Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back in Nepal!

We're back in Nepal and man does it feel good. Summer in Spain was interesting, a success in many ways but didn't quite make the grade in many others, still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We had some great flights with Heckle, I think we showed a different side to the Harris Hawk, pushed them in a different direction to the one that they are often in. I certainly haven't seen Harris Hawks taken up to the heights that we were flying them at. Their versatility still astounds me, but remember, getting them flying like this is not a walk in the park and certainly not a part time activity. Heckle is now being rested at her winter camp, the fabulous Cim D'Aligues bird of prey center near Barcelona and Jeckle has been passed onto a new owner where he'll be used for hunting and educational work.

The best bit about this summer was that we got to spend some quality time with Talo, I feel blessed that we were in a situation that I was able to be around him the whole time, not missing a moment of his early development. He's now a toddler with a cheeky two teeth grin, how time flies. He'll be a walkie talkie soon and I'll be running around after him which won't be so bad, the exercise will do me good as I'm still carrying a bit of extra summer weight :) I blame the Tapas and paella.

Nepal is, well as we say here, same same but different. The birds look fantastic after their moult, we now have two shinny white Egyptian Vultures, albeit still a little on the fat side. But slowly slowly their weights are coming down and their fitness levels going up. Bob was flown free for the first time today so he'll be the first to fly with the gliders in about a weeks time. Kevin, like me is still carrying some excess fat, but he's happy to be in training and looking better every day.

The Paragliding industry here is going through some major changes, there are about 14 paragliding companies operating now. New rules and regulations are being made daily, pilot numbers per company are being restricted to prevent over crowding, which in some ways is a good thing but more companies keep coming so it kind of defeats the object. As for Parahawking, well we have to find a way to comply with the new rules and regs and fit in where we can, new challenges are ahead. We have the busiest season coming up, more bookings than ever before which means that we can donate more money to Vulture Conservation projects. Our goal this year is to raise 5000€ from Parahawking flights and other means, wish us luck. We'll be reporting on the progress of the vulture safe zone project that Parahawking has been supporting the last couple of years to see where and how the money has been spent.

Exciting times are ahead, new projects, new ideas, new team members, new feathers, new shoes. Onwards and upwards!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Falling behind on the blog already, doh!

It's all go, 7 Parahawking bookings over the weekend and one less big toe nail (see previous post on toe nail). Needless to say we've been a bit busy but I'm definitely not complaining (see previous post on moaning). We're up and running, with Heckle at least, I've thrown together a little video of some of the action but this in no way does Heckle's aerial skills justice. I've trained a fair few Harris Hawks over the years but I've yet to see one that flies like this. She's quite simply incredible, if you don't believe me, you'll have to come and see for yourself. She's definitely a star in the making which sadly the same can't be said for little Jeckle, at least at the moment. But don't despair, one should never give up, he was good once, he can be great again!

I'm starting to wonder if I've started a bit of trend where Paraglider pilots think they can just pick up a Harris Hawk and train it to fly with them. Sadly I can see it happening and it makes me think long and hard about what we are doing. I'd hate for this to become some kind of circus performance where little thought is given to the welfare of the birds and where the passengers are simply offered a joyride with a difference and not educated about the importance of raptor conservation. For me, Parahawking has ALWAYS been about much more than that. In addition to the financial contributions we make towards Vulture conservation projects in Nepal, Parahawking provides a unique insight into these birds inflight behaviour from a completely unique perspective. At the very least, our passengers should come away with a renewed respect for these birds, they should want to learn more about them and the problems they face in the wild and how we can all help to protect them, not just a new Facebook profile picture. I hope we're achieving that, I'm sure we can do more and I promise we will.

If you're a PG pilot and you're thinking about getting a Harris Hawk to fly with you, please think long and hard before you do. We're not part time pilots or bird trainers, this is our life, full time, every hour, every day for nearly 30 years. Please read my post "A Cautionary Note" on the Parahawking website for more on this subject.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nice bit of local press

No writing from me today, thought this would be interesting for anyone who can read German.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back to basics but still moving forward

Whilst things are still moving in the right direction, we've had a minor setback with Jeckle. After a slight brush with the Paraglider lines during training the other day, he's now become quite fearful of the gliders. He'll fly after us, follow us but turn away at the very last minute when we call him to come and land. At first we thought it might be because of the tandem and it's size but he also reacts in the same way when I fly him solo which was surprising.

