So more photos I think. First of all, to reassure all readers that merlins are not simply fluffy toys:
Gaaah! Oh well. This is pigeon, my first jack merlin. In the hot summer of 1994 he slept on a shelf-perch in my bedroom in a shared student house in Cambridge.
One summer night I woke with a start. I was used to merlin noises at night (preening, delicate nose-scratching with one talon, sleepy feather-rousing). But I wasn't hearing merlin-noises now. I sat up. And saw a man rummaging around in a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor.
"Sorry, but what are you doing?" I said.
"Um, getting my trousers" he said, starting slightly.
"What?" I was confused. I didn't know this man, and it seemed unlikely that his trousers would have been...oh, hang on! The penny dropped as he fled from the room. A burglar! Here! In my room! And then all I could think was: he might have stolen the merlin! This was unlikely, I admit. But it seemed a plausible threat at the time. My blood was up! How dare he! And so...I leapt out of bed and chased him from the house. Poor sod, I don't think he'd expected that. Nor did I. The Victim Support man who came over the following day was most concerned.
"Are you ok?" he said.
"Fine" I said. "It was bizarre. Really surreal, and I didn't....I mean, it was....funny. No, really, it was funny".
"But you could have been hurt!" he said, shocked.
I had to make him a cup of tea.
Another old photo: Erin, Niels and Pete in Maine. We're squirrel-hawking with Pete's redtail. She was a solid, passage four-year old female, a pale white-throated Eastern bird with a sleek ivory chest and wingtips that didn't quite reach the tip of her mahogany tail. Pete thought she must have eaten many squirrels before he trapped her on migration; she'd often seek out dreys while hawking; offhandedly pull them apart. That day, she caught her squirrel, eventually, after a high-adrenaline flight between tall trees, our necks craned up into the blank silver sky, squinting as our eyes filled with snow and bark-dust. She stooped from the top of a tall maple and picked her squirrel off the near-vertical trunk of an adjacent tree. ‘Picked’ may be the wrong word. There was no delicacy in this; just precision and immense force. And then she sat there, eating her tough old squirrel as the snow continued to fall.
September 10, 2001, Wyoming, balloon-training a two year old gyrkin called Dooberry, owned by my old friend and colleague Regan. I'm holding him out at near arm's length and laughing my head off because — weeelll, Regan has ... very short hair. Dooberry had never been flown by someone with long hair. So rather than concentrate on the landscape out there: the lure, the balloon, the distant birds, he kept turning his head upside down, half-closing his eyes, and grabbing hold of my hair with his beak. He was absolutely delighted. Regan wasn't.
Brilliant. 1947. How many ways is this wrong?