May 2017 – falconry displays update – a little warmer!

We have been battling with cold strong winds for what seems like several weeks now. Our visit to Blenheim was a tough call for us – it is always breezy  because it is elevated and open – but particularly so during our recent visit – and it rained! but the birds did well and even ‘Bo’ our Eagle Owl deemed to fly through the dampness. There are some wonderful photos of the birds flying at Blenheim and hopefully I can get permission to put them on a future blog.

The wind dropped last Sunday and it coincided with a visit to Thornbury Castle – the weather was great really warm. Pete the Kestrel flew brilliantly – I love flying him he is a lot of fun – and Kestrel’s are great talking points with guests like Peregrines.

We are getting ready for a local event on Saturday and the last couple of days it has begun to feel a little warmer – hopefully it holds out for the weekend. It is always unpredictable at this of year – mid April to mid May is my favorite  part of the year – everything growing and I have seen in our local Peregrine again – saw it carrying prey to eat on a pylon! a steely dining table. I leave you with a picture of Arizona our harris hawk at an event earlier in the year. I include him especially because he always makes a major contribution to our displays.

Celebrating 30 years of falconry displays.

2017 is our 30th year of providing falconry and birds of prey displays at events across the country – anywhere where a falconry display is appropriate you my find us. The theme has always been the same to celebrate the art and craft of falconry – perhaps now which should add science to that title. With the weighing machine to monitor condition, telemetry for tracking, vitamin supplements for raptors along with nutrition, breeding birds of prey – essential for the continued survival of falconry and of course modern veterinary avian care.

So with this theme representing the history of the sport, the birds themselves, conservation, fun and enjoyment of the countryside through falconry – we continue. I include a picture of me – Michael Davie with our celebratory t-shirt! plus ‘Brian’ the male lanner falcon who we are just about to feed along with our dog ‘Grace’.  She is a wonderful companion and when the 99 variables of her temperament all align she is just about the best dog possible in terms of her responsiveness and intelligence. I always say judge me on my falconry and not on my dog training!

I also include a 30th celebratory plague give to me by ‘P.2 Design’ – a friendly business over the years. I like it because it depicts a Lanner falcon – it has a nice ‘arts and crafts’ feel to it and of course for us it has meaning because we have had some great Lanners of the years. So thanks to P.2 Design again and since it is designed to be all weather I will put it outside on our falconry mews.

Just some general news – we have been quite busy recently – which is good. ‘Pete’ the Kestrel put up a stunning display at Thornbury Castle Hotel last week – vertical stoops – really lovely.

 

April 2017

Last weekend we did the falconry display at Gloucester Country Fair and Races. It is a point to point meet with this year the addition of a country fair – that is where we come in. It was a beautiful day – warm a little breezy but still ok. The flying display went well and though early in the day we had a good audience. We were on static display for the rest of the day where we had a good number of people looking at the birds. Anyway I include some photos of the day. We were out yesterday at Thornbury Castle and ‘Pete’ the Kestrel flew really well – vertical dives!

The Apprentice falconer – grown up

Monday 20th March. A wet morning here and apart from taking our dog out we are waiting for the rain to stop and fly the birds. If we go too far beyond their usual time we will have to call it quite for the day and feed round. So I thought rather just pressing my nose against the window I would write a short blog. We have an event at the weekend and so this week I will be prepping for this – getting the birds of prey ready for event flying. Also checking the static display and loading it into the van for the season ahead – an all day event necessitates the birds sitting out – protected by the static display with water available.

I include a picture of me – below – with ‘Bo’ the Eagle owl who is now 29 years old when we both a little younger and I still had my beard. It was taken at the Community Centre field where I live. The field is soon to be gone – to make way for a much needed new Doctors surgery  – so the photo shows the passing of time in more ways than one.

Taking of time I am now older than Phillip Glasier when he opened the Newent Falconry Centre back in the late 1960’s. I include a picture 0f him above along with some other notable trainee falconers he was instructing at the time. He is in the front holding a Coopers Hawk with his pointer dog gazing upwards. Paul Bevan sent the photo over some time ago. He was Head falconer at the Centre for some years in the 1970’s under Phillip and I in turn was an apprentice under Paul. He was and is the finest of falconers and taught me practically everything I know. When I see him I still feel like an apprentice!

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‘Arizona’ our male Harris Hawk

I promised in  the previous blog that I would include a picture of ‘Arizona’ in the next. So here it is – taken today after he had been out flying. He is a brilliant flier circling and when conditions are right soaring back around to return to the fist. He will follow on well too – hawk walking as it is called! He flies off the T perch and chases the dummy rabbit and the disc – so he just about perfect. Not quite as keen on interactive work as ‘Red’ our old Harris Hawk but nonetheless ok – which fits in well with our format. Anyway here he is.

March 2017 – falconry displays update.

Well we have made it to March! and there are signs of Spring – certainly our local birds of pairing up. We have a good number of skylarks on the local field left to stubble over the winter and good flocks of mixed finches – actually really nice to see.  As I have said previously management practice in terms of farming can have an almost immediate effect on wildlife. I have not seen so many skylarks on farmland for years.

We are up to full speed now in preparation for the season to come – with Leah our 14 year old Lanner falcon flying quite beautifully again. ‘Sprite’ our peregrine is going well – everyday is an adventure with him! he is a clever flier and is really good at out smarting me as I swing the lure – like a lanner actually. I swing the lure now like a Dad dancing at a wedding. I really am going out to practice again after all the years – I need it!

Our Harris Hawk ‘Arizona’ flies so well – circling back and really looking lovely. It is easier to forget what absolutely stand out raptors Harris Hawks are – they are unique and probably the only hawk than can match any falconry bird ever trained.  It is easier to forget what an impact this intelligent ubiquitous raptor from the deserts of the Americas have had on modern falconry