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Jonathan Coleman
President

Chris Kimble
Vice President

Bart Russell
President-elect

Shane Bullard
Treasurer

Rob Huber
Secretary



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Name

Ken Riddle


How long have you been an OFA member?

 I don’t know.  I have been an Oklahoma falconer since 1951.  After I joined OFA I allowed my membership to lapse at least 3 times over the years as I moved around between Texas, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Doha, Qatar.

 

Positions in OFA?

 President Elect

 

Where do you live?

North Central Osage County

 

Job or School?

 I am a retired Veterinarian holding several consultant positions.

 

My Family? 

A talented and amazing wife Rebecca ; Children – Allan 50, Cyndi 48, Marcy 42, James  26, and Amanda 24 - all co-participants and helpers during my life-long pursuit of falconry.

 

What got you interested in falconry?

At 10 years of age I was under correctional detention in the library study hall (recess period for others) due to poor grades in English class.  Instead of studying English grammar I sat on the floor at the back of the library day after day thumbing through old National Geographic magazines in chronological order.  My daydreaming perusal of the magazine came to a life-changing finale when I picked up the 1920 issue and “feasted’ on an article entitled “Falconry the Sport of Kings” by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.  It really wasn’t a “finale” but rather a prelude to a life-long pursuit of the art of falconry.

 

Who was your sponsor? (or mentors and influences?)

 Sometime during the summer two years after the National Geographic incident I met my mentor. I had already failed (except to keep my “pet birds” alive) with my first hawks, a Broadwinged hawk and a Kestrel.  I had been corresponding with the proprietor of Hecht Book shop in St. Louis, MO. who had sold me a copy of Observations on Modern Falconry for $1.25.  Mr. Hecht was growing weary of my recurring questions concerning the nuts and bolts of falconry.  Finally came his simple game-changing reply: “I am not a falconer! Please contact Mr. Fred Casler who lives near you in Broken Arrow.  He is an accomplished falconer with many years experience”.  You can only imagine my excitement when my 3rd phone call resulted in an invitation to visit him at his ranch (now the land upon which Union High School stands), and his disclosure that he had two passage peregrines, a falcon and a tiercel.  My mother drove me there in our 51 Mercury Montery.

Fred Casler was the owner of the Tulsa Aero Exploration Company and was our first Oklahoma falconer. He was a great mentor from the “old school”, teaching sound falconry ethics and promoting conservation of raptors through falconry presentations at civic meetings, ornithological groups and local schools. Fred handled and flew his birds with perfection, made his own swivels, bells, and bell dyes, and made beautiful hand-tooled Indian Canon hoods.  He refused to sell his wares, stating that he would then be “working for the falconers who bought them”, and instead gave them as gifts to friends and fellow falconers.  Every Christmas Fred mailed a gift box containing a special – made hood, a new swivel, and two pairs of bells to his many falconry friends.  The gifts were nicely displayed in a jewelry-store box with clear plastic top.  Fred was a master falconer in every sense of the word, with one exception.  Although he had over 50 years experience hunting with a variety of hawks, eagles and falcons, he had only hawked one head of wild game with the passage peregrines he annually trapped on Padre Island with Col. Luff Meredith and others. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those old falconers of the mid 19th century who paved the way for future American falconers by accumulating a working body of knowledge and experience upon which younger falconers could build and develop our hunting sport.


What birds have you flown in the past?

I have flown many birds including buteos, accipiters, owls of different species, and both wild and

 captive-raised falcons. Notable are a Cooper’s Hawk, a German Goshawk, a number of passage peregrines, passage sakers, passage barbaries and red-naped shaheens and some wonderful red-naped shaheen x Gyr and Gyr x Peregrines, several Gyrfalcons, and one gyrkin.


What was your favorite bird and why?

 That is a very difficult question to answer because each of the notable birds above were superb, giving me all that could have been asked for in terms of quality athletic hunting experience.  Now, having to choose one favorite, I guess it would be Libra, a passage peregrine taken on the Texas Gulf coast in 1970.  She was an “adrenaline pusher” and developed into a first rate duck hawk her first year.  She also caught two prairie chickens her first year when I could get away from University for some classical game hawking.  Most notable, Libra responded flawlessly to commands and was very steady, allowing me to begin training her on thermal flights as a passage bird.  Eventually many of her flights lasted over an hour, often near 2 hours and mostly out of sight.  Her first 2 years she was flown without telemetry.  Libra was also flown by Mike Brewer in the same style for several years while I finished a residency program in Georgia. Her style continued to improve throughout that time and continued to thrill me and others with her finesse until her sudden death at the age of over 12 years. That kind of relationship generates a lasting favoritism.

 

What birds do you plan to fly or would like to fly?

At this stage of my life I am happy to fly the best long wing I can get my hands on.  Later on I would like to fly passage Cooper’s hawks on “miscellaneous”.

 

Favorite Quarry?

