Actually it began the day before and ended the day after.
I arrived in the quaint little town of Rosebud around dusk and was surprised how welcoming it looked with the warm glow from the stores around the center spreading out in to the night.
Turning the corner I found myself at the hall that was to be the meeting place for the AFA.
I have just joined the club this year and was a little unsure what to expect; my last club was the British Falconers club in Staffordshire Uk and now it seemed so far away.
Anyway in I went and found a few members chatting away. A friendly face greeted me as Jo (who I had met a few weeks before) asked ‘ can you keep books ‘?
I was a little confused.
‘We need an accountant ‘ she explained.
‘Sorry I’m not the guy you need I said. And that was it; I was in amongst the people I had wanted to meet.
Slowly I began to meet and talk to the people around me and found myself talking to Alan, another newcomer to the club who had previously flown Peregrines in South Africa.
It was very interesting to hear his experiences and stories.
People came and went in a blur of names, faces and handshakes and I was enjoying myself immensely.
Soon the food arrived and very good it was too!
I love Chinese food and wherever this came from they are to be highly recommended.
The general meeting was very interesting and I was able to get more of a feel for whom people were and what they were passionate about.
I met Barry who was sat beside me and he kindly offered to take me out hawking with him if I can get up to Sylvan Lake sometime.
His Hawk trap that was assembled in the hall entrance was a work of art!
Finally I decided it was time to head back to my hotel in Drumheller and I got into a conversation about what time people were meeting up in the morning for the first hunts of the day.
I had just met Jeremy and Jo came by and advised me to ask if anyone had a spare seat in their truck as it is a good idea to take as few trucks as possible. Jeremy was kind enough to offer me a place and I was all set for the next day.
Back at the hotel a bizarre sight greeted me, above the trees on the far side of the river the local T-rex towered, all teeth and menacing eyes; lit up by the lights around him. It was only my second time in Drumheller and I hadn’t seen the Rex from this angle!
5:30 and the alarm rang making me jump. I did not want to be late.
So up and out and in to timmies to stock up for the day. The first sip of steeped tea and I was finally awake! (Well I am English)!. LOL
It was a crisp cold morning in Rosebud as everyone rallied around and began organizing birds for the day.
I met Sylvain who is an apprentice with a Red tailed Hawk and sponsored by Jeremy. A very interesting guy indeed. Very glad to meet him.
Off we went and the hunting began, hunting for ponds that were not frozen! I was beginning to think we were not going to see much action but Jeremy persevered and found a place he liked.
Out came the Beautiful Gyr hybrid and quickly he was up and away, flying off in to the distance and gaining height.
Jeremy had informed us of the etiquette involved in being quiet as we exited the vehicles.
I watched the Falcon in the distance, admiring her mastery of the skies and followed Jeremy at a distance as he made his way towards the duck pond.
Actually he was running hard behind the cover of a rise and I was breathing even harder as it’s been a long time since I ran anywhere.
Suddenly he was shouting! His Gyr was well placed high overhead, the ducks rose and she folded her wings and dropped like a missile out of my sight on the other side of the rise.
I missed the actual hit as I was still trying to drag my reluctant old body over the rise.
As I crested I looked down and saw Jeremy standing beside the pond and fountains of duck feathers being cast in the air!
It was a Mallard and the Gyr was happily tearing in to its reward. Jeremy told us the duck had dropped onto the ice and his bird had dragged it 30 ft. to shore! Amazing!
I have experienced numerous hunts in the UK involving Harris and Goshawks and I love short wing hunting but this was my first experience of a Falcon hunt and it was very exhilarating!
It’s a strange feeling at times, living here in the huge open spaces of Alberta. England feels quite small in comparison and I was wondering how on earth did I get from the big cities of the UK to the rolling prairies of Rosebud, watching Gyrfalcons matched against Mallard on a beautiful clear frosty morning? What an experience!
Well no time to lose!
Off to find the next opportunity.
I spoke to Udo for the first time as he was explaining the wing problems his Peregrine had endured. She (or is it he?) flew really well and took a stoop at some ducks before returning .Udo was mightily pleased that his bird had flown so well.
It was another wonderful experience for me, a collection of memories and images I will always hold in my mind: the great expanse of the rolling stubble fields, all of us standing on a rise overlooking the distant pond, the sun bright and getting warmer, our breath visible before us and a Peregrine sailing the sky above. I’m not sure the ducks were too pleased but I certainly was!
At the next pond Jeremy flew his Jerkin at a couple of ducks but he was having no good luck!
The Gyr flew far away and got some good height and we had a hard time following him when he came towards us with the bright sun behind him!
At last the time was right and Jeremy ran to flush the Ducks.
In came the Gyr and all seemed well but alas the Ducks were not participating.
They refused to fly and just as it seemed the Gyr was about to hit one the Duck stayed true to its name and Ducked!
Well that was that we thought and the Falcon landed and Jeremy lifted him up, just then a covey of Partridge exploded from the stubble beside us.
Jeremy must have ran right by them earlier as he ran to flush the Ducks! They must have been watching all the time until Jeremy had the Falcon feeding on the fist.
As we drove around I realized Jeremy and Sylvain were very observant and were great at identifying whatever we saw. I was very impressed.
