Brian Morris & his daughter Caroline, Grouse counting with Irish Setters Marty (Lusca Celtic Boy) and pups, Morse (Bownard Boffin) and Miller (Bownard Benny)
Photo: Brian Morris
New Year is an occasion that is celebrated the world over. It is a time of reflection , but more so of optimism, hoping the year ahead shall be less challenging. However life is never straight-forward, presenting disappointments along the way and generally at times when you least expect it. And some of these disappointments shall be significant enough to challenge and so test your inner self belief. For me 2008, from a sport perspective, while holding some “glory” moments, also held a number of “dark” moments.
Early January marked the end of the end of my falconry season and with that Myleen’s (2007 eyas falcon) weight was increased. 2007 had been an incredible first season for her and one that was littered with memorable field scenario after memorable field scenario. However it was time to draw the season to an end and also allow the two setters to be rewarded with a well earned rest and respite from the falconry field routines of the past four and a half months.
Ray O’Dywer’s red setter book arrived in the UK and at last I am able to put an image to the dogs I have often seen in pedigree charts and heard while on the field trial circuit. The book is encyclopaedic, being data rich and cramped with breed details as well as countless photographs of famous dogs from the past. It is a truly wonderful book and testament to the character of Ray who saw this seventeen year personal project through to the end. In doing so he has provided the rest of red setter community, and future generations, with a modern quick reference guide to the irish setters’ lineage and heritage.
Weather was reasonable and I started getting Marty (Lusca Celtic Boy) ready for the spring trials. At the same time I intimated to a few people that I was, pending summer puppy situation, prepared to release Mitchy (Lusca Artic Jack) to a good home. At 6 years old he was an honest working dog, though lacked the competitive edge required to gain awards at open field trials.
Field trial preparations continued, being ever thankful to the local estate staff in allowing a number of early morning weekday counting sessions, thereby permitting me the opportunity to train before I went to work. Additionally the ever generous Wilson Young allowed me to run Marty against his top tier pointers on grouse-rich, moorland near his home. I personally benefitted from these outings as Wilson was ever willing to share his knowledge of breed differences as well as field situations, thereby improving my pointer and setter understanding and field scenario interpretations. As such I believed Team Morris was adequately prepared for the spring pointer and setter field trails as held each year on the Tomatin moors of Inverness-shire.
However heavy snow falls occurred just prior to the trial week, resulting in the bulk of the trials being cancelled. During that week, while holed up in a hunting lodge and huddled round a fire, I called Ireland to get puppy updates. Colin duly informed that Penny (Lusca Gin) had given birth on St Patrick’s day (was this an omen) to six puppies, two dogs and four bitches. Additionally Colin and his dad Jimmy (training partner to the late John Nash and a present-day family friend to the Nash family) were comfortable with my increased request for two puppies.
The month of March was further charged with good news when Seth Anthony sent me a jpeg of Fern’s first eggs of 2008; as such another Langley Mews falcon was in the making.
Contacted Seth towards end of month and obtained an update of Fern’s eggs. Having laid eight in total, seven were viable hatching candidates. As such it was a waiting game till May.
News from Ireland was that pups were getting bigger and more adventurous and that a mid May collection (when the pups would be 9 weeks of age) would be ideal.
By early May Seth confirmed there were four falcons and with that I scheduled a selection and collection visit for the first week of July.
Mid May saw my wife and I travel to the south of Ireland to collect the two Bownard pups. The weather was idyllic, allowing the ferry crossing to be comfortable for the non-seafarer types like myself. Furthermore my wife had offered to drive, allowing me to literally sit back, relax and enjoy.
Colin called to check on our travel progress just as we were exiting Dublin. Information obtained during that conversation allowed us to make a slight lunchtime route change to a retail mall. With that my woman was now happier given some shopping therapy.
