Falconry Festival 2009
This year, I was lucky enough to attend the Falconry Festival held in England and I came back with one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The Festival is held in a beautiful estate in of one of the oldest field sports at Englefield Estate, Theale, near Reading. Never in my life did I ever think I would see a gathering of that many people with one passion in common, falconry. Every single person I had contact with shared the same love and enthusiasm for the sport.
On the first day, I quickly became good friends with the eagle hunters of the steppes. I had to rely on my drawing skills to communicate, but we all know how when we talk falconry, we all share the same language. Hand gestures were very common, all gesturing jesses, prey or the raptors themselves. I stayed with them until darkness surrounded the camp, laughing, eating and drinking along the campfire. The drinking part was tough on me, as I’m not much of one. By now a Mongolian researcher had joined us. He was able to speak English, so the barriers were broken for the night. I was introduced to a Mongolian cheese that had quite a kick. I was quickly given a Kazakhstan beer and the gestures invited me to, "Dreeenk Manny, dreeenk." I drank alright then along came the music. Beautiful tunes played on an umbra. What an experience, I was no longer in England, but in the steppes of Asia. Of course the CHINGGIS, original Mongolian Vodka, helped. Whew! By the end of the night they had me singing. The next morning was hard on me, but the adrenaline helped. As soon as I was spotted by the eagle hunters they all yelled, "Manny!! Manny!! Chinggis!!” then laughed. I'm sure they will never forget me.
The size of the event was as big as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo, probably in attendance size as well. I couldn't believe it. I’m used to seeing fairs and falconry being represented in a corner but not the entire area. It is still hard for me to believe that the whole entire fair was gathered because of Falconry.
Tents are set throughout the estate, all of them with a sign of the country represented. I'm sure I visited every single one of them. All of them had great information of their history depicting falconry, along with beautiful pictures, artwork and equipment. Every single person was friendly and of course happy to talk about our passion in hunting with raptors. It is amazing how different yet similar we are with our equipment and the way we approach the sport. I was continuously asked about falconry in America—how we trap wild birds and about the land we hunt in. Several countries trap wild raptors, but they were still fascinated with our style of falconry. I was fascinated with a couple of countries myself and what they do in the sport. I learned that Turkish falconers capture a good-sized insect to catch shrikes to catch a sparrow hawk. They had pictures that were incredible. Even trapping the bug has its science. I made great friends with these guys and spent the next night amongst Turkish and Turkmenistan falconers. This time I drank tea, not Chinggis Khan Vodka. Delicious breads, biscuits and cookies were on the table as we sat around the campfire. One of the falconers had his own tea farm in Turkey, so we drank his delicious tea all night. Their preparation was amazing, and it was just tea! These people take so much pride in their tradition and it’s wonderful to see and experience. The Turkmenistan falconers explained to me about how they hunt their birds, camelback, sitting on the hump to have a higher view as they hunt sand dunes. They also use greyhounds, salukis or tazis to help them find the bird. The falcon disappears over the dunes and the dog chases after it. I was told if not for the dogs they wouldn't usually find the falcon on its kill. One of the falconers there was 86 years old and a sixth-generation falconer. Spending time in the yurts was great, seeing how they manage space and how they normally go about their life out hunting hawks. These people made me feel very welcomed. I miss being with them—no television, no mp3 players—just sitting around a campfire with hot tea talking falconry.
The parade of countries was something to see. People from every country marched in their traditional falconry clothes with hawk in hand. Horses, camels and dogs also walked along with the falconers as each group held their flag proudly. The number of people who participated was incredible and all this because of our sport. No discrimination, no political discussions, no booing—just great applause as each country group walked around an arena. We were all just people with the same passion for the ancient sport that we love so much. It felt like a giant family reunion where all the family members get along.
Vendors were all around. I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelmed I felt. There were hoods, gloves and all your falconry norms throughout, in great numbers with every type and every quality. It was just too much. I walked away several times from crazy temptations of books, gauntlets, bells, prints, hoods—you name it, it was there.
The Abu Dhabi village was incredible and beautiful. There were Yurts, camels, falcons on beautiful perches, salukis leashed to their place. It was just amazing. They had musicians, dancers, artisans and beautiful displays about their culture in falconry and beautiful Arabian horses walking about in ornamental equipment. Every single person there was very gracious and friendly. I tried several teas and some desserts made from fruits and spices. They held their falcons and I heard stories about hunting hubara bustards. I had no idea of the size of their prey. It was quite impressive.
I also spent time with Scottish eaglers. They graciously shared video about their hunts on the moors that were very impressive! Their falconry is beautiful and amazing.
It was also nice to see a Kazakh eagler answer questions about Golden eagles, comparing how they hunt and listening to the 78-year-old eagle hunter’s advice. He was an eighth-generation eagle hunter and hunts hare, fox and sometimes wolves. He explained he had three eagles, two females and all wild taken.
I shared my last night there with both the steppe hunters and the Turkmenistan yurts. I drew several sketches for my new friends. As darkness fell, I was sketching with pen flashlights so I could see. The Kazakhs cooked another delicious meal and I was told, "Manny voice. Manny voice?" I didn't understand. The Russians, Slovakians and Hungarians were there as well, "Manny voice?" I still didn’t understand. Finally the Russian falconer translated for me. She explained that they wanted me to do the final toast and to also sing! When I had my drinking experience two days before, they talked me into singing some Spanish songs. At the time Chinggis Khna helped me. This time I was only drinking tea. I gathered my courage and went off, singing a couple of Mexican tunes after my toast. I toasted to the honor I felt to be around people who shared different cultures and different ways of life, but all share the same love and passion that is falconry. I toasted to the new brothers and sisters I was meant to have met. I toasted to Falconry.