Sunday, December 4, 2016

A day with the falcons

The first day of the meet was hard on Jessa's knee, so we made separate plans for day two: she would go into the village, and I would go snipe hawking with a different group of falconers. Now comes the tricky part; Jess kept the camera, so we'll have to do this sans photos. (Go back and look at the weathering yard to see some of the falcons flown this day.)

I had the good fortune to ride along with Maurice Nicholson, whom I liked immediately. A charming gentleman, Maurice is a veterinarian who has practiced in Ireland, the UK, and the UAE, which is where in the late 1970s he began his involvement in falconry. (Actually, now that I think of it, this background is nicely reflected in his hawking rig: a silver Land Rover with a good but aging setter and a young tiercel shaheen loaded in the back.) The conversation wound comfortably from topic to topic as we drove up into the mountains, in the interior of the Iveragh Peninsula.

Near the River Caragh, below the eponymous village of Glencar (Gleann Chàrthaigh), is an extensive carpet bog. And more than the falconers and their hawks, more even than the mountain scenery, the bog made me miss the camera. Like the Nebraska prairie, the bog is a beautiful landscape best appreciated up close. Short grasses (which would not look out of place on the prairie) mix with lichens and an amazing variety of mosses—red mosses, black mosses, and of course any number of greens—but from a distance the overall impression of this profoundly wet place is sere and brown.

Our party set forth with a dozen or so hawks—mostly peregrines, but also gyrs, hybrids, and shaheens—hooded on a variety of clever one-handed cadges. (The party itself was just as varied: Irishmen, Britons, Italians, Germans, and Americans.) The dogs—Maurice's setter and another run by his friend Kevin—were worked one at a time so as to conserve their energy. A wise precaution, as it turned out, for they were to be quite busy.

According to Maurice, a few snipe breed here, but by November their numbers are swelled by incoming migrants from eastern Europe. These snipe have seen a hawk or two in their journeys, and it shows. The hawks, each in turn, waited on directly overhead and stooped well—save the gyrs, who, to be fair, were doubtless put off by the relatively warm weather—but flight after flight, the shifty snipe narrowly evaded capture and were cheered by the party.

If the warm weather was not conducive to great flights by the gyrs, nevertheless I must say it was appreciated by me, for I was baptised—up to the waist—four times. On none of these occasions did I encounter solid ground; my footing was as squishy down below as it had been on the surface. (I was carrying Maurice's telemetry, and while the case got wet on one of these dunkings, the receiver itself fortunately stayed dry. Perhaps it's just as well, though, that Jess had the camera.) Several of my companions told of having been immersed to the neck on other occasions, and at a minimum it seems advisable to hawk on the "buddy system", with larger parties advisable. The bog is beautiful but treacherous, and it's not difficult to imagine that an unlucky lone visitor to the bog might simply be swallowed up altogether.

We all made it back to the vehicles safely, however, and once there drinks were passed 'round: blackberry-flavoured sloe gin, Irish whiskey, and, to my surprise and amusement, Budweiser. It had been another day of good dog work, grand flying, and excellent company in amazing surroundings.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A day with the goshawks

On the first day of the meet, Jess and I joined host Don Ryan of the IHC and a group of British and Irish austringers for a day of pheasant hawking.


[Paul with his albidus.]

[Ken and John.]

Don leases a sporting lodge on the banks of the River Sneem, and has access to a lovely moor just outside the village.

Don was kind enough not only to share his personal hawking grounds, but also to lend Jessa and me each a pair of spare wellies for the duration. We had been unprepared for how wet the countryside can be even on a dry day—even the hillsides had standing water—and his generosity made the week much more pleasant.

This was a very congenial crew all 'round. Most of them knew each other well already—Ken, a breeder from County Wicklow, had bred some of the goshawks flown, and the dogs run by Keith and Paul were littermates. Cooperation was the order of the day, with everyone taking turns; impeccable manners were given an assist by good dog work and consequently abundant slips.

[The dogs. Not an accessory to the hunt, but a necessary component.]

[Keith surveys the terrain.]

[Ready for a flight. The dog is on point in front of Keith, to the left of the rock, and the pheasant was caught in the ensuing flight.]

[Paul and his big girl take the next slip in this sequence. This flight too resulted in a kill.]

By the end of the afternoon, each of the four goshawks had accounted for a pheasant, we were all pleasantly tired from a full day of exercise, and in the finest Irish tradition we retired to the pub for drinks by the fire.

A few more pictures from the day...

[Setting out.]

[Stephen, Ken, and John with a few of the local beasts.]

[Keith on the moor.]

[Wet and tired.]

[Not tired at all.]

Thursday, December 1, 2016

IHC/IAF weathering yard


Sparrowhawk, once the most widely employed hawk in Ireland but now playing second fiddle to the gos.

Harris' hawk, a long way from home and none too happy about the weather.

Peregrines. They don't mind the weather a bit.

Red-naped shaheen.

Not my peregrine; just helping out with one of Kevin's hawks.

Reginald of Sneem

The IHC/IAF field meet (the portion we attended, at any rate) was held at the village of Sneem in County Kerry. Almost the first acquaintance we made there was Reg.

We initially assumed he was a falconer's dog, but we soon learned that he lives at the hotel. He has his own house out by the car park, but sometimes stays in the vestibule when it rains. And he's often to be found in the village, making his rounds.

Others may sit here when he's away, but make no mistake: this is Reg's chair.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Another shit picture from Ireland

Now seems as good a time as any to mention how frustrating Ireland can be for a photographer. Ruairi McDonald, whom we met in Dublin through the good offices of the Little Museum, told us, "Don't worry about scenery. You'll see scenery. In a week, you'll be sick to death of scenery." And he was almost right about the last bit. There is, practically speaking, no such thing as a non-scenic road in Ireland. Beauty is everywhere you go, every way you turn. But most of the rural roads are narrow, winding, and have no shoulder at all—every corner is a blind corner, and it's not always possible to pull over for a picture. Add in the frequently changing weather conditions—in County Kerry it may rain upwards of two hundred days a year, with fifty-plus inches of liquid sunshine—and it was a foregone conclusion that we would fall short of the "ten million gorgeous pictures" requested by Ellie. We did the best we could.

So, with apologies to Jessa, who did most of the camera work on our trip, and with thanks to one of Ireland's three and a half million sheep...

Another shit picture from Ireland.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Caha Gap

The high wild country between Counties Cork and Kerry.