Arrival in Limerick was unbelievable in terms of the warmth the welcome offered by Eleanor and Jimmy Forde. They were fantastic hosts and we exchanged family and dog stories as we awaited arrival of son Colin and his wife Orfhlaith. Once they arrived, the garden area was boarded up and the pups were let out to exercise. I tried to capture some of their running on film, but the pups were hyper as they raced up and down the garden. There was nothing between any of the pups with regard size, colour or conformation and each one of them was intent on running till out of energy. But what an amount of energy they displayed, thanks to the Eleanor’s rich home cook meals and Jimmy’s exercise schedule.
Bored with running the length of the garden, the pups then started to go to work on Eleanor’s vegetable plot, digging and so spraying dirt everywhere. Jimmy informed he had long given up trying to prevent this activity, being content to see the pups use their muscles. However he did add that he tidied up after each puppy outing; something to do with an Eleanor order At that point the pups seized on his broom and started a tug of war, but Jimmy simply watched and spoke of what he was seeing. It was then I began to appreciate what a fun time the pups had experienced of life so far. While Eleanor had busied herself in the kitchen, operating the puppy food production line, Jimmy had ensured that the pups saw enough of the outside world in allowing them to free run, play-fight, socially interact and pretty much do anything they pleased. What a wonderful start to their lives and I doubted any of the pups knew or appreciated the level of freedom and level of detail Jimmy and Eleanor were applying to their upbringing. But this was the second Bownard litter and perhaps the last time that Bownard Ali (a direct descendant of the revered Moanruad B and Z litters) would be used as a sire. Regardless those scenes made me aware that both Jimmy and Eleanor had been on the tiring puppy 24/7 shift rota to ensure these pups had the best start in life possible.
At dinner that evening I brought up the subject of names for our two boys and it turned out to be quite a conversation piece as there was not a widespread uptake with one of the names as presented. However after some banter and a few more glasses of wine, the names of Miller and Morse were agreed upon. With that the boys were duly christened and I do believe we cracked open another bottle. What a great night it was.
Departure was early the next morning to allow us to reach the ferry and get home by dinner time. And it was a surprise to see that the whole family rose to see the two boys depart for Scotland. While it was a long journey for the pups, they comforted one another and the journey was over before they realised.
The puppies have settled in really well and did not react negatively, even when I uprooted them to my daughter Caroline’s home, as she was assuming position as kennel maid while my wife and I went on vacation. Returning home the pups were 15 weeks and fully inoculated. As such it was time to start introducing them the big wide world that lay outside the garden.
While it was incredible (though hoped for) to see the pups natural instincts surface in investigating game scent and backing Marty so quickly, it was a joy to see the boys engage in play activities during these field outings. This was the first time we had raised two pups at the same time and for all I was witnessing, it would not be the last.
The boys were growing fast with one of the pups being Lusca in shape and character, while the other was Bownard. I could not have wished for more in getting the best of both worlds.
Seth sent through some crystal clear eyas falcon pictures for me to view and perhaps make a selection from. However I found this to be incredibly difficult to do in spite of the quality of photographs as forwarded. However viewing these did feed my enthusiasm for the season ahead and also assisted in softening the thought of July’s lengthy round trip to South Wales.
With summer trial circuit looming I once more benefitted from use of the local estate. Additionally Wilson Young was ever generous in accommodating my visits and allowing access onto the grouse-rich moorland near his home. These sessions allowed me to run Marty in a brace situation with his excellent pointers and as such outings provided me with an insight into how good (or bad) our field trial preparatory activities have been.
Over the years I have come to appreciate Wilson’s field trial readiness approach and am ever vigilant to pinch an idea or two. Wilson his younger days was an athletics coach in his spare time and in doing so coached some well known Olympic athletes. And it was those Olympic governing principles with regard diet, exercise, preparatory disciplines and general management that he has fined tuned to apply to his beloved pointers and be such a success on the trial circuit. On top of all this he is a one hell of a character, having many, many comical tales to relate making these outings a social occasion.
