Saturday, October 1, 2016

First Flights

After chores were settled and the farm was entirely on the exhale, I packed up my gear and bird and headed west to Livingston Brook Farm. Today would be Aya Cash's first day flying on a creance. A creance is a light, long, lead for a bird of prey in training. You use it in open fields, places my farm doesn't have. It's unsafe to put a raptor on a long line anywhere near a tree or post it can be tangled in that a human can't access in seconds. For Aya's safety I spent the morning doing things falconers do to assure a safe training session. I started the day inspecting her from talon to crest of head. I weighed her, and noted the time and feeding schedule - and noted it was also probably too high. Not a huge concern when your bird is on a lead, but if this was a free-flying hunting day it would be a certain farewell. A fat hawk has no reason to depend on a clumsy human like me. Aya was a little chubby.

After she was inspected, weighed, and recorded it was time to prepare for travel. Unlike dogs who can just jump in the car and ride shotgun, hawks need some accommodations. A hood is slipped over her head, which keeps her calm and makes it easy to breathe but impossible to see. Some falconers have stopped hood training red tails. My sponsor and mentor is old-school and is an accomplished hood make, so I have learned this skill. But even with the hood on my bird travels in a "Giant Hood" or a hawk crate. Think of your dog's crate but with a perch and less sunlight let in. These are for short trips and safe travel. The bird can't break feathers or freak out. Patty made me a giant hood for Yule a few years ago when I just started falconry. Aya is the third hawk to travel in it.

We made it to Livingston Brook Farm quick. Patty let me use her kitchen to attach new bells just mailed to me from New Jersey for Aya. A woman who attended Arrow's Rising a few years ago (who is also a falconer) agreed to trade some lamb for the new hand-made bells. They ring so beautifully and delicately, not clunky or brash. We set up the bartered bells and headed out to her fields to try some longer flights to the glove.

Long story short: Aya wasn't interested. She was too heavy, as I had noted. But more importantly, she didn't panic or try once to fly away. She took in the new farm with wide eyes. She listened to tractors, turkeys, chickens, and the sounds of far off horses but she didn't try once to fly away. She sat on her perch and managed a few short flights to the fist. We'll try again in a few days at  lower weight. I promised her I'd drop some weight as well, as it was only fair.

Training such a new bird is an adventure and a privilege. Falconry has taught me a lot about hawks, but a lot more about myself. I am not a detail-oriented person and I am not always diligent. But you can't be a falconer and not book-keep, not pay attention, not depend on details. I am grateful for what these beautiful birds teach me. I am a better woman 3 hawks in.


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