Interview with Bryonie Wildsmith
When did you first realise you wanted to work with birds of prey, and why?
I've always had an obsession with birds of all kinds since I was very young, inculsive of but not in particular raptors. My first real interest in birds of prey started when my next door neighbour moved in with a sparrowhawk x goshawk, an American kestrel, and a harris hawk. He came round to introduce himself to us and told us he had some birds of prey (namely in case we were concerned with noise, as his spar x gos was a slightly vocal imprint). I was interested in his mention of raptors and falconry from the off, but being invited round to see them, and seeing his spar x gos tethered to a bow perch on the lawn for the first time really and truly gripped me.
I pestered my mum into buying my first falconry book Hawking And Falconry For Beginners by Adrian Hallgarth a few days later. I read it avidly, and became certain that falconry was for me. It's really the perfect relationship with a bird, for me; a purposeful and productive partnership which is exactly what I had always wanted with a bird, something behind just keeping and breeding them (like I had done with poultry and passerines up to that point). I also loved the idea of hunting and fieldsports, so being able to link that with my love of birds was perfect to me.
What birds do you currently fly? Why did you choose your particular birds?
I currently fly three harris hawks (two males and a female), and a peregrine x saker tiercel. I choose my harris's for their versatility, suitability to catching the quarry I have available, and also I like their more social nature and arguably enhanced teamwork abilities.
I chose my Pere x saker as I wanted to fly a falcon and especially to fly one to the lure - I enjoy that immensely. I also wanted a bird to fly in the summer but not for hunting purposes, whilst my other hawks are moulting.
When did your interest in hoodmaking start? How long have you been hoodmaking now?
My interest in hoodmaking (and all equipment making) started almost as soon as finding out hawks wore them. I always wanted to make all my own equipment and although I realised (rather fortunately) that my early attempts where not of a suitable standard to use on a bird, I loved making it and experimented at length before and after getting my first bird.
My interest in hoodmaking in particular started in earnest with reading about the process involved in Jack Mavrogordato's A Hawk For The Bush, which has a section in (written itself by Jim Nelson) devoted to making the traditional Indian and Anglo-Indian hoods. I made my first hoods when I was eleven years old as I far as I can recall, and have been making them for six years now.
What advice would you have for someone starting in hoodmaking?
Practise, practise, practise, practise. It takes determination, skill (which is largely learned with me, not innate), and no small amount of passion for the craft I think. But is 100% worth doing if you set out to do it right and achieve the highest quality product you can, whether you are intending to make hoods solely for your own use or for others too.
It probably won't be easy for you at first so stick at it. You might hate it at times but if it's for you you'll always love it more. Respect your fellow artisans and help each other where you can too. There are some amazing people in hoodmaking who have helped and continue to help and inspire me constantly. I certainly wouldn't be where I am today without their advice and support.
Also always use good quality natural vegetable tanned leather when you are making hoods, even if it is only for practise, the hood can only be a good as your skill and the leather it is made of, so if you can get the latter right you're a way towards to getting there.
What is the most important thing that working with birds of prey has taught you?
Working with raptors has taught me so very many things which have shaped who I am, but perhaps most of all it has taught me to respect life and death for what they actually are rather than what humans often anthropomorphise them to be. I don't know quite how to explain that more clearly I'm afraid.
Also they have taught me how delicate the balance of everything is in nature, and how out of tune with it some people are becoming, which strikes me as rather saddening and quite concerning.
Falconry seems to bring everything together, in a way.
Is there a particular bird you would like to work with in the future? Why?
I would like to hunt with a female sparrowhawk and a peregrine falcon at some point in the future, there are lots of wonderful birds (and especially new hybrids) which interest me tremendously but these two in particular as they are native to the UK and have such spectacular hunting styles.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to add a huge thank you to everyone I know in the falconry world who upholds the standards of our sport admirably, hunts or flies these amazing birds and inspires others to do the same, just for being who they are and doing what they do; in times where falconry and its birds are seen to be mistreated or abused rather too often, it restores my faith tremendously to see you all standing up for falconry and upholding its values. Keep hawking!
Also another huge thank you to my wonderful birds, who put up with me, give me so pleasure and teach me so much every year I that spend with them!
You can see more of Bryonie's work here:
Raven Mews Raptors
FB - RMR falconry supplies