Experts hold falconer seminar

Fairbanks students learn how hunters work with falcons

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2006

FAIRBANKS - Some Fairbanks students got a close-up look at falconer skills during a weekend seminar outside the Alaska Bird Observatory.

At an open field behind the observatory, Tricia Blake tossed a pigeon into the air as a goshawk took off from falconer Nate Bickford's gloved arm on Saturday.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey, ho," Bickford yelled.

The goshawk - named Valkry - reached the pigeon, but the pigeon managed to speed up and pull away.

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Six youths had sloshed through swampy terrain to watch the action during the birds of prey seminar led by Blake, the bird observatory's education coordinator.

"I think it's pretty cool, the birds and the hunting," said fourth-grader Mason Streh.

To get the 3-month-old goshawk to return, Bickford swung a rope that held a piece of quail tied to some leather.

"Gloves are important because she has very, very sharp talons," Bickford said, "even when she's not squeezing."

Later, as a reward for Valkry, Blake tossed out another pigeon. This time the goshawk easily captured the pigeon, which was surrounded by trees.

Valkry also hunted rabbit, with the help of two dogs - an 18-month-old Airedale terrier named Arwyn and a 5-year-old Tibetan mastiff called Pandora.

The goshawk perched on the highest tree and watched the dogs wander through brush.

"She knows the dogs push rabbits," Bickford said.

Bickford said he got the goshawk after plucking her from her nest in a birch tree near the community of Clear early this summer. A friend had been keeping an eye on the nest.

A day or two after the baby goshawk was taken, the nest burned in a forest fire.

Bickford, 32, is one of about 50 falconers in Alaska, he said. He has pursued the ancient art for seven years.

"A friend took me hunting once. That's all it took," he said. "Before we had guns or anything else, falcons and hawks are what got the common man food."

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