"Falconry is my biggest passion in life. For many of us, our pursuit in the sport is a very spiritual place, and going out with your bird into good habitat and chasing wild animals with it is just very personal."
—Scott McNeff, falconer
One night at a dinner party, I (Amanda) had just met Scott when he casually mentioned that he had a hawk in his car and asked me if I wanted to come see it. I had never seen a bird of prey up close before and had no idea Scott was a licensed falconer. When he invited me to go out “hawking” with him, I had to go. And I had to bring my camera, of course.
I was immediately hooked. In addition to it being a visually stunning sport to watch, I realized there were a lot of great sounds as well: the bells used on the hawk’s legs, the whistles and sounds the falconers use when working with the bird, and Scott was such a great explainer of it all. That’s when I contacted Sam.
Despite the fact that falconry has been practiced worldwide for thousands of years, it is a relatively new sport in North America. Currently, there are just over 4,000 federally licensed falconers in the United States. When Amanda showed me some of her photos and asked if I wanted to tag along with her and Scott, I said yes.
The Challenge of Capturing Images and Sound
There was a lot of waiting around and then sudden action. It meant running through the woods with gear — cameras, lenses, recording rigs, and microphones. We had to move fast and hope that we were close enough to capture the action when it happened. I’m amazed that Amanda got the shots she did of the moment the hawk actually caught the squirrel.
The Surprise of It All
I’ve never gone hunting in my life and wasn’t sure how I’d take to it. What I was most struck by was Scott’s deep reverence for falconry, his intimacy with the bird, and his knowledge about everything from trees to weather to squirrels.
I would have thought hunting would be violent and ugly, but in this form there was something inherently beautiful about it. I saw the art. I admire Scott’s care for the hawk, his dedication to the practice, and his respect for what he and his hawk kill. As he says in the video, everything they catch is either fed back to the hawk or ends up on Scott’s dinner table.
Samantha Broun is an independent radio and mutimedia producer. She currently works with Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts where she manages the Peabody Award winning website, Transom.org. Samantha’s work has aired on National Public Radio as well as the Cape and Islands public radio stations.
Amanda Kowalski is a freelance editorial and portrait photographer based in New England. Trained in traditional black and white documentary photography, she is currently shooting with a digital SLR. Amanda’s clients include The New York Times, National Public Radio, Children’s Hospital Boston, Public Radio International, Universal Music, and Sichuan Quake Relief.
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You can find more of Amanda and Samantha’s work at SoundLight Media.