The falcon collection goes well, though I found it quite difficult to select an eyas as there was next to no noticeable difference between the four eyas falcons. However I ended up selecting eyas falcon #3 for no other reason other than she had pretty facial features. I elect to name the falcon, Meisha and (just like Myleen (2007 eyas)) she settled down in double quick time allowing me to safely take her to the trials in mid July.
Grouse counting on the local moor was undertaken and this brought about a few instances whereby the pups scented and pointed grouse on their own. At barely four months of age they were truly showing the field qualities I sought. Furthermore their adaptation to life on the road (while at field trials and going grouse counting) came and went without so much as a whimper. This noted by fellow field trial competitors who commented on how relaxed the pups appeared while on the lead absorbing the trial atmosphere or resting and lying in the heather gnawing roots. For me this was all thanks to Jimmy and the time he had spent socialising the pups and allowing them so much free rein in the garden. As a result these pups were well balanced and were accepting all sorts of situations without complaint or negative reaction.
The must anticipated Irish Setter Association centenary event at the end of July unfortunately had to be replaced by the perennial Breed Stake event. This was a blow to the committee who had worked long and hard at organising something special to mark the centenary event. However the weather was sunny and pleasant and a good day was had by all at Shap in Cumbria; a trial ground that the club has held for the past fifty-five years.
Marty had been a wee bit unlucky in trials, though a 2nd place award in an Open stake in his puppy year of 2007 made him eligible for Championship entry. However the number of eligible entrants of 56 prohibited his automatic entry and as such all dogs with 2nd place awards were placed in a ballot. Marty got lucky as his number was drawn and as such we both attended our first pointer & setter champion stake as competitors, joining fellow falconers and pointer and setter enthusiasts Daryl Edwards (english setters) and Lee Cooper (pointers). Both gentlemen have been successful at trials in recent years in addition to establishing their own kennels. Daryl has made a significant mark on the setter world and trial scene with his Stanedge home-bred english setters.
The champion stake was well covered by journalists and photographers, though it was a journalistic remark in the Shooting Times that made me smile. The quote is as follows “Brian Morris’ Lusca Celtic Boy’ found a huge covey from at least 60yards…..”. If that gentleman had been a falconer, he would probably have known the distance was greater than 70 yards; regardless it was one hell of a find. Just a shame a snipe flushed wide to curve round and fly in front of Marty to break his pointing concentration in the second round. The situation caused him to move and be disqualified. Just a situation you cannot train for. However he is only a young dog and there is always another year.
I collected Myleen just as the trial season was coming to an end in mid-August. While she had a great moult, there were some key primary feathers that required time to come down fully before introducing weight disciplines. As such she was left to wait out August on the block.
Pups continued to develop their pointing and backing powers and with that I eagerly looked forward to a game conservancy open day on the local estate where I was scheduled to provide a grouse counting demonstration. However the weather on the day in question was simply awful, being wet and windy. Nonetheless after a relatively long run Marty scented and pointed two coveys of grouse that had packed up together. He held point long enough for the two boys to come into back, while the gallery viewed this and the later production from relatively close quarters.
Having educated Meisha with regard high flying to the kite, the month of September was almost exclusively taken up with educating her with regard game and differing game situation on lowland and upland landscapes. Additionally Myleen was now off the block and undergoing kite fitness training and some game re-introduction scenarios.
The sad news of the passing of Eppie Buist was received. While I did not know Eppie for very long, her enthusiasm and love of pointers and setters was widely known. Eppie passed away in her 98th year of life, a life that since the age of 21 years, she had pretty much devoted to field sports and pointers and setters. Age was not seen as a barrier or obstacle to Eppie, and as such she held office as field trial secretary of the Northern Pointer & Setter Club for 60 years. Furthermore she attended both spring and summer trials, following the day’s activities while seated in an argo cart.
