Saturday, 18 February 2012

A walk on the wild side

Codeine, the Harris hawk: a born hunter
One of the things I enjoy about being a writer is getting the chance to research the odd things that your character might have to master. I have a plan for a series set in Medieval Scotland and one of the things my knightly hero will almost certainly be involved in is a hunt.

Falconry was hugely popular throughout the period, so I arranged to have a day out with Phoenix Falconry near Gleneagles. This was to be a proper hunt and I joined a party of five with four Harris Hawks on a chill Perthshire afternoon, and we headed out into the rough country behind the Orchil Lodge Fishery just down the road. The woods were full of pheasants, partridge and woodcock that were soon flushed out by the resident livewire black pointer. Just to be close to these birds is an absolute joy, but to see them in their natural element hunting in combinations of two three and four, sweeping through the trees at high speed after a swift and agile pheasant was truly exhilarating. The one thing which quickly became clear and which pleased me was that this was a genuine competition, and one in which the pheasants held all the aces. Time and again a bird would be flushed, the hawks would react, but the pheasant would be too quick for them. By the time we reached the open fields it was Prey 20, Hunters 0.

On we went to a rabbit warren in a nearby wood, and with the help of a ferret to get the rabbits out into the open, the hunt was on again. The rationale is that the animals the birds catch are the old, the slow and the injured; a kind of natural selection. A flurry of wings and three birds converged on the same rabbit in an incredible display of flying and teamwork. The handlers ensured the unfortunate rabbit was dispatched swiftly and the youngest of the hawks was allowed to eat his fill as a reward for his efforts and to strengthen the link between the hunt and the final reward.
Patience was essential - for everybody
Up close and personal with a true predator
Returning for her reward
Ready to hunt again
It was a fascinating day and a proper education. I felt no joy at the kill, but the hawks had done their job and there would at least be something for the castle pot, though I doubt my lord would have been pleased with a single coney! 

4 comments:

Bob Scotney said...

That's a day which I would have enjoyed - to see the dog working as well as the hawks. That beak looks fearsome and the eyes don't miss a thing.

Gabriele C. said...

A novel set in Medieaval Scotland? Can you tell us a wee bit more?

Elaine S Moxon said...

What an amazing day. I flew 8 birds of prey during a full day session for my birthday a year ago. Flying the birds myself was an exhilarating experience I would leap to again! The sheer strength and mastery of some of these hunters had me in awe. I trust you are full of inspiration for your new story.

Doug said...

I am Elaine, but that one's for another day. It was a fantastic experience.

Gabriele, it's a potential series on the Stewart kings, probably starting with James II. Only an idea just now, but I had one of those moments when a character started talking to me. The only drawback is that they're all called James and despite the fact that none of them died in their beds, they're quite long-lived, so I need to find a clever thread to link them.