Toph, Dave and Bunco fly Soboba, Ca. 3.17
The first question that I always get when I tell people that I go Parahawking is “what is Parahawking?!?” and “How did you get into that?!?”
Parahawking is the combination of two rare sports; Paragliding and Falconry. Extremely well trained hawks, vultures or falcons are flown in the sky while one flies a paraglider. There are only a few groups of people in the world who engage in this amazing and rare task, and Dave and Anto are the only people who do it with Falcons, not hawks, eagles or vultures, in the whole world!
In comes Dave and Anto Metzgar. Two genius PhD scientists who have devoted most of their waking hours to their wonderful feathered companions, their falcons, hawks and owls. They are both paragliding pilots as well. Their love for flying gliders soared to a new level when David took a paragliding trip to Nepal. There he met Scott Mason, creator and master Jedi of parahawking. By happenstance Dave and Scott became friends just as Scott was making the film “Flight for Survival”; a film about parahawking with Scott’s two Egyptian vultures named Kevin and Bob. Dave, already having birds tattooed on his arm, naturally took to helping Scott with the birds and film. It’s the sequel to the film “Parahawking”. Both are a must see! Check out what Scott is up to here: http://www.parahawking.com/index.php
After the noble and mighty task of helping Scott with his documentary, Dave came back to the US with a whole new passion stapled to his power focus… Parahawking. Teaming up with his wife Anto and local master falconer Terry Lockwood, they took to making dreams of flying with birds come true… in the USA for the first time!
In comes me. I came to the San Diego area back in 2008 to learn how to fly paragliders. I first met Dave at a local paragliding club meeting. Then in the autumn of 2016, I came to San Diego to hone and practice my flying skills before a trip to Asia. I asked around the paragliding community if anyone could put me up for a few nights. My friend Danielle suggested Dave. He and Anto welcomed me, and that’s when it all happened… I met the birds!
Since I started paragliding, I have had a VINS (Vermont Institute of Natural Science) sticker on my helmet. VINS is a raptor center; a home for birds to live out a good life after being injured or from other complications. I have always had a passion for raptors (birds of prey), and have this sticker on my helmet as a salute to the injured birds.. I fly for them! Support and visit VINS!! They rock! http://vinsweb.org/
Naturally, when I met Dave and Anto’s birds, I totally freaked out! Back then it was Bunco and Sofie the Lanner falcons, and Arwen, the Kestrel. Any spare chance I had I was with Dave, Anto and the birds helping them fly from perch to perch for tidbits of quail meat. I continue to be awestruck every time I help with the simplest tasks of training these majestic creatures!
After a 6-month trip in SE Asia, I returned to the San Diego area and came running back to the birds! Dave and Anto were excited to have the extra hand, and now Bunco the oldest of the lanner falcons was just then beginning his parahawking training! He was around 2 years old that spring of 2017, and his little sister Sofie was a little over 1 year old. I was heartbroken to hear of the death of Arwen while I was gone. They suspect a cooper’s hawk attacked him. Dave welcomed me to help him train Bunco to fly with paragliders. Check out their website for parahawking opportunities https://www.flywithabird.com/!!!
A parahawking flight usually includes two people; the pilot flying the paraglider, and the passenger who gets to experience one of the most incredible moments a human can have.. flying close with earth’s most skilled pilots.. birds! It was helpful that I was already a pilot, and did not need to go through the signing up process the public has to for each tandem paragliding flight. My knowledge of launching and landing paragliders as a rated and trained pilot was priceless, as Dave had to focus on launching the bird, and about 100 other crucial tasks that go along with preflight checks for both the bird and the glider.
