March 17, 2016
Ancient Sport Of Falconry Is
Becoming A Modern Hobby
By Bill Wellock
Danville, PA (AP) - High in the air, Houdini pauses.
She sees something.
The 9-year-old peregrine falcon drops hundreds of feet in seconds. She closes in on her target, each turn narrowing the gap.
Her prey, a small bird called a chukar, tries to escape. Houdini gets closer.
Then, she runs out of room. The ground rises up. Her claws aren’t close enough to snatch, and the chukar is getting closer to brush. Houdini is out of her domain as the chukar flees to a thicket of trees and hides. Some feathers remain, but the bird is gone.
``She couldn’t get it,’’ said Lynn Appelman, Houdini’s trainer.
A Red Tail Hawk, trained by a falconer
Another quarry has escaped. Luckily for Houdini, she would still eat that night. Appelman already has a snack ready for her. On another day, they’ll try again.
Appelman is one of the few dedicated falconers in Pennsylvania. The sport is rare and requires a special dedication to an ancient form of hunting.
Falconry has existed for thousands of years, depicted in Roman mosaics from the fifth century, Marco Polo’s accounts of his travels through Asia, and in 16th century Belgian tapestries.
If you could go back before people began writing things down and making art, you might see it there, too.
``We are certain the origins of falconry go back much further than the origins of writing because the earliest written records found describe a highly organized and technical falconry that must have taken many hundreds, if not thousands of years to evolve to that level of sophistication,’’ says the website of The International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey.
In 2016, in a field behind Appelman’s West Hemlock Township home, you can still see the real thing.
Appelman bought his falcon for $1,000 from a breeder in Utah. Falconers put hoods over their falcons to calm the birds, but Appelman couldn’t keep a hood on his, so he named her Houdini.
When Appelman was a boy, he loved birds of prey. His brother knew a falconer, so they went together to see the bird.
Falconers used to need to be at least 21 years old to get a permit, but after the voting age changed to 18, Appelman wrote to the state game commission to see if the age limit for falconry permits had also dropped. It had, so the 19-year-old bought his first bird of prey, a great horned owl named Olly. They hunted together for about five years. One night, Appelman took Olly out to hunt on a snowy field during a moonlit night. He flew away, and Appelman never saw him again.
More birds followed - kestrels, goshawks, red tailed hawks, Harris’s hawks and falcons.
A Harpy Eagle & its owner
The ancient sport is now a modern hobby. For thousands of years, the sport changed very little, but in the last 15 years, many things have changed, Appelman said.
To train Houdini, Appelman uses a transmitter for tracking and a remote-control drone for training. Because she escapes from her hoods, he keeps her in a large metal box when he needs to transport her, and in place of a leather falconry glove, he uses a less expensive welding glove.
The transmitter is one development that’s helped falconers. Hunters want their birds to be hungry enough to hunt, but nourished enough to be strong. With a transmitter, Appelman said, he can lean more toward the well-fed side of nourishment with Houdini. If she loses interest in the hunt and flies off, the transmitter helps him track her.
Falconers can hunt in the same locations as other hunters, although Appelman never hunts on state game lands because there are too many hunters there. He prefers private lands.
On a windy day in January, he took Houdini out for practice and to show off what she could do.
Appelman starts by sending his drone high into the sky. The machine carries bait, and it’s supposed to lure Houdini up, getting her in position for an attack. She circles, gaining altitude, until Appelman thinks she’s at a good height. Then, he suddenly sends the drone soaring and throws out a chukar. The idea is that Houdini will lose interest in the first bait and zoom toward the small bird below her, hunting the way a wild falcon would.
Success can be fickle for a falconer. Houdini usually catches a bird about one in four times Appelman throws one out during training. In the field on a real hunt, the success rate is more like one in 10. When she went out recently, on one attempt she ignored the chukar and snatched the bait from the drone. On a second attempt, she went for the chukar but missed.
The sport is a rare form of hunting these days. There are three active falconers in Luzerne County and 182 falconry permits in the state, said Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. In comparison, the game commission issued about 943,000 total general hunting licenses in 2014.
Falconry is a commitment. The game commission asks novices if they can commit a minimum of an hour during daylight each day, every day to the sport and cautions that for every hour of hunting, much more time is needed to care for and train the bird.
``If this time is not available - if other obligations interfere - it is far better never to begin the process of becoming a falconer,’’ the commission website says.
Appelman is hopeful he will be able to hunt pheasants next year at a wild pheasant recovery area near Washingtonville in Montour County. He’ll have to wait for the game commission’s decision. The commission wants to open the area to hunting, but has no plans now to do that, said Lau. The commission has seen some promising reproduction from the area, but not enough to sustain a huntable wild population.
