Rabbit 3, Eagle 0

After the eagle jumped from Dalaihan’s arm and flew down the hill, we watched to see what prey it was after.  Only after the rabbit broke and ran a short distance from left to right did we even know what the eagle was pursuing.  The huge rabbit, perhaps the size of a dog, was far enough away so that when the eagle approached him, we could not tell how far apart they were.  When it seemed that they would collide and the eagle was making his final closing maneuvers, the rabbit broke and ran again.  I was surprised that the he did not run away from the eagle but instead ran towards the eagle in an uphill direction at a diagonal angle to our right.  The eagle quickly changed direction towards the right but the rabbit ran so fast and at the last second.  The eagle dropped his right wing and spun his turn to the right as hard as he could.  But it was too late; he had overshot the clever rabbit who now ran up the hill at full speed towards us.

The frustrated eagle landed and watched as the rabbit raced up the hill, first towards us, and then towards our left to the spine of the mountain.  The rabbit disappeared over the mountain edge and Dalaihan raced down the mountain to retrieve the eagle.  Alpamys and I raced to the left where the rabbit had disappeared.  I was highest up on the hill and as Alpamys approached the spine, I saw a second rabbit break and run.  I shot the photo below just after the eagle missed his mark, Dalaihan was retrieving the eagle, and the large rabbit ran off towards the left edge of the photo.

We called to Dalaihan and he and Baatar came up the hill after a short time.  We looked again for the large rabbit and saw him again and this time he ran all the way up the mountain and disappeared over the summit at the top.

Dalaihan found the rabbit’s tracks and soon the four of us were tracking him up the tall mountain.  The tracks went all the way to the top and disappeared over a rugged rocky area.  I was in the rear of the pack and as soon as the other men passed the first group of horses, I saw the rabbit break and run back down the hill.  This rabbit was clever indeed; he hid behind a rock and waited for us to pass and then ran back downhill towards his hole after we had passed.

I called out to the men that the rabbit was running and they spun around just as it ran past me perhaps only 15′ away.  We pursued the rabbit down the hill until we had a good view and Dalaihan let the eagle fly.  The eagle was pursuing the rabbit when the rabbit again disappeared behind a mountain spine, but this time to the right.  Dalaihan rode straight down the mountain while Alpamys and I rode directly to the right in order to get a view of the eagle.

When we finally had the eagle in sight, he did not have the rabbit.  The smart hare had escaped again!  After a time, Dalaihan called off the search.  He commented that this was an old and wise rabbit and that out of respect, we should let him live to see another day.  We all agreed that this smart rabbit had put on a good show and that we should let him go.

It was at this time that I realized that I was no longer cold, no longer sore, no longer hungry.  The excitement of seeing the eagle and rabbit play out an age-old struggle of predator and prey was quite exciting.  All of the cold and pain in my body had vanished in this brief and exciting moment.  I know, I’ll get hate mail from my tree-hugger, vegetarian, and PETA friends, but hey, eagles eat rabbits every day.  Actually seeing the pursuit is exciting regardless of your views on hunting…

We took a break, drank some water, had a nature call, and then chatted a bit about the chase we had witnessed.  As we were spread out across the mountain, we had seen different things and we shared stories before continuing on our way, looking for more rabbits.  During the break, I shot a photo of our horses – the un-sung labor of this expedition.

Just as I had seen with the drug dog on the train at the Mongolian/Russian border, Dalaihan “trained” his eagle after the unsuccessful hunt.  The Mongolian police dog handler hid a drug pack on the train and let the dog smell it out in order to reinforce its previous training and to keep its skills fresh and honed.  Dalaihan did the same and exercised the eagle much like the drug dog.

Dalaihan put the eagle on a rock and then went down the mountain.  Once he was down the mountain but still within sight of the eagle, he pulled some fresh meat from his pouch and called to the eagle to come to him.  The eagle flew down the hill, flared out, and landed on Dalaihan’s arm in order to eat some fresh meat off of the bone that was presented to her.

