Falconry Family

The Moglichs have specialized in avian artistry for three generations.
STORY & PHOTOS BY ERIC CACHINERO

As the early morning sun paints its colors across the Carson Range, the piercing scream of a hawk slices through the serenity. We slide stealthily past rabbitbrush and sage toward the sound of mallard ducks over the next bank. Our hearts race in anticipation of the moment the hawk will make its majestic flight.

The bird sits perched on Ryan Moglich’s glove, digging in its sharp talons as it waits to make a move for its prey. The silence breaks as we rush over the bank, only to be greeted by the sound of mallards flapping and quacking as they make their getaway—and it’s on to the next gully.

It’s the last weekend of duck season, and Mark Moglich and his son, Ryan, have invited me to spend it with them enjoying their art and passion—falconry. The Moglich family has been breeding, raising, training, and selling falcons and hawks across the globe for three generations, and their dedication shows in the extraordinary animals they raise. Housing about 80 falcons and hawks at their Gardnerville facility, they spend countless hours with these beautiful birds of prey.

Falconry Evolves

Narrowly defined, falconry is the sport of using trained birds of prey to hunt wild game. However, the sport encompasses much more. Falconry requires a strong commitment to raising and training the birds and ensuring they have adequate shelter, hunting opportunities, and veterinary care. Although the word “falconer” is traditionally used to describe someone who flies a falcon, and the word “austringer” is used to describe someone who flies a hawk, falconer is now the common application.

A tradition steeped in history, falconry has been practiced for millennia. Although its exact beginning is debated, it is widely believed to have originated in ancient Mongolian and Chinese tribes of Eastern Asia. Falconry eventually made its way into early European society, where it evolved into an indicator of one’s place in the social hierarchy. “When you look at early European society, birds determined status,” Ryan says. “The gyrfalcon was the bird designated for kings, the peregrine for earls, and the goshawk for yeomen.”

Falconry for recreational hunting is still practiced today in many countries and is an increasingly popular means of hunting in Nevada. According to Ryan, the Mongolians still practice falconry in its traditional form, hunting with golden eagles from horseback.

“When I was 12 years old my father came home with a redtailed hawk,” Mark says. “From that day on, I was infatuated with
the sport.” Mark learned the sport quickly, built his collection of birds, obtained the proper state and federal licensing, and grew his knowledge until he was able to begin raising and training birds on a larger scale. Mark introduced Ryan to falconry at an early age, and Ryan’s love of the sport grew to match his father’s. Today, the two work together to maintain a professional breeding and training environment for their birds.

All in the Family
Ryan Moglich and his goshawk, one-year-old Aspen, enjoy a rest after a long morning of duck hunting in the fields of Gardnerville.

The Moglich family raises a number of different types of hawks and falcons, taking particular pride in their snow-white arctic gyrfalcons (pronounced “jer-falcon”). Along with the northern goshawk (“goss-hawk”), the gyrfalcon is Mark’s most prized bird and the most popular among buyers. “Nobody had gyrfalcons 20 years ago,” Mark says. “It was like the Ferrari you could never have, and now we’re breeding them.” Mark and Ryan also raise peregrine falcons, which can reach speeds of more than 200 mph while diving for prey, making them the fastest members of the animal kingdom.

Training the birds requires patience, devotion, and a keen understanding of how falcons behave. There are two different methods to acquiring a bird to train, each having benefits over the other. The first is to raise the bird from birth. This method provides falconers with birds imprinted to their trainer, making them tamer than wild birds. The second method involves trapping a wild bird and taming it. While this method provides the falconer with a bird that already has hunting experience, trapped birds are much more wild and therefore harder to train.

While training, Mark and Ryan use a method of meticulous weight monitoring to ensure that the birds hunt properly. Mark explains that the birds must be hungry enough to return to the trainer for food, and they must also be hungry enough to want to hunt. “You have to weigh them daily because if they’re too heavy, they won’t come back to you,” Mark says.

Hawks and falcons that are bred specifically as hunting birds need to have their confidence built up—much like a well-trained house pet—in order to perform optimally. Once mature and properly trained, the birds are sold to licensed falconers all over the world.

In Nevada, large falcons such as the gyrfalcon and the goshawk—which can weigh anywhere from 1.8 to 4.6 pounds—are capable of hunting ducks, grouse, pheasants, and rabbits. Smaller hawks such as the American kestrel—which is used as an introductory falconry bird—only weighs about four ounces and is capable of hunting much smaller, non-game animals such as grasshoppers, mice, and small birds.

The Hunt
Peregrine falcon/gyrfalcon hybrids are one of the many birds that are raised by the Moglich family. A common hybrid in falconry, this type of falcon is a popular choice among the Moglichs’ customers.

