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FLY ME-IF YOU DARE
Clive Gammon
January 17, 1972
Brimstone, an evil-looking hawk eagle with blazing eyes, turned out to be a feathered joke compared to a feisty six-ounce kestrel that drew lots of blood—all of it the author's
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January 17, 1972

Fly Me-if You Dare

Brimstone, an evil-looking hawk eagle with blazing eyes, turned out to be a feathered joke compared to a feisty six-ounce kestrel that drew lots of blood—all of it the author's

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With Brimstone extended on Glasier's wrist like the warhead of our striking force, we walked a quarter mile to an oak coppice giving onto a hedge of holly trees in berry with a dry ditch below them. "Pheasant," Glasier said authoritatively. "They'll be sticking tight in cover. So first we will release Brimstone to find an ambush point. Then we will put the dog in." He raised his arm, and the big tawny hawk eagle flapped off making noises like Santa Claus' sleigh until it found the long bare arm of an oak to settle on. The German bird dog, snuffling and wagging its hindquarters violently, crashed into the dead leaves of the ditch. It poked about, came back to the field, dived in again. Then it reappeared, dancing excitedly on its hind legs, and came to a point, foreleg raised classically. Glasier made a noise like "Gerrim!" and a cock pheasant in all his autumn glory came clattering out of the ditch and started to tower directly below Brimstone's branch.

This time I watched. Brimstone did nothing. Nothing at all. He stayed on his branch gazing peevishly at the horizon, then made a lazy swoop to another bough. "The coming of the shotgun," I said to Terry, quoting from Glasier's notes, "made the falcon obsolete." Roger came running up. He had got the reluctant ferrets back. "Have I missed anything?" he panted. No, I told him, he had missed nothing.

But he was in time to see Glasier enduring a frustrating quarter of an hour luring Brimstone back to the fist. He sighed as the big bird hoisted himself up again. "We'll try the rabbits again," he said.

This time the warren was out in open ground—hillocky, short-cropped grassland that by its unevenness might have been the remains of an Iron Age fort. It was riddled with rabbit holes like a Gruy�re cheese, but there was no bramble cover and the nearest hedge was 300 yards away. Ritually, the ferrets went in. Ritually, we prepared to wait. But this time there was immediate action, with the same prelude as before. As the rabbit bolted, Brimstone swooped in a jangle of bells. He missed, gained height and struck again. The rabbit wasn't there anymore, having darted to the left.

But it was still running for its life, three wing beats from destruction, and I saw Betty grab her Brian's arm. Then bird and rabbit were both out of sight, and we had to race to the top of a rise to get them in view again. The pursuit was still on, but incredulously we realized that, going uphill, the rabbit was gaining ground, its gallant little white scut wiggling furiously while the great wing beats of Brimstone seemed to get heavier and heavier. Suddenly it was no longer the Moment of Truth. It was Tom and Jerry as the hedge got nearer, and with an impudent flash of white, Jerry disappeared.

"Oh, the clever little darling,' " Betty said. And she wasn't talking about Brimstone, who was now in his favorite position: up a tree, avoiding our eyes.

"A fine flight," I said to Glasier. Whatever else might be said against falconry, it was now clear to me that the wildlife of Gloucestershire was in very little danger from it.

He gave me a slightly weary look. "We weren't aiming to fill the larder, you know," he said reproachfully.

With Brimstone recovered, and the evening coming on, we fell in step for the walk back to the cars. Glasier was in front still, but now he had an eager companion.

Roger, I reckoned, was signing on for Course No. 18.

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