At the end of that day’s hunt, we headed down the mountain towards the river where the lodge rests.  We passed a herd of yaks and then as we came through another pass, one of our horses started braying – they usually do this when they smell other horses.  And sure enough, around the next bend, I saw a large herd of horses on the hill.  There is nothing quite like a herd of wild horse; they are so majestic and powerful looking – and they look so free and untamed.


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Eagle Hunting day 2

On our second day, we went in the opposite direction to see if we would have some better luck finding our prey.  We climbed the mountain directly behind the hunting lodge and then crested the summit.  At the top the landscape looked somewhat different from the mountains that we had climbed in the south the day before.  Well, actually, the horses did all the climbing LOL.  The weather was better than yesterday; the sun was out and shining brightly.  Dalaihan said that the sun would bring the animals out.

At the top of the first mountain we looked down into a bowl-shaped valley and it reminded me of some of the craters on the moon.  The entire landscape was devoid of any plant life except for some yellow grass that poked up through the snow here and there.  Large rocks were strewn about and I pictured the battery-powered moon buggy racing across the barren landscape.

As we crossed the crater valley and came up the other side, I saw that there was a man, sitting in the snow, all by himself.  He was just sitting there as if at a bus stop.  As cold as I was, I couldn’t imagine anyone just sitting out here.  Baatar and Dalaihan rode ahead to meet the man and began talking with him.  When I inquired as to his identity, they said that he was a neighbor and that he was watching his flock.  I looked around and I didn’t see any flock.  I guess the animals have a large roaming area.  The man agreed to help us “scare up” some rabbits and fox.  He walked around the left side of the hill in order to “flank” the back side of the mountain and move any rabbits that might be out on this sunny day.

We continued climbing the hill and I admired the beautiful landscape.  I saw some more red lichens and remembered to get a photo of them.  I noticed that the rocks and pebbles seemed to have so many colors of black and brown, blue, grey, tan, white, and so many other natural shades of color.  My polarized sun glasses cut down the glare and really brought out the colors of the rocks and grass sticking up out of the fresh layers of snow.  I wished that I had my SLR camera and its polarized lenses so that I could more accurately capture the beauty of this land.  My little “deck of cards sized” camera just wasn’t up to the task.  At least with the sun out the camera won’t have a problem with the white balance.  But, the glare really seemed to confuse the processor.  As I look at the photos on the computer, they just aren’t close to what I saw with the naked eye.  But take my word for it, the scenery was spectacular.

We had not seen any rabbit or fox and after we crested 2 or 3 more mountains we stopped to take a break.  The mountain peak provided wide vistas and stunning landscape.  I took a moment to capture some photos and breathe the fresh cold air.

My riding ability increased by the second day and I was climbing on and off of my horse with ease and shooting photos while mounted.  Many times, I would stop my horse to shoot a photo and just as I was about to take a photo, my horse would squirm.  Part of Alpamys’ duties were to make sure that the group stayed together and he often “herded” my horse along.  I later figured out that as Alpamys came up behind me, my horse thought that he was going to get swatted and would start to walk again blurring my shot.

At the top of one mountain the terrain looked particularly rough.  There were jagged rocks that stuck up through the snow and I was sure that my horse would have trouble walking across the icy rocks.  But as sure as he had walked in the past, he went right over the rocks and ice with ease.  He continually amazed me with his ability to hold his footing in this difficult terrain.

After a few hours of hunting, we came to a rather large mountain.  We climbed about three quarters of the way to the top and then cut towards the left constantly watching downhill for prey.  Dalaihan was about ten feet ahead of me when the eagle flexed and tried to fly.  He looked about the same as a dog that has just spotted a cat, he crouched, his wings came up, his head shot forward as he starred down the hill, and the feathers on the back of his neck shot straight out.

Dalaihan instinctively let him go and he soared down the hill hugging its contours.  I was quite excited and yelled to Baatar who was behind me that the eagle was flying.  He yelled shouted back, “What is he going for, do you see anything?”  We watched and when the eagle was about 300 meters from us, I saw it, a huge rabbit.  This rabbit was massive; it looked to be the size of a small dog.  It ran from the left to the right about 20 yards and then stopped.  It was too far away for me to see which way it was looking, but I guessed that it was looking up at the massive eagle that was descending on it…


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