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Falcon Crest

POSTED June 11, 2011 10:01 p.m.
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Jim Misunas Great Bend Tribune/

A Harris Hawk lands perfectly above the head of...

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By Jim Misunas

A three-ring circus would not be enough to house the activity at the Great Bend Renaissance Faire.
Bright colorful costumes mix with sweet melodic sound from every corner of the Great Bend Expo Complex, three miles west of Great Bend off 10th Street.
Where else can you see Topeka’s Jim Moshier playing a harp next door to Krystina Ratzlaff, a flutist from Arkansas City?
There’s The Scallywags, The Laundry Lasses, Marko The Fool, The Royal Army of Comstock and Brotherhood of Steel — Oh My!
But there was nothing more striking than the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey, which capture everyone’s attention.
The band of falconers travel across the Midwest for Renaissance Faires accompanied by their eye-catching Harris Hawks, Red-Headed Hawk and Eurasian Eagle-Owl. The stars of the show were Harris Hawks Velkyria and Jessie; Winter, a Red-Headed Hawk; and Ritutal and Kitara, Eurasian Eagle-Owls, whose native home is from Europe and Asia. 
Master Falconer Bob Aanonsen of Coweta, Okla., became intrigued by the hawks in an interesting way. He’s licensed to keep five birds at a time.
“I attended a Renaissance festival in Houston, Texas and saw the hawks’ exhibit. I knew immediately that was something I wanted to do,” he said. “The birds allow us to share nature with people.”
The master falconer and certified wildlife rehabilitator founded the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey educational and rescue center in Coweta. Royal Gauntlet is a rescue organization that serves to educate the public about raptors and birds of prey. Summertime is the optimum time for showcasing the birds, which lose feathers and some of their ability to fly effectively during the summer. 
“We provide education on raptors, raptor biology, and ecology in our Bird of Prey demonstrations,” he said.
Accompanying Aanonsen were Carmen Hager and Jennifer Burge of Wichita, Roger Tolliver and Craig Damford of Tulsa, Okla.; Jennifer Smith of Choctaw, Okla.; and Shannon Elkins of Patusa, Okla.
Part of Aanonsen’s responsibility as a master falconer is to help train falconers in a two-year apprenticeship program. He works with would-be falconers how to handle the hawks and owls. They must pass a written test to be certified as a falconer. Part of their training is working with the birds when they hunt their prey during from fall into the spring season.
“The federal migratory bird act makes it illegal to own a bird of prey without a permit,” he said. “We enjoy showcasing them for the educational aspects.”
Aanonsen said the birds are very intelligent and easy to train. Their long-range vision is eight times better than a human’s eyesight. Given a choice, he said some of the birds would fly to freedom.
“All of these birds want to inherently go back to the wild,” he said. “But we train them by providing them with food that they like.”
The food of choice Saturday was turkey. The birds enjoy any type of meat.
Aanonsen said falconry raises awareness about the ecological importance of the birds, who survive on mice, rats and snakes.
The Great Bend Renaissance Faire will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday at the Expo Area, west of Great Bend. Tickets for the event are $6 per person with children 11 and under admitted for free. Food vendors, refreshments and Renaissance and fantasy items are available. The area has ample shade available.

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