Thursday, 4 October 2012

The one where Ben picks up a bird...., it's alright, this isn't an admission of marital disharmony! For Ben's birthday earlier in the year, I bought him a "Falconry Experience" half day, up at the English School of Falconry near Bedford. Finally a couple of weeks ago we got to go and do it - they were so busy it had to wait until three months after his birthday! well worth waiting for though - the centre itself is lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The first half hour or so was spent in a short induction, telling us a little bit about the birds generally, and the safety stuff - keeping our fingers away from beaks and feet!

Yes, you can see why they said that, can't you! Following on from that it was time to fly some of the birds between the members of our group - first a beautiful Tawny Owl....

 Stunning, eh? These are the birds that make the well known "Twit-Twoo" call - although if you hear that what you are actually hearing is two owls, one male, one female, calling to one another. (Yes, if you were in any doubt ladies, the Male is of course the "Twit"!). The surprising thing about these owls is just how light they are - in fact, for their size, ALL owls are lighter than you might expect - I barely noticed when the little lady above landed on the glove. They are silent in flight as well of course - all the better for pouncing on unsuspecting prey!

The Second bird we flew was this wonderful female Kestrel...

 Pretty, aren't they? These of course are the birds we commonly see above motorway verges - hovering with incredible precision, head absolutely still. They are the only bird of prey to be able to do a "true" hover - some others such as the buzzard can hover with the aid of the wind, but not simply by using their wings and tail feathers. What you don't realise is just how small they are - they look quite big up in the sky with wings extended and tail fanned. Actually, that photo isn't the best to give you a sense of scale - try this:

 That gives a better sense of scale with the glove in the picture as well. the female bird is quite substantially bigger than the male, too - they really are quite tiny!

After that we headed off to handle some more birds for a while - a Chilean Blue Eagle, a Harris Hawk, and starting off with this European Eagle Owl - substantially bigger than the others, that one, and I confess to having a slightly achy arm after holding him for a while!

Finally we watched one of the Centre's twice-daily flying displays, which rather unusually included storks, and pelicans, although there wasn't that much "flying" from those! The whole experience was fantastic, great birds in a wonderful setting, and we learnt lots, too! We're both now keen to do more along the same lines - possibly a day or half day hunting with Harris Hawks, so watch this space!


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