Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Whither fly ye, what game spy ye..."?

Before duck season closed in Oklahoma, I had one flight in particular that remains framed in my mind’s eye.

On an almost warm, blue-sky and thermal-laden day, I spotted a secluded pond with a dozen gadwalls. Walking out in the field, my falcon was pumping her wings in anticipation. Without so much as a mute or rouse, she left the fist and began to mount. She kicked out a half mile and came back overhead at about 500 ft. She was still climbing, but in my impatience I went ahead and flushed. Down Elaine came, amid a tight bunch of gadwalls. To my surprise, she missed. She might've put a foot on one but certainly didn't definitively knock one down. They scattered and she stooped past a drake as it turned suddenly and skidded back into the water. Elaine began to remount, but there was little chance I was going to get the lone duck to fly from this medium-sized pond. I was in great need of a dog.

Several minutes went by as I tried in vain to cleanly flush this duck and contemplated what to do. Elaine was now up 800-1000ft and looking good. The gadwall might flit from one end of the pond to the other – but that was assuredly all. After a few more minutes I glanced up - and couldn't see my falcon. The telemetry suggested she was still up and nearby. I scoured the sky and spotted two red-tails soaring far up, circling in a thermal. Then even higher, I spied a slight dot. “Surely not”, I thought. Once I centered my binoculars on it, I could barely discern Elaine, her tail fanned out and wings spread on the thermal. How high she was – I have no idea. Very, very high.

I couldn't squander this pitch. As I stood on the edge of the pond, I wondered aloud whether I should jog to another pond a half mile west. Just then, in an incredible stroke of luck, I saw a large duck a few hundred yards off flying this way. He was coming closer and flared in surprise when he saw me. Suddenly, I caught from the corner of my eye a plummeting teardrop. My heart in my throat, I watched the silhouette, completely vertical, streak against the sky for what felt like ages. I had never seen such a flight from my peregrine before. Down, down, down – she dropped just beneath the mallard before curving upward with all that speed and momentum - and binding. Feathers sailed into the air. The entangled pair tumbled onto the ground. After a stunned moment I began to run across the field. When I arrived, Elaine had a weakly-protesting drake mallard by the head, a streak of feathers across the ground.

Longwinging still remains a steep learning curve for me, but I felt as though I had glimpsed something special. The weather and variables had conspired for a truly enjoyable day. I walked back to my truck twenty minutes later - all in all muddy, frozen and with a newly sprained ankle – but I could not stop smiling.


Ryan said...

I seem to remember a stressed out girl at the start of this season whining about how her bird wouldn't take a pitch ;)

First a giant long legged bird and now a 1500+ foot pitch....Sounds like she has got it figured out and you too.

Wish my season went as well, my hybrid died from a ruptured pancreas after killing a Gadwall in the stoop, so now I'm starting over with a new hybrid that I just got on the kite a week ago.

Good luck in the last few days of duck season.


Lauren said...

Hi Ryan – fancy seeing you here! Ah you were right! Peregrines keep surprising me with what they can do when you give them the chance. That was just a lucky day all around. Although I must admit, that stressed-out girl does still make an appearance upon occasion.

I’m so sorry to hear about your hybrid – I can’t believe it. It is particularly terrible when it is something so strange and sudden as that. At the very least, I am glad you’ve got this new bird.

Talk soon,