility of raised heart rate and stress. With a species such as the goshawk which is particularly susceptible to various medical conditions including aspergillosis, this would be most concerning. Ultimately the consequences of the use of bovine thyroid on raptors, is an inexact science and those of us who choose to use it must understand that there may be potential risks. Personally, I now feel that the only way forward with research into this field is with artificial thyroid hormone and accurate dosages, but for me, I think that this is where the story ends. I have contemplated experimenting with the use of artificial ultraviolet lighting during my hawk’s next moult, but then again, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from my uneventful experiment with thyroid...should we really mess with nature? ■








fter 13 years of flying hawks including redtail, goshawk and sparrowhawk, the only flight that really does it for me is the redtail at the grey squirrel. My first redtail was a 2lb14oz female and she took a considerable number of squirrels in her seven-year career. The second one, a very stocky female also showed huge promise in her first season and by her second, really came into her own and excelled as a squirrel hawk. She never disappointed and was regularly taking 50-plus squirrels in a season. The flights were breathtaking. She would often stoop from 40ft-plus and snatch a squirrel off the trunk on the way down. An incredible feat given the tight manoeuvring involved to avoid hitting either tree or the woodland floor. By her third season she was leaving the glove and flying directly to a 20ft-40ft drey and pulling it to bits until the occupants decided to evacuate. These flights were truly mesmorising and the speed that it all happened at was astonishing. From leaving the glove she could take a squirrel within 3 minutes. After eight action-







The author with his current squirrel-hawking specialist.

packed seasons she sadly broke a wing and following lots of soul searching I took the difficult decision of putting her to sleep. My third and current redtail, also a female, is not your typical bulky buteo. She has a long goslike shape and her speed and agility were obvious from her earliest days of training, two attributes that are very welcomed by the squirrel hawker as flights can be quite demanding and continue up and down the same tree for up to half-an-hour at a time. Training a squirrel hawk begins with getting it to look up into the trees for its quarry. This is most easily acheived by putting


a dead squirrel on a creance and getting a friend to go in to the wood and throw it over the bough of a tree about 15ft up. As you walk through the wood towards the tree, your assistant can begin to pull the dead squirrel to attract the hawks’s attention. Let her bind to it first time to give her confidence and always reward with a decent feed after every take. It won’t be long before she’s eagerly looking up into the canopy as you take a walk through a wood. With my current hawk I use lofting poles to poke the dreys. She will follow the poles everywhere waiting in the near-


est tree above the drey ready for action. As soon as the squirrels leave the drey they know exactly where they are going and know every possible escape route. Once on the run this is where the work starts. I try to keep the squirrel at the very top of the outer branches as this is where my hawk excels. She always looks for the highest tree in the wood within range to attack from which can sometimes be fifty metres away. Once there she’ll make a quick check of her flight route, launch into the wind and begin pumping those powerful broad wings towards her target. It’s a breathtaking sight watching

Another squirrel under control in a secure head-grip, the only sure way of the hawk avoiding a bite.

her move at such speed through the tree-tops. She’ll often bind to a squirrel in flight but the chase will sometimes go on for some time as the squirrel jinks the hawk up and down a tree looking for any nook or cranny to hide in. In the latter scenario, an experienced hawk will pressure the squirrel so much so that it has no alternative but to bail out and free-fall where it might be taken either on the way down or on the woodland floor. Make no mistake about it, once caught, these critters are the toughest of mammals. You always hope that the hawk has a good head hold as nothing else

is good enough to prevent your hawk from the possibility of a bite. Sharp talons are a must for a squirrel hawk as is some kind of protection for the tarsus and tops of the toes and I’d never consider flying without squirrel chaps. The true beauty of squirrel hawking is that you can go into any woodland and find quarry. In a small two-acre wood that I have been going to for twentyseven years, my hawk will take at least fifteen squirrels every year. The grey squirrel is an adaptable survivor that has spread everywhere. No amount of pest control seems to clear them from an

area. I can go to a woodland and take 50-60 every year and still make no obvious impression on the wood’s apparent population. If you do take a break from squirrels for rabbit hawking, the hawk loses the necessary stamina and fitness required for effective squirrel hawking. Redtails that mostly hunt rabbits will still take squirrel but only generally by a chance sighting. A full-on squirrel hawk however will enter a wood and immediately be scanning the tree-tops for that giveaway grey bushy tail blowing in the wind. ■




HE USE OF the kite as a falconry training and conditioning tool has grown in popularity ever since american falconer David Scarbrough published his technique in the early 90s. And while the benefits of kiting have since become widely acknowledged, it does rely on one key element – wind.