All is not lost, it just means that we have to go back to basics and help him regain his confidence around the gliders. It's worth noting though that we don't force them to do anything they don't want to do, all we can do is encourage certain behaviour. If he feels that it's simply not worth the risk then he's unlikely to overcome his fear and we'll accept that. This is no different than their behaviour as a trained hunting bird or even in the wild for that matter. For example, a bird that has had a wresting match with a hare and come off worse, is likely to never want to attempt to catch a hare again. These are the challenges when training birds of prey, if this was easy, there would be more people doing it.

Heckle on the other hand is improving steadily, she flies well with the gliders, too well in fact. She loves it so much it's become difficult to get her back down to the ground when there are still gliders in the air. For now we've isolated some areas of her training that need some fine tuning but it's fun and rewarding watching her develop and progress nonetheless.

Summer started late here in Alicante, the changeable weather has not made it easy. Up until now we've been unable to get a good run of conditions where it's been suitable to train and fly the birds daily, which I believe is the key to our success in Nepal. That's all about to change though, I sensed it in the air yesterday evening after a couple of beautiful tandem flights at the coastal site of Cabo de Santa Pola.

This place is really starting to grow on me, we've been welcomed with open arms by everybody we've met. Nick, Kath and their son Paco who run Doyouwanna Paragliding Service have become our Spanish family and have extended every possible welcome to which we can't thank them enough. The local pilots on the hill are warm and friendly and are full of praise and best wishes for our success, a refreshing attitude! I hope we don't let them down.

For now, we may go to the beach and introduce Talo to the Mediterranean. We'll return for a siesta then wait for the refreshing sea breeze to kick in before heading off to the hills. Life is good!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Off Ground Touch!

Grrr! Sometimes when everything is going really well, there's always something to piss on your chips as we say. It's at times like this I feel like having a right good moan up. In fact I will and I won't feel bad about it either. Don't let others make you feel guilty when you have a bit of a moan, after all, It's easy for them to have opinions on your gripe isn't it? I say as long as you don't make a habit of it then it's fine once in a while. The key things to a successful moan are: a) find the right person to moan to, not anybody will accept your moan, steer clear of sensitive people, they'll think you're having a go at them. If you can't find anyone to moan to then try a solo moan, it's not as effective but relieves the pressure a little bit. b) accept that the moan is not the answer to the problem, it's nothing more than a vent of your anger or frustration. c) try not to moan in the company of strangers, or the inlaws, there's a small chance you could look like a bit of a tit, this is not a problem if you couldn't give a toss what other people thought of you. d) Know when to stop, excessive moaning could potentially lead to a reputation as a "moaner".  I don't think I've mastered the art yet but I'm working on it as Anita will sometimes testify, bless her.

You can probably tell that I want to get one or two things off my chest. You're right but I'm not going into detail as I don't feel we know each other well enough just yet, other than the fact that it involves our idyllic life in Nepal, a certain Neighbor building a three story concrete house right in front of our lovely little mud hut, then placing a stinking buffalo shed directly outside our front door. Oops have I said too much? When you work hard to live in paradise then problems start outweighing the benefits, if it stops being paradise, where do you draw the line and move on?

On the plus side, we have some exciting news about a certain film, sadly however I'm unable to share that with you at the moment. I know what you're thinking, so far this Blog is rubbish, a bit of moaning, a teaser and no real juicy bits. Sorry about that, the moaning has stopped and the juice will flow all in good time.

Things are going great in Spain. I'm now a fully legal registered Falconer with the Falconry Association of Alicante, who I must say have been amazingly supportive of our plans. In some countries, the traditions of falconry as a field sport are quite heavily protected by the clubs, associations and the falconers themselves, and quite rightly so, after all, it's a pastime that dates back several thousand years and which should be part of our heritage. However, It's all well and good keeping traditions alive but it's also important to recognise the modern day nuances of the sport. It's the different practices and activities that are linked to falconry such as flying displays, presentations, captive breeding etc that all help to promote the sport in a positive light and help protect it's traditions, if done in the right way of course. So it's refreshing to have the support from the local Spanish Falconry association, they understood the concept of Parahawking and how it has raised awareness and money for vulture conservation in Nepal and are hopeful that we can do the same here in Spain.

Heckle and Jeckle are now coming to the end of the test flight phase and are ready to do some commercial Parahawking tandems, remember we have mouths to feed. We've had some successful flights at Cabo, the local coastal soaring site which will hopefully be the main site for our Parahawking tandems over the summer. Today we took a bit of a gamble and went inland to El Cid in the hope that we could do a couple of nice long 700m top to bottoms with the birds. Unfortunately we got there a bit late and the thermals were already kicking in, great for flying but not quite for what we had in mind. Although it was blowing a bit, we decided to try Jeckle with Nick on his maiden Parahawking flight. It wasn't the easiest conditions but after a bumpy ride Nick and Jeckle both landed together at the bottom. I decided not to fly Heckle, it was getting a bit strong for her, It's good to be ambitious but it's smart to know your limits.

Last week a friend of mine Steve posted on his Facebook that he had been playing Off Ground Touch with his kids. It made me laugh and reminded me of simpler times when all you had to worry about in life was not being tagged whilst your feet were on the ground, or you would be "it". Essentially, you couldn't be "it" if your feet were off the ground. If you did get caught out and you were "it" then you had to pass it on to someone else whilst their feet were still on the ground. If you grew up in the UK then you know the rules. I hope to be playing this game with Talo when he's older.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Facebook Parahawking Drawing Competition

I love kids drawings, completely innocent and pure, no pretense, just straight from the imagination to the paper.

This wonderful drawing by Juliane Huaulme inspired me to hold a drawing competition and hopefully raise a little bit of money for vulture conservation.

There are some great prizes including a FREE Parahawking Tandem Flight and Parahawking T-shirts.

Full details can be found here - Facebook Parahawking Drawing Competition

Please spread the word to as many people as possible.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

High expectations, what do you expect?

Yesterday, whilst Anita and I were preparing to put a tail mount on Heckle's newly hard penned deck feather, I stubbed my big toe. This wasn't any old run of the mill stubbing, this was full speed walking with flip flops into a concrete step. I'm sure the nail flipped all the back, I was doubled up in agony. I was carrying Heckle at the time, in fact she was being cast so I couldn't even do that thing where you hold your toe in the hope it alleviates some of the pain. I just had to suck it up, take it like a man, In fact I would have to say that this was the most pain I've felt in a long time, maybe even ever. Ok a touch of the man flu syndrome, but it REALLY hurt. The toenail is now blue and getting darker by the hour, I'd say it's a gonna for sure.

Today, whilst preparing all of our equipment for Heckle and Jeckle's inaugural Parahawking flights at Cabo de Santa Pola today; being really careful not to inflict any more damage to my poor big toe, I gently flicked off my flip flips, reached down to slip a pre-rolled sock onto my left foot, then put my back out. I don't know what I've done but it hurts to breath, not at the moment though as I'm all jacked up on Nurofen Plus. Anyway, I was about to fly Kathy Pollet on her first ever Parahawking flight and Jeckle's first Parahawking flight at our new base in Alicante, Spain. It wasn't looking good, I could barely walk, talk or breath, let alone fly a tandem. And whats more, the wind was on the light side. I had a feeling that this wasn't going to be a gentle float along the beautiful sun kissed cliffs with the turquoise Mediterranean shimmering in the background, this was going to be a workout, I was a broken man, this is just what I needed!

I set the bar pretty high when it comes to training and flying birds, I expect the best, all the time, anything short of that generally isn't quite good enough. This has come from having amazing Parahawking flights in Nepal for the last 10 years, where nowadays things seldom go wrong. I've now  had Heckel and Jeckle in re-training for just 2 weeks, with a few set backs due to the weather, it's not been a straight run. Today we flew with Jeckle, he was ready, but we just wasn't, we had a plan but it was difficult to execute due to the light winds. We still had a nice flight, nothing went wrong, in fact in retrospect he did pretty well, everything that was asked of him really. Jeckle came into the glove once during the flight then returned to Anita on the takeoff when he was called, In fact some might say a perfect training flight, new site, new wing, new people, new feathers, new everything, what did I expect? We didn't end up flying Heckle, the winds were dropping off so we'll try her tomorrow. I hope Kathy enjoyed the flight.

I'm praying my back feels better tomorrow and that I don't randomly walk into any other inanimate objects left foot forward. Why does that always happen? A series of mini stubs follows the big stub always on the same toe, like aftershocks reminding you of your clumsiness... and they hurt almost as much as the original stub.

Onwards an upwards, this is just the beginning!