Tuesday, July 2, 2013

J,L&H pt 2 (aka the braiding!)

So braiding...

Like I said, I hated tying that damn turks head knot, so I was pretty hesitant to try anything braided.  Now, I know how to braid hair in the normal 3 strand fashion, and I can even fake my way through a French braid (though it does not look pretty), but it seems that most of the braiding done in falconry starts at 4 strands.

Something to keep in mind - I had a cast on my right (dominate) hand for most of this...

One thing I learned right away is that EVERYONE has their opinion on what make the 'best' falconry equipment.  For leather it was pretty straightforward, everyone said kangaroo... for braided synthetics, however, the crowd is quite mixed in opinion.  Lots of people are using magibraid, spectra, nylon, dacron, paracord innards (the stuff you take out when making other paracord things), fishing line, kite line, mason line... the list goes on.  Once you start doing a little research it turns out that a lot of those things are the same.  I think people find something that works and stick with that thing... so even if you tell them that they can get braided dacron cheaper than their kite line, and it's the EXACT same thing, you'll never get them to agree to change.
Fl. = fluorescent!!! Totally my kinda thing :)

I went with some 130 pound rated braided dacron planer board tow line from a fishing retailer on Amazon.  It comes in two super bright colors and didn't cause me to invest a small fortune in my braiding adventure.

The first braid I attempted was the 4 strand round braid.  I doubled up each strand so I was really working with 8, that way I could separate into two strands of 4 when I needed to make loops in the leash/jess/extender.  I got the hang of it pretty quickly, but I was never able to keep the tension as tight as the leashes I had ordered (which were also 4 strand round braids).  Eventually I gave up on the round braid because my fingers were hurting and they weren't looking very pretty.

Next up, 4 strand flat braid!!  Again, I used 8 strands so I could divide for loops in the equipment.  This braid looks very nice (similar to the normal 3 strand braid), and it's faster to do, but it's MUCH looser for me than the round braid, so it was also checked off the list...

I did put braiding aside for a couple of weeks while I still had my cast on, and in that time I was able to visit my sponsor and saw that he had braided some leashes of his own.  His were much, much more tightly braided than mine, which led to me to blaming the cast and lack of function in my right hand - I am, as we know, THAT competitive.

When I finally got the cast off I decided to give braiding another shot.  I started with the round braid again, and still hated how it came out;  loose and ugly.  I went on to the flat braid and was able to make a leash that was 100 times better than my original attempt, but I still wasn't convinced that it was tight enough to trust around a raptor's talons.  I don't want anything attempting to tangle up on a talon because I'd like to avoid untangling those feet of death as much as possible... and I already know there will be times that it can't be avoided.

After searching the internets to see what everyone else was doing - cuz hey... if they're doing it, and selling their products, they must be doing something right!  I stumbled upon a poster that mentioned how he ONLY used the 8 strand braid in his equipment because it is the "finest braid that can be used in falconry equipment today."

Finest braid you say??? ... but ... 8 strands you say? Hmm.

After wasting some time sulking on Facebook, and then some more time wasted searching for other possible solutions, I finally returned to my favorite braiding tutorial website.  Now, normally for things like this I prefer videos, but the explanations on this particular site just jive with me.  Also, once you realize what kind of slings he's braiding (the kind meant for throwing rocks at the head of giants), the site makes a LOT more sense.

My 8 strand square braid attempts went quickly, and to my surprise, they were really easy!!!  I still have to be cautious when I set down a project, but I've learned that a simple slip knot can really save the day when it comes to pausing.  

So that's it.  I've made a few things with the 8 strand braid (using the 4 strand flat braid when I have to separate), and  I'm really happy with how it's going.  Here are a couple of photos - forgive the crappy cell phone pictures... also, fluorescent is pretty difficult to photograph!!! 

As you can see, my transition from 4 strand braid back to 8 strand isn't that smooth... yet... still working on that!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jesses, leashes and hoods... oh my!

As I was saying yesterday, the 'fun' part of my apprenticeship (so far) has been making the various pieces of equipment. I like to craft and learn new things, so it makes a lot of sense that I'd be totally into all of this craziness. Now, in case you are thinking of taking up falconry (which means you're a little bit crazy in the head), I should probably warn you that the crafting aspect is a huge money sink. Unless you're an avid leatherworker, or you practice macramé or other knot tying, it's pretty doubtful that you'll have a lot of the materials, tools and other accoutrements on hand.