In the meantime, Appelman will keep training Houdini, preparing for the hunt.
``Falconry is a blood sport, and some people are turned off by that. All we’re doing is trying to get a closer look at what happens in nature every day,’’ Appelman said. ``The competition between predator and prey is something a lot of people never get a chance to see. It gives me a better understanding of the whole natural process. Up close, you see how they both react. That’s what got me in the first place and has kept me all these years.’’
Virtual Reality App Timelooper Puts Users Back In History
By James Brooks
London (AP) - Imagine watching frantic shopkeepers busily extinguish the Great Fire of London, or sheltering from Nazi bombing raids during the Blitz.
Now, thanks to a new virtual reality app, you can travel back in time to be immersed in these events.
The Timelooper app allows users to experience key moments in London history with just a smartphone and a cardboard headset.
For example, when Timelooper cofounder Andrew Feinberg visits the Tower of London, a historic castle on the banks of London’s Thames River, he doesn’t queue up with hordes of tourists to catch a glimpse of the royal family’s crown jewels. Instead, he uses Timelooper’s time travel tourism app to experience the tower over 750 years ago, in 1255.
Instead of seeing a busy London tourist site, Feinberg sees a medieval marketplace, a formidable fortress, even an elephant being led down a path.
``We actually overlay the current infrastructure with what the infrastructure of the tower and the surrounding environment was like in 13th century London,’’ explained Feinberg. ``So for example, now you see a Starbucks and now you see the tower as it looks today with the moat drained. When we take you back in time, you actually see the historically accurate representation of the tower in its heyday.’’
Not far away at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Timelooper users travel back to the Great Fire of London 350 years ago, in 1666. The fire burned for four days, destroying over 13,000 houses.
Inventor Yigiter using App, and an image of The London Fire
The smartphone’s built-in motion detection allows time travelers wearing a cardboard headset to move their gaze around the virtual world, seemingly exploring London centuries ago. The videos are location-based, meaning visitors must visit the sites to unlock the historical experiences.
Feinberg and his cofounder, Yigit Yigiter, were frustrated with current tourism technology, which they say hasn’t evolved much since the introduction of audio guides. In 2014, Yigiter’s wife brought home a Google cardboard VR headset, and he began thinking about an immersive virtual reality tourism experience. By September 2015, he’d quit his job in private equity and moved to the British capital to begin work on the first incarnation of the app. The first version was launched in July 2015 and featured three sites.
While Timelooper uses VR to offer a unique historical perspective, the technology has been exploding in many directions throughout the tourism industry. Carnival Cruise Line uses it to market cruises, the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee uses it to show off a new rollercoaster, and the Seattle Space Needle uses it to help visitors appreciate the view from its sky-high observatory. The Dali Museum in Florida created a virtual reality experience that lets visitors walk through a landscape painting by the Surrealist master Salvador Dali. And a company called YouVisit has created over 300 VR experiences for destinations from Vatican City to Mexico.
Timelooper is a member of the Travel Tech Lab, an incubator space for travel technology start-ups, partly created by London & Partners, the city’s official promotional company. Following the launch last year, Feinberg and Yigiter were contacted by destinations from China to Spain.
``Nothing replaces the experience of being on site, but you don’t always know what the stories are about those sights,’’ Yigiter said.
Timelooper’s travel app is also used by those working in London’s booming tourism industry. Blue Badge tourist guide Ruth Polling pulls her cardboard headset out as she escorts visitors to Trafalgar Square and lets them see what happened on Sept. 23, 1940, when a bomb dropped by Nazi Germany exploded near Nelson’s Column, a famous landmark and iconic part of the victory celebrations held five years later to mark the end of the war in Europe.
``My job is a storyteller,’’ Polling said. ``I’m here to conjure up what things are like and this just gives me something else I can use, particularly with small children, getting them really engaged.’’
London landmarks are also finding Timelooper’s VR experience useful in giving a new-age twist to a decades-old attraction. The Thames River’s 120-year-old Tower Bridge is set to launch its own Timelooper experience in April, taking visitors back to 1666, before the bridge was even built. Instead, headset wearers view the raging Great Fire of London from a boat’s crow’s nest as it sails down the river.
``When you’re here at the bridge, you are told a story of how things were but you can’t physically see that,’’ says Chris Earlie, the head of Tower Bridge. The app also helps immerse international visitors into the story without ``translating endless amount of text.’’
Timelooper plans to launch in New York City this April, allowing tourists to witness the famous kiss that was photographed in Times Square in August 1945 on VJ Day, the day World War II officially ended with the surrender of Japan, and to see the iconic picture of workers eating lunch atop a skyscraper during construction of the Rockefeller Center in 1932.