first frost of autumn 2017

We had our first frost this morning which has been followed by a lovely bright morning. I tend to take the dog out first thing before flying the birds to give adequate space between her two walks which is harder to do when the days shorten. We tend to bump into wildlife either waking up or going to sleep and this week I saw a barn owl – which is only the second one I have seen in Churchdown for 25 years or so. It was a female  – she came to ground briefly mobbed by magpies and then disappeared in to a thicket.  I hope we may see her again but I suspect she was just passing through – it that time of year – dispersal for many birds and animals .

We have had a Kestrel on the grassy Knowle for about a week – a really beautiful little falcon – spending its day hovering over the grassland looking for prey. I saw it got chased off by one of our resident buzzards – which was a shame and I suspect this a reason why we are seeing less Kestrels over all. But they are tough little birds and probably he has moved to another part of his territory and will be back. I also saw a wild peregrine try to catch a woodpigeon with three hammer blow stoops at incredible speed – so exciting. The pigeon survived – narrowly and the peregrine having lost speed flew heavily up to the pylon. I turned away briefly looked back and it was gone.

We have moved over to our autumn display set up – to offer all year round displays.We are always reviewing our static display – it importantly allows us to look after the birds in the show environment while waiting to fly them in the arena. We will not offer events just a static display because the fun in birds of prey is flying them – and the justification.

I am going to live you with a picture of Sprite our peregrine with a ‘falconry centre’ or Phillip Glasier type hood on which is cross between a syrian and dutch hood. The pattern is taken from his book.  These hoods are sewn inside out and then soaked in water and turned and then left to dry on a hood block shaped closely to that of a falcons head. Then the hood is cut to length, the beak opening added, a plume put on top to hold the hood and braces added at the back to open and close the hood. These hoods fitted correctly are comfortable for the falcon and long lasting if cared for.

You can buy hoods that are beautifully made and relatively inexpensive but it is fun to make your own if you have that feeling it is something you would like to try. Phillip would to add gold leaf trim just to add a little bit extra bling. At one time he was making a great number of them as they were often given away as gifts – and so became an expert hood maker. It is nice to bring them back to life again from the pages of his book.

The hood is a very useful device. The idea is to get a young falcon used to the hood when it is more afraid of you than the hood and as the bird tames it just becomes part of it daily routine. Hooding the bird for a short time each day just before flying is a good way of keeping a falcon ‘good to the hood’ as it knows something nice is about to happen – flying and food!

The hood is an important item – if you can use it without fuss you can protect a falcon from being upset or stressed – a strange dog bounding up or a tractor suddenly appearing for example – if you can quickly hood the bird – it cannot see and so is not frightened. It means you can control the environment – if you want the bird to get used to something have it in the background while you distract the bird while feeding. This is basis of manning – or taming the bird to new sights and sounds. Use of the hood can prevent a long term problems – having to avoid tractors for the next 20 years! This is where the word to hoodwink comes from – by putting the bird into darkness you are tricking it into thinking it is night time and therefore should roost.  Anyway I leave you with the photo.


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