For some reason the hood was the very first thing I decided I was going to make. I read all about how difficult they are to make correctly, but I was determined that I would beat the odds and somehow make some super fabulous, perfect fitting head piece for my hawk-to-be. I started with the Indian hood (though I'm still confused because I thought it was the Anglo-Indian hood...), which I was told is the easiest to make. There's even a really neat pattern generator based on a mathematic formula that someone came up with! I would assume the person's name was Slijper... since I think the formula is called Slijper's Cannon.... but then again I have no idea, so that might be TOTALLY WRONG!!!! Back to the hood - basically you pick the size you want (usually determined by measuring the bird), enter it in the software and print out the resulting pattern. From there it's a matter of tracing the pattern onto the leather and then sewing up the two side seams... honestly, I don't want to get into 'how' to make the hood, but if you're really that curious check out this tutorial.
My hoods came out like most of the pictures... but they just don't thrill me.

There's also no way of knowing if any of the hoods I've made are functional because they have to fit a bird, and I have no bird to "play dress up" with!!! The worst part of the hood making, for me anyway, was the top knot. I just wanted to leave it off because I think they kinda look goofy, but there is actually a function to the knot and it makes sense. You use it to help grip and position the hood when you're putting it on the bird... and since you're holding the bird in/on your left hand, you only really have one hand to work with. So... I googled how to do this blasted turk's head knot, and I was terrible at it. I've since sworn off hood making. For now...

That whole turks head knot thing really made me angry, so I avoided all of the equipment that had the word "braiding" in it. Next up I tried my hand at paracord jesses and leashes!!! What's a jess? Technically it's the combination of the anklet that goes around the birds leg (tarsus... fancy falconry word) and the leather strap that passes through the grommet in the anklet that you hold on to. I kind of tend to think of the anklet as it's own thing and the jess as the leather strap that you hold on to - remember this is NOT a lesson in falconry, so if I tell you something that's absolutely wrong, it's your own fault for believing it! Paracord jesses.... they seem so easy!! You cut the ends off, pull the stuffing out then pass one end through the other to form a miniature lasso looking thing. My first attempt actually went quite well, and the second one was a little more difficult, but still WAY easier than that stupid turks head knot. I decided to make a leash; might as well have a matching set, right?!? That leash and I ... we were not friends. I swore at that thing, threw it, yelled some more at it, stomped on it... and it never did become a leash. I tried EVERY trick I found online and could never get that damn paracord to go through itself for 4 feet. BOO PARACORD LEASH!!! BOO!!!

Then I gave up. For a while anyway... 

At some point I went ahead and ordered some kangaroo leather so I could make traditional leather equipment - the leather I got for the hood making is English kip, and not really used for jesses anymore. Kangaroo is a lot tougher and at the same time more flexible, which helps to get it through the grommet hole with one hand, but kangaroo is not cheap! As I was ordering the roo leather, I also added a couple of leashes, some swivels, grommets, grommet punch, grommet setting pliers, a glove, and leather strap cutter to my cart. It was not a cheap shopping experience.

Side note - I will say that I feel pretty lucky because one of the people I had the pleasure of talking to
when I was searching for a sponsor actually runs one of the largest falconry supply websites, and he and his business are located here in PDX!!! His prices are great and very competitive, and his customer service is top notch :) Ok... enough of the endorsement, but I really enjoy Mike and his company, so I think it's well deserved.

 And now, back to equipment talks! So I got all of the stuff in the mail, and I started cutting out leather straps for jesses and anklets. I'm super happy with how the jesses came out (as you can see in my blog title photo!!!!), but I think I need to make the anklets wider. Once I was able to complete a set of satisfactory jesses with slits I tried to figure out how to attach them to the swivel... the only way I could figure out to do it would have me passing the hawk through a tinyish ring on the swivel... obviously I'm not a magician so that cannot happen! A little bit of googling later and I managed to get the swivel on the jesses, and get one of the leashes attached to that all while holding the jesses in my gloved left hand leaving me with only my right hand. Then I looked over at the other leash I ordered... some fancy 'fox' leash (also named after a person I think.) I could figure out what the button was all about, and even how to button it back onto itself, but once again I couldn't figure out how to use the hole at the bottom of the leash. It's meant to attach to a perch, but again you'd have to pass the hawk through it to secure it, so it seemed... google time again!!!!! After reading a tutorial and looking at a page that did a little walk through, it all finally made sense, and I was left feeling amazed that someone came up with this system!!!

