Something a bit different for the weekend…. On a recent Sunday we headed to Bedfordshire to spend a weekend at the English School of Falconry taking part in an Owl Experience. We arrived in time to walk round and see the wide selection of Birds of Prey in the aviaries. These are birds that are currently not being used for displays, some of whom were undergoing their annual moult, and include some interesting species. The real treat though, is being able to see the birds in the air. The Centre has two flying displays a day and we were in time to see the first of the displays before our experience started. It was fantastic to see the birds flying and to hear more about their characters and the traits of their species. The centre has over 300 birds from very small owls to huge eagles and it is amazing to see so many different species.
The Owl Experience was in a small group, with just eight of us with one of the very knowledgeable and passionate staff from the centre. We were able to meet a variety of owls, who sat on our gloved hands, so that we could see them up close, feel how much they weighed, and gaze into their beautiful eyes. The Great Grey Owls, a bird of the far North, looked big, but were very light, a result of their fluffy down feathers to keep them warm even in the depths of a Northern winter. These were probably my favourite birds that we handled on the experience, with their beautiful yellow eyes, like gazing into bubbling sulphur in a volcanic region. The eyes had a depth to them that was startling in its uncanny beauty.
Mid way through the experience we had chance to watch another flying display. This time I was lucky enough to have a beautiful kestrel fly to my gloved hand. I love this species, we often see one close to home, hovering above a patch of scrubby grassland and then swooping down. An interesting fact that we learned from the display is that the kestrel does not stop and hover when they see movement, but rather when they see the urine trail of a small mammal which glows UV in the kestrel’s field of vision. They hover over the trail and when they spot movement, that’s when they dive down in the hope of a catch.
After the display it was our own chance to fly a variety of owls, from the European Eagle Owl down to our own native tawny owls. It was amazing to have the birds fly to us, and to watch how graceful they were in flight. It was a wonderful afternoon and we’d love to visit again to interact with more of the wonderful birds at the centre.
The English School of Falconry offers a range of experiences, which can all be found on their website: www.birdsofpreycentre.co.uk I was lucky to get this experience from a voucher site, which I spotted as part of my Christmas shopping!