They pointed out a Great Horned Owl sat in a bush at the edge of a pond with Ducks unknowingly swimming right beneath him.
At the opposite end of the same pond a Bald Eagle sat patiently in a tree. Further along we came across a Golden Eagle sat on a fence post; he was still there when we passed him again later on.
I was amazed at how these guys could recognize all the Ducks we saw even when in flight.
Another road we took and Jeremy pointed out a disagreement for airspace between two Magpies and a Merlin.
We were only able to see for a few seconds but the Merlin was giving as much as he was taking!
, Or so I would like to believe!
Then it was back to Rosebud for lunch and the dogs and birds were set out to weather and were enjoying the sun. I ate my lunch in the presence of Gyrfalcons, Peregrines, Goshawks, Red tails, pointers and Beagles. I had enjoyed a great morning but was eager for more.
The local Fish and Wildlife Officer came by and was eagerly talking dogs so I guess we were a little late leaving after lunch but we caught up with the Club at a patch of scrub and brush out in a stubble field.
I could see a Goshawk in the distance as it flew up from the ground into a low bush.
People were milling around and I was trying to understand what was going on when a Hun took off from under the bush the Gos was in.
It gamely made it a few feet before it was taken.
As the hunt walked back to the trucks the dog was ranging all over the area trying to find the scent of more Huns I guess.
Another Gos hunt took place at the side of an asphalt road with the pond on the other side of the road.
Everyone sort of crept in to a good position in the ditch and when the time seemed good the Gos was set free.
Everyone ran across the road to flush the Ducks and get a good view. I was trying to spot the Gos and the Ducks as I presumed they would be flying downwind towards me and as I ran I thought, “maybe I should look for cars and trucks too!”
No traffic came by but the hunt wasn’t successful so off to the next opportunity.
This did not turn out well at all and with the benefit of hindsight maybe the flight shouldn’t have gone ahead.
Udo decided to try his Peregrine again but where we were all stood it was very windy.
I think he seemed a little hesitant wether it was a good idea or not, but he let the bird fly.
The Falcon seemed to struggle a little with the wind blowing so hard and after a while being so low down she landed out of sight over a rise in a stubble field. I helped Udo with the barbed wire he had to cross as he went to retrieve the bird.
I wanted to go with him but I was unsure what to do so I stayed back.
When he was over the rise a bird flew down to some trees and people were trying to decide if it was a Rough legged or a dark Red tail. Nothing more was thought until Udo returned visibly in some shock and calling for Jeremy and Steve.
We soon learned that as Udo had crested the rise he had seen the Red tail on top of his Peregrine and swiftly scared it off. There was a lot of worry and concern about unseen puncture wounds and hidden damage. They decided to find Mike without delay.
The verdict seemed good from him and I hope all has gone well these last few weeks.
The Peregrine certainly has had a rough time what with broken bones and being attacked by Hawks!
Well eventually we got back to the hall and before the Banquet I watched Sylvain feed up his red tail and train her to the hood as Jeremy had showed him earlier in the day.
The food at the Banquet was excellent!
The local lady who cooked it got a well deserved round of applause.
The roast beef and gravy was delicious.
I met Rick at dinner as he was sat beside me and he graciously offered me a wee dram of Scotch whisky.
Now it has been a long time since I had drank whisky and I poured quite a lot.
He thought I was an experienced whisky drinker. Not true!
I had underestimated the potency of this 50 % whisky and as I took the first sip I realized my mistake.
I was driving back to the hotel in Drumheller later on and couldn’t possibly drink all this.
I admitted my mistake to Rick and he took it back. He was very good about it all and I have learned that I am not much of a whisky drinker, especially when driving!
As I headed back to the Hotel I was treated to a spectacular display of the Northern lights.
I have had so many experiences today and to end it all with this haunting display in the sky was just perfect.
Sunday dawned and we were off again.
As we drove to Ricks place to meet up we spotted a Moose and drove down in to a valley with lots of trees and brush and who knows what hiding or lying in wait.
I love these sorts of places and they seem all the more amazing because they are hidden from view over the Prairie until you get close.
Jeremy flew his bird but it was a little heavy and reluctant to stoop but it was good to watch it circling and gaining height.
The rest of the flights that morning bore no fruit but personally I love to see the birds flying whether they are successful on a hunt or not.
Back to the hall once more and and I had some very interesting conversations with guys I hadn’t previously spoken to while other guys were readying everything for the trip home.
Plans were made to meet up with Jeremy sometime to see his Red tail fly and all of a sudden it was time to go. I was just saying goodbye to Alan and Deone in the parking lot when an Eagle flew overhead. Our first thoughts was the safety of the birds still out to weather and Deone took off at a run. All was well as the Eagle just flew by.
I watched him soar effortlessly in to the distance and took that as my cue to go.
What a day! What a weekend!
What an awesome meeting!
I hope to enjoy many more and I would like to say thank you to all the interesting friendly people I met.
Quote: by Mathew Prior, The Dove Stanza.
Or have you mark’d a partridge quake,
Viewing the towering falcon nigh? She
cuddles low behind the brake: Nor would she stay; nor dares she fly.