Again a difficult question because a favorite quarry in one location might be substituted for another in a different habitat and locale.  Power flights on ringing quarry, and fast flying game from the fist are the most difficult and require the ultimate in a falcon’s physical conditioning.  These flights leave the falconer standing breathlessly on the ground while the chase develops high overhead.  The most exciting of those chases involved short-eared owls, gulls, and houbara bustard, however most flights on houbara are of an inferior nature due to the annoying habit of the quarry dropping to the ground to fight. If the falcon is beaten in the air it is an immediate rebuke of the apparent physical conditioning program.  Having said all the above I think duck hawking offers the most versatility and interesting style of the classical game hawking ventures I have witnessed or practiced.  Flights can be set up that are extremely difficult and long-lasting, pitting the falcon against almost unbelievable odds yet they may overcome and take quarry in exhilarating style and do it consistently.  Of course one has to titrate difficulty against more favorable odds from time to time to achieve consistency in success and style.

 

Do you have other animals?

We have a Jack Russell Terrier. Lucy does her best to participate in duck hawking and is an excellent hunting companion.

 

Favorite falconry story?

I have recounted several stories in my book although I don’t really have a favorite of the many that have occurred over the years.

 

Funniest falconry story?

 In addition to one or two humorous stories in my book I have dredged up a few more.  Some poke fun at me, and some recount humorous incidents involving those I have hawked and worked with.

 I was once hawking ducks in Stillwater, Oklahoma with a dark  intermewed passage peregrine named Bittersweet. My college roommate, a birder and a friend of Mike Brewer, (both from Pauls Valley, OK) was with me to help flush.  We had “jumped the fence” to hawk on unknown land and I was150 yards away crouched below the dam while he circled wide.  Just then the local Game Warden drove up and stopped, got out of his truck, and motioned for me to approach.  I was immediately “weak kneed” and my falcon’s bells beckoned from above.  I hurried to within earshot where-upon the warden asked my name.  Without thinking I blurted out the first thing that came to mind “John Sterling” (anything but Ken Riddle) and then told him that I needed to get my falcon down.  He then turned on his heel and strode towards my roommate, overtaking him within minutes.  My roommate recounted the rest of the story.  ‘The game warden asked him for his name, and when he said “John Sterling” the warden said “Ok wise guy, you are going to the station for questioning.  The other guy said his name was John Sterling’.  John spent an hour and a half at the Stillwater police station answering questions.  In the meantime I collected Bittersweet and went home to study.  John Sterling currently lives in Pauls Valley, is an avid and well-known birder and is still mad at me over the above incident.

John Hoolihan, my technician and an accomplished falconer spent 1 ½ hours imping-in a new and complete tail in a female F.p. callidus.  The sheikh was partial to this falcon as she had developed into an exceptional bird.  He was thrilled to see her with new tail feathers and left the falcon hospital with glowing praise for John’s workmanship.  The next morning the same falcon was admitted with the following complaint. “The sheikh is very angry!  Last night he flew her to the lure from the desert floor to a high sand dune ridge.  As she made the 400-meter flight, tail feathers began to fall out and spiral to the ground. By the time she reached the lure, all the tail feathers were gone”!  Upon close examination, stumps of clean bamboo were sticking out of the base of tail feather shafts.  John had forgotten to apply 5-minute epoxy to the bamboo splints!

This one is not funny but true.  It illuminates some problems that can occur when unscrupulous or careless falconers engage wild falcons.  Fred Casler, Dan Slowe and me were trapping peregrines on Padre Island in 1961.  On the second or third day we picked up a beautiful passage female with a broken tibio-fibula.  Her toe was noosed and attached to a leather harness. The dragline securing that harness was weighted with a heavy sledgehammer head.  It was obvious why her leg was broken.  That morning we had encountered a car on the beach driven by longhaired falcon trappers.  The car had California license plates. 

The next morning I was out placing two dozen falcon silhouettes on sand dune tops and obvious driftwood perches. Some resembled haggards but most were in passage plumage.  We never saw the California car again, however we did see quite a number of donut tire tracks in the vicinity of the silhouettes and some of the cardboard “signs” were missing. Fred flew the falcon in his Cessna to his home in Tulsa and paid to have her leg set.  He released her several months later.

Favorite quote?

 “Everything worth doing is worth doing well.  In falconry there is no middle course.  Its charm lies in its hazards, in the beauty and character of the birds themselves, in the marvelous qualities with which Nature has endowed them, and in the art of our control over one of the wildest and proudest of living creatures”.   Gilbert Blain, 1936

 

What is the best tip that you would give someone new to the sport?

Dedicate yourself to self-criticism, learn from your mistakes, and be patient to the perfection of the art.

 

What goals do you have for your falconry experience?

 To fly every bird to the best of my ability and to give each bird a broad experience-base so as to fulfill its greatest potential.

 

Anything else?

Over the past 5 decades I have practiced falconry in 4 states and 7 countries.  In each case I have compared the quality of falconry being practiced in Oklahoma with that of the status quo in other lands.  There is no question that Oklahoma falconry has continued to produce exceptional quality falconers and hunting flights of excellent style; from classical game hawking, to flights from the fist, duck-hawking from thermals, and hawking fur and feather with accipiter, buteos and eagles.  I am very proud of this heritage.  Okie falconry continues to be a credit to a fine and ancient field sport and falconers around the world know it.

Contact Info you want public?

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