5 December 1997

In praise of the hawk all around the world

BOB Dalton is one of the countrys most experienced falconers, and 30 years of falconry in more than 20 countries has meant some wonderful experiences to reflect upon.

His book* tells many of these stories. Whether struggling through a blizzard in Scotland, or baking in the heat of the Arabian desert, his tales are enthusiastically described.

The format is not chronological but each chapter relates to a species of hawk or falcon and his adventures with them. A lot of information is here that a novice could find very useful: For instance by comparing the flying qualities and potential of, say, a red-headed merlin with a red-naped shaheen, or, perhaps, between a goshawk and a peregrine falcon. The relationship between the falconer and the bird, however, goes even deeper than this, and each bird reveals its own character and idiosyncracy.

Bob managed to forge a career in falconry. One chapter is devoted to his contracts with the United States Air Force to keep the bases clear of birds which might collide with aircraft with potentially tragic consequences. Another des-cribes his use of falcons and hawks to protect vineyards in Austria from millions of starlings.

Of course, with falconry there is so often a third member of the team: The dog. Apart from the many ongoing references to dogs, there is a chapter devoted to Emma and Evie, Bobs pointers.

This is no textbook, but it does not try to be. The falconry connoisseur may learn little new but would still regard it as a fascinating bedside book. The beginner would certainly glean more from it. Hints and tips abound and there are constant reminders that success comes only from unfaltering patience, and the need to consider the needs of your avian ally before your own. There is a very useful glossary of falconry terms, and some superb colour photographs of different species as well as many of the hybrids – the female gyr/saker falcon is exquisite.JT

*Falconry Reflections by Bob Dalton, Farming Press (£16.95). Available from Farmers Weekly Offers, PO Box 261, Slough SL2 3RU. Add £1.95 post and packing.