Hawk Conservancy Trust - a Day with the Birds
The XYL and I try to visit the Hawk Conservancy Trust once or twice a year, it's only an hour away from us, near Andover. This time we took a couple of friends who hadn't visited before. Here is an abridged version of the visit, down from 350 photos.
This lady actually appears late in the day - I have placed her here to whet your appetite.
The entrance is unassuming but it opens up inside to a sales area with very high quality bird-related objects on sale, for all ages.
Having bought your entrance ticket you can wander round looking at the birds behind wire, all helpfully labelled. For those I can't name, like this one, my excuse is that I'm using the camera!
Spectacled owl. These first five owl photos were taken through wire.
Being daytime the owls take absolutely no notice of what is going on.
This King Vulture did a bit of flashing though.
If you time your arrival and tour correctly, you can view the feeding of the vultures at 11.30 and listen to details of how the population of these birds has declined by 90% in recent years.
The first flying demonstration is at 11.45, starting with one of my favourite birds, the Barn Owl.
They flew two. The seating is arranged so that birds fly past, across, in front of and through the spectators.
This little Burrowing Owl was a real favourite among the visitors.
He had to be taught his burrowing skills at the Conservancy and demonstrated them through wooden tunnels and then through a tunnel in an earth mound, too far away for me to get a shot.
Molly is a Great Grey Owl who flies completely noiselessly over and almost touching our heads. She is known affectionately as 'a flying duvet' as her bulk is all feathers.
Now a Lanner Falcon. She was brought on hooded (hoodwinked); when this was removed she shook herself (roused) and then flew, at speeds, well, up to 100mph, we think.
At the end of her unphotographable display (by me at any rate) she was allowed to catch her lure; this slightly distant shot adds another word to our vocabulary from Falconry - she is 'mantling' over her prey, from which we get 'mantlepiece' - the cover over the fireplace.
Now a display by vultures - in this case a Turkey Vulture.
They are wonderful fliers and give the ordinary photographer a chance to catch them in the air.
Visitors are instructed to keep their heads down and be prepared to duck! They pass over the seating area at nil altitude!
And they get this close!
A dummy carcase was brought out to demonstrate how vultures eat, and why they have no feathers on their head!
Imagine the yuk that would accumulate on feathers!
I got several shots like this.
As we walked up to the eagle flying area we passed an enclosure containing four Great Bustards, here to recover from injury - they are much bigger than I had imagined - turkey sized. They are being re-introduced on Salisbury Plain.
The 2pm flying demonstration up on the wildflower meadow is a wonderful experience, with red kites, black kites, Bald Eagles and today a Peregrine Falcon.
The commentary takes a break and the flight of kites is accompanied by music -
- and kites demonstrate their dexterity by catching food pellets in mid air and transferring them from talons to beak. There is a pellet at top centre of this shot.
Added later: title, "On Finals"
Two bald eagles are released several miles away and return to the fist. This bird weighs 9 lb and several ounces.
This is why you wouldn't want to receive an eagle without a thick leather glove.
This peregrine falcon was doing over 100 mph at the end of a stoop so I was very pleased to get this......
.... and this.
After that flying demonstration we made our way back down to the arena where a Harris Hawk was made available for visitors to hold and fly. On the way we passed this show-off.
The Harris Hawk makes you blink as it comes to the glove,
.... but is more flap than impact.
At 3.30 there is a demonstration of flying owls in a wooded area. I managed to catch this White Faced Owl from Africa sitting still.
- but not many more worth looking at. They flitted through the trees, perched on stumps and occasionally gave one a view of what the last seconds of life of a small furry animal look like.
At the end of the flying visitors can hold an owl - in this case the White Faced Owl..
And finally, at 4.30, up on the wild flower meadow a bucket of food is emptied on the ground for whatever chooses to appear. Quite a few herons turned up; to finish I choose this black and white shot of herons on a dead tree.
That's about it, unless I can doctor a few more of my less successful shots. I recommend a visit to this place to anyone with evan half a liking for birds. The Hawk Conservancy Trust does a lot for the conservation of rare species, membership is not that expensive if you live near enough and it's a really interesting day out and a challenge for anyone with a camera! And it's closed only two days a year.
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