Spring weather in the highlands can be fairly hostile and a day on the hill can be lengthy. However Eppie was never put off by weather or the length of a days sport and as such could always be counted upon to stay for the awards ceremony. She always sported an enormous smile and a charming nature to winners as well as offering comforting words to those who were not so fortunate on the day.
From a falconry perspective all the falconry greats of the present and past knew her , especially those who focussed on upland grouse hawking and as benefiting from her kennel of renowned Fearn pointers and setters. Of note is that Eppie often used the late Gilbert Blaine’s Westdown dogs as sires, while the likes of Roger Upton, Stephen Frank and the late Gordon Jolly and Alistair McKissock have obtained pointers from her in the past.
Her funeral at Dornoch Cathedral was filled to being capacity as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate her life. The service was conducted by Rev Susan Brown and assisted by retired local minister Rev Charlie Robertson; the congregation sharing many joyous memories of Eppie’s unique life.
This years BFC AGM was held in Latham, Lancashire and as such I journeyed south as this was no more than a cross-border raid. On the Saturday we were scheduled to hawk on land close to Latham, though our inspection uncovered that the ground was devoid of gamebirds. As such Richard Newton took his group to a roadside pond that held about a dozen mallard ducks. Two gamehawks were put up in succession, though situations were not right and as such the ducks still had not been flushed. As such it was my turn. Given the time of the day I elected to fly Meisha (the eyas falcon) first. With that I noted a slight change of wind direction and so changed my tactics from the previous falconers.
What I was not aware at this time was that the Martin Mere wildfowl reserve (forms the backdrop for the BBC Spring Watch programme as starring Bill Oddie) was literally just a stone throws away. So the bold and yet un-aware Brian released Meisha. The young falcon had been kited to high heights during August, though September and game introductions had produced a best pitch of ~350’. As such I was relatively at ease she would do something similar today, given pond location and light wind conditions, and comfortable that she would give chase.
Heading downwind about 500 grey and pink foot geese rose from an out of sight stubble field. However Meisha weaved her way through the flocks to come overhead, but kept going to achieve greater height. I ran to road side to swing my glove and bring her over. But just at that point a small group of ducks rose from underneath her. She stooped and chased two of these to put them in at a row of poplar trees. Running to car, Andy Dobson jumped in to assist. Pulling vehicle off the road about a mile down the road (and adjacent to the line of poplars) I noted high security like fencing. Looking at Andy, he obviously sensed my despair and said “Brian, that’s the wildfowl reserve Richard was talking about earlier” Wish I had been listening!
At that moment the signal thankfully moved to now indicate an origin at the sewage works, situated just behind the original flight “launch” site. Upon arrival at that location the signal moved again, and again, and again, and again, and …. For the next half hour or so Andy and I ran through the Martin Mere wildfowl reserve, noting flock, upon flock, upon proverbial flock of ducks rise in front of us. In doing so we were witnessing the havoc a falcon can create, but also witnessing the senseless tactics of an eyas falcon with no game plan and next to no field experience.
Having jumped drainage ditch after drainage ditch we then reached a span of water where there was no option but to wade, as the breadth of water was just too great to jump. However the signal was strong and static; the falcon had to be nearby. Andy somehow managed to get elevation and noted (through his binoculars) that there was a falcon about 1/3 mile away. I swung the lure using a lot of line in order to make the swung lure as visible as possible. With that Meisha returned.
However just as one situation ended another was about to start and that came with the arrival of the reserve manager in an argo cart. He was less than pleased and expressed his displeasure at our un-authorised entry onto the reserve, as well as informing about the significant amount of disturbance we had caused in running in front of countless observation hides as hosting sizeable numbers of weekend ornithologists. The ever tactful Andy and this humbled falconer offered apology after apology. And with that the reserve manager relaxed, took pity on us and began to show an interest in Meisha.
