Monday, January 10, 2022

The One I Didn't See

Yesterday I had a Harris hawk on my glove who was very disappointed in me. How do I know this? Because of the circumstance and the look on her face as she stared pointedly into my eyes. Am I projecting? Sure. But I’ve been a teacher long enough, and I know that look.

We had spotted a crow strutting around on a sloped field close enough for Hekate to have a good chance, and we had to turn around to get back there. Hekate was on my glove and her falconer was driving. She and I were focused on where we were turning, when suddenly Hekate launched herself to my right. She is not tied to my glove, but I hold her jesses (Geschühriemen) tightly enough between two often frozen fingers that she can’t get loose just by deciding it’s time. As I said to her, “Not yet, there’s nothing th…” I looked to my right and saw a magpie (Elster) standing at a perfect distance, frozen in place. Arg!! It was too late by then because the magpie figured out he’d better bugger off, so Hekate settled herself back on my glove. And then she looked at me.

I don't have a photo of "the look."
This is her usual stern expression.

She’s always looking around for crows and magpies when she’s on my glove. Usually to my right, in front of us, sometimes behind me. Now and then she seems to glance at me but quickly looks away again. I’ve been told and have read many times that one should not look directly at a bird of prey because they see that as a threat. Predators look directly at them, so it’s best if we don’t. Hekate isn’t too bothered by my looking at her, but I also don’t stare.

This is Aik, Hekate's smaller half-brother.
Somehow he has a softer expression than Sis.

Yesterday after the magpie flew off Hekate looked directly at me for longer than a glance. When she’s on my glove her beak – which is sharp enough to tear into a feathery crow or a tasty rabbit – is about 20 cm (7 in) from my face. Yesterday I understood why it’s better not to look directly at one’s hunting partner. In that look I read, “You do that again, Human, and I will f*ck you up.”

This gives an idea how close the bird is.
We're waiting in the car because it's raining.
(That's Aik again)

Hekate’s falconer assures me this happens because we’re human and make mistakes. We miss things. Hekate has better eyes than we have and doesn’t get easily distracted (except by dogs and wheelbarrows, which she hates). Hekate makes mistakes, too at times, but more often than not, it's the falconer's screw-up.

Her falconer and I switched a while after that, and at one point she sent Hekate off after two crows and a Nilgans (Egyptian goose). The crows took off early enough to escape, but the Nilgans was slower. Hekate has not really been in the mood to go after Nilgänse since an incident a year or two ago when one fended her off, and yesterday she flew in that direction but just plopped down near the goose as if to say, “Nope, not today.”

I can’t really blame her. I mean, there was my screw-up, and then when her falconer sent her off after 2 crows with a buzzard not far off, she missed the crows and the buzzard came after her! It was just a brief encounter, and the buzzard flew off when Hekate’s falconer shouted, but that couldn’t have been pleasant. Then with the Nilgans I think she was just done.

We were hawking for about 2.5 hours yesterday and came away with no Beute (loot, swag, quarry). During this entire season, which started in early September, that was only the third time we came away as tailors (Schneider). It happens. By the way, German hunters, falconers and hawkers say, when no kill was made, that they “came away as tailors.” I have no idea why, but I’ll research that and get back to you.

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