Thursday, 21 April 2016

Absolute Beginner

Getting started in Falconry turned out to be easier than I thought.  My experience with birds of prey wasn't exactly extensive - but I had been so inspired by the falconry experience on the camping trip that I thought I would try and find out more. So I emailed the company that organised the experience and asked if they needed any help.  I was in luck - they always need help and said "How's tomorrow for a trial day?" Yikes that was quick...

So armed with practically no knowledge I turned, up for my first day; this proved to be an insight into a new and exciting world. 

The Falconry company I work for, John Dowling Falconry Ltd, deals mainly with Education sessions and Pest Control. 

I arrived to a stretch of lawn surrounded by aviaries and spread out across the grass were a number of blocks and bow perches, each with a bird on top. John took me on a tour to meet the birds:

First up was Spike, a male kestrel,  I'd already met this dapper little chap on the camp falconry experience and he was just as cute as I remembered. Although he's one of the smallest birds at John's, he's an amazing bird - kestrels are one of commonest birds of prey in the UK and you've most likely seen one hovering near a roadside.

Spike - Kestrel

Next was Maurice, the goshawk, a huge muscular bird with piercing yellow eyes. Goshawks are fearsome woodland raptors, short winged for agile movement amongst dense vegetation. They have quite a reputation. This is the guy with attitude, if you were going to compare him with someone he'd be like a moody Hell's Angel.  He's all menacing in posture and you'd be convinced he's about to beat you up.

Maurice- Goshawk

Then there was JJ an American Harris hawk.  He's the workhorse of John's Falconry, a bomb-proof bird, he's really multipurpose and can turn his hand (or should that be wings) to almost anything  from flying on industrial sites to educational sessions.

JJ- Harris Hawk

Finally for the day there was Samara - An enigmatic peregrine falcon, a steel-grey, almost black beauty of a bird which makes her so desirable. She has the loveliest temperament.

Samara- Peregrine Falcon

As I got introduced to more of the birds I realised that the female birds tended to be bigger than the males. I asked John about this and he said that females are usually about a third bigger. He went on to explain that, back in the day, in falconry terms, only the females where worthy of the name "falcon". The male peregrine has to make do with the name tiercel, apparently derived from a latin word "tertius" meaning third.

There are lots of theories as to why the birds are different in size. One is that the difference means that they are able to catch a wider variety of food and so maximise food available to raise their young.

So now I'd met the gang, or at least part of it, I was going to start my journey, learning how to look after the birds and how to fly them.  More about that in my next post...

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Getting Hooked

Hi I'm Maya and I've decided to write a blog about my experience of training to be a Falconer!

My journey began on a camping trip to the  Thistledown campsite in Gloucestershire. On the second day of the camp we were surprised with a falconry experience. The first bird we met was Samara a beautiful peregrine falcon. The peregrine is the fastest animal on the planet and has been recorded at speeds of over 200 mph. To be able to fly at these great speed they have many unique adaptations:

  • in the nostrils they have a bone, called the baffle, with which they are able to control the air intake.  You don't want air going into your lungs at 200mph - they'd be ripped to shreds!
  • they also have a complex respiratory system this includes 8 air sacs in addition to the lungs, 
  • a third clear eyelid called the nictitating membrane which stops air particles entering the eyes
  • they also have pair of moustachial stripes that act as sunglasses and cut down glare.

After Samara we met and got to fly a Harris Hawk, JJ.  We  went on a woodland walk  and JJ came swooping down to take pieces of day old chick that were place on my glove. It was wonderful to be so up close and handle the birds, you can't be much closer to nature than that!

JJ - on my glove

The next bird we flew was a cute kestrel called Spike born that year, who turned out to have the same birthday as me :) He was only part way through his training so he was nervous about flying with new people. When he decided to fly, he flew to me first. I think  this was the point my soft spot for Spike began!

Last but not least we were introduced to Tony a Barn Owl. He is just about as white specimen as you will see, not a speck of colour on his chest. We learnt that they have asymmetric hearing which enables the to pin point exactly where their prey is, not only the distance but also how high it is. Another  of there other weapons is silent flight: their feathers they have a trailing edge fringe which cuts out the sound. Their prey doesn't stand a chance of escaping!!

JJ swoops in 

So that was me hooked - just a couple of captivating hours and I knew I had to find out more.

                                                  Thank you X