He had seen many wild peregrines, but had never seen a peregrine up close and even explained that in all his 23years on the reserve he had never seen a falcon create as much disturbance. Given this empathy he took further pity on the two dehydrated beings in front of him and offered us a lift back to our vehicle, where the above photograph was taken. In all I reckon Andy shall not be as eager to tag along next time when one of my falcons goes fly-about! And as for wet feet; well I reckon Andy knows now that a Martin Mere run-about and leather walking boots don’t mix!
While the Martin Mere experience proved to be a wonderful experience for Meisha (where else could I have obtained slips on every species of resident and migratory wildfowl), it had meant that Myleen lost out on flying. As a result we headed to the grouse moor or our next outing to remedy that situation.
With Marty on point in a perfect location, the overall situation was perfect was a great flight. Myleen did not disappoint in quickly mounting on the 10mph north-eastly wind. At 750’ and still climbing I moved in to instruct Marty to produce the grouse. After a lengthy walk-in a single, adult cock grouse was produced. Looking skyward I noted Myleen on my left hand side pumping in her stoop. She soon intersected with a thump (and not the more commonly heard thwack) and the two appeared to fall into the heather. With that I allowed Marty to work out his ground before leading him up and heading over to where Myleen was roughly located. In doing so I became concerned, as I could not detect movement and certainly could not see feathers blowing in the wind as I would have expected. Nearing the scene I saw Myleen lying on her left hand side, while her right foot clung to the dead grouse that lay off to her right. She did not look good and as I knelt down beside her, her eye dimmed and with that her eyelid shut. I remained still for a moment and closed my eyes. A tear ran down my face as I recalled Myleen’s survivor scenarios of the previous season, my impressionable eyas of 2007. Her life had just been cut short in what can only be described as a one-in-a-million situation. In all my twenty plus years of hawking game with peregrines, only one peregrine had suffered a bruised foot and that peregrine was a small Italian brookei tiercel.
As a result of the accident I withdrew from my big-game strategy and cancelled black grouse hawking days I had pre-booked, exchanging them for some ptarmigan hawking days. That said my field enthusiasm did dip and it was a couple of weeks before it returned back to normal levels.
I continued to fly Meisha at ptarmigan, though the young falcon was continually beaten by the manoeuvrability of the quarry on the high-tops landscape. On one particular day in late November, while Meisha was mounting overhead, the keeper asked me if I ever had problems with other raptors. I replied that gamehawking demands that the falcon climb high into the sky and while wild raptors do come in to have a look and see re what was flying in their territory, by and large they departed as my trained falcons fly without jesses (trailing jesses can cause unwarranted attention) and simply continue to climb. Just then an eyas white tailed sea eagle appeared from nowhere to stoop past the falcon. At that point the eagle turned to fly down the falcon; it’s intent on catching breakfast. Using it’s enormous size, the eagle dwarfed and so dominated the falcon, pressurising her into flying down the mountainside. Given the gradient, the eagle just about matched the falcon for speed. However the young falcon elected to fly away from the hillside and with that manoeuvre she managed to open up a gap. With that the falcon realised the eagle could not keep up in level flight and so broke away to make height and return to us. A lucky escape, but flying over for the day as the falcon had used up all of her energy.
I ran Marty one more time, though he pulled up after just a couple of minutes. Thinking the frozen ground was to blame I leaded him up and took him back to the vehicle to run him on lower ground with the pups at red grouse. All went well, so at least the trip was worthwhile.
For the next few days Marty was not his usual bouncy, full of life self and I became concerned. By Thursday he did not come out of his kennel to go for a morning walk and as such I elected to take him to the vets that evening after work. By that time Marty appeared listless and his eyes had lost all their sparkle. Having lost several falcons through the years I believed I was looking at a dying dog.
The vets diagnosis was not good as it revealed that Marty had a temperature of 106 and rising, had a white blood cell count of 51 and had lost ~30% of his weight in the past 5 days (falling from 22kg to 14.4kg). However while the vets could not understand his condition, they advised they needed to do an exploratory to assess his inner organs. Given his weight loss and present poor health condition, Marty was not a good candidate for anaesthesia. However the dog was dying and would die within the next 24hours should an operation not be undertaken.
