Friday, October 31, 2008

My Extended Family, or, Charlie Rides Again

Falconer Steve Armstrong of Texas has a weak arm. Twist it just a little, and he'll agree to anything.

I'm glad this is true, since in the past year Steve consented to give a home to two hawks I'm quite fond of but couldn't keep. The two hawks' stories are related.

First came Charlie, a male Harris's hawk whose successful eight-year career inspired my journal In Season, and who taught me most of what I know about the many virtues of his kind.

When hurricane Katrina (2005) washed away the home and hawks of Charlie's New Orleans breeders, Tom and Jennifer Coulson, I donated him back to help rebuild their breeding stock. Other hawks (many of them Charlie's relatives, far flung across the country) came back by way of similar donations and by the following spring were starting to produce another generation of progeny.

Knowing I was suddenly without a hawk, one of the falconers in our circle lent me a three-year old male Harris' named Smash, who was the offspring of one of Charlie's many sisters (Charlie's mother had over 100 young) thus a nephew of my bird.

...I should note that owning to short generation times and generous clutch sizes, Harris's hawk family trees tend to have lots of branches. Family reunion are large affairs.

I flew Smash for a couple seasons, during which we developed a strong mutual respect (no hyperbole when speaking of the Harris') and caught a lot of game. It was Smash who served to teach my dog Rina the ropes in falconry, and for this I will always be thankful.

Once the Coulsons' project was back on its feet, Tom offered me a young bird, one not closely related to Charlie but off a new pairing that was showing promise as a source of good hawks. I accepted gladly, knowing already that my schedule would not allow room for two hawks.

Smash would need a home. Enter Steve Armstrong, a falconer I knew from his blog and by reputation but had not met.

Steve drove down in the middle of the following season. Ernie was flying then but Smash was semi-retired, having seen action only during the NAFA meet---a week of sunup-to-sundown falconry and about the only time having two hawks is a practical option for me.

As Steve was new to Harris's hawk falconry, I took him hawking with Ernie to give him a feel for the rhythm of a hunt. Steve left the next day, full of enthusiasm (he claimed) and great anticipation. In the months following, as recounted in his blog, Smash and Steve became a successful team.

Steve's team is now expanded by one. Charlie came available over the summer, having spent a few years at the stud farm but no longer needed. Racked with guilt and a considerable (for me) dilemma about how to accommodate him and Ernie both, I called on Steve yet again for an arm twisting session.

As usual, it was quick and painless. Yes, he'd be happy to take Charlie.

So now we are some kind of extended family, Steve Armstrong and me. I hope he's OK with that. I know I have and will continue to offer him a little too much advice about how to manage his two birds----birds I will always think of, somehow, as mine too.

This bit of back story is meant to introduce a recent blog post of Steve's in which he displays his considerable writing talent and wit and makes me all the more confident that "my two boys" have found a good falconer to train.

Steve's essay ranges widely, from politics to falconry to the Way of The World that exists beneath and around them both. I was tempted to reprint it entire below, but I'll just send you there instead so you can enjoy the archives when you're done.


steveo_uk said...

Smash and Charlie are a credit to you both they are awesome birds of prey

Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks Steveo

They are a couple of the good kind.

stevea said...

Thank, Matt, it's a welcome extended family. The Boys are a fantastic pair of hawks, a testament to their upbringing.

Even if Charlie can be a bit of spoiled boy. I'm sure at times what I'm really hearing from him is, "You're not my *real* falconer."

It's been a blast and your advice is always welcome. Fortunately I'm out of room on my permit for hawks, so no more arm-twisting for me.....

Matt Mullenix said...

Hey Steve A.---with the new falconry regs, you can keep more than 2 captive bred Harris hawks on your permit. :-) So get ready. Ernie might need a home a some point.