I couldn’t help but notice two hooded falcons perched on the back seat of a VW bug in the grocery store parking lot where I worked. ( forty-five years ago!) A guy with a ponytail drove it. When I said something about the prairie falcons, he looked a bit surprised. I guess nobody had ever correctly identified his falcons before. That’s how I first met Terry Heath. And with that introduction, we shared a short conservation that ended with Terry inviting me to photograph his hunting falcons. As I tagged along on hunting trips It became clear that for Terry, falconry was no hobby, nor was it just a sport hunting venture. No, Terry was in the grip of a full-blown obsession with falcons.
THE PRAIRIE FALCON
Week-old prairie falcons huddle together on a simple scrape at their cliff eyrie. The aggressive divebombing adults give Terry a glimpse into the potential flight characteristics of the young falcons.
Early in her training, (above) the young female prairie falcon is content to sit on the sidelines and let Terry demonstrate. From such modest beginnings, the prairie quickly responds to training and will be introduced to wild pheasants and ducks soon. (below)
A PEREGRINE NAMED ANGEL
Another mallard for the bag. Every flight of Angel, the peregrine, was stunning,
Angel suddenly reappears out of nowhere to stoop on the lure. (above) For a few worrying minutes, Angel was nowhere to be seen. Had she made a kill out of sight? A big worry. A falcon with a full crop is difficult to coax to the glove. Candy (right) was a fixture on the hunting trips. But once, after hawking for pheasants, Candy went missing and didn’t return to the car. Before leaving Terry threw out his coat. The next morning there she lay, waiting.
Searching for suitable quarry for the falcons led us out to the edge of the lava flows of eastern Idaho. Passing a pair of ravens hanging out along the road, Terry slows and pulls over a couple of hundred yards down the road. Stepping out of the van Terry removes the peregrines hood and lifts the falcon above his head. In an instant, the peregrine is off the glove and power-pumping those long, slender wings into the wind towards the dumb-struck ravens. From a jump start, the ravens took flight and started to climb. Now, these ravens share the sky with all kinds of raptors from goshawks to golden eagles so the sudden appearance of a peregrine is no big deal. But this one had them in the crosshairs! Though the peregrine’s power of flight is legendary, she could not outclimb the ravens. A peregrines advantage is on the way back down and the ravens knew it. The flight was quickly a quarter mile above the sage highlands and climbing. But the persistent peregrine wouldn’t give up. As the flight threatened to disappear, out came the lure.
Desperate to get back to open water, the mallard deploys futile last-second maneuvers. The peregrines focus is clear. Mine, not so much.