This blog started as Operation Desert Dove. Those of you who read LIFT will understand why. My first foray into flying falcons was with a Merlin and what I wanted was to hunt doves. I didn’t know a whole lot about pursuing this possibility, but I gave it my all. My merlin, Anza, did indeed catch a dove. Once. And as I approached, slowly, my glee carefully harnessed, the dove slipped from the falcon’s feet leaving her with a foot-full of feathers and a near-tantrum.
I decided I would have a better chance with a peregrine. I did have a better chance, but you also have a better chance of winning the lottery if you buy two tickets instead of one. Watching Anakin chase doves was the most beautiful breathtaking race I had ever witnessed all the same. He knocked them down. They got back up. In fact, we never actually caught a dove. We switched to ducks.
I buy an upland game stamp every year anyway. It could happen one of these days. It could. What can I say? I believe in miracles. I also believe that bad things happen sometimes and you can’t always stop them.
On Friday night at 2AM, someone busted the driver’s side window to my truck and broke in. My truck is parked 20 feet from my bedroom window, which was open and I heard the glass break, but half-asleep, didn’t put it together. There wasn’t a whole lot to steal– a couple of small things tucked away in my center console. My Maglite in the glove box. The hawkbox and the small tackle box with all my transmitters, bells, clips and emergency equipment making tools behind the driver’s seat.
They took the tackle box.
I put it all together when I heard the door to the truck close. But by the time I jumped out of bed and ran outside, they were running down the street.
I suppose I should have taken the tackle box inside, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s gone. There were bits and pieces in that box that had been with me for 16 years now and they won’t be replaceable. Whoever stolen them, won’t even be able to sell them. They are simply lost.
And I won’t fly a bird without telemetry. So I can’t fly the hawk until I replace it. Talk about ruining your weekend. I was crushed. I had decided I would not name this Cooper’s hawk until he had caught game on his own. I would let him name himself and was certain that this would happen any day now, any next night. Tonight! But now it wouldn’t happen until I had a transmitter again.
Then this afternoon I heard a ruckus in the weathering yard and came running. The Coops and the peregrine aren’t exactly friendly and I worry about this. I expected to find something disastrous. To my surprise, the commotion was all about the hawk mantling over a meal. Dirt clod? Stink bug? No.
It was a mourning dove.
Mostly plucked, but a dove all the same. Thank goodness I have my upland game stamp.
After recovering from the shock of something so seemingly impossible, I became a falconer again. I grabbed the lure, garnished it and stepped my bird off for meal on the glove. He had broken in and had essentially cleaned the dove, feathers and entrails gone, the breast intact. In my mind, this was my reward, my earnings, a neatly cleaned dove breast. At last, I would have dove for at the very least an appetizer.
I called my friend Holly to tell her why I couldn’ t take her out hunting with me and to ask the best way to cook a dove. Then I followed her partner/superstar game chef Hank Shaw’s recipe as close as could, but stuffed the dove with rosemary, the only bright fresh spice I had. I served it on a bed of spinach and shared with the neighbors next door. I had never eaten dove and wanted to see my joy mirrored in another face and I wanted to tell the story of the hawk who found a way. My neighbors and I and their two very young sons nibbled on dove and grinned.
The falconry gods are hooligans.
They fly you high and drop you, pleased when you break into so many pieces on stone cliff bottoms and crawl away. The pull pranks and laugh in the moments when you are too brazen and bold, believing you are beyond bad luck. They punish you, providing long streaks of bad hunting when you forget game in your vest and become wasteful.
But the falconry gods are touched with humanity, I think, and have a great deal of clout. So every now and then, when the cards are stacks horrendously against you, they cut a deal with nature and give you a gift. They throw a dove in the weathering yard for a young hawk to catch. If you’re smart, you accept with stunned grace and say “thank you.”
And maybe you find yourself with a hawk named Irony.