A word of warning – if you disapprove of hunting, or similar activities, you may prefer to forego this post.
My son-in-law is a licensed falconer. For most of us, falconry is a thing of legend, but for Leslie and his family, it is a significant part of daily life. Falconers have as their objectives, both the preservation of birds of prey, and the art and practice of falconry. Currently Leslie has a Harris Hawk named Maiden, who lives in a quite comfortable “hawk house” that Leslie has built for her.
When we have visited in the past, we have seen the bird in her house, and sometimes in the yard where she can perch and get a bit of exercise, but this visit was to be a new experience. Leslie wanted to take Maiden out to hunt, and specifically for a pheasant, as Maiden had never tried to take a bird before.
I was invited to come along to capture some photos, which I was excited to do, though I had not brought my longer lens (saving weight in my travel bag – darn!). That meant I would need to get fairly close to the action without disturbing the bird.
We drove a few miles to a field where Leslie has permission to hunt, and Maiden was released. She immediately flew to the top of a telephone pole and waited for Leslie. I learned that Harris Hawks do not hunt like some other birds of prey, circling high in the sky and diving on the prey. Instead, they perch and drop on the prey from a relatively low height.
We hiked along the phone line, and Maiden went from pole to pole, following, and finally settled in a tree. The pheasant was released, and flew into some low bushes to hide. A moment later, she moved, and in that moment, Maiden saw her opportunity and took it.
While the short (18-135 mm) zoom lens I had brought wasn’t long enough to really get close to the action, enough of the events took place on the ground for me to get some interesting shots, as Maiden spread her wings to hide the prey from other birds, and as she allowed Leslie to bag the pheasant for Maiden’s food for the next few days.