The last time I was at the Bird of Prey Centre I attended the fantastic Eagle and Red Kite half day. The falconer who led the experience was called Shauna and she had kindly let me have some feathers that the Eagles had shed that morning with the view to using them on my Will Lord 1-2-1 day. As it happens we didn't use them on the atlatl dart I made with him but I included them on a couple of atlatl darts I made at home. At the time I said that I would bring back anything I made when I rocked up for the Hawking half day and I brought along one of the darts fletched with Eagle feathers for her to try first if she wanted to. But more on that later...
Onto Kyle, our easygoing falconer for this experience. There were four of us and we had a quick run through some do's and don't's, along with a test flight in the large field behind the centre.
Although the birds will come back to any glove my assigned Harris Hawk was Nobby, as well as being the eldest he also had a missing digit thanks to frostbite. Still very much on his game we were told.
And then we made our way to Kyle's large 4 x 4 where the raptors were loaded onto a box that gives us the phrase 'codger', and then we then piled in too. Kyle has his own, a female, and she was noticeably larger than the males.
We arrived at our destination having seen a Red Kite swoop in at speed to snatch some roadkill in front of us, and got given our birds back along with our hawking bags and a falconry glove, left handed thanks to Henry VIII y'know.
The rolling countryside was gorgeous and the autumnal weather really couldn't have been bettered. Do you know, I think I can see the World of Bushcraft Centre from up here.
Taking our cue from Kyle when to release and retrieve the birds they would often fly a short distance and then perch, often scanning the area with a keen eye. They initially started off catching mice and often we would see the mantling (shielding of food) going on. as we progressed we saw a good amount of Hares run from cover (probably 10-12 during the day), and a Muntjac that moved with lightning speed over a field.
One almost bizarre moment (that included Nobby) was seeing flashes of chestnut brown along a small watercourse and then hearing a commotion by the waters edge. Two Hawks had plopped into the water to take a Moorhen of all things.
Kyle made his way down to separate the raptors from the Moorhen which would be kept and used for food for the birds. I happened to get Nobby back and for a while he didn't want to fly as he was rather bedraggled.
I know from making atlatl darts that tail, like wing feathers, have a bias to their vanes too and I think I worked out which way round it is. I have to say that I'd never noticed what beautiful tail feathers Harris Hawks have until today.
The hawks also caught Kyle some tea in the shape of a make Mallard which he had rather a bramble filled journey to retrieve. We were delayed by a double decker bus full of kids at the centre (don't ask) so Kyle said he would keep us out a little later. Well the time flew and it was heading for two o'clock as we turned and headed for the jalopy. I stopped for a quick bite once at the centre and as I was only doing the half day I left the others to their afternoon with fresh birds.
And finally, what did Shauna think of the atlatl dart with Eagle feather fletchings? I'd returned on a week when she was on holiday! I got Kyle to take a snap to show her but ain't that typical?