The HELIKITE reviewed Words and photos by BRIAN MORRIS

a non-starter in still air conditions. The alternative would be to use a helium-filled weather balloon, though many falconers have elected to ignore balloon usage and so accept that still and light wind weather situations are “just one of those days” when kite training and conditioning cannot occur.

While generally not an issue, light wind and still air conditions present significant challenges to the falconer keen to establish routine and achieve condition with eyas and/or intermewed falcons. Though ultralight delta kites have been developed, their performance in light wind conditions is not guaranteed and their usage is simply



The HELIKITE reviewed I have been an advocate of the kite for the past 15 years but was becoming increasingly frustrated as early season falcon training and re-conditioning schedules were being disrupted by frequent and lengthy durations of very light wind or no wind conditions. These weather conditions brought about an increased level of no-fly frustration in 2009 and as a result I decided to re-explore the marketplace to determine if a modern-day alternative to the weather balloon was available.

MARKET RESEARCH While I acknowledged that some form of balloon would be required in order to overcome light to still air weather conditions, the weather balloon was not viewed as a solution, given its size and associated transport and storage challenges. Additionally, the weather balloon (due to shape and size) has a reputation for being unstable in wind conditions. As a result the following were seen to be the desired product characteristics to satisfy requirements: (1) A product that could be easily transported and stored. (2) A product that was stable and could perform in still air. (3) A product that was stable and could perform in very light to light winds. (4) A product that was easy to use and assembled in a few minutes when in the field. (5) A product that could lift a line rig (complete with lure) to at least 1,500ft in still air conditions. Market research revealed a product called a Helikite; a hybrid product that resembled a delta kite meshed with a balloon. Website details provided background details, outlining the product as a cost-effective, pest-control solution, designed


to take advantage of wind as well as still-air conditions. Although appealing I was a little unsure if the product could be used in a more exacting and demanding situation such as falconry. Follow-up contact with the company provided additional information with regard to the various models and their associated still-air lift capabilities. There was a range of models available (capable of lifting anything from a few grams to 30kg), though my transportation requirement reduced the choice. I was fortunate to have email contact and dialogue with the company founder Sandy Alsopp allowing full discussion of my transport and field requirements and to this end I purchased a small Helikite (1cu metre) SkyHook model.

FIELD TESTS and OBSERVATIONS Given I had selected a relatively small Helikite Sky-Hook I knew that the lift capability was restricted and so appreciated that the line rig needed to be as light as possible. I contacted Keith Wakefield (long established, high-quality falconry equipment manufacturer) to request a selection of ultra-lightweight, robust lures for field test usage. The field tests were conducted during the early summer months and complemented with live (falcon training and conditioning) field usage during late August and September, being conducted in warm, moderate and cold air conditions. Prior to undertaking the field tests I decided to categorise the product characteristics and apply a weighting and scoring to permit measurement. This was achieved by applying a 3-tier Importance Weighting (Essential, Important, Desirable) and cross-referencing against a


5-tier Review Score rating (Very Poor to Excellent). I should also add that all tests were run with un-baited lures i.e. a leather pad with no food attached. (This is a trigger conditioning technique I have used for the past thirty years after reading about unbaited lures within Mark Allen’s book Falconry in Arabia).

SUMMARY The overall objective in purchasing/testing the Helikite Sky-Hook was to determine if usage could satisfactorily achieve the following goals: 1. Meet the demands of falcon training and conditioning 2. Be easy to use 3. Reduce no-fly frustration levels 4. Reduce training schedule disruptions

In line with the above I found the Helikite Sky-Hook easy to use and efficient in both very light wind as well as still air conditions. Its field usage removed previously experienced frustration levels to almost zero. And the frustration level only occured because there were times when I believed the light wind conditons to be more suited for an ultra-light kite. On these occasions I’d often loft the kite only to see the nose dip, the line sag and the kite height reduce by the second as evening winds faded. It did not take long before I used the Helikite exclusively in similar situations. Additionally the Helikite performed without any of the high gas refill costs I’d previously heard about. As a result the range of Helikite SkyHook models definitely warrant consideration for those who wish to maximise early season,





