That picture of Aya is at high zoom. She was high in a tree with my favorite wool hat. We were out hunting together, but she wasn't being a teammate. She wasn't flying close to me watching for game. She was doing her own thing, 30 yards away. On our early hunts she would take anything she saw to eat - mice, voles, etc. She connected the thought of a full crop with me, but not like I wished. I wanted her to work with me to take bigger game we could share. Game like rabbits.
Side note: I love rabbit. It was a food I never had growing up, but learned to adore as an adult. Prepared well, rabbit tastes like Super Chicken. Think of the best piece of juicy, white, meat you ever had and now imagine one bite of it makes you feel as full as an entire chicken breast. Rabbit has the highest protein density of any meat so you use it the way you use sausage in a lot of recipes. It's part of ragu, or stew, or pie filling. Anyway - I love rabbit and I love the romance of bringing home game with a hawk on my fist. (So enough with the mice already, Cash...)
Back to that day: I had called her to my fist but instead of taking the command she swooped low and and flew off with my wool hat. She took it high into the trees and at this time there was no snow, just lots of thick roses and thorns. The kind of deep brush that stops hunters in the North East. That — topped with the fact the ground was the same color as my brown hat — it was a goner. I didn't even see where she took it, soon she was out of sight. I sighed. I liked that hat.
So yesterday we were somewhere on the mountain, nowhere near that hat zone, but hunting like a team. It was the kind of human-hawk work the Discovery Channel should have been there to document. She was WITH me. She followed me from brush pile to thorn nest. She might fly up to do some reconnaissance, but mostly she was right there. Together we flushed three rabbits and she saw me spook them for her in ways she couldn't. I was the muscle and she was the bullet. I'd be low on the ground hitting the thorns and poking with them with my big ash stick, she darted her head above, ready to pounce on whatever rushed out. And a while later (after our fifth flush and second hour of exhaustive hiking following a bird in the forest of icy snow) - I saw her dive to the northwest and heard the rabbit death rattle/screech. We had one!
I crawled on my belly under thorns in the snow and jumped over falling logs to get to her. (Anyone who thinks falconry isn't a sport should come work out with us.) When I got to her she had a lovely doe in her talons, already dead. I pulled out the large knife in my pack. A Gerber that was a gift from my friend Tyler who had it on his Bike trip around the world. (I love that it had teeth marks on the grip from when he needed both hands cooking or adventuring). I cut off the rabbit's head in one motion and let Aya eat while I stashed the rest of the game in my pack for my freezer. She ate like the little dinosaur she was. That tiny beak having no problem going through bones. She looked up at me with a rabbit ear poking out of her beak like some horrific cartoon.
I sat in the snow beside her. At this point I was just a body guard. She felt safe eating next to me, knowing no stray owl or fox would mess with a gal who had a giant primate beside her. I hugged my knees and looked up at the blue sky, felt the odd, warm winter air. It was balmy. I was exhausted. Two hours of scrambling after an animal that can fly in three seconds to a place that takes me fifteen minutes and 50 calories to achieve gets you light-headed. So I savored the break. I thanked Frey for the luck and looked around this weird bit of slanted mountain forest.
And there peaking out of the snow, five feet from the bloody hunt, was my hat.
I laughed out loud, which confused Aya but she went back to eating bunny brains soon enough. I picked it up and it was soaked, frozen, and covered with leaves but otherwise looked good! My little pewter hawk was right on the band. No racoon pilfered it and it wasn't even tarnished.
That day I walked down my mountain with a hawk with a rabbit head in her belly, meat in my sling pack, and a long lost hat on my hunting stick like a trophy. It was a fine day.