Take a Walk with the Hawks

Five o’clock, we’re told, outside the courtyard.
Looking up, I expected to see them soaring above our heads, instead a neo-gothic manor house dominated the horizon. Red Ivy crawled up the grey stone like charms on a bracelet as soaring towers graced the skyline in elegance and grandeur. Gargoyles strategically perched, looked down upon the emerald green lawn, dotted with bright red rose bushes, adding yet another ruby charm to the bracelet.
My family and I, vacationing at the Adare Manor in Limerick County Ireland, had 840acres of estate to roam. My husband determined to explore a portion of that acreage, booked a “hawk walk” which took place on the grounds of the stately manor.
At the courtyard, four raptors were queued before us; two Harris Hawks, one Ferruginous Hawk and a strapping white Turkmanian Eagle Owl. I looked at my husband, as I felt the hairs on my arm spike in reaction to their considerable size as well as their majestic presence. With plumage perfectly aligned and delicately patterned like the lace on a doily, the hawks sported horizontal wisps of beige at the edges of their russet plume and shades of rust covered their bellies. Their tails were uniformly black, except for the white tips. Each feather was like a puzzle piece, each piece interlocking, to form a harbor from the elements.
Rosie, the trainer, positioned my thick-gloved hand across my chest and placed a tiny piece of chicken between my thumb and forefinger.
“What if he misses? I envisioned my face clawed by the menacing talons.
Smiling, she said, “Mel won’t miss. Just relax. He’s not after you, he’s after what you’re holding.”
Poised to take his prey, I tensed, anticipating the looming flight. Smooth and precise in his approach, thin tapered wings enabled him to fly lightning fast and change direction rapidly with the precision of a fighter jet. The ethereal Falcon snatched his treat and was back to where he started in seconds.
Following a path through the estate, two of the Harris Hawks joined us on our “Hawk Walk,” while the others rested in their cages.
“That’s Alfie, and over there is Jake,” Rosie pointed towards the tops of the trees. I squinted to see Jake keeping a watchful eye on us, while Alfie let out a few screams as if to say, “Let’s get going.” As we walk, they stay back, only to give us a surprise, skimming the tops of our heads as they made their way to the head of the path. They appeared to be engaging us in a game; how close you can come to a human head without touching and how loud can you make them squeal in delight?
. “Look out, here they come,” my daughter would yell as we lifted our cameras, feeling the breeze of their flight over our heads. It was a game for us too, as we tried to anticipate their departure to get an in-flight photo or video. Oftentimes, Alfie would give us a warning scream, while, Jake sat up in the tree and watched Alfie’s antics, giving him a haughty look whenever he did something showy.
“Here, take this,” Rosie instructed my son, “and run.” With a tether and a tiny piece of chicken at the end, my son took off. Spotting his prey, Jake dove like a diver in a pool, capturing his dinner and covering it with his wings, keeping it from his counterpart.
To our surprise, Jake later swooped down into the brush and was rustling with some creature for a good five minutes until he was pulled out by his handler. In his sharp talons, a rat, which the trainer took away. Like a spoiled child, he decided to ignore us, mad his prize was seized. Minutes later we saw him hopping down the path before us like a rabbit on an afternoon stroll. We were told since he is a rescue, he uses the fact that he had a broken leg to his advantage and will often hop to get sympathy or an easy meal. Now that’s one smart bird!
We ended our walk in awe of the highly social behaviors and distinct personalities of the hawks. They are as grand as the manor house by which they fly.
Our walk with the hawks indeed proved to be my most memorable travel encounter.

S Ruyack

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