Check out these photographs of falcons and falconry from a new Northern Virginian blog on photography. Falconry, the ancient sport of taking quarry with raptors, is not widely practiced in the United States, although there is a Virginia Falconers Association.
If you investigate a little bit you will learn there is normally an “apprenticeship” whereby an aspiring falconer will work with a more senior bird handler to learn how to trap, manage and train a falcon. The apprenticeship may take years. Falconers must obtain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Permits in order to trap and keep these birds.
Having a falcon return to you and land on your arm would be exhilarating—presuming, of course, that you were wearing a protective gauntlet (otherwise your exhilaration would be tempered by extreme pain as the raptor’s talons clamped down on your forearm).
These photos reminded me of a backpacking trip a friend and I took several years ago wherein we accidentally came upon several wild raptors that flew extremely close to us. It was a bit unnerving to have birds of prey buzz so closely by. A few minutes later we would realize why the birds were flying so close to us.
We were hiking the Appalachian Trail in the Bald Mountains, up on the North Carolina-Tennessee border about 10 miles north of Sams Gap. As we rounded some large boulders, we accidentally came upon the Big Bald Banding Station. There were some individuals near the summit of Big Bald Mountain collecting data, and there were birds of prey that were either nesting or returning to the area. There were also some large bird cages, and, if I recall correctly, we observed several birds being released.
The sheer randomness of our coming upon these guys and watching the magnificent birds was pretty neat. In fact, we were so surprised that neither of us remembered to take our cameras and photograph the birds. We probably could have gotten some shots like those in the article highlighted above. The birds we saw were not trained, but were wild and free and were probably just passing through, stopping briefly on their way south for the winter.
Big Bald Mountain, at 5516′, is one the higher points on the AT (and the highest between the Roan balds to the north and the Smokies to the south). The hike on the AT from Spivey Gap (Route 19W, aka Spivey Mountain Road) to Big Bald Mountain is a steep, rugged hike. The Bald Mountains are a natural bird migration throughway, and both large birds and smaller species cross the mountain during the seasons.
P.S. – North Carolina has a North Carolina Falconer’s Guild; Tennessee does not have any organization that supports falconry, although the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency administers the testing for falconry permits.