Having just finished touring Kylemore, we jumped back in the car and headed down R336 for Ashford Castle, home of Ireland's School of Falconry. I can't wait, this is gonna be as cool as the Guinness Tour.

Our lesson in falconry began with an introduction to the birds. The birds we'd be taking on our hawk walk would be a pair of Harris hawks. Most falconry is performed with Harris hawks because they are the only raptors that will share and hunt together. Below you see the weight chart and scales used to determine which birds are flight-worthy. You have to make sure your bird is not over or underweight because this determines their attitude when you take them hunting. A heavy bird will tend to feel satisfied and less inclined to hunt for you. An underweight falcon may be too anxious and less mindful of their training.

Our guide was very knowledgeable about all the different types of raptors as Ashford. Brandy enjoyed talking with her about the different birds that we'd be using, especially the owls. Here I am getting "fitted" for one of our Harris Hawks.

After some more instruction we headed out to the woods for a hawk walk. Our guide had a pouch of chicken parts to help train the birds along the way. Here you can see Brandy casting the bird off to hunt.

It is very exciting casting off and retrieving your bird. Our birds had bells tied to their feet in order for us to find them in the thick woods. Without the ring of the bells it is impossible to find the birds with their great camouflage. The Harris hawk's maneuverability among the thick trees and underbrush is an amazing site to behold.

We walked through the woods for about a half an hour without success. I guess all the rodents and small mammals were on vacation. So we headed back to swap out our Harris hawks for an owl. Before that our guide gave us a demonstration of how a Harris hawk hunts large game like a rabbit. The training doll is pulled along the ground by our instructor while the hawk waits to be cast off for the kill.

You'll notice that the hawk has a foot on the head, to prevent biting injuries if this had been a real rabbit. You'll also notice the bird has its wings spread to "hide" the prey while it is completing the kill. This keeps other predators near by from knowing what has happened while she is on the ground and vulnerable.

Next we moved on to the owl. This was rather unnerving, as the owl is much larger than the Harris hawks we were familiar with.

Our experience with the owl was limited only to retrieving after our guide cast him off. It is amazing to watch a huge bird flying at you. At first you brace yourself thinking it will weigh about 15 pounds.

But all that tense apprehension ends with a light touch on your glove, without so much as a sound. The owl's feathers are so soft they are deadly quiet in flight. Good for the owl, bad for rodents.

But all good things must come to an end, so we said good bye to the raptors and wandered the grounds of the castle for a bit. Tomorrow we visit the Cliffs of Moher and get to spend the night in Glin Castle.


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