So, now that I was in love with the fox leash, I wanted more of them in different lengths, but there really aren't that many place that offer falconry equipment; turns out there's really no Walmart for falconry because there aren't that many falconers. I thought for a minute about custom ordering some leashes, but that seemed to get really spendy really fast. Braiding is about the only reliable option for making these leashes.... but do I have to?? 

... to be continued!!!!! (Mauahahahahahaha)

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Test!!! duh duh duhhhhh.... (<--- that's dramatic music)

I mentioned before that getting into falconry is a bit of a challenge.  First you have to find someone willing to take you on as an apprentice for 2 years, they don't get paid, PLUS they do have real jobs, lives, families, and their own falconry obsession.  I was really lucky to meet several falconers pretty quickly, and each of the falconers I met seemed to have a crazy important role in the falconry community, which was pretty cool!!!  Even though everyone I met seemed to say  "You are going to make a great falconer and wonderful apprentice!!! ...but I don't have time for you" I was lucky enough to find my sponsor through that network of people and I can honestly say, I think he's a pretty cool guy :)

Once you have your sponsor, you have to pass an exam.  Now, I typically don't stress about things like exams, but I did want to ensure that I passed.  I spent a LOT of money on books and read every single one of them cover to cover - no joke, I even read the foreword and dedication.  Some of the books that I thought (or was told) contained the most information relevant to the test were re-read several times.  There is one book in particular that everyone tells you is the holy bible when it comes to the falconry exam; The California Hawking Club Apprentice Study Guide.

There it is... see the ruffled edges?  That's how you know I studied that thing!

Now... here's the thing... I don't live in California buuuuuuut,  I've been told that the California test, and their laws, and everything else they do regarding falconry helps to set the standard for federal law and other states tests because they're so big and more strict than most states.  Remember how I said that this book is the holy bible to the falconry exam?  Well, everyone tells you the guide will ensure that you pass the test... yeah, that's not really true.  I studied that book SO hard I could probably tell you what pages certain questions are on!!! Now, I read no less than 15 books on falconry, studied this magnificent website called The Modern Apprentice, and also downloaded around 10 falconry study guides on this cool app called Quizlet, and I still wasn't sure that I had passed when I walked out of that room.  Actually, I was CERTAIN I didn't pass and kinda threw a fit about it in the parking lot...  I will say that the test I took was probably written circa 1970, and did not look to be updated at all.  In fact, the copy of the test I took was so worn there were places that some words were actually hard to read.

If you want my advice (... I  know I said this wasn't going to be some sort of information ridden blog with helpful tips... but... come on), and I'm pretty sure you do, I would say to read as much as you can. Don't skip things that you don't think you should know, including birds NOT used in falconry, and common diseases in other animals.  I'm telling you, if they had asked me the proper way to fix the bobber thingy in the back of the toilet I wouldn't have been shocked;  there was so much on there that didn't seem to relate to falconry as I understood it.

Then I got this e-mail:

As you can see, I did pass the test, but I didn't pass it with a perfect score like I wanted to.  I don't have to take it again, and some of the information I crammed in my brain isn't worth retaining (... or at least that's what I've been told... we will see how much of that is true later...), so I guess I should stop whining about it.

I started this post intending for it to be about all the cool stuff I've been making, but obviously I got sidetracked because... stuff.   Hopefully my next post will be about some of the equipment, cuz that's the part that's keeping me occupied until I have my bird!!!!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Name...

So... "What The Hawk?!"

I choose the name of the blog because it's kind of funny, at least to me.  I also chose it because that's the general attitude I run into when I tell people of my interest in becoming a falconer.  Most people either have no idea what it means to be involved in falconry, or they have several misconceptions.  Some of my most favorite things to hear are:

"So... you're just gonna walk around with a bird on your arm?  Like a pirate?"
"Can you train it to get you a beer?"
"What if it pecks your eyes out?"

The list goes on and on... and on...

No, I won't be just 'walking around' with it on my arm like a pirate;  don't pirates carry parrots on their shoulders anyway?  It won't get me a beer, thought I do admit that would be kind of cool... and there's really very little chance that it will peck my eyes out;  raptors don't really peck at food, their beaks are designed for tearing at flesh - and I really don't intend on allowing that to happen to my eyes.

