Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Trip From New York: The British School of Falconry in Manchester, VT

I wanted to do something a little different for my birthday this year and decided to try a falconry lesson at The British School of Falconry, associated with Equinox Resort in Manchester, VT (about a 1.5 hour drive from Albany). There was not much information about it online (other than a bunch of positive TripAdvisor reviews), but we went for it anyway.
We arrived around 1pm, signed some waivers, and followed our instructor, Jay into the barn. He introduced us to the hawks we would be working with - Monty (above - my bird), Haggis, and Billings. Remember, falconry refers to the sport (using birds of prey to catch game); many birds of prey will not work with people they don't know. Jay explained that Harris Hawks are very social birds that are willing to work with strangers (for food), making them ideal birds for this scenario. Well, expect for Mr.D's bird, Haggis, who does not like women.
The first big surprise I had was in the weight of the birds, with the male birds weighing under two pounds and the female under three. As a matter of fact, weight and diet is very strictly controlled in order to get the birds to work. A hungry bird will keep coming back for bits of meat; a full bird will go hang out in a tree and ignore you.
Jay worked with each of us individually to teach us how to send the bird away from our glove and then call him back. It was just amazing to see Monty glide back to my glove.
After we all practiced these basics, our birds went back into the barn, Jay loaded two new birds, Wallace and Skye, into the truck and we drove up to Hildene (the Robert Todd Lincoln estate) for a hawk walk.
We spent some time walking through the trails at Hildene* (protip: if you have waterproof sneakers, wear them), letting the hawks follow us, search for prey (with Jay running off to make sure they didn't get said prey once), and periodically called them to our gloves.
It was such a unique experience to work with the birds and I appreciated so much being instructed by someone who obviously loves what they do. Everyone I spoke to in booking the lesson (and worrying about the rain...the indoor lesson in the barn would not have been as much fun, so try to get an outdoor one) and during our lesson was genuinely nice and made the lesson and walk everything I hoped it would be. There are even opportunities to return during hunting season and take the birds hunting; I can honestly say this is the first time in my life I've even considered hunting. If you have enjoyed birds of prey demonstrations before (it's our favorite part of the Scottish Games at the Altamont Fairgrounds every year), do yourself a favor and check out the British School of Falconry.

*While you're in town, do check out Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln. There's an ├ćeolian pipe organ in the house that is VERY cool (and if you talk to the guide in the house, they will play a recording through the pipes - you don't want to miss that), beautiful gardens, and a 1903 Pullman palace railroad car (Robert Todd Lincoln was President of Pullman). There's even a goat/dairy farm, though the rain kept us from being too keen on visiting the goats.

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