2020-12-05 Bosque and New Mexico Falconry

Harris's Hawk - Parabuteo unicinctus
The highlight of the day was enjoying the flying skills of Matt’s Harris’s Hawk sisters, Mini and Etta.
Harris's Hawk - Parabuteo unicinctus
Etta wasn’t in a mood for much flying this afternoon and spent most of her time watching Mini and Matt. 

My first awareness of the art of falconry came as a young lad in elementary school when I read the Hardy Boys Mystery series and found the story The Hooded Hawk Mystery. Reading this book sparked in me, a fascination with falconry, and it led me to more research about the rigors and discipline that it demands of both man and bird. Creating the bond between bird and man requires rituals of patience to build trust between species. The process calls for dedication and a lifelong commitment to the relationship with the birds in your care. I learned the pursuit of falconry was beyond my reach at that young age, and as many of us will in our youth, I moved on to other interests.

My friend Jerry didn’t know of my childhood curiosity with falconry when he asked me to join him and a few pals to meet his friend and master falconer Matt near Bosque del Apache after our Saturday tour of the refuge. Jerry, his good friend Ken, and I drove south an hour and a half from Albuquerque to the reserve. Low bird numbers limited the birding activity on the grounds, but I was in good company and the weather was ideal.

After completing our tour of the refuge, we joined Naser, another friend of Jerry’s, for a late lunch in San Antonio, then we all drove to our rendezvous with Matt and his girls. By girls, I mean the Harris’s Hawk sisters, Mini and Etta. Matt has other birds that he exercises in the early mornings. This afternoon it was time for the girls to get their workout. Matt selected the site with consideration to the needs of us photographers and Jerry’s mobility issues. The location he chose was a few miles east of San Antonio and the Rio Grande, with grand vistas of the Oscura Peaks south of Adobe Ranch. As he released the girls, they came under immediate attack by a small falcon. The bird may have been a kestrel or a Prairie Merlin. I couldn’t tell for sure. The onslaught did not last long.

The girls caught a rabbit the previous day, and they needed to work off their meals. Etta, the elder sister, was not eager to stretch her wings, but Mini, the younger and smaller bird, was up for the challenge.

Mini, as I learned firsthand, loves to land on photographer’s heads. Between her sorties, she would fly to us and perch atop our noggins. Being the tallest member of our group, she selected me with some frequency. Those of us who wore hats were glad we had done so. While she was gentle with her talons, one of our comrades, who neglected to wear his hat, suffered minor puncture injuries to his scalp.

As the sun disappeared over the horizon, we knew it was time for birds and humans to call it a day. The experience was exhilarating, and we all left with big smiles.

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