Merriam-Webster defines falconry as:
"1: the art of training hawks to hunt in cooperation with a person
2: the sport of hunting with hawks"

The dictionary tells me that falconry is an art and a sport, and I believe it!  I also tend to believe long-time falconers when they tell me it consumes your life, thus becoming your lifestyle.

So why?  Why do I want to do this?  Why now?

I've been interested in falconry since I read the book My Side Of The Mountain.  It's been a really long time since I read it (about 25 years), but my shoddy memory tells me it's about a boy who runs away from home to live in the woods.  He finds a hollowed out redwood tree, learns to forage for edible plants, teaches himself to fish, and, most importantly, finds a peregrine falcon to hunt with.  The main theme of that book has been in my brain for a long time, especially the part about the falcon.

Believe it or not, I spent a good majority of my time as a child in Michigan playing outside.  I explored the woods behind my grandmothers house any time I could... making forts out of fallen trees and vines, dragging my brother on 'adventures', and pretending I knew something about wild plants.  (Ok 'woods' might be an exaggeration... it was more like a plot of trees in a suburban neighborhood that was actually quite small, but as a child it seemed like a forest to me!)  I never did run into a peregrine falcon, or at least not that I know of, and even if I had there's NO way my mother would have ever let me keep it!!!  I think I once tried to bring home an injured bird and she made me take it back to where I found it... and I don't think I was even the one to find it...

Anyway, fast forward a couple of decades and here we are.  I hadn't forgotten about falconry, but I guess I just assumed that it was an ancient sport no one actually practiced anymore.  Now that people don't 'have' to hunt for food, why would they, and wouldn't using a gun be a more advantageous method if they did?  I don't know exactly what I was watching (probably some cooking show), but I saw a falconer on television, and decided to google falconry.  Google, of course, didn't exist when I was a child or my obsession may have taken off MUCH earlier than now.  Turns out, people do still practice falconry, though it's still not a very large portion of the North American population.

After a little more research, and finding out what it takes to be a falconer, I admit that I was a bit turned off.  You have to pass an exam, build a building to house the hawk (that has to also pass an inspection), find a general or master falconer willing to donate 2 YEARS of their time to sponsor you, get numerous licenses, trap a wild bird, and then the hawk isn't going to even like you?!?!?  ...  and did I mention most of the hunting season is in the winter?  Who likes to be outside in the winter???

That feeling of 'ugh who would do this?' lasted for about 30 seconds.  I realized really quickly that my passion for this art/sport/lifestyle outweighs all of the things that most people would see as big negatives.  Sure it's a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of effort, and a lot of other things, but everything about it thrills me :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Welcome to my new falconry blog!

So, here we are again.

 If you read my last blog, I know what you're thinking:
"He didn't even make it through the last blog!" 
... and you're absolutely right.  It turns out that there's just not that much to blog about once the craziness of public transportation becomes your daily routine.  If you've not yet been introduced to my mediocre blogging skills; then welcome!

I want to say a few things about what this blog is, isn't, and may or may not be.

This is NOT a "how to" blog - there are plenty of great resources on falconry and this is not intended to be one of those resources.  (If you'd like, I'd be thrilled to give you some links to fantastic resources!!)

This IS my attempt at letting you come along as I make mistakes, learn new things, and indulge in a passion of mine.

This may be good, it may not.  I may post everyday, I may not post for a month.  It may be super picture intensive, I may not ever remember to take a picture.  It will be a fun mystery for us all!

I have a lot of expectations for my upcoming years as an apprentice falconer, and yet, I feel like I have only a small clue of what they will actually be like.  I know there will be moments of frustration because things will not go perfectly.  I know there will be times that things are really gross, or really dirty, or I'm just plain over it.  I also know that there's no telling what a wild animal will do, but I can, with the help of my fantastic sponsor, do my best to anticipate those actions!  I also hope that you can learn a little bit about what it takes to become a falconer as I work my butt off to become one.  (... I feel like I jinxed myself just now, so knock on wood, or throw salt at a wound ... or something!!!)

Please be patient with my crappy grammar, the weird looking background picture, and my strange writing style... I PROMISE the next blog post will be way more fun!