Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Curse

It seems as if I am cursed with the inability to catch game as a falconer. I aspire to be the kind of falconer who can go out and catch 3 or 4 head of game every time I go out, not because I want to ramp up the head count, but because it means I am a successful falconer. I am embarrassed to admit that, for all the birds I've flown, for all the time and effort I have put in to this sport (and it is A LOT, just ask my wife) I have never been what I would consider a "successful" falconer. It is humbling to admit in a public space, and I imagine a few of my peers will be shocked to learn, that between the 3 RT's, 2 Harris Hawks, the Euro spar, the Euro Kestrel, and now this American Kestrel I have taken maybe 20 head of game.

Now I suppose that I could justify my lack of success. I got my first bird when I was 14 years old. Lack of experience, a sponsor who only flew falcons at pigeons during my time with him, no drivers license etc., could be considered cards stacked against me. Nevertheless, I was out with my RT in the hills above my house when I couldn't drive and went out to the sagebrush as often as possible when I could. I had some good chases in those days but can only remember actually catching one rabbit and it was a pet store bunny that someone had released at the cemetary in the hills above my house. I'd seen my birds chase quite a few jacks and pull feathers on pheasant but one pathetic rabbit was all I ever caught.

Then came a 6 year hiatus. A mission for my church and college in Hawaii prevented me from doing much on the falconry front. It wasn't until I finished college and returned to Japan that I got started flying birds again...but the curse followed me. Again, you could say the odds weren't in my favor. Japan is a hyper-industrialized island and places to fly birds, let alone catch game, are few and far between. Sure, I caught a few pigeons with my sparrowhawk and few miscellaneous fare with the Harris Hawks but at the end of every season I'd never made it to even double digits in the game taken department. This is despite the fact that I was out almost every single day and saw literally hundreds of chases. My Harris Hawks would pull feathers from pheasants, splash into water after ducks, chase sparrows at almost any distance, but rarely would I return home with something in the bag.

And now here I am back in the States where double digits game numbers at the end of a season are almost expected and triple digits are not uncommon yet I have this uneasy feeling that my curse remains. This past weekend Dulcinea made some good chases.

The sparrow bush I mentioned in the last post provided probably two dozen flights over the weekend. I did my best searching for starlings but with 80 degree weather here (in Colorado?!?, in November?!?!) there's just no reason for them to be on the ground so the sparrow bush was my best opportunity for some flights. Again, I could justify my failure to catch something by saying that the bush is probably a difficult slip. It's a thick evergreen bush (pictured below) that the sparrows can dart in and out of quickly enough to evade most attacks:

We came close though. One sparrow darted out of the bush looking over its shoulder for the kestrel and flew smack into the parked car you see in the picture. I heard the smack from the other side of the bush but it wasn't there when I got there and Dulcinea had taken another stand on the lamp post over looking the bush. Another bird flushed straight toward her as she was sitting on top of one of the buildings in the shopping plaza and she went into a 45 degree stoop after it, even following it into the bush! I heard a squeak and thought she may have gotten it but when I ran to the other side she came hopping out of the bush and back onto my fist empty footed. *Sigh*

And so it goes. Lots and lots of chases but no catches. Justification is out the window, I'm doing something wrong or I'm cursed. Next week is the NAFA meet, a national meet where falconers from all over the country converge to fly birds and catch game. I'm doing my best to catch something before I leave on Sunday but even if I don't I have high hopes that the wealth of falconry knowledge at the meet can correct any wrong doings I may have. If I don't catch something there then that's it, I'm cursed. I'll have to resort to witchdoctors or something.

There are those that say, "Falconry is all about the chase, it doesn't matter if I catch something." Well to them I say, "BULLS*IT!" I'm glad to have my own bird and be hawking again but I REALLY want to start catching things!!


Roe said...

I know exactly how you feel. Due to injuries both to my birds and to myself I'm coming up on year 3 of my apprenticship. I've caught 3 rabbits all with my second bird and now having had 3 redtails I'm not in a position where I feel like I've had great success in the sport. Don't get too discouraged this sport is more of an art than a sport and as a result takes some of us longer than others.

Isaac Nichols アイザック ニコルス said...

Thanks Roe, it can definitely be frustrating but those times we DO catch something make it all worth it.

Jon Uhart said...


Your pops turned me onto your blog and I've been reading for a while.

I'm curious, how does the hunt actually work? I've seen video of pheasants taken over pointing dogs, where the dog establishes point, the falcon circles to gain altitude, and the falcon stoops as the bird is flushed, the chase ensues, and there is a small percentage of success.

In your scenarios with the bush, is the falcon already in the air as you approach and attempt to flush sparrows?

Isaac Nichols アイザック ニコルス said...

Thanks for dropping by Jon!

Kestrel hawking is a bit different from other types of hawking and can take a variety of forms. The way I am hunting that bush is I pull up next to it in my car for the initial slip. The sparrows are used to cars driving by so they don't expect a kestrel to come flying out the window! We only get one shot at that though and if she misses (as she has thus far) she'll land in a tree or on a building and I'll get out and kick the bushes trying to get them to fly out under her so that she can get a shot at them.

But as I mentioned there are a variety of ways to fly kestrels. I have heard of people flying them like the larger falcons but it is more common to hunt them off the fist or from some other vantage point like a light pole, building, car, or portable perch. Search kestrel hawking on youtube and there are a few videos of people flying kestrels in different ways.

iowafalconer said...
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Mom N said...

Have been catching up on your last month's entries. Really cool to read about how the sport works. The meet in TX will be helpful I'm sure as you ask about "the curse." Keep us posted. Have a great time.

Nichols Family said...

I can't wait for your post-NAFA posts.