Hunting with the birds can be especially challenging considering the skittish nature of their prey—especially ducks. While attempting to hunt late-season ducks, Ryan and his goshawk, Aspen, set off into the fields near Gardnerville, scanning the irrigation ditches for signs of game.

 

Armed with a periscope that allows him to spot ducks without prematurely spooking them, Ryan makes his way quietly along the banks of the ditches, listening closely for the sound of waterfowl. Ryan slowly approaches with Aspen at the ready and attempts to spook the ducks into flying. The key is to get close enough to the ducks before spooking them, so the falcon is able to take off after them while they’re in mid-flight.

Because of the unique nature of the sport, specialized equipment is needed. While being carried through areas where there is no game, or while being transported in a special cage built in Ryan’s truck bed, Aspen dons a small helmet called a hood to keep her calm and minimize distractions.

While hunting, Ryan must wear a thick leather glove that covers his hand and forearm to protect him from the falcon’s sharp talons. To ensure that his falcon does not fly away, Ryan attaches two leather anklets connected with a piece of rope or leather called “Jesses,” which acts as a tether and gives Ryan control while Aspen is not in the air.

Referred to as “the real sport of kings,” falconry provides serious and dedicated falconers with the ultimate connection between man and nature, working together toward a common goal and
building a strong mutual relationship. The special bond between falcon and falconer is not something that can be easily broken. A family tradition that has spanned nearly three lifetimes, falconry continues to hold a special place in the hearts of the Moglich family.

 

HawkWatch International

Nevada’s Goshute Mountains are home to one of the West’s most important raptor research sites.
STORY & PHOTOS BY CHARLIE JOHNSTON

Matt Unrau of the Elko Daily Free Press releases a large goshawk during a September 2012 media trip to the HawkWatch International Goshute Research Site in northeastern Nevada’s Goshute Mountains, south of West Wendover.

Few places on earth offer the kinds of perspectives afforded from the thousands of ridge tops that punctuate Nevada’s more than 300 mountain ranges. From these lofty earthen turrets one can marvel at the endless expanses of the Great Basin and ponder their place in all of it.

 

One such prominence, the crest of northeastern Nevada’s Goshute Mountains, looks, at first glance, much like any other Nevada ridgeline. But a closer inspection reveals that this conspicuously populated perch and the substantial camp scattered about its rock escarpments and juniper trees holds higher significance than just a stunning view.

The ridge is home to the HawkWatch International Goshute Research Site, and the work that is done there during each fall migration offers crucial perspective on the wellbeing of the world around us. Eagles, falcons, hawks, and other raptors are apex predators with large ranges and distributions and are thereby especially sensitive to environmental contamination and other human disturbances. For these reasons, they are exceptional indicators of the health of their ecosystems—the talon-clad canaries in the mines that are our planet’s various bionetworks.

Sharp-shinned hawks are among the up to 18 species of raptors counted at the Goshute Research Site.

HawkWatch, as the name implies, utilizes the unique position of these animals in an effort to conserve the environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors, and, in turn, sustaining and protecting the birds themselves. Born in 1986 of founder Steve Hoffman’s desire to learn more about raptor migrations in the West, Hawk-Watch has counted, banded, observed, gauged, and gathered data on millions of birds by briefly capturing them during the animals’ winter migrations.

And that’s where the Goshute Mountains come in. One of HawkWatch’s longest-running Raptor Migration Project sites, the Goshutes lay along the busy Intermountain Flyway. Each year, from August 15 through November 5, between 18,000 and 25,000 migrating raptors from up to 18 species are counted at the site, one of the largest concentrations in the western United States and Canada.

Hoffman first started observing and banding raptors in the Goshutes in 1980, and standardized counts at the site began in—and have continued since—1983. The counts conducted atop the range monitor long-term trends in raptor populations using the more than 55,000 birds that have been banded there. HawkWatch also tracks raptors banded at the Goshute site using satellite telemetry, allowing the organization to learn even more about the breeding, wintering distributions, and migratory habits of various species.

As though the Goshute site weren’t already unique enough, there’s more. A heart-pounding 2.5-mile trail leads 1,800 feet up the eastern flank of the Goshutes, and those up for the challenging hike are welcome and encouraged to visit and learn more about HawkWatch’s work.

Directions
HawkWatch volunteers spend long hours perched atop the Goshute Mountains looking for and recording their observations of passing birds of prey.

While the hike to the Goshute Research Site is strenuous, accessing the trailhead is easy with a high-clearance vehicle. From the Ferguson Spring Nevada Department of Transportation Station, 24 miles south of West Wendover via U.S. Highway Alternate 93, turn west onto the well-traveled dirt road. The road leads to a “T” after 1.8 miles; turn right and continue 1.3 miles to another fork atop a hill. Turn left at the fork and continue two miles to the parking area and well-marked trailhead.

There is no water at the research site nor any water sources along the road or trail, so bring plenty of your own. Make sure to dress in layers; a warm summer day can turn blustery and cold in a hurry in Nevada’s mountains, and the research site sits at nearly 9,000 feet. To help ensure minimal impact, HawkWatch asks visitors to practice “Leave No Trace” backcountry ethics and discourages groups of more than 10 people without prearranged reservations.

Full-time HawkWatch volunteers spend many hours observing, capturing, tagging, and releasing birds atop the Goshutes and infrequently get off the mountain for the comforts of civilization. They are always appreciative of visitors who bring them fresh fruit and will gladly let you carry some of their recycling back down the mountain if you’re up for it.

Adopt-A-Hawk

The problem with traditional pets is that it can be rather time consuming to properly care for them, which makes adopting a hawk an easy way to claim a pet without any of the day-to-day responsibility. Adopting a hawk costs anywhere from $35 for a sharpshinned hawk to $250 for a peregrine falcon and entitles you to a certificate with your specific bird’s band number and information about the species and a photo, a one-year membership to HawkWatch, and, in the case of satellite telemetry raptor adoptions, the opportunity to name and receive periodic updates on the whereabouts of your bird.

To clarify, “your” hawk isn’t coming to live with you, but your donation to HawkWatch will help ensure that it and its offspring will be around for future generations to appreciate and, perhaps, even adopt.

RELATED EVENTS

Spring Wings Festival
Bird-watching tours and bird-related seminars, workshops, and exhibits
May 17-19
Fallon
springwings.org
775-423-5128

Goshute Peak Trail Maintenance
June 2-8
HawkWatch International
Goshute Research Site
wildernessvolunteers.org
801-949-3099

Eagles & Agriculture
Raptor and ranch photography tours and photography workshops
February 2014
Carson Valley
carsonvalley.org
775-782-8144

 

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Two Wheels and the Open Road

Nevada’s highways and byways provide scenic cycling getaways.
BY TIM HAUSERMAN

The joy of road biking comes from finding a relatively lightly traveled, but well-maintained strip of asphalt that keeps you spinning through an array of beautiful scenery. In Nevada, the best rides are found where the mountains meet the desert or gentle rangelands abut snow-capped peaks.

You can roll pleasantly across the flats enjoying pastoral views then turn a corner and begin to climb, climb, climb; or you can ride in the early-morning stillness past rock formations right out of a western movie. The best part of a road ride in Nevada, however, is that it allows you to enjoy the splendor of the state at a speed at which it can be truly appreciated.

Following are six scenic Silver State rides (three in Northern Nevada and three in Southern Nevada). All lie within a 90-minute drive of either Reno or Las Vegas.

Northern Nevada

Verdi to the Mount Rose Highway

This popular Reno ride manages to stick mostly to lightly used roads—or those with wide bike lanes—while taking you through The Biggest Little City’s suburban area. The roundtrip is about 45 miles, but a variety of potential starting places allows you to cater the trip to the length of your preference.

A great place to start is Crystal Peak Park in Verdi. The route follows the Truckee River on Old Highway 40 east to Reno before meandering through pleasant neighborhoods on the city’s southwestern edge. After a few miles of scenic riverside riding, you reach a bike trail near the Somersett community before passing through Mogul to 4th Street. Again, following the river, 4th Street leads to Mayberry Drive, where you cross the Truckee River and turn right, quickly climbing Plateau Street.

Plateau leads up to Caughlin Parkway, which brings you to the steepest section of your ride and expansive views of the river, northwest Reno, and Peavine Peak, which dominates the skyline from this vantage. Caughlin crosses McCarran Boulevard and becomes Cashell Boulevard, winding down to a left turn on Skyline Boulevard, followed by a right turn on Moana Lane, more downhill, and another right on Lakeside Drive.

Lakeside winds through pastures and suburban horse country and eventually turns into Holcomb Lane, which connects riders to a right turn at Thomas Creek Road. Turn left from Thomas Creek onto Foothill Road and take a quick right turn onto Boulder Glen Way, which leads to a connector trail and bridge over the creek and to the southern continuation of Thomas Creek Road, which you will follow the rest of the way to your turnaround at the convenience store at State Route 431, the Mount Rose Highway.

Bowers Mansion to and around Washoe Lake

This 22-mile loop with less than 1,000 feet of climbing makes for a view-filled, but not overly difficult, ride. It takes you around Washoe Lake, known for wildlife and occasional strong winds. Check the wind conditions before embarking on this ride.

Begin and end at the historic Bowers Mansion where you will find parking, restrooms, and an expanse of grass under the trees, an inviting spot for a post-ride picnic. Ride south on Old Highway 395 to a right turn on Franktown Road, where a pleasantly winding road takes you through old ranches and striking homes right at the foot of the Carson Range.

There is a slight climb, followed by a fun downhill ride back to Old 395, where you turn right. Take a left under Interstate 580 to Eastlake Boulevard, which brings you around the southern and eastern shores of Washoe Lake. Ride through Washoe Lake State Park, New Washoe City, and eventually back to Old 395 to return to Bowers Mansion. Over the last few miles, keep your eyes peeled to the sky for hang gliders as you pass Slide Mountain Hang Glider Landing Zone.

Genoa to Diamond Valley and Back

My favorite ride in Northern Nevada begins on Jacks Valley Road in one of Nevada’s oldest towns, Genoa. The 42-mile route takes you along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada through beautiful farm country, wetlands, open sage lands, and past several hiking trails.

Six miles on Jacks Valley Road brings you to Kingsbury Grade, where, if you are up for a big climb, you can grunt up 2,500 feet to the top. If that doesn’t sound appealing, Jacks Valley Road becomes Foothill Road past Genoa and continues mostly level in the shadow of the Sierra. A right turn on Fredricksburg Road takes you into California, where the climb up Emigrant Trail brings you to Woodsford at the intersection of California State Routes 88 and 89.

Take Highway 89 toward Markleeville briefly, before turning left on Diamond Valley Road where you ride through a lovely, remote valley before returning to Fredricksburg Road and retracing your route back to Genoa. Just a mile before Genoa on your return trip is 1862 David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort, a great place for a post-ride soak in mineral baths.

Dawn Andone
Southern Nevada

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon

Start this 43-mile ride at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Charleston Boulevard and Desert Foothills Drive in Summerlin, then head west to Red Rock Canyon and Blue Diamond. It’s a pleasant ride on a lightly traveled, well-maintained road past Joshua trees and an austere desert landscape.

Locals call this ride a “great place to spin,” with the tiny town of Blue Diamond providing a general store for resupply. Las Vegas biking expert Lisa Caterbone, from BikingLasVegas.com, calls the one-way (outbound) Red Rock Canyon loop, “one of the hardest 13-mile rides I’ve ever done. While really fun and incredibly beautiful, it is not for the faint of heart.”

If you hit the route early, the only sound you will hear is your own breath. Quiet that gasping sound by taking frequent breaks to enjoy the stunning vistas of bright red, orange, and creamcolored rock formations. “It’s even nice on a cloudy day,” Caterbone says, adding that the clouds “cast beautiful shadows on the mountains.” When it rains, there is nothing like a rainbow over Red Rock Canyon.

River Mountains Loop Trail

This 35-mile, paved bike path with spectacular views of Lake Mead, Boulder City, and Henderson was completed in 2011. It includes some fun switchbacks, tight turns, and a steep set of climbs known as Three Sisters. Plan on getting in a major workout, as there is 2,500 feet of elevation gain on the route.

For many riders, what makes the River Mountains Loop Trail special is that you get the peace of mind of spinning 35 miles without encountering vehicle traffic. Though it’s just a short drive from Las Vegas, one-third of the trail is in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, affording beautiful lakeviews and a serene feeling of remoteness.

visit carson city nv

Keep your eyes peeled for jack rabbits and bighorn sheep, and an occasional rattlesnake may be found basking on the trail in the sun. As a loop, you can start almost anywhere and go in either direction. My favorite starting point is Henderson’s Railroad Pass Casino.

Valley of Fire State Park

Caterbone says the ride through Valley of Fire State Park is “one of most spectacular in Nevada.” Cyclists pass through dramatic desert landscape on a lightly traveled road. Amid the dazzling rock formations and bright colors, you’ll feel as though you have been dropped onto another planet. The first portion of the ride is a quiet climb through a stark desert landscape.

When you reach the highest point, the road switches to a dark-tar color as you wind through a landscape of vibrant red and orange rock formations. A number of pullouts allow you to ponder such fascinations as Bee Hive Rocks, Elephant Rock, and The Seven Sisters.

Lincoln County

To complete this challenging 63-mile out-and-back ride, park at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza at Exit 75 off Interstate 15. Ride east through the park to Overton for a mid-ride break before turning around to return to the start. Given the potential for extreme heat and the remote nature of this ride, it is not recommended that you ride alone or in the heat of summer.

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