It's The Little Things...
For the last 18 years I have been working with raptors as a full time career. For many of those years I have fuelled my obsession with falconry alongside my day job and I don't plan on stopping any time soon.
Throughout that time I have met and flown with some truly inspirational people and most importantly delved into their knowledge as a falconer or working with raptors in various forms. Over the last 3 summers I have hunted falcons from horses in my role as Head Falconer for the Northumberland Crow Falcons. It is difficult to describe with words the sense of euphoria when putting complete trust in a horse at full speed whilst following a hunting falcon.
Putting on the traditional green coat and sliding into the saddle is like stepping back in time. All that said, my form of falconry isn't about going back in time, it's about balancing an ancient art alongside the modern world. Truth is that tucked away in the pocket of my traditional green coat is an iPhone equipped with the latest GPS tracking system!
I feel privileged to live at a time where modern technology and materials are easily available to me. Modern tech is vital and enhances falconry for me personally. It has even improved the safety, care and of course welfare of my hawks. Small details such as making the transition from leather jesses to braided ones and replacing my "button leash" with a "Fox leash" reduces the risks that I fear could become reality.
Telemetry is vital for any raptor, both in zoological collections, for falconry and for the hobbyist keeper. We rely on both radio and GPS tracking systems to find a wayward raptor or to keep up with flights in the field. We can also use the data a GPS system provides us to carefully analyse each second of a flying raptor and aim to achieve optimum levels of fitness during structured training and conditioning sessions. I fit a transmitter to a hawk on the creance simply because I ask myself the question "what if..." constantly.
I'm even inclined to weather hawks with an active tag on a low update setting. Advances in falconry tech now enables us to fit the smallest transmitter to the tiniest of deck feathers and has little or no impact on the flying styles of the smallest hawks. I'm sure for many of us the benefits of bells still ring true, but for many the use of GPS tags make the time honoured noble bell redundant. Is it sad that traditional equipment could no longer be required?
One can really let the creative juices flow when combining training and flying sessions with modern day tech. I have found that simply displaying the live feed from AeroVision in flying demonstrations can engage an audience on a whole new level as well as equipping me with a greater understanding of the hawks in my care.
Whilst a drone can ground our winged machines at Heathrow to a standstill, the use of drones, RC wings and RoPrey have great advantages as training aids in falconry. The unpredictability of predator and prey in the wild is a matter of life and death. Using these robotic aids can create a finely tuned winged athlete equipped with phenomenal skill sets and confidence to match. These can have obvious benefits to the wellbeing of captive raptors but they can also be applied to the rehabilitation of wild raptors too.
The appliance of science has helped catapult falconers into the forefront of raptor conservation throughout history and today. State of the art incubators, hatchers and brooders have enabled us humans to understand the world of birds on a whole new level and enable us to protect and save critically endangered species. Technology has blessed us with incredible advances and progress within avian medicine too. I'm proud to know many falconers who are avian specialist vets and I am sure I'm not alone in applauding them for their hard work. Falconers should have an organic passion for all raptors and their roles within ecosystems. Falconry allows me to connect with the wild natural world and by doing so ultimately makes me want to protect it too.
My passion for falconry and raptors makes me strive towards providing the best possible standards and welfare for the hawks in my care. This often partners with the latest and most efficient technology and materials. I must admit that there are some things that I just can't bring myself to change digitally, such as weight charts (I do have digital scales) and my hawking diaries.
I certainly don't want to see my collection of falconry books change to ebooks! The balance between the time-honoured art of falconry and technology is delicate and one that I personally feel must be managed. I try to keep my phone in my pocket unless it's essential to take it out. Whilst I do upload images of my adventures and experiences online, I'm also aware that the whole world does not share my passion.
Armed with the latest technology I'm confident falconers will continue to assist and often lead the way in raptor conservation, education, rehabilitation and research.