Tagged: falconry

Learning to Hunt Jackrabbits with Miles Davis

April 28th, 2017 Permalink

I was fortunate enough to attend the NAFA (National American Falconer’s Association) 2016 meet in Elk City, OK to photograph and cover the only woman in the United States who hunts with a golden eagle for Amtrack’s magazine “The National”.   After covering a wild mustang story together for “Hemispheres Magazine”, writer Eric Benson and I [...]

I was fortunate enough to attend the NAFA (National American Falconer’s Association) 2016 meet in Elk City, OK to photograph and cover the only woman in the United States who hunts with a golden eagle for Amtrack’s magazine “The National”.   After covering a wild mustang story together for “Hemispheres Magazine”, writer Eric Benson and I set our sites on a new goal and found this amazing young woman and her passion for raptors.  In the article, you will learn about Lauren McGough, how she became a berkutchi in Mongolia and how she is one of the few females who is a part of NAFA.  You’ll also learn about the beauty and frustration of hunting for jackrabbits with the massive beast she calls a “Prarie Dragon”.

Eric and I went on two hunts with Lauren and Miles  (along a with a team of  ”scare-boys”), and  I have to say is it’s akin to running a hilly half marathon – often with no prize at the end.   During the chase, I was able to observe Lauren and Miles through my 200mm lens and all I could think was, “They look like they’re going to take off together.”   They were truly a team.

Photographers and writers often work separately, and I think it does a disservice to the written and visual parts storytelling – so it was great to be a team with Eric again.  With that said, I’m leaving the words to him – you can read it online here:  http://www.amtrakthenational.com/lauren-mcgough-mother-of-dragons.   As for some of the visuals, you can come along with us to the fields of Oklahoma and experience some of what it was like to hunt for miles….. with Miles.

Weigh – in time.  Miles has to step on the scale so Lauren can check his weight before a hunt.  She likes him to be a bit light so she know’s he’s hungry and motivated.

Surveying the scene.

Lauren directing us on which way to walk  (according to the wind).

Miles and Lauren charging up a hill.

Miles in flight. The rabbit won this one.

The owner of the Oklahoma farm we hunted on was nice enough to find us to bring snacks and water.

The “team” in the fields of Oklahoma.

Even though Miles didn’t catch anything, he is rewarded with rabbit bits.

And… the post-hunt reward for the “scare-boys”.

Hunt #2 – The line of ‘scare-boys” starting out with Lauren and Miles.

He’s off – hot on the trail of a jackrabbit!

Success at last!  Note for sensitive people – the rabbit dies very quickly.

Miles is taken off the rabbit and given a piece of quail.  If he stays too long with the rabbit, it can break the bond between the bird and the human.

I’m gonna miss that face.

Hunting with Girls with Hawks

March 14th, 2016 Permalink

A couple of weeks ago I went to my second meet with the Indiana Falconry Association.  I was told it was often the best because it was the last of the season and the food was “to die for” (I kept hearing things about bean soup).  The last meet I photographed was held at a [...]

A couple of weeks ago I went to my second meet with the Indiana Falconry Association.  I was told it was often the best because it was the last of the season and the food was “to die for” (I kept hearing things about bean soup).  The last meet I photographed was held at a church and it was pretty funny seeing raptors and their owners hanging out in a sanctuary hall.  But this meet in Terre Haute, Indiana proved to be just as interesting.  I pulled up to the address I was given and there they were, hanging out with their birds near storage units at “Don Garvin’s U-Store-It”.  Unsurprisingly, there was Don, stirring a huge pot of bean soup.  The soup and the corn bread were amazing but the best part was going on an actual hunt with two teenage sisters and their red- tailed hawks.  Although the demograhics are changing, falconers are usually male and middle-aged.

Stephanie and Caroline Thomson have been hunting with their hawks “Drea” and “Criere” for about 3 years and this was going to be one of their last hunts before letting them fly free.  It was unseasonable warm for late February (60 degrees) but the light was great.   I was warned by many of the other falconers that the warm day made the birds “lazy”.  One guy said, “They’re like a bunch of teenagers in love right now and the warmth produces hormones that make them want to hang out on the tree and look for a mate, not food.”

Caroline was up first with Drea and we headed into a small field on the border of suburbia and farmland.  It was amazing to see this 17 year-old direct the hunt and make her own decisions with just the counsel of the other members who came along to help ( made up of of mostly men).  After Caroline let Drea go, the hawk flew up to a branch and the crew began whaking the bushes to scare up rabbits.   I followed Caroline and was glad that her younger sister told me to take off my fuzzy winter hat.  She said, “If you want to keep that hat, you better leave it, or you’re gonna give it up to Terre Haute.”   I found out what this meant after being impaled and hung up by numerous thorn bushes.  Rabbits were plentiful, but Drea did just as the other falconers predicted and she sat in the tree while Caroline attempted to coax her down with fake and dead prey.   We were all instructed to leave after about an hour so Caroline could work with the bird alone.

One man said something like, ” That’s the way it goes – sometimes you get nothin’.”   I wasn’t disappointed, the whole thing was fascinating and I was kind of glad that a rabbit was spared that day.  Just before I was getting ready to leave I heard Stephanie talking about her bird Criere.  She said,  ” I’m not a very emotional person, but I’m going to have a tough time letting him go.”

Avalon and the Ancient Sport of Falconry

December 15th, 2015 Permalink

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 [...]

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.