With extremely limited numbers of Passage Falcons being taken under licence once again in The States for the purposes of falconry, a whole raft of interest has surfaced amongst falconers new and old regarding them. Up until approximately forty years or so then certainly the flying of a passage falcon, as opposed to an eyass, would have been a far more likely prospect for a European falconer. With the dramatic drop in wild populations of raptors across the globe then sensibly legislation came in to severely restrict access to wild populations and the focus, certainly for the majority of the falconry community across the globe, shifted to the domestic production of raptors. As methods and techniques became honed and success was gradually brought about the legislative powers decided that in many countries falconry could be self sustaining in terms of its supply of hawks for sport. Therefore the passage falcon gradually became something modern falconers tended to read about as opposed to something they actually handled and flew.
Just to make things perfectly clear lets firstly deal with exactly what is a passage falcon? Just as older falconers and falconry works bestow the name falcon in its unexpanded state purely to the Peregrine Falcon then the same is true of passage falcons. The passager is only the Peregrine Falcon taken on its first passage, that is its first migration. So any conversation referring to a passage falcon automatically refers to the female peregrine, any other species needs to be quantified for clarity, ie passage Saker Falcon, passage Gyr Falcon.
Passage falcons had always been held in very high esteem by falconers throughout the world and in European falconry of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century they were considered the essential basic material for quality sport. As is very well documented elsewhere a whole community in Holland more or less revolved around the trapping and in some cases the training of passage falcons. Don’t for one minute think that this trade helped the community to muddle through by providing an additional income. The revenue brought into the community from falconry and its related trades made the community itself one of the healthiest, in financial terms, in the whole of Northern Europe. I am of course referring to Valkenswaard, the small town that is close to Eindhoven in the Brabant region of Holland.
Whenever Valkenswaard is mentioned the Mollen family name springs to mind. For several generations this family was at the forefront in the trapping of passage falcons, making falconry equipment and supplying falconers to the royal courts when required. But several other families from Valkenswaard were equally active in the same field with the Pells and the Botts being principal amongst them. What finally killed off Valkenswaard and its reliance on falconry was the Great War of 1914 to 1918. Although it would be fair to say trade related to falconry had been in decline for quite a number of years. As large hawking establishments closed and royal courts sought their sport in other directions falconry waned somewhat in its popularity and accordingly the demand for passage falcons in absolutely perfect condition declined. In fact for the last few years of its direct association with falconry it was The Old Hawking Club that kept the trade alive with its annual order of eight or so passage falcons plus the occasional tiercel and another three or four falcons ordered on behalf of private gentlemen.
How the falcons were actually trapped at Valkenswaard was indeed a very complicated and drawn out process and has been described adequately in many books over the years. But for those with an interest in the method and the history surrounding the connection between Valkenswaard and European falconry then I would suggest you pay a visit to the museum of culture in Valkenswaard which will more than repay the effort involved. It is a simply fascinating place to any falconer and filled with relics and artefacts relating to the various families that took part in the trade and also falconry equipment from a bygone era.
As was stated many of the falcons taken at Valkenswaard were delivered into the hands of the Old hawking Club and its club falconer of the time. Many of these passage hawks went on to become quite famous on their own merit, falcons such as Sultan, De Ruyter, Bull Dog, Elsa and many others. Sultan and De Ruyter were originally taken for The Loo Hawking Club but quite quickly passed into the possession of Mr. Edward Newcombe of Feltwell Norfolk, one of the most gifted falconers of the nineteenth century. He flew these two passage falcons in a cast and was very successful with them at the exceedingly demanding flight at Heron. In fact in eighteen forty-three this cast took fifty-four Herons and in the following year took fifty-seven Herons. Before the start of each Heron hawking season the two falcons would be flown separately at rooks to get them fit. Unfortunately the cast was eventually broken up when De Ruyter was lost flying rooks at Feltwell.
Another passage falcon taken in the nets at Valkenswaard in eighteen forty-three was Bulldog an exceptional falcon that flew Herons on her own and was noted for rarely taking more than three stoops to bring any Heron to the ground.
Elsa was a passage falcon that came into the hands of The Old Hawking Club and was entered to rooks in eighteen eighty-six and killed the highest score that season and for the next two when compared to any other hawk in the team. She was also entered to and flown at grouse in the autumn as was eventually lost flying them in Caithness in eighteen ninety-one.
Modern falconers have also flown passage falcons and shown tremendous sport with them. Two passage falcons that would probably spring to the mind of many falconers would be The Pro, flown by Britain’s Geoffrey Pollard and Godzilla flown by Martin Guzman in Mexico. The Pro was originally taken in Pakistan and through the offices of Jeffrey Anderson was flown to Britain in nineteen sixty as a present for Mike Woodford. At the time Mike didn’t have the right facilities to fly the falcon concerned and passed her onto Geoffrey Pollard. In the hands of this highly accomplished falconer The Pro went on to become an excellent grouse hawk and took one hundred and forty one grouse over the next six seasons. Unfortunately she was eventually lost up on the moors of Caithness in nineteen sixty-six.
Godzilla was a passage anatum Peregrine taken in the region of Aguascalientes, Mexico. She was entered to duck and spent the next twelve seasons single handedly trying to eradicate the migrating duck population that over wintered in Central Mexico. I have had the privilege of seeing this falcon fly many times over several seasons and on almost a daily basis have seen her knock down two ducks out of a single flush. She would knock one to the ground stone dead with the initial stoop and then throw up, wheel over and either knock down or bind to a second duck. On more than one occasion I have seen her take three ducks out of a single flush. She will knock down two in the manner already mentioned and then if any ducks try and return to the body of water they were flushed from she will throw up for a second time and stoop again as a raft of ducks heads back for the water. She is happy taking all species of duck which will range from the smaller Cinnamon and Blue winged Teal through to large and challenging Pintails and Mexican Corn ducks.
Being flown over stock ponds on cattle ranches in the heat of the Mexican sun Godzilla would reach incredible heights when waiting on. Although she would pump up to get into position she would also use the thermals to her advantage and frequently speck out to the naked eye. However in her thirteenth season a characteristic within Godzilla suddenly changed and she started to fly at check. Not occasionally but quite literally every time she was flown. She would leave the fist and start to mount nicely over the pond and then all of a sudden put in a long shallow stoop and would eventually be picked up a mile or two away on a crow or raven. To try and combat this, the ducks were flushed earlier and earlier in an attempt to re-focus her on them, but this strategy was to no avail. Accordingly one day when she had been tracked down on yet another raven she had her telemetry and anklets removed as she filled her crop and was left to finish her meal and then go her own way.
To train a passage falcon takes a different path and mind set to that required to train an eyass. In a future edition of the magazine we will go into the training of a passage falcon in detail.