Archive for September, 2011

Falconry Displays and natural history.

DSC_0555 copyHere is a lovely photograph of ‘Bo’ our Indian eagle Owl. She is 23 years old now and little did I imagine as I picked her up as a fluffy owlet in 1988 I would still have her now. They are long lived and barring disasters she should do another 23 years.

I always say to people that owls are not really falconry birds – there is no history of their usage for this purpose – but people hardly hear my words as they are transfixed by her beauty and character. Owls are rather cat like in nature – difficult to train and easy to lose particularly doing falconry displays or should I say birds of  flying displays away from home. They have a multitude of senses and are easily distracted and naturally suspicious of all situations – this of course is survival!

Talking about survival perhaps falconers know better than anybody the gigantic effort it takes for a bird of prey to survive its first year  particularly in the winter with short cold days and prey becoming increasingly elusive. Falconers know from their own efforts how difficult it is to enter a young hawk at quarry and how demoralised the bird gets if it keeps missing – with their wild cousins this demoralisation means death and hence a depressingly short life span for many wild raptors. This darwinian stuggle for survival means stable populations for both predator and prey. For the falconer its case of subsidising his charge in its effort to hunt successfully and of course what you see in a falconry display is all those techniques employed in building confidence and style in a hawk or falcon.

When I was growing up these stable population dynamics of wild raptors  did not exist and one rarely saw a sparrowhawk and never  a peregrine. DDT and other pesticides used on crops affected the breeding success of these bird catching species.  This is well documented but  after a ban in the use of these chemicals peregrines numbers in the early 1980’s began to recover and now thirty years on recovery is complete and in fact is beyond complete as peregrines looking for new homes found in our towns and cities exactly what they were looking forward  – sea scapes in our cities with  artificial cliffs in the form of high rise buildings  providing  nesting sites with plenty of town pigeons feeding below amidst a sea of people – and of course a more than welcoming public who were delighted to see them. I where appropriate always try and include this success story in my commentary and I believe the educational aspects of falconry displays has lead to an increased awareness of birds of prey.

Even today for us ‘old timers’ seeing a peregrine is special and will always remain so.

Everyday I walk round our local fields with the dog – we live in a semi rural environment and to escape for a hour each day is wonderful and of course one is aware of the annual cycle of the seasons. The other day I found what I thought was a peregrine kill – a pigeon with its wings left on but the rest of the body neatly eaten away and plucked feathers all around. It was a feral pigeon one of a number who had been gathering on the field to feed on what the combine had  left behind. I checked the kill site the following day and all eveidence had gone apart from a few scattered feathers  – I suspected a fox had taken what was left particularly as there was some strategically placed feaces left on a small mound nearby.

Two days later I was out again and as I walked around the side of the field something caught my eye – this was the falconer in me – it was a peregrine  out on open ground feeding on a kill. I froze  – but despite my best efforts of concealment the peregrine gazed at me and in a moment  was airborne carrying the carcase with it.

Often a raptor will drop its kill if disturbed but not this one – maybe it was a hungry young falcon. It gained altitude and flew away towards and over a high hedge to I assume the fields beyond – it disappeared and then reappeared as if in a quandry as to what to do next. I was rather hopeful it would wheel round and land back in the field – it clearly thought about it but settled on gaining height and heading towards a pylon where it appeared to land. I bothered it no more and continued my walk.

I felt elated and privileged to have encountered the scene something that I had longed  for for so many years. I felt like J A Baker but this time I was not reading about it in his book  ‘The Peregrine’  but seeing it for myself in real life.

Migration.

IMG_4393As I was talking about in my last post Summer is gone and Autumn is and definitely feels here – with high winds and the leaves on the trees changing colour. Of course for wildlife – in particular migrating birds it is time to move on to warmer climes.

Everyday now when I am flying our own birds of prey we see swallows flying with purpose often in a south west direction rather than due south which I always find rather strange. I am assuming they are on migration as they are passing through – following ancient lines from in-built forces. Of course ‘man’ marvels at the feat of migration – sad that they should go but always so happy to see them again next spring.

It is not just swallows that pass through. I saw an Osprey passing overhead last week- at  typical raptor height and with a typical raptor wing beat and proceeding unlike the swallows due south. Identification is a process of elimination but the idea that it is some type of bird of prey is the first deduction in the process of ID. It  was wonderful to see and nowadays could have come from a number of places as their breeding locations in the UK are increasing.

Of course I continue to see our local birds of prey notably buzzards and sparrowhawks but sadly fewer kestrels – although I did see one yesterday. I also saw a wild sparrowhawk try and catch a green woodpecker – which was a very noisy affair with the woodpecker adding a running commentary to the whole proceedings and clearly put the sparrowhawk off – but it was an amazing moment of wildlife action and it reminds me of a wild Cornish Peregrine Falcon that flew over my father’s house near Newbridge – we did not see it initially but heard the whoosh! as it passed overhead at some incredible velocity chasing a pigeon which despite this amazing show of speed and three stoops the pigeon made good its escape – the peregrine then appeared to climb and join a fellow peregrine that had been watching the whole proceedings from above! amazing and true!

J A Baker who wrote the book ‘The Peregrine’ which is an amazing read states that peregrines do have the habit of chasing  prey without the intention of catching it only turning up the boost when their hunger dictates that they are ready to dine!

The title of this post is ‘Migration’ with Peregrines we call it peregrination as the word peregrine means ‘wandering falcon’ – how apt!

The picture is a scene from summer of me stooping ‘Bella’ one of our lanner falcons to the lure at Whitemead Forest Park.

Autumn 2011

IMG_6259It seems strange saying Autumn 2011 although technically it is and in reality today at least feels like it! but I have always accepted my father’s premise that summer really extends to mid- september.

Our summer season is drawing to a close and looking at photographs that are often sent to us reminds me of our many visits to often very interesting locations- this one is by photographer Edward Taylor at Whitemead Forest Park which we visit one day a week during the summer. I always enjoy these displays the setting is fantastic – the Forest of Dean – need I say more! and the displays themselves are so well received – which is of course lovely.

The forest is so wonderful and often during our displays we see a lot of wild birds from ravens to goshawks which add so much to the displays – the best bird spotters in the business are our birds of prey themselves! who have also been wonderful all season.

I would like to thank all those events who have booked our display this summer and of course we will continue to be available through autumn and winter.