Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fying with a Hawk

A Day with a Free Spirit

Few of us get to see a wild hawk trained for falconry. On this cold, blustery day in the uplands above the Virgin river a group of photographers got their chance. Bill Mader, raptor keeper and rehabilitator took us along to watch Sable have breakfast.

Sable is twenty-six years old, ancient by bird standards, and this attests to good care all of her life. She is a Harris hawk, rare in these parts since their range is more southwestern, in the Mohave desert. Yet she seemed to do quite well in the blackbrush and sage hills that cover much of the area between Saint George Utah and Zion National Park.

Sable is placed on a nearby volcanic rock and she stays for about twenty seconds until the handler walks away and into the wind.
The falconry glove is put on, and a rare piece of rabbit meat is
tucked into the thumb and forefinger pocket. Sable rides low to travel toward her prize as it is unnecessary to soar high to go such a short distance. Besides, the wind is fierce enough that only a little lift is necessary to fill those big red wings.

Sable glides in to Bill's hand. She does not hit the glove hard, like a peregrine falcon might hit its prey; she has been trained to land lightly by pulling up into the wind and using her wings as a brake while she extends her talons with precision. She lands lightly and without any discernable push in any direction. Carrying her back to her rock perch is like holding a balloon; a very living, well-balanced balloon. (This author got to receive and recover her twice during the trip!)

Sable gets her well-earned reward. She flew about 10 times for the exercise, the training and the photographers. None of these things matter to her. Her life is confined, yes, but she is as wild in spirit as a hawk can be. She gives the gift of her spirit every time she takes a flight, and she asks for nothing in return but a little breakfast. She is Hawk, and Hawk must be Hawk forever. That's why we're here, not only to take pictures but to feel the Hawk in ourselves.

Christine Oravec