Thursday, November 29, 2012

Closing ceremony

One new feature at this year's NAFA meet was a central European-style closing ceremony, hosted by German falconer (and newly elected IAF vice-president) Thomas Richter. Game taken during the meet is laid out on evergreen boughs, songs specific to each game species are played on horns (or, in this case, a recording is played on a speaker), and all present observe a few moments of silence as a gesture of appreciation for the quarry that makes the hunt possible, nourishing both hawks and our spirits.

[Donna Vorce and Shea Stull gathering cedar branches.]

[The square laid out.]

[Game ceremony by torchlight.]

Note to young falconers: The format can be different, but never miss a chance to honour your quarry.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I was spectacularly unsuccessful at the NAFA raffles, but Ellie picked up a small treasure on a $1 ticket: this apparently hand-drawn illumination.

Unfortunately, I know nothing of this picture's provenance, or even which raptor is depicted. My first impression is of an Old World kite or, more likely, one of the small forest eagles—a snake-eagle or something similar. That white tail ought to be diagnostic, but a quick look at Ferguson-Lees & Christie (Raptors of the World) yielded no definitive matches. Informed speculation is welcomed, as are translations from anyone who can read the inscriptions in what I take to be Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) but might be Arabic.

Meanwhile, this awaits framing; it will eventually find an honoured space in the Farrell-Churchill household.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My week in review

I had a somewhat odd NAFA meet. I'm always delighted when it's just two hours down the road in Kearney, but I had to work Monday and Tuesday, so I hawked in Lincoln after work on Tuesday and didn't get in to Kearney 'til late. Then I had to return to Lincoln on Wednesday to pick up Ellie, so I hawked in Lincoln again. High winds assured that, once in Kearney, I get in less flying than I had intended, while a series of headaches both literal and figurative meant that I spent less time socialising than I might have otherwise. The result is that I felt strangely detached from all the goings-on.

Still, it was good to have the girls with me, and good to see old friends again. Several of them had missed me in the five years since my last NAFA meet, and a few expressed concern—a reminder that some of these see-you-in-November friendships transcend mere hunting-buddy status to become genuine friendships. Stekoa helped out by flying reasonably well even when it was too windy to find quarry; once the wind died down on Friday afternoon, he caught the second bunny he saw. Photos (by Jessica) from Thursday's and Friday's hunts follow.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Late Friday morning, we went for a brief starling hunt at a local feedlot. These starlings are hunted hard by the resident raptors—not just merlins, but also prairie falcons, Cooper's hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks—so they're wary, and we didn't get the high ringing flights generally preferred by merlin enthusiasts. Still, we did see a couple of good flights.

Diane Moller and her black merlin. [All these shots are by Jess.]


Jeremy Bradshaw and his Richardson's merlin.

Closing with a flock of starlings, at just above cow level.

Following the flight.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


A brief tour of the weathering yard at the NAFA meet in Kearney...

White gyrfalcon. We nicknamed this one "the moose" for her size.

Some gyr hybrids.

Peregrines—blonde tundrius peregrines.

Tiercel prairie.

Gyr x merlin hybrid.

Richardson's merlin and jack.

And, moving to the other side of the yard...



Harris' hawk.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Massacre of the redfoots

I recently received news (HT Rob Palmer) of a wholesale killing of Amur falcons, also known as eastern red-footed falcons (Falco amurensis), in Nagaland, northeastern India. I use "wholesale" in the literal sense, as these raptors are being killed for sale as food, at the rate of twelve to fourteen thousand per day. (Estimates by Conservation India; article here.)

I'm not unmindful of the First World/Third World issues here, but it bears pointing out that this slaughter is not just contrary to Western sensibilities but also against Indian as well as international law. Unfortunately, it seems there will always be those who think poverty is an excuse for bad behaviour, just as there will always be those who think wealth provides an exemption from common standards of decency.

It really is a pity to see this befall such a charming and indeed beneficial bird. The red-footed falcons (both eastern and western) are small, agile raptors, almost entirely insectivorous, and catch their prey on the wing. We don't have anything like them in North America; the closest ecological equivalent is probably the Mississippi kite. (Phylogenetically, they've been variously linked to merlins, kestrels, and hobbies.) Like Mississippi kites, they are at least partially social, an arrangement facilitated by their dietary habits, and in migration form large, loose flocks. The Amur/eastern red-footed falcon breeds in the Sino-Siberian region (see map below) and winters in southern Africa; as such, it is one of relatively few birds of prey to make a transoceanic migration. As you can deduce from the map, their migration route takes them directly through India, and they use this as a staging area, feeding as much as possible in order to fuel their crossing. And it is here, massing in great numbers on the staging grounds, that they have become so vulnerable to market "hunting".

[Breeding range in yellow; wintering range in blue. Map by Ulrich Prokop, after distribution maps in: Ferguson-Lees & David A. Christie: Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company Bostand and New York 2001. pp 867 and 276.]

I have placed "hunting" in quotes deliberately: This is mass slaughter for purely economic reasons (short-sighted ones at that), of the same sort that rendered the passenger pigeon and Carolina conure extinct. The little falcons are netted in huge numbers as they go to roost; it seems quite likely that others are shot opportunistically. As noted in the Conservation India report, this is far beyond a subsistence activity: "It is still a mystery where huge numbers of dead amurs go everyday, as the local villages cannot absorb such numbers for their consumption. One of the hunters told us that two pick-up trucks from Dimapur were to pick-up the birds from Pankgi village (we couldn’t confirm this and passed on the information to the District Commissioner and Superintendent of Police). It is critical to understand where the bulk of the birds go."

Update, from a 2009 post by traveler Joyce Tan (HT Bird Ecology Study Group):

There is no shortage of food in Nagaland – they are farmers by tradition, growing padi, potatoes, yam, fruit and vegetables on the hilly slopes, and rearing domesticated animals for meat. It seems that the tribal tradition of capturing wildlife for food remains an active past-time among some segments of the population up till today. I fear for the survival of the Amur Falcon and other wildlife, if they are still being hunted down indiscriminately for sport and recreation. I have spoken to Naga people who are my friends about conservation and wildlife protection. I pleaded with the youngster who had captured the two birds in these photos, to let them go. He politely gave me his word that he would do so. However, I fear that not enough is being done to change the traditional forms of “enjoying” wildlife in these parts. There is one unmistakable observation in Nagaland – in the rural parts that I visited: the absence of any bird life. The flowering plants and trees are there, the forest edge is usually not far away, yet early mornings and evenings are not filled with birdsong and colors. When I do see them, I fear for their safety and freedom.

I will attempt to update this post further as the story develops.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Jessica's thunderbird on the left, mine on the right.

Hope to be posting more regularly in the near future.