Robustness Maintenance

Balloon fabric requires more delicate handling Gas consumable cost much lower than expected

Ease of use


50-60 per cent inflation Occupies back seat of vehicle Inlet valve attachment is fiddly Attachment time is lengthened in colder temperatures Outlet valve is difficult to open Some firm handling required Some helium leakage, but not significant Yes Requires light lures, especially for still air conditions

Field Assembly Time Field Departure Time Storage Use of present-day kite reel & line Use of present-day kite line rig Still Air Performance

Ascent (with and without lure) Lift capability Position Stability Line drag Frustration Level Summary

Good, though cold air appeared to impact Satisfactory, though ultra-light lure required Directly overhead N/a; perfect N/a; none observed None Could never have been obtained with a kite Improved work-out for falcons

Very Light Air Performance

Ascent (with and without lure) Lift capability Position Stability Line drag Frustration Level Summary

Slight improvement in time given some air movement Satisfactory, though light lure required Angled position N/a Slight bellying noted None Kite could have been lofted in similar conditions

Light Air Perfromance

Ascent (with and without lure) Lift capability Position

Improved time given light air movement Satisfactory Angled position Impaired height N/a Some bellying noted Some frustration Wind affected height and position Unable to pull across the sky (like a delta kite) to overcome While kite may have been able to be lofted, doubtful if same result result could have been achieved

Stability Line drag Frustration Level Summary

good weather opportunities and avoid the frustrations of stopstart periods when training an eyas or re-conditioning an intermewed falcon. In stating so the larger models would need to be considered by those wishing to lift heavier carcass-like or heavily-baited lures. My only niggle with the Helikite product is that I believe a screw fitting to both the gas inlet valve as well as the gas outlet cap would speed up field readiness

and departure times. Apart from considerably reducing the fiddle factor (especially in lower temperatures), this would significantly reduce handling and so reduce the risk of balloon fabric damage. This observation has been passed back to the company who have acknowledged and intend to review accordingly. I attach contact details for falconers wishing to reduce frustration levels next season...■

ALLSOPP HELIKITES LTD. Website: Email: Telephone +44 (0)1725-518786 KEITH WAKEFIELD FALCONRY Telephone +44 (0)7791-751765



A Young Falconer’s Walkabout: Hitchhiking Through Europe & Africa in the Sixties Author: Lawrence Crowley Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages. Hancock House Publishers ISBN: 978-0-88839-666-2 Reviewed by Ben Crane


S A CHILD I spent many hours looking through a huge 16th century oak chest which housed photographs and artefacts my father collected on his travels around the world. A dingo’s canine tooth, a puffer fish, various pelts, bones, coins and fishing rigs were amongst the memorable treasures. But of course it was the questions and answers about these weird objects which have remained most clear in my mind. Like many young men growing up in the mid to late 1960s he was free from the limitations of the Second World War and the dour approach to life under a sheltering grey British sky. Although not a literary man, my father and many like him encapsulated the spirit of Henry Millar’s Tropic’s Trilogy, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road


and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. For a young man, the 1960’s hippy trail through Europe, Africa, Iran, Iraq, India, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand was a cheap and easy way to find adventure and experiences not available to my father’s preceding generation. A Young Falconer’s Walkabout: Hitchhiking through Europe and Africa in the Sixties is a book about one such journey. In many ways this book also provides the UK reader with further unique pieces to British falconry history. Many of us have read the benchmark texts for sparrowhawks and falcons written by Jack Mavrogadato. It just so happens that on his travels Lawrence Crowley had the distinct pleasure of not only trapping falcons with this great man, but also flying them at corvids on Salisbury Plain for an entire season. Set out into three distinct but interconnected sections, Discovering Europe, Africa and Culmination, this fantastic little book reads exactly like a diary and is full of astute observations and adventures that keep the interest of the reader. I finished the entire 230 pages in less than 24 hours and could not believe the wide array of significant falconers entering and exiting the pages. This makes A Young Falconer’s Walkabout a fine historical text which relies less on cold hard fact and more on the ebb and flow of the subjective descriptions of a young man living the dream as it happened. As a result the adventures and historical connections between the USA and the UK are wonderfully brought to life through Lawrence Crowley’s writing. The beginning book, Discovering Europe, reads much


