SAFA annual field meet

At the annual field meet, on arrival, each and every falconer has to sign an ethical falconry document. This document ensures that the falconer practices safe and ethical falconry.

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“I am the eagle I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky I am the hawk and there’s blood on my feathers
But time is still turning they soon will be dry
And all of those who see me, all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly
Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops
Sail over the canyons and up to the stars
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
And all that we can be and not what we are” John Denver
Last week, 1 – 7 July, saw the annual South African Falconry Association’s (SAFA) field meet close to Villiers. SAFA was formed in 1990 and defines falconry as: “The art of hunting, in a natural environment, wild quarry with trained hawks.” What is SAFA? SAFA is an organisation of provincial clubs that monitor falconry activities throughout South Africa.
Falconry has a rich history that dates back as far as 1700 BC, which has been almost 4000 years. Falconry is more than just training and flying a bird free. One has to become an apprentice over a certain time period to acquire the necessary skill to take on the responsibility to obtain a permit to own your own bird. The relationship between bird and man takes years of training and trust to ensure that the bird always knows that it is the most integral part of the team.
The most important thing to remember is that falconers use birds to hunt. The exhilaration one sees in a falconer’s face when he’s bird catches its prey is indescribable. The bird, whether it is an eagle, falcon or hawk, does what it was born to do naturally.
At the annual field meet, on arrival, each and every falconer has to sign an ethical falconry document. This document ensures that the falconer practices safe and ethical falconry. The falconer has to ensure, by signing this document, the wellbeing of the birds, dogs and the quarry. Should a falconer not honour this contract there are disciplinary procedures.
During the week, falconers took to the gravel roads to find the best flying grounds. In the Highveld grasslands the falconers had a variety of game and birds to choose from. The early, cold mornings were braved as this was the best time to hunt because of the crisp air. Even though the mist was thick, the falconer knew where his/her bird was flying. With the help of man’s best friend (hunting dogs) to find, point and flush out the prey, the falconer was the conductor composing an opera.
The dogs would find and point and with a single command flush out the prey. The falcon or eagle would be soaring high above and stoop down to the same command the dog was given to flush the prey. In mere seconds the opera was over and the outcome would either be a success or not. The bird would then have the joy to feast on its prey, but if the hunt was unsuccessful had the security of the falconer feeding it.
The bird, dog and falconer returned to the lodge and the birds were perched. Sat on their perches in the sun, the birds had an opportunity to bath (weathering) in their water bowls.
On Friday night, 5 July, there was a gala dinner. The farmers, whose land the falconers flew on, joined and were thanked for their generosity to let the falconers fly on their land. The evening also included a raffle and an auction of falconry items. The evening was more about the reuniting of old friends with a shared passion for the ancient art of falconry.
The long week of early morning hunting came to an end with old friends saying goodbye and some new friends made.
– Ané Prinsloo

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