Monday, January 13, 2014

Conundrum: In which I ask my readers a question...

At almost 64, in difficult health, one takes decisions about acquiring animals ever more seriously (obviously I hope, I mean animals you work and play with-- hounds, horses, hawks)...

We are going through much soul- searching over our "last" dog; not morbidly; actually one reason we must choose carefully is that we want an Ataika descendant and females in her line are startlingly long- lived. At almost ten the only signs of age I can see are gray hairs on her muzzle and the fact she usually doesn't stroll around on the top of the 8- foot fence any more. But then, her mother Oska was fourteen when she had her and lived to twenty; her grandmother, the great Arys, only made nineteen.

But I am not asking about dogs, always a work in progress; we are trying to find the right sire to breed to Atai's daughter Larissa. All will be resolved, and I'll keep you informed.

What I want is your thoughts on hawks. I am going to spend a significant sum on one of two long -lived birds this spring, and although there MAY be another after that, who knows?

I have really only two totemic birds: the Goshawk (spare me "Northern" please!) and the birds of the Gyr/ Saker complex, for which, when around friends who won't argue with my eccentricities I use the Medieval term "Great falcons". Here is a Finnish male and an old Gyr- Prairie of mine:

I have had good birds from each species:

And if I live long enough I may have both again. But I don't know how long my legs or dexterity will last, and even as Eurasian Gosses and mostly Gyr hybrids get expensive, my income drops.

I like the males, especially in Gyrs.  Luckily they cost less (and I prefer girl dogs; why?) So here are some random (not quite) factors pro and con.

Gyrs get lost. They fly BIG. I am in an area (the size of a New England state) with few roads and have lost them chasing behind. Even with good telemetry. We fly "out of the hood", from the fist, at game our dogs put up, not waiting on, and they cover the sky. Out of the hood or off the fist, walking with dogs and wishing for horses, or eventually probably with a 4 wheeler

Gyrs, especially tiercels have the best personality, not just better than Goshawks but better than some people's dogs; like good interactive dogs, the ones you talk to. Kazakhs call the whole Saker bunch "Itilga": dog hawk.

Even friendly Goshawks can be morose brooders on imagined slights. The north Eurasian subspecies-- I can just about afford a Finn-- are reputed friendlier. And we make sweet quiet imprints. I have never lost a Gos (given two away, one because I was given a Gyrbrid that I lost in a month, one because he took an irrational dislike to Libby. I would have rewired that one today).
I can walk to Gos hawking; but drive only three miles on pavement to get to Lee's ranch and jacks. The "walk" is in an area with many species of game-- cottontail, jack, more than one kind of quail, "incidentals" like feral Eurasian Collared doves that I have seen caught by wild Goshawks.  Lee's plains are for jacks. The male Gos may be a bit small for big black- tailed jacks, but the best Gyrbrid I ever saw was Terence Wright's little male, the late Zhel-- 22 ounces and how many hundred hares? A great bird:

I could go on forever. Both good in cold weather. Both fine with dogs unlike Harrises. Both able to live on the house perch calmly (try a rehab Coop!); both have done so.

The Gos has a worse"social"  rep but I will show you a friend whose gos plays with toys, as did one of mine.

In southwest China the Naxi take them on city buses. Unhooded. OTOH the intelligence and hunting strategy of a Gyr when flown "out of the Hood" is legend (birds that wait on above can substitute the power of the stoop for strategy). I know Gosses think, but I don't know what they are thinking.

Pure Gyrs used to die easily of diseases, especially stress- induced aspergillosis. (A friend used to say they were all "born with AIDS"). That ever- present fungus is better understood these days, and I might not have lost the gray bird above to it if we had known what we know now. A bit of Saker or Prairie or Peregrine genes is damn near a cure.

Some Gosses are also susceptible, but not the ones I intend to fly.

I don't like hooding Gosses-- I make them tame, and they ride in boxes if they have to. Asians hood falcons and eagles but not Goshawks.