like a travelogue and although containing many descriptions of the natural world, is merely preface to meeting Jack Mavrogadato and hawking with The Welsh Hawking Club. The significance of these meetings is that the author was further invited to Sudan by Jack Mavrogadato to trap falcons to bring back to the UK. As one would expect, once on the continent of Africa the experiences ramp up exponentially until he arrives in Sudan to rendezvous with Mavrogadato and his friends. From here until the final pages of visiting gyrfalcons nests in Iceland, A Young Falconer’s Walkabout becomes a surprising and stunning book. Not only is it full of fine detail about trapping lanners, sakers, barbaries and peregrines, there is a wealth of minor detail which is of interest. For example on the 29th of January in Khartoum: “We discussed Jack’s new book, tentatively entitled A Falcon in the Field. He wrote it while incarcerated aboard his ship in the Red Sea by a dockmens’ strike at Port Sudan; it is to be a companion to his first book, A Hawk for the Bush”. It is these finer details of lived experience that make this book come alive and which raise it above mere falconry reflections. Back in England the author joins Jack Mavrogadato, Gasim, Leonard Potter and many others from British soil who have been instrumental in shaping falconry in the UK. We learn of their training methods, their mishaps and of many nights spent drinking ale in the local hostelry. I can only imagine the kind of conversations had behind the bar when Jack Mavrogadato ordered a round for a young American,


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PRESS STOP PRESS STOP PRESS Falconry has been inscribed by UNESCO as a living cultural heritage. At a Meeting of the Parties to the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Nairobi, UNESCO has officially designated Falconry on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The submission was made by Abu Dhabi on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the Syrian Arab Republic. It is expected that Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia will also join the submission soon. In its evaluation, the UNESCO Committee declared that Falconry, recognised by its community members as part of their cultural heritage, is a social tradition respecting nature and the environment, passed on from generation to generation, and providing them with a sense of belonging, continuity and identity. The submission, the largest multi-national submission ever made under this Convention, was singled out for special praise by UNESCO: as ‘an outstanding example of co-operation between States and the exemplary nature of the information provided was underlined’. His Excellency Mohammed Al Bowardi, speaking on behalf of the Abu Dhabi government said ‘We are delighted at the news. This will help preserve our traditional links with the desert and encourage our children to enjoy and protect our natural heritage. We are looking forward to hosting 65 nations at the Third International Festival of Falconry next year.’ Dr Nick Fox, who helped prepare the submission, said ‘This is a milestone in the history of world falconry. I hope that one day soon the British government will also sign the Convention instead of waiting in the wings while our own rich British cultural identity fades away.’ Despite Britain’s tardiness in cultural affairs, falconry is flourishing here. Up to 25,000 people keep birds of prey and find falconry a way to provide hands on contact with the natural world.





a very large Sudanese man and any number of vocal falconers. It is on Salisbury Plain that we read in detail of some of the spectacular flights to be had pretelemetry on crows and rooks. The writing is not for the feint hearted as the distances and conditions described really are challenging. Here we meet Roger Upton, Sir Khizar Hayat Khan, Dr Keith Macy, Cyril and Jan Morley and David Reid-Henry. Some of the exploits will raise a wry smile. Under the pressure of being watched at one meeting, the author made a long stalk on a rook and cast the falcon off, only to realise that he had left the hood firmly on: “He flew in tight circles with his feet dangling down and head back. I blew my whistle to guide him down. What a way to impress the crowd! I felt very stupid” Putting off the inevitable return to the States and the pressure that returning home entails, the author makes one final stab at freedom. With final descriptions of travelling to Iceland and photographing wild Gyrfalcons and their eyries, this thrilling book draws to a subtle and gentle close. For any falconer interested in our shared history, travel and damn fine falconry, this book is a must. It contains images of all of the author’s experiences and many have that yellowed patina so familiar to the photographs in the oak chest from my childhood. The foreword claims that “what Larry got to do in 1963 and 1964 cannot be done today”. Maybe not, but picking up this book will certainly make you want to try and that can only be a good thing. ■

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International Falconer ISSUE 37  

Launched in 1999 and now distributed to over 40 countries worldwide, INTERNATIONAL FALCONER is a magazine that celebrates the ancient huntin...

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