Sunday, 11 April 2010

Go fatty, it's your birthday

Meet Mali.

He's in the prime of his life, enjoys walks in the country and picking up chicks. And on my 40th birthday I went out with him.

Mali is a Harris Hawk and, in case you were wondering, the chicks in question were one day old and supplied by a Pembrokeshire poultry farm. And already dead, by the way. As a birthday surprise, Katie arranged for me to go hawking with him. I had no idea this was going to happen until an hour beforehand.

It all came about when we saw a falconry display in the New Forest last year. I was fascinated in seeing how these remarkable creatures worked with their handlers. Katie picked up on this interest. She's good like that.

I'm 40. I have enough socks. I think this qualifies as Most Creative Birthday Present Ever.

I was born in a big industrial city. I live in a big industrial city. I wake to the sound of sparrows gently coughing. So nature is a bit of a closed book to me. You can see this in the picture above.

Ian, Mali's keeper, has carefully explained that Harris Hawks are widely used in falconry because they are fairly well-behaved around people. But nevertheless, you can see from the expression on my face, I'm thinking: "Stop looking at me like that. For you have a sharp beak and frickin' talons. I am not a vole."

For a couple of hours we walked around the fields and woods. Mali would fly off into the trees and surrounding shrubland, then Ian would surreptitiously press a piece of chick into my gauntlet. "Call him by whistling or shouting 'Ho!'," Ian instructed, "don't make chirruping or clucking noises, whatever you do."

"Why not?"

"You've seen those talons, yes? You don't want him confusing you for prey."

"Good point."

I would hold my arm out, but before getting a chance to make any noise, Mali would be there, stooping from the sky or sweeping inches from the ground and homing in at the last second. He was extremely skilled. Mind you, he's a Harris Hawk. That's what they do. I bet he's probably crap with spreadsheets. Press the 'play' button for a quick video.

Afterwards we returned to Solva, our home for the week. "No more surprises?" I asked Katie. She remained tight-lipped.

Which explains why, that evening, when popping out for a quick pre-dinner drink, I wandered into the Cambrian Inn to find it decked out with banners and balloons. As friends gathered, including Mike and Emma, who'd travelled 230 miles from home to surprise me, I reflected that perhaps there was something to be said for this 40 malarkey after all. There are no photos of this, but the night will remain with me for ever, regardless.

Tomorrow I go back to work, to sit behind a desk and do worthy things with words and numbers. But there will be a part of me that is thinking of sun and wind, claw and feather.


Frank Dobner said...

I personally do not know anyone practicing falconry here in the U.S. We have no true gentry here...only rich people. I can appreciate your brush with nature and I crave my walk in the forest daily.

fatboyfat said...

Thanks Frank. I wasn't aware that it wasn't that well known in the U.S. Interestingly, in medieval times there was a hierarchy of falconry. Kings and dukes were allowed to use eagles, then it moved down through sakers and goshawks, depending on ones social standing, while kestrels were for the working man. A blue-collar bird!


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