Avalon and the Ancient Sport of Falconry

Last week I spent a Saturday with a group of falconers at an Indiana Falconer’s Association meet, and on the drive home, I wondered what had led me there.  Honestly, my initial fascination with this ancient sport shallowly started with Roxy Music’s album cover for “Avalon”.    (From what I’ve read, Bryan Ferry put his girlfriend in a Medieval falconry hood and had her pose with a hawk to evoke King Arthur’s last journey to Avalon).  I also began associating flying with that album,  as my Walkman (an ancient piece of electronics that played cassette tapes) would frequently have Avalon rolling while I was taking off and landing.  I’ll never forget my first descent over European soil in college – the album’s song “True to Life” was playing as we landed at Heathrow.  Whenever I hear it, it forever gives me the feeling of soaring over a patchwork of English farms and cottages with the all of the excitement over the novelty of a new place, a new quest.  It’s a harder feeling to obtain as you get older, but that song brings me back to it.

After I discovered this amazing piece by photographer Asher Svicensky about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl huntress on my twitter feed, I wanted to learn more about the realities of falconry and photograph it myself.

Lafayette, Indiana didn’t have the mountains or the little girl, but it had a very passionate group of falconers that included two teenage sisters.  I missed their hunt, but I learned so much about how much it takes to learn and maintain this ancient art. Over 70 percent of birds of prey die within the first year of life, but falconers save some of them and teach them to be stronger hunters with better survival skills.  If you want to become a falconer, you must pass a written exam and are strictly monitored by the DNR.    You must also apprentice for 2 years with a General or Master class falconer.  The realities of participating in this sport do not negate the absolute beauty and mystery of these birds, and seeing them up close takes your breath away.

I’ve told friends and family that if I am on my deathbed, please play that album in its entirety while giving me a bit of whiskey and graham crackers (a surprisingly great pairing!). If  I am ever to be reincarnated, I want to be a hawk.  A British hawk.

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  1. Great photos, Suzanne! Wyatt has become fascinated by falconry ever since reading My Side of The Mountain, The Far Side of the Mountain and finally, Frightful’s Mountain which depicts a boy who runs away from life in NYC to upstate NY to live in the wilderness. Interestingly, the books all take place in Delhi, NY, which is where our cabin upstate is. There the boy befriends a peregrine falcon (which are plenty here in Seattle) who hunts rabbits for him and they survive as a team. It’s a wonderful series and one that I’m sure you can imagine Wyatt loving. So he has adorned his “doudou” Frightful with a handmade cap like the ones above, cut up a pair of my leather boots for leather for his “jesses” and we’ve scouted out length of sticks and wood from my dad’s property in Kent for the perch. We promised him that if he finished the 500 or so page book about becoming a falconer that we’d see about finding him an apperenticeship. So, guess what we’re doing in January?

  2. Hi, Suzanne its Wyatt, the rules in Washington are a little bit different we can only get a Red Tail or a Kestrel I want Red Tail I find them cooler but all the other rules are pretty much the same. Its two years with a master or general falconer, you have to pass a written exam and we are only aloud to get a bird after 2 years.

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