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Life with Lavendar in London town

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Hawking Centre

2009 is nearly out the door. But unlike T.S Eliot's famed aphorism, I'm finding that the year is not ending with a whimper but with a resounding bang!

Amidst the flurry of christmas, good friends, indulgence and volunteer work with Crisis, I managed to spirit my husband away for a day at The Hawking Centre at Leeds castle. Birds of prey have fascinated him since he was a wee lad and I thought it was high time he actually came into a contact with a few as opposed to watching CGI-ed clips on Youtube.

The Hawking Centre is run by Leigh and Jo Holmes and managed by Mark Brattle. Mark was our guide for the day and his passion for falconry was clear from the moment he picked us up at the train station right through to the days end.

After a warming cup of coffee our small group ventured out into the rain whereby Mark showed us the picturesque grounds and introduced us to the birds of the centre. We met owls, buzzards, falcons, eagles, hawks, vultures and kestrels; Mark giving us a small history of each bird and their hunting abilities. Meeting a peregrine falcon, the fastest creature on earth was pretty special as it seemed so small and unassuming despite its inherent powers. I was also impressed by the tiny kestrels who I learned can see in ultra violet so as to track mice urine from the air. But it was the owls that stole my heart and not even the brutal truth as told by Mark that they are very stupid birds could dissuade my affections.

                                                   Barney being weighed by Mark pre-flight

Soon enough it was coffee down and gloves on. Mark started us off by flying Barney, their adorable and very vocal white barn owl. Initially apprehensive I watched as Barney swooped towards me and landed light as a feather on my hand. Magic.

From there Mark progressed us onto Ozzie, an African eagle owl with golden eyes and propensity to waddle towards us rather than fly.
                                                       Ozzie in all his imperious glory

Maggie the vulture was next. Her temper was apparent as she repeatedly bit Mark's hand as he weighed her. Maggie was in no real mood for flying and after a few attempts she flew herself back to the aviary and waited for Mark to take her inside. I must admit I didn't blame her. Why should she have to fly around in the cold and wet just for the amusement of a few humans?


                                          Maggie deigning to alight before she flew back home

Next was Brock, a Harris Hawk who gave us a real sense of how swift, sharp and acute birds of prey are. He alighted on our hands within seconds of being called, silently and with little warning. We went for a long walk with Brock around the grounds, he following us from tree-to-tree as he would do in a hunt and being called in by one of us every few minutes.

                                                                   Brock, hanging out.

Our day ended here due to the weather and safety. To progress onto the faster, bigger birds would have required more training and better weather.

Being a city dweller can dampen your senses and cloud your vision. A day out in the wild weather in green Kent in the company of birds of prey was just the antidote needed to see the year to a harmonious close.

So it's farewell to 2009 with a hearty bang. Not that of a firecracker or a drum, but the sound of a peregrine falcon hitting its prey at 180mph.

To end the year, here's a quote from Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller in Amost Famous:

I didn't ask for this role, but I'll play it. Now go do your best. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid

Happy New Year!.

2 comments:

Me said...

that was the comment! well remembered!

Lavendar Lee said...

Thanks! I thought of you of course when I wrote that ;)