That Friday evening, after surgery hours, the vets operated on Marty. News of the operation outcome eventually came through at 10.15pm. All was very much in order apart from his spleen that was significantly enlarged (three times normal size) with an outer skin that was badly ulcerated. As such it had been removed and sent away for a biopsy.
Given Marty’s condition one of the vets took Marty home to keep and eye on him and to administer pain killer drugs and hydrating fluids during the night. By Sunday evening (48 hours after surgery) Marty was back walking again and a few days later he was allowed to return home.
The biopsy report indicated that Marty had a healthy spleen, though at some time it had been punctured, perhaps by a thorn that had resulted in the external ulcerations. Marty’s temperature and white blood cell count were all manifestations of his body trying, though failing, to fight the inner infection.
Given Marty was in recuperation, the pups, Morse (Bownard Boffin) & Miller (Bownard Benny), were brought to the front line. Both had shown tremendous potential so far, but now it was time to test them more fully. However being puppies I had to be selective with regard quarry and the locations to be hunted. While both could point game and be trusted to hold point, game-hawking is a demanding past-time as the dog must not disappoint and so must produce game. There are no tolerances here for non-productives. A point on game has to be a certainty. To do otherwise dilutes the trust bond with a high flying falcon. As such I elected to use the boys for previously spotted (with binoculars) set-ups on partridge and pheasant. It would have been good to include duck as an option, but the recent zero temperatures meant that all ponds were frozen and so held no ducks.
While Meisha had been flying honestly, she had also been experiencing a long dry run. Key issue was that she was stooping at point of flush and as a result her strikes lost a lot of their power when eventually delivered. From experience the futility of vertical stooping is eventually recognised by the falcon and as such I knew it would only be a matter of time before this was rectified. That time eventually arrived on an early December hunting trip to Angus when I joined Sandy Rollo, a fellow falconer (and with whom I had shared some pretty spectacular falconry moments with over the past twenty plus years). Sandy’s hunting ground is a large landscape, very similar to Lincolnshire in terms of quarry, acreage and agricultural land usage and is a haven for lowland game such as grey partridge and pheasant.
We drove around to note three quality setups on pheasants and I elected to take the last one; a single cock pheasant feeding 100 yards from the entrance of an extremely large oil see rape field that was boundaried by a stone wall. While an excellent set-up, this was most definitely one that required two-people for it to be executed successfully. Sandy obliged in acting as the block at the east facing field entrance, while I manoeuvred myself to the north boundary to release Meisha. She climbed on the damp, still, morning air as I advanced towards the pheasant. As I approached the pheasant, Sandy made his move so that we could force the pheasant to fly in a southerly direction, across the open field and in the direction of the far-off farmhouse. However the pheasant knew all about Meisha circling above and was only too aware of the pincer tact being deployed. As such it launched itself from its clamped position to fly past Sandy, heading in an easterly direction. In doing so the long tail climbed to cross the stone wall and fly across the tree-lined country road. I despaired at the flush, but Sandy was ever enthusiastic and ran to follow the flight.
To Meisha’s credit, she had commenced her stoop, though had noted the pheasant flying through the trees and so angled the last part of her stoop so that she could intersect with the bird upon exit from the trees.
Sandy was in view to see Meisha “banjo” (a modern and more graphical word replacing the more traditional falconry term strike and as “originating” from the North-East of Scotland) the pheasant, throw up and then hotly pursue a wobbling bird as the gamebird raced for the woods’ edge.
I arrived to see nothing of the tail chase. As such I removed the telemetry from my backpack, jumped onto the side-step of Sandy’s vehicle, while he drove up the country road. When the signal was strongest, I asked him to stop to allow me to disembark and continue on foot. It did not take me long before I found Meisha and on top of her pheasant that was a massive 60ounces in weight. Hopefully this would give her the confidence she much required.