Giles, another pilot and all around amazing guy, was already assisting Dave and Anto with the parahawk training. We immediately became friends and teamed up to form the ultimate parahawking training team! Off to the mountain flying sites we went, our cozy and able team, with the joyous companionship of Gile’s girlfriend Tammy and my lovely lady Grace. To Soboba, one of So Cal’s best flying sites, during the “super bloom”; a rare display of wildflowers showering the chaparral with colors! We hiked up to launch, Dave carrying the bird and me the tandem glider. The hillside was covered in yellow California poppies, almost painful to look at the beauty was so real. Dave spread out the paraglider, did his pre flight check, clicked me into the tandem harness, launched Bunco, and then launched us! Bunco went straight out front of launch to a house thermal; rising air that is the source of lift for birds and paragliders! After a brief moment he was gone. Our morale sank as we wondered if the bird flew over the mountains to Nevada… Then, out of what seemed to be nowhere, Bunco came to the perch I was holding to snack on a piece of quail meat! I was completely amazed! Not only were we having an incredible flight over the rare super bloom of So Cal, we were flying with Bunco the falcon!
We climbed, the three of us, way over the mountain, thousands of feet over the valley floor above. The green mountainsides covered in the yellow blankets of poppies. Bunco showed his amazing piloting skills, intrinsically displayed. It was mind blowing. To watch his feathers make the most subtle and quick adjustments to landing on the perch to eat his treat was one of the most incredible life experiences I have ever had (and I have had a few good ones)! This falcon, flying next to us, showing us thermal lift areas, and displaying the world’s best active piloting was just unbelievable. Nothing can compare to this rare view of observing a falcon in flight.
When it was time to land, Anto threw the lure in the LZ (landing zone); a quail wing attached to a weight that is on a string. She flung it around in a circle. Bunco can’t resist a lure! He went straight for it and chased it around for quite some time, as Anto whipped it away skillfully right before he could grab it. We humans finally landed in our clumsy flying contraption. We watched the lure-flying in awe as we basked in the success of an amazing flight that lasted around 45 minutes!
During the spring of 2017, Giles and I continued to train Bunco with Dave and Anto. We had many wonderful parahawking flights, and Bunco was incredibly good and taking to the routine. We started Sofie as well in the spring of ’17, with completely nerve racking first flights in fear of her running away. She did well, and I got to work with her and Bunco on many parahawking training flights! The spring of ’17 was a magical year with all the wild flowers draped with the uncertainty of the birds taking to the sport of parahawking.
The amount of hours and resources that Dave, Anto and Terry put into training the birds is truly amazing. It takes total dedication, skill, focus and acceptance. The birds, if their weight is too heavy, could easily run off and never return. Most falconers believe that the birds are totally food motivated; only coming to us because they are hungry and we have food. But Dave, after working with the birds for so long, thinks differently. He believes that they love to fly, and that they know that we provide not only food but also safety. He insists that the birds can identify people as well, that Sofie, Bunco and now Baby Reggie all know who uncle Topher and uncle Giles are.
I just finished up helping with spring training ’18, and it was totally wonderful. Reggie, the new baby lanner falcon, is a total teenage punk. He acts as if he knows what is going on, but rather goes off and does his own thing while keeping an eye on Dave and Anto from afar. He is showing total promise, as his lure flying skills are looking decent. He hasn’t flown with a glider yet. That will be the true test for the little hellion!
Aspects and practices of falconry are the cornerstones of parahawking. Over the years I have spent hours upon hours helping train the birds. This involves standing in a field holding a perch with a piece of enticing quail meat on it, hoping the bird will notice it and fly to me from their caretaker. It’s about 100:1, falcon training hours to actual parahawking hours. What seems to be endless hours of training transforms into the fantastic experience of parahawking. The direct application of this practice is displayed at Dave, Anto and Terry’s bird shows, which I have had the pleasure to work with. Their falconry school is as educational as it is amazing. Attend and view at https://www.totalraptorexperience.com/!
Words are feeble in attempts to describe the majesty that is Parahawking. It is a totally unique and rare happening that gives me a bird’s eye view of the unmatched skill of raptors flying. As I look to the sky and observe a bird in flight, I see the subtle intricacies that are now familiar to me because of parahawking. Learning about birds of prey, the struggles they endure, and the conservation efforts that people like Dave, Anto and Terry promote are invaluable to the public. Awe is the only word I can think of to describe their tireless efforts as I observe the rare world of training falcons. It is truly unbelievable to watch my friends dedicate their lives to working with these birds. The amount of energy, time and stress involved with the investment of parahawking is amazing. I am grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to work with these people and birds! . It has changed my life and perspective forever!