John Burchard thinks their reliance on hearing makes them nervous when hooded. I only know that my Goshawks become tamer without hooding, and have been much nicer since I quit hooding them.

One worry is that I intend to get a 4 wheeler, and if the gos is not raised on it (!) he is likely to find it scary. My Gyr hybrids always took machines in stride. They also have all hooded well, though the tamest would try to get it off when they were bored.

Worth repeating: Gyrs get lost, and break your heart. Gosses are versatile and don't get lost unless you really do something stupid. Gyrs talk to your dogs, get down on the ground and tip their heads at them (hawk greeting) and tolerate the dogs sniffing under their tails. If a dog did that to a Gos, he would go sulk in a tree.

Please don't say I need both. In that case you better hope I am a late literary success because if I flew both I wouldn't have time for anything else.

I LIKE virtually everything about both birds. I doubt my questions will resolve anything But I sure will enjoy talking about it.


Stephen Olner said...

I'd say the Gos. From what you wrote i think you are leaning towards that anyway. Falconry needs to be fun. who wants to chase a falcon have way across the state !

Anonymous said... long as one looks forward,I doubt if the choice really matters. Best of luck with your decision. Tom Condon

Jon Landers said...

As all great relationships can break our hearts, but are great because of the intensity, the sharing, the closeness and unique experiences they provide, I would vote for the Gyr.

Jon Landers said...

All great relationships can break one's heart, but what makes them great is the intensity, the wordless bond and the unique experiences they offer, so I would vote for the Gyr.

Guy Boyd said...

Great post outlining the reasons either species would be a good choice. However, it only allows me to choose what I would do. I won't hazard a recommendation for you. In the end falconry, like most of life, is driven by needs and feelings, not reason.So, what do you long for when Ataika nuzzles close and you ponder Magdalena's horizons?

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, if you want to put game in the pot, and hunt the largest variety of game you should get a tiercel goshawk. Forget the females, especially of the Eurasian pursuasion, they will be limited to jacks, bunnies, and ducks and you simply don't require all that horsepower. Get a male, you can hunt quail (the best sport for a goshawk), ducks, bunnies, jacks, crows (if they were legal quarry), collared doves and number of smaller species that a big female simply will not pursue. On the hare front, the population has been decimated by the drought and unless we get a nice wet spring we're not likely to see a rebound. If they do rebound a male Fin will still take them. You have to get a bird that you can hunt with the least amount of trouble, where you can walk out the door and find slips. As far as a longwing goes, flying jacks and running dogs is spectacular big falconry, but it's also one-dimensional, in my opinion, and far more taxing, and doesn't make for a varied menu. Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Can you hack a gyr hybrid? perhaps it would fly off, and hang around long enough to find it again?

Steve Bodio said...

I want to keep this going for a while, but it is hard to refute Paul's logic, and he is really telling me what I know in my heart. Gyrs are better companions but when there are no hares (a BIT better up here but bad) there is a danger of turning a Gyr into a pet.

With a Gos you find game period. Our quail are coming back and we have rabbits and as Paul says MANY collared doves.

If I really thought I was dying but still had a season to hunt I might get a gyr now, but I expect to be out there for a while. I am just slow and clumsy. And I need a hunting bird that hunts what I have.


Oh and Paul-- I never considered a female (;-))

Guy Boyd said...

Fantastic post with engrossing pics and reasons why each species is desirable. It would help me make a decision for myself, but not to make a recommendation for you. The problem is that the whole of falconry is not amenable to reason. Like most things in life, it is driven by dreams and feelings-what bird do you long for when Ataika nuzzles close and you ponder Magdalena's horizons?

Matt Mullenix said...

Paul (Domski?)'s advice has the benefit of years of successful experience in your environs, Steve. Having walked a bit around your neighborhood and hunted with Paul and others in the general area, I'd agree with him on the male gos.

