Today was an exciting day on many levels. I woke up and looked outside my kitchen window to find that I had accidentally left Atlas in the weathering station the whole night. I beat myself up over it a little bit, but I realized that this wasn’t so much different from him spending a night in the wild and I trusted the safety of my weathering station, so I knew that nothing bad would happen to him in all likelihood. I spent the morning setting up what is known as the creance so that I would be able to train him in the afternoon. A creance is simply an extra-long leash that gets attached to the bird on one end and to some sort of heavy weight on the other; this allows the falconer to train the bird to return the fist over a long distance without the bird actually being completely free.
The traditional setup for the creance is to take the bird into an open space with a perch, attach the creance to the bird and to a weight, and start calling the bird from increasingly far distances. However, my backyard is fairly narrow surrounded by many trees, and since I lacked the capabilities to move the bird to a field, my sponsor recommended that I run some paracord through a welded ring and tie it between two trees, almost like a clothesline, and tie more paracord onto the ring and put a clip on the end, so that the bird could be attached to this and would still have enough slack to stand on the ground, just in case he refused to land on my fist. His concern was that if I let out enough slack in the creance, the bird would be able to get up into one of the trees in my backyard and get tangled, possibly hanging upside down, and become stuck or seriously injured.
I didn’t have enough material to complete this at the time, so I decided that I would set up the creance the standard way and I would make sure not to let out too much slack. I had come up with a new perch design for use during creance training, which involved taking an old pitch-back I had lying around, wrapping some astroturf around the top, and securing it with duct tape. I ended up tying one end of the creance to this perch and securing the other to Atlas’ leg.
The training went incredibly well. I would cut a small piece of quail meat and put it on my fist, turn to him, and call him both verbally and with a whistle. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, calling him at this point in the training means nothing to him, but eventually he would learn to associate my calls with food, and then later on I would be able to call him verbally. The only reason he was coming to me now was because he could see the food on my glove. This was reason enough for him, though, and after 20 minutes or so he was flying about 50 feet across my yard to my fist.
I didn’t have enough quail meat to continue training, so I ran up on my deck to grab some more. 30 seconds after I got up onto my deck, I heard his bells and I turned around to find that he had flown up into a tree. I grabbed the quail and ran down into the yard, calling him and waving the quail in the air. My sponsor had warned me that if a bird gets a little bit high up and they start to feel the wind and the sun, they get euphoric and refuse to come down, especially when they are not trained. He kept climbing higher in the tree, wrapping the creance around as he went. I was starting to get nervous and I was trying to call him back down the way he had come. At one point he tried to move higher and ran out of slack, causing him to dangle upside down over a branch. I went into a complete panic and started screaming and trying to scramble up the tree, which conveniently had no branches low enough for me to grab onto. Atlas was able to get back up and stay standing, which was incredibly lucky; if he hadn’t he would have been dead in a few minutes.
My family started calling everyone they knew to see if anyone had a ladder tall enough to get the bird out of the tree. One friend had a 40 foot ladder, so my dad sped over to their house to get it. I had already called my sponsor and he was on the way from Southampton, but we were losing light by the minute. It was already about 12 minutes away from dark. My sponsor arrived and we got the ladder set up, but it didn’t quite reach the bird. My sponsor went right up the ladder and climbed the extra 15 or 20 feet up the tree, I cut the creance from the ground, he grabbed the bird and wrapped his feet up with the extra creance, put the bird into his jacket, and climbed back down. He got down with the bird all in one piece and we put Atlas away in the mews.
Needless to say, I was beyond ashamed and embarrassed about the whole mess. My sponsor had specifically warned me about the potential dangers I faced and gave me a perfect solution to the problem, but I had chosen to ignore him out of laziness and eagerness to start training. The most important lesson I learned from this whole experience is ALWAYS listen to your sponsor. ALWAYS. Falconry is one of those subtle arts where there are 100 ways do do the same thing, and no matter what you’ve read of heard from someone else, or if you think you’ve come up with a foolproof way to do something, your sponsor knows just as well, if not better, and he will be able to explain things to you better than a book. Especially if your sponsor is like mine and has been a falconer for over 20 years. I would never make the mistake of not taking his advice and ever again.