Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dispatch From Mongolia (Lauren McGough)

These flights! They are amazing and addictive. I liken these eagles to Houbara spotter falcons, who somehow see that rust colored spot scooting along in the distance - and immediately become pure predatory power. Many times I never see the fox, I just trust that that is what the eagle sees. Once she's powered out over the valley, becoming just a speck herself, I often finally see the fox myself, and hold my breath as I wait for the two to converge. In a way, its like longwinging. My favorite flight style, which has a seemingly low success rate, but is spectacular to watch, is when the eagle keeps all of her height from the mountain and when directly over the fox, folds into a teardrop and stoops completely vertically. The fox has a lot of options to fool the eagle then, but I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing an eagle, all grace and raw power, stoop hundreds of feet.

There have been many great things, but I've also had some troubles lately. On a very windy day, we were on the mountaintop waiting for the slip, flying two passage eagles together. A fox appeared, we two slipped, and waited. The fox was clever, and disappeared. The eagles broke off pursuit and began to fly aimlessly, very buoyant in the wind. The mountain we were on was stupidly steep (one where you secretly hope you don't get a slip). It was impossible to ride down, we had to get off of our horses and walk them down, which took a good 20 minutes. By that time, the eagles had gone and we were baffled. We rode across the valley for a good half hour with lures until finally we spotted them soaring along another mountain ridge. If I thought the other mountain was steep, this one was a great deal more so. Suddenly both eagles stooped and caught a Pallas' cat on this mountainside. It was nothing but a stream of stones, no way one could ride up or climb (without equipment anyway, and even then...). We couldn't do anything but gaze up those hundreds of feet (it seemed that high) while the eagles broke in and started to eat their fill. The other falconer in desperation started to attempt to climb, but before I knew it both eagles had bumped, regained their soar, were soon specks in the sky, and then flew away upwind out of sight. What an awful, lonely, sinking feeling that is. You feel like such a puny, weak creature when you try to follow an eagle with nothing but a cheap pair of binoculars and a pony-sized horse.

But follow her I did. Or at least I tried to. And, defying all my expectations, I found her on a dead horse on the steppe, just before nightfall. I was able to approach close enough to grab her jesses...phew! The poor other falconer didn't find his eagle, and as far as I know, is still looking for her.

5 comments:

Chas Clifton said...

It sees a little cliched to say it, but this is hardcore falconry.

Steve Bodio said...

Truth-- and she is only telling a bit here. There will be a book, I hope...

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Fantastic, really looking forward to reading more.
SBW

Peculiar said...

God, what I wouldn't give to be on that mountain with a camera and tripod for a winter sunrise!

Anonymous said...

Now THAT'S what I call a winter holiday...Way to go, Lauren! Keep up the good work, and please, please do try to get a book out in the not too distant future. I know I'd buy it in a heartbeat at least.
/Magnus from Sweden