I called Phil Myers to relay the news of this significant event. The two of us have teased one other over the years when recounting and analysing failed field situations. Recently it had been a one sided affair with me doing all the talking re failed situations, while Phil would gleefully relate successful situation after successful situation where Ginty (his intermewed peregrinus falcon) had again melted into blue skies to record fantastic pitches. While pitch is easy to gain (in the immortal words of Ray Turner) it is ultra hard to maintain on a season by season basis. Ginty now in her sixth season was flying supremely well, accounting for numerous and significant four-figure pitches and a varied game bag. This is testament to Phil’s dedication to the art, as well as his exhibiting skill as a premier gamehawker.
News arrived a week before Christmas of the passing of Molly O’Rourke. This was yet another sad day for the pointer and setter world as Molly had tirelessly supported her son Declan’s breeding of irish and gordon setters over the years. Indeed the past decade has seen the Lusca kennels produce many irish setter field trial champions.
Everyone who met Molly loved her wit, hospitality, positive outlook and charming character as well as acknowledging her contributions in assisting Declan with the Lusca kennel and especially with the rearing of the Lusca puppies. She shall be sadly missed by many, yet the white lily plant (given to my wife when we collected Marty (Lusca Celtic Boy)) in December 2005 shall forever be a perennial reminder of her memory, her love of life, her green-fingered prowess and her devotion to the irish setter.
More sad news came through just before Christmas that Sandy Rollo’s Gossy had died. This goshawk had lived a full life, providing Sandy with endless amount of sport over the years on fur and feather. However at 25years of age her life ended. In stating so she had to be the last survivor of the 1983 BFC Goshawk Czech import programme.
While Meisha continued to be an honest and consistent performer in the field, though I was beginning to get concerned as she seemed to be plateauing at 600-700’. This was slightly frustrating given the idyllic flying conditions the UK was experiencing, being wrapped in a cold, high pressure weather system. As it was she did not start to break the glass ceiling till late December when she put in a good number of intelligent and wonderful field performances. The best and most memorable day was Wednesday 31-December, the last day of 2008.
Conditions on the day were perfect with no wind (not even a breeze) and a chilly minus 3 degree temperature as recorded at 9am. A small group of three pheasants were spotted, located a country mile from any sort of worthwhile cover. Meisha was released to the sky, though she had to work hard to cut through the cold still air. In doing so she displayed seasoned awareness and field intelligence, initially taking a particularly long outrun before mounting tightly thereafter. In doing so she was able to climb the skyward stairway as I started to approach the pheasants.
With Morse (one of the young setters) at my side, Meisha followed our route as if attached by a thread. The pheasants, as expected, had crept away to take refuge in a nearby small clump of reeds and as we approached the young setter was released to locate and hold the game birds. As we neared the reeds I removed the altimeter from my pocket and took a measurement of Meisha’s pitch. Looking at the measurement reading I smiled as she had once again broken the glass ceiling and was still climbing.
The setter soon found the pheasants and pointed at the edge of the reeds. I left Meisha another minute or so as she continued to climb ever higher. I made my final approach to stand beside the setter when I elected to take a further altitude reading. In doing so I must have made some form of noise as I heard the frozen vegetation rustle. Morse, the young setter, had moved off point. Then the clatter of wings announced that Morse had followed through and flushed the pheasants. In spite of these distractions I kept my eyes on the open sky above, confident that the young setter, while excitable, would drop and honour the flush.
Meisha fell vertically through the first 400+ feet of ice-cold air, before angling her flight path towards the pheasants for the remaining 500+ feet. The descent took longer in comparison to her other flights and this was marvellous to experience as this was as close as she had been to a 4-figure pitch. Soon she moved in on the group of pheasants to strike the rear cock pheasant squarely in the left hand side (a later measurement revealed this intersect to occur some 280yards from the point of flush). However the strong winter pheasant merely wobbled and kept flying. Meanwhile Meisha threw up to about 200 feet, barrel rolled over and started pumping her wings to commence a tail chase.