Of course, I've tried without success to sell you on the many merits of the male Harris's hawk, which is like a gos but tame and can read poetry in Sanskrit while cooking a nice omlette for you and Libby.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for the gos, for the compelling reasons Paul stated.

You might get the personality component with the Harris's, but that bird is not you. A gos is.


PS. You can create spectacular falconry for longwings with just racing pigeons, as Ed Pitcher does, but it's still a lot to orchestrate. He raises 80+ pigeons each year, has to get to wherever the bird goes down with the pigeon, and occasionally has to chase a bird many, many miles.

Mark Farrell-Churchill said...

I've been mulling this over since yesterday morning, and it's interesting to read the discussion thus far.

In my heart, Steve, I want to recommend the gyr, as it seemed the only objection you yourself had raised was the ease with which they can be lost. (Not an insignificant concern for those of us with limited means, to be sure.) Chasing jackrabbits with a gyr hybrid seems a truly grand form of falconry, and the gyr seems an obvious choice when dogs and ATVs are likely to be part of the picture.

It did occur to me, though, to inquire after the stability of the hare population and the availability or otherwise of alternate quarries, and I'm not surprised to see others have raised the same issue.

I'm forced to concede that the gos might be the more practical option, and happily there is no bad choice here. It's up to you, though, to decide what value to place on practicality--as Guy hints at, it's often the Tom Sawyerish impracticality that draws us to sport in the first place.

Much respect to the gos, but I'm still having a hard time defecting from Team Gyr!

Good luck, and don't agonise too much: Remember, there's no bad choice here.

Anonymous said...

Though this decision is not about canine acquisition, you're sounding a lot like me whenever I am plotting my next dog(even if it isn't an actual Plott Hound!) And gosh, you know, that's HALF the fun in acquisition, the analyzing and anticipation! Although I have enjoyed and learned and loved ALL my acquisitions--carefully planned, accidental, or rescued--or, as in my recent Tazi acquisitions, an obvious act of GOD(with a good chunk of help from Vladimir....), it is a good and ethical thing to weigh all the pros and cons--for the critter's sake and chances as well as your own! Which is why I likely won't be planning on getting anymore wolf-hybrids or wolves in my present circumstances--too civilized surroundings where I now live to safely roam with them as I did when I lived in lovely isolated, backward, wonderfully economically repressed Southern Appalachia; not too mention I'm getting a bit too long-in-the-tooth to practice lycanthropy anymore! But one still dreams--my dreams have lots of wonderful, feral memories to conjure up whenever I wish, luckily.....I think if you choose whatever fits your environment and circumstances best, will give you the most satisfaction and best relationship with your critter. My CAREFULLY planned acquisition of a Weimaraner as my best all-around woods dog could not have worked out better for my present limited and often oppressed roaming circumstances. But I couldn't turn down the "less appropriate" Tazis(due to my most serious affliction--"Canis Familiaris Acquiritis Syndrome), and I have enjoyed the heck out of those Kazahk Boyz! So, basically, don't ask me! Gosh, it DOES sound like you are leaning more to the Goshawk already, though......Is there nobody around who has an ATV they'd let you borrow occaisionally to use for training and habituating the Goshawk until you could get your own? I'd send you one myself, if I could afford it and then find an envelope big enough to fit it in......But remember, if the Goshawk doesn't work out, you can get the Gyr! And vice-versa!!!! It's a wonderful world.....L.B.

Steve Bodio said...

Libby has suggested-- more to come-- to get the Gos this year, THEN a male Gyr.

She also thought of several friends with 4 wheelers to use exactly as you say; stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! No doubt the HUMAN part of the partnership will need some habituating to ATV's as well! Ha! And on second thought, I should amend what I said before about getting "too long-in-the-tooth" to practice lycanthropy--that's really a HORSEMAN'S expression, and inaccurate to describe lycanthropic activities. I SHOULD have said, "too worn-and-SHORT-in-the-tooth"!....L.B.