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Raptor Adventures - February

Bailey caught his bunny!

February continued my adventures into falconry with the hunting season in full swing. Carolyn invited Roman and I to the Wisconsin falconry club’s winter meeting. It was a wonderful time, with lots of hunting, many beautiful birds, interesting seminars, and great people all around!

The objective: bunnies. Hunting rabbits gives you an amazing appreciation for them - how fast and agile they are, and how incredibly they can manage to survive despite being eaten but just about everything. The speed, the spinning leaps, and the close calls where more often than not the rabbit gets away - hunting with a bird gives you a sublime appreciation for this balance between predator and prey.

Carolyn getting Bailey ready to fly.

Falconer and his bird, Patti.

Bailey’s not so sure about those big girls!

Wing-powered door hatches.

Our hawking party started with almost 50 people - one bird being flown at a time. This allowed us to flush rabbits quite effectively - but it was pretty crazy to see everyone descend into the fields like that. Here, Bailey has caught his bunny. I got to see the end flight - it was quite incredible. He blasted through the brush to nab the rabbit, tumbling head over heels and ending up with a good grip.

Trio of falconers with their red-tails. Bailey is a bit concerned about the size of those big girls. He kept eying them warily.

Bailey waiting for us to kick up some more rabbits.

Falconer with her gyrfalcon/saker hybrid.

The falcons have a very different hunting style than the redtails do.

Longwings are amazing in flight!

Falconer and his peregrine falcon.

Beautiful, beautiful bird!

The speed of this peregrine was incredible to experience up close. (The wire is telemetry equipment to help find the bird if it were to become lost).

The falconer released a chukar partridge for the peregrine to catch - The chukar tried to use the car as a hide– no such luck (most people do not fly birds only on bagged game - but for the purposes of the meet and seeing the bird fly it was used).


Merlin – tiny guy!

One of the few golden eagles used in the U.S. for falconry. Master falconers can apply through a lottery for a golden eagle permit - bald eagles cannot be kept/flown for falconry at all.

This falconer is from Minnesota. The main speaker for the event is one of the world's authorities on hunting game with a golden eagle. I learned a lot from the experiences he had to share - but came back with one main idea - if you work with eagles they are like motorcycles. It's not if you get hurt, it's when. They are amazingly powerful birds, and not to be taken lightly in any way.

He’s a male, so a small eagle – still huge!

Carolyn’s posse (Mbala and myself included!)

I feel very lucky to have been able to have such incredible experiences this winter with such a fantastic group of people. I've gone hunting since (and have more photos to share) - I have loved every minute of it!


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:12 am (UTC)
Wow--such an incredible set of photos! Thank you for sharing!
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:31 am (UTC)
Thanks again for sharing. I find this quite intriguing.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
Nice set! Your falconry group looks a lot friendlier and more active than ours here.

if you work with eagles they are like motorcycles. It's not if you get hurt, it's when


Will reply to email soon!
Mar. 4th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
I haven't actually met the Minnesota falconer's yet - this is the Wisconsin group and they are wonderful. It seems like there are a lot of great people into falconry in the area, though - it seems like a bit harder place to hunt (for a variety of reasons similar to yours about location and prey availability) as opposed to the deserts or west/southwest - that seems to bring a little change in attitude here as well!
Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:29 am (UTC)
so very awesome :O)
Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:40 am (UTC)
A freaking golden eagle... now that's awesome! :D
Mar. 2nd, 2011 07:29 am (UTC)
Wow... great stuff!
Mar. 2nd, 2011 09:38 am (UTC)
Again, great photos! Always love getting to see these. Read: EXTREMELY JEALOUS.

Mar. 2nd, 2011 12:04 pm (UTC)
I'm soo jealous! Well, except for the snow. Let me rephrase... Other than the snow, I'm so jealous! XD

Gah, Goldens are so beautiful!
Mar. 3rd, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
So much awesome contained in one post!
Mar. 4th, 2011 12:39 am (UTC)
You get to do the most amazing things, wow! The birds are gorgeous.
Mar. 4th, 2011 07:21 am (UTC)
How very exciting! I am glad you are exploring this! What kind of bird are you planning on getting?
Mar. 4th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
In Minnesota, as an apprentice, you have the choice of either a kestrel or a red-tail. A red-tail would be my first choice!
Mar. 4th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
I finally had time this morning to scroll through this set. AMAZING. I don't think I have to mention how much I love goldies, and how awesome it'd be to fly one. Them being so rare to have is even more of a draw. The other birds were awesome too. The saker mix was beautiful in flight. And I loved Bailey's weary looks at the girls ;)

How are the rules when flying? The photos made it appear you fly hawks with hawks, falcons with falcons and so on. I'm just curious which birds can you have around each other and when do they have to be put away? I'm living vicariously through you, so just bop me if I have too many questions ;D
Mar. 4th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
No, I'm happy to answer anything that I can - I am very new to this so I might point you at other resources as well. :)
In general the birds don't fly together - since they are competitive/territorial and could injure/kill each other - with the exception of (sometimes) bonded pairs flying together or harris hawks, who hunt cooperatively. Some falconers even fly harris hawks who have just met, they tend to work together really well. That is a big part of why I'd like to get a harris eventually (or possibly a pair of them) to hunt. They aren't popular here because of the climate - they are more of a desert hawk and need specially heated enclosures in the winter.
When we were hunting, people basically swapped out red-tails after they had gotten their kill because everyone was in the field flushing rabbits and squirrels - which the red-tails will hunt and the falcons won't. When we went back to the open area there was a demonstration with the longwings - so basically one bird out at a time, and the order was just a matter of logistics (doesn't matter to the birds themselves since they aren't flying with other birds). I know people have to be very careful and falconers lose birds to wild golden eagles and larger birds of prey when they are out hunting - their bird is concentrating on the hunt and not paying as much attention to natural predators.
Golden eagles here are definitely 'top dog' of the game hawks - they are efficient and brutal hunters. It is much more rare for people to have them here than in Europe - they are not currently allowed to be bred in captivity here, they must be wild take and the permits for that are an extreme rarity. In a lot of ways it is very sad because the birds bred captively in say Germany are very different in personality than a wild passage eagle would be here. Maybe the laws will change someday, but I don't know how likely that is!
Mar. 4th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. I didn't know that about the harris hawks, that's really cool. Would be amazing to watch then hunt together.

I might actually end up in the UK, not entirely sure yet. If I'm there for a while, I'd love to get into falconry. I'm not sure if I'd be settled enough to start building a mews, but it would be great to go with the falconers as you are and watch them hunt. I need to get used to it anyway. I get so squeamish about kills and butchering them- much to my dismay!

I know some people (mistakenly) get into falconry to use the birds like a natural rifle, they just want something to do the hunting for them. I just want to watch the birds fly. If I ever got a bird, I wouldn't care if it ever caught anything, I'd just be happy to watch it in free flight. As it is, I crane my neck while driving or looking out the window at any raptor-esque shape I see :)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )