Thursday, 23 June 2016

Eagle and Red kite experience

I've been to the English school of falconry for a visit before with my son, and I recall the falconer who was running our hawk and owl experience saying that an Eagle landing on your glove was like [paraphrase] trying to catch a sack of potatoes one handed as it slammed into your glove [/paraphrase] and that sort of size and power really appealed to me, coupled with the fact that I absolutely adore Red Kites which I see at home on an almost daily basis, so which course to book myself on? I reckoned that the  the Eagle and Red Kite half day experience would fit the bill!

A Goshawk-The eyes that say 'Killll'

I have falconry centres closer to me but the English School of Falconry is keenly priced and it's therefore worth me driving to just outside of Bedford and is fairly easy to find. The only downside is that it's near the World of Bushcraft centre which is very easy to spend money in, which happened last time I was at the falconry centre.


Once there I had a quick look round the birds to get a few snaps and once we met up to start the experience with our falconer Shauna, the weather soon turned to light on and off mizzle. We initially started off holding a selection of birds undercover and started with a light American Kestrel so that folk could get used to a raptor on the glove (I was the only one in our group who'd been before). We soon went up from a 4oz Kestrel to a 4lb Eagle Owl, not technically an Eagle but impressively sized nevertheless.


And then onto our first Eagle; the white frontage and bare legs tells you that this is a Fish Eagle. The left hand picture shows off the impressive wingspan of these birds rather well.

And this is a built-for-purpose Eagle designed to take Lizards and Snakes with short tail feathers to minimise damage in dry, arrid environments, and bushy feathers on it's head to help stop snake bites hitting home.

We ventured outside for the latter part of the holding part of the experience. This fantastic bird is an American Bald Eagle (shortened from piebald) and despite it's stern expression (and the fact that I am leaning back a tad) it was very biddable and even took it's blinking contest defeat in good spirit. The weight on our arms was now getting very noticeable.


And finally it was onto this noisy female who weighed in at around 10 lbs and really did need some support. Heavy yes,  but another beautiful bird and yes I'm leaning back a tad again. It did however squawk right in my face unexpectedly at one stage which really made me jump.

And after a quick pit stop for the attendees I grabbed a brew from the café and had another quick wander around. I chanced upon a Harris Hawk mantling (hiding) it's food and then took a picture of the Red Kite in it's enclosure, a bird who we would soon be seeing in the display arena.

Once we'd all met up we were again started off with a 'lightweight', in this case a semi-retired Barn Owl to get us used to the feel of not only the raptors on our glove but the landing and taking off too. As we started we had the bonus of the mizzle stopping.

We all had a go and again we went through the process of  handling bigger and bigger birds which were being flown in different flight patterns, and all to glove. Most of them knew their lines well and it went smoothly.

The sack of potatoes paraphrase that I used in the first paragraph was about spot on by this time but that's all part of the experience. The large winged birds did cause a lot of screwed up /obscured faces and it meant that several pictures had to be canned.

As we headed towards lunch time we reached the peak of the gig which was the pretty boy Red Kite and it will come as no surprise to find that it was a really special moment. We were advised to hold our arms up high and grip the chicken morsel like our lives depended on it. Well he picked my pocket not once but twice however rather fortuitously he hung around on my glove.

Is it actually possible for anyone to ever get bored of seeing this magnificent bird? The other bonus to flying a Kite was that he wasn't overly heavy which, as we were holding our arms aloft was a distinct advantage.

The Kite brought the handling part of our experience to a close, but the Kite had one last performance to offer and went chasing chicken portions that were tossed up in the air for it. As you can see it missed this leg and instantly went into a near vertical dive after it...What a shame the dive picture came out a little blurry.


I'd asked Shauna if I could possibly have some shed Eagle feathers that I'd seen near a stand for a future bushcraft project and she kindly went and got them for me. I decided to head for the RSPB Sandy reserve to have my lunch and this little fellow cautiously popped out near me, and rather perversely this baby bunny had reminded me that I'm booked into a  hawking half day in October with the falconry centre.

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