Hawking with the hooded killers who live to prey: Oliver Gillie joins a hunting party in Scotland to witness the ancient art of falconry
Monday 15 November 1993
Stephen Frank takes his peregrine falcons out almost every day to hunt for grouse on the hills and moors near Dornoch, north-east Scotland. Grouse have been scarce this year, but at Forsinard in Caithness there are always some to be found and Andy Hollidge, an assistant keeper on the estate, hunts them when he has time.
Out on the moor, the falcons were taken from the back seat of the car and put on a cadge, a wooden frame with legs carried by the cadger. The hunting party set off across the moor with Mr Hollidge carrying Wallop, his three-year-old peregrine, ready to fly from his thickly gloved hand.
'I called him Wallop because in his first season he knocked down 47 partridges but only caught seven of them,' Mr Hollidge said. Wallop is a male peregrine, known as a tiercel, which is smaller than the female.
Two prize pointers, Wizzer and Gero, raced ahead as the party trudged across the rough, water- logged moor. The dogs bounded through the heather, working together in search of grouse. Suddenly Wizzer froze, edged forward and froze again with tail sticking straight out.
'We have a point,' Mr Hollidge said. Somewhere a few yards ahead of Wizzer, a grouse was hiding in the heather. He untied the falcon, removed its leather hood and launched it into the air from his outstretched arm.
The tiercel made a couple of low passes over the dog and then circled to gain height, making a tinkling sound from a little bell attached to its leg.
As the falcon gained height, Mr Hollidge made a detour to approach the grouse from the opposite side to the dog, upwind. When the peregrine reached about 150 to 200 feet, high enough for its dive, Mr Hollidge ran forward to raise the grouse. It broke cover, flying low, but before it had gone more than about 10 yards the tiercel hit it. The grouse recovered momentarily but Wallop went after it and pulled it down.
'The grouse always flies off upwind,' Mr Frank said. 'The wind speed is lower close to the ground, so by keeping low and flying upwind the grouse has a chance to get away.
'We try to flush the grouse when the falcon is on the upwind section of its circle - that gives it the best chance.'
The hunting party caught up with Wallop in a small hollow where it was standing on the grouse. It had ripped off the bird's head and was eating its brain.
'They like the brain and eye best,' Mr Frank said. 'After they have eaten that they pluck the bird completely before gorging themselves.'
Mr Hollidge took a dead one- day-old chick, the staple diet of captive falcons, from his bag and deftly put it under Wallop's beak. As the bird began to eat, he put a tie around its leg to secure it and removed the grouse, putting it in his game pouch. After hooding the falcon, the party moved off in search of more grouse.
The bag for the day was six grouse, a very modest number compared with what might be expected from a day's shooting.
'It was a difficult day for the dogs and falcons because there was no wind,' Mr Frank said. 'The dogs had difficulty picking up the scent and the falcons had to work hard to gain height. But each bird has taken at least one grouse so we've done well.'
Photographs: Dillon Bryden
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Two PAs cleared of fraud - and Nigella Lawson left reeling at 'ridiculous sideshow' of drug allegations and public dissection of her marriage to Charles Saatchi
Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
Paul Walker's daughter Meadow attends Justin Bieber Believe premiere
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >
£59999 - £80001 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: A Top 10 firm in ...
£50000 - £75000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Harrington Starr: Project Manage...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Year 5 Teacher - Gilli...
£60000 - £90000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Harrington Starr: Business Analy...