Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A day with the sparrowhawk

Our third and final day at the IHC meet was devoted to sparrowhawking. The spar is a traditional hawk in Ireland, almost the traditional hawk, and one of the reasons I most wanted to come here.

Years ago, I flew a sharp-shinned hawk, which although smaller is North America's ecological equivalent to the Eurasian sparrowhawk, and I was keen to see some spars in action. It was fortunate I had the opportunity to do so; spars have declined somewhat in popularity, and there were only two in attendance at the meet.

I knew in advance, of course, there would be some differences beyond species. My sharpie was a passager—by choice, I fly passage hawks exclusively—whereas only eyas spars are allowed to be flown in Ireland. There is a limited wild take of eyasses, which of course the IHC is very keen to see perpetuated (and rightly so!), and some captive breeding of sparrowhawks as well.

The hawking party was really too large, and I had very limited opportunity to talk with Aodhan, but his first-year spar was surprisingly unintimidated by the crowd. The goal was to beat the bushes for blackbirds (Turdus merula), the local equivalent of our American robin (T. migratorius), and a traditional (and legal) quarry. Several flights were had, and Aodhan's spar acquitted herself quite well despite bringing nothing to bag. We got our own share of exercise as well, and enjoyed another day of changeable weather in the Irish countryside.

[A farm manager points out a likely spot for blackbirds.]

[Sometimes Aodhan and his hawk took up station down the hedgerow and waited for the beaters' approach...]

[...and at other times they were right on top of the action.]

[Flight on a blackbird.]

[Aodhan and spar in the field.]

[More scenery on the farm.]

[Hawk back on the fist at end of day: the definition of success.]

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