120yards further on she caught up with the fleeing pheasant to bind and fall into the upland grasses. Upon my arrival all was calm with Meisha having broken into her breakfast. I sat down beside her to take a number of photographs and reflect upon what I had just witnessed. In doing so I began to replay and run comparisons against other eyas falcon flights I’d seen and was fast coming to the conclusion that this was probably the finest eyas flight I’d seen. Considering the number of replays I ran through in my mind, this was quite a conclusion to make.
I further reflected on the progress as made and the events that had unfolded during this falconry season. Furthermore quality set-ups, especially on the lowland ground, were getting harder and harder to find. Additionally while the weather was idyllic, it would only be a matter of time before heavy winter snow falls occurred to further complicate field outings. As a result I decided to end the season in a few days time and so bring an end to Meisha’s six month field diet.
That same day at the end of December also brought more good news as I ran Marty for the first time since his late November operation. In all I still believed this to be slightly premature, but I sensed the dog was becoming frustrated at all the lead walking and light jogging he was being subjected to. However all went well with his quick 3 minute burst bringing about a super point on woodcock.
Additionally both the boys also pulled off points on woodcock, an event of particular significance as this meant that the boys had now pointed all UK species of gamebird. This allowed the year to end on an ultra high note and so feeding the enthusiasm for 2009.
2008 was a year of mixed emotion given the loss of personable characters as Eppie Buist and Molly O’Rourke. They both lived and breathed pointers and setters, with Eppie still making it to the field to spectate at both spring and summer trials in her last year. Their presence, memory recollections of dogs and past situations, as well as their boundless enthusiasm shall be missed by many as including family and close friends.
On a personal front the loss of Myleen was a tragedy. It simply was not a loss that should have happened given the field situation. But life is fickle and has ways of testing your inner self. My desire and goal for the past 16years has been to have two high flying falcons on the cadge at the same time. That goal still eludes me and as such I shall need to wait and see whether the 2009 Langley Mews (Fern) falcon shall allow this to finally become a reality. As such my fingers are already crossed, hoping that Fern shall once again produce eyasses of a quality like Myleen and Meisha. The line of peregrines as being produced by Seth is ideal for what I seek. These falcons are small, of dark colouration, have good sized feet, are easy to manage, have a field attitude, love height, are comfortable with high pitch vertical stooping and have a courage, appetite and desire to tackle all UK game species. In line with this the new falcon shall be named Meira, a slight change of spelling to the latin word Mira. And in so christening I have no doubt that the eyas shall be able to live up to her name.
I am also hoping that Marty shall return to full fitness and so be ready for the spring pointer and setter field trial circuit. Intention is to gradually bring Marty back to full field fitness during January and February and hope that our preparations allow him to hold his own. As for the pups, Miller and Morse; while I had not intended trialling them till the puppy stakes in the summer, they have demonstrated promise and a potential that shall no doubt have me entering them for a number of spring trials and to test them against some very promising and competitive pointers and setters.
While 2008 was a year of highs and lows, the new year of 2009 lies ahead and with that new horizons and opportunities. In all I do hope the year ahead is a slightly less testing and in saying so hope that your 2009 dreams and aspirations are realised.
For more photos of Brian, his Setters and his Falcons, please see the Gallery page on this site
Author & Copyright:- Brian Morris
About the Author
Brian Morris has been an active falconer for over 40 years, with the last 25+ years entirely spent game hawking lowland and upland game birds with peregrines. Game hawking relies on pointing dogs and though he ran (and trialled with some success) HPR's (German Wirehaired Pointers) for 13 years, the year 2000 saw him transition to using and field trialling Irish Red Setters. Game hawking over his irish setters on upland terrain is one of his addictions!