The absolute pinnacle of the sport of falconry is to fly a Peregrine falcon. I have, over the years, flown every species of bird flown in the UK except Eagles, and while every bird has its place, nothing compares with the Peregrine. In my early years, the bird was only available from the wild, and only those with money and position could hope to obtain one. I was 35 years old before I saw a real-life Peregrine, even then they were still outside my remit.
In the 1980s the law changed and birds could no longer be wild taken, which encouraged captive breeding. In 1984 with 48 years of experience of flying birds of prey, I obtained my first Peregrine. He was 4 months old and as wild as a hawk could be. I spent weeks, steadying him and training (manning) until the day came when I felt he was ready, took of his mews jesses, swivel and leash, raised my arm and with my heart beating like a bass drum, opened my hand and let him go free. He was now free to go or stay, and he chose to stay. He circled me, gaining height waiting for me to swing the lure with its reward attached, and after two or three passes I brought him down – realising I had been holding my breath most of the time.
I flew ‘Midnight’ for 17 years, always a joy. He would climb out of sight, disappear behind a 1,000 acre wood and come roaring back to race past me encouraging me to swing his lure when he was ready. He lost an eye aged seven, and I thought he would never fly again, but he did – and caught jackdaws regularly. The quarry, important to him, was of no interest to me. My everlasting joy was to just stand and watch this wonderful creature, given his freedom, yet choose to return to me.
By Graham Wellstead.