Raptors take to the skies above Topaz | RecordCourier.com

Raptors take to the skies above Topaz

by Caryn Haller
Marten Benatar of Brown Valley, Calif., places a northern goshawk on a perch at the Topaz Lodge on Thursday during the meeting of the Falconers from Nevada, the California Hawk Club and the North American Falconers Association.
Shannon Litz | The Record-Courier

To some, falconry is a hobby, but for Master Falconer Morgan Campbell, 46, it’s a lifestyle.

“We get to have a front row seat watching these birds do what they do in the wild,” the Petaluma, Calif., resident said. “For me it’s one of the ways of relieving the stress from the everyday world. I enjoy the action of chasing the birds and the game.”

Hundreds of falconers from the United States, Wales and the Czech Republic converged on Topaz Lodge today and Saturday for their annual meet.

Campbell said he became interested in falconry as a child reading about medieval times and the sport of kings.

“I wanted to be a falconer really bad,” he said. “I was desperate to do anything with raptors.”

He received his first red-tailed hawk as an apprentice in 1991 after passing an exam and being sponsored by a master falconer.

Since then Campbell has trained 14 falcons to hunt jack rabbit, pheasant, ducks and sage grouse. It takes one to six months to train a raptor.

“First, they learn to eat from our fist, then jump to the fist and then fly to the fist,” he said. “When they’re doing that we can release them. And if the training’s done right, they keep coming back to us.”

Campbell added that it’s not uncommon for the bird to not return since they are taken from the wild to begin with.

“We get attached to our birds, but their sole attraction to us is food. They are wild animals,” he said. “A parrot will show affection, but raptors do not do that.”

In order to either catch a raptor in the wild, buy one or to practice falconry,a person must be licensed by the state.

After serving two years as an apprentice, the falconer can move up to general falconer, and after seven additional years he can move up to master falconer.

“Most birds I catch in the wild, and after a few years I let them back into the wild,” Campbell said. “There’s an amazing feeling working with a wild animal when it’s doing what its does naturally. I’ve done archery hunting and shotgun hunting, and there’s nothing like this.”

General falconer Civon Gewelber, 30, brought her female Peruvian Aplomado from Las Vegas to the meet.

“We do green pest control. We take a group of Aplomados to orchards and vineyards and chase pest birds away,” she said. “Rather than the farmers using poison, the falconers come out. As long as the small birds are hiding from the falcons, they’re not eating the crop.”

Gewelber became an apprentice at age 14 and received her general falconer license at age 18. She works as a dentist during the year, but takes summers off to work full-time with her falcon.

“It takes a lot of work, but if you work hard enough, you get the reward,” she said. “If I do my job right, she can do her job, and it’s good teamwork.”

Smith Valley falconer Frank Ely organized this year’s meet. This is the third time the California Hawking Club and North American Falconers Association has met at Topaz.

“Falconry is an old sport, over 5,000 years old,” he said. “We’re hunters. We’re not just carrying them around on our shoulder.”

Gardnerville resident and Carson Valley Photo Club member Jackie Gorton took advantage of the opportunity to get up close to the dozens of falcons, hawks, eagles and owls perched in the fenced-in weathering yard at Topaz Lodge.

“Their eyes are so intense. I’m drawn to them,” she said. “What an awesome opportunity to get this close to them. You’re not going to get this in the field. I can’t stop taking pictures.”

The meet wraps up Saturday night with a banquet.

For more information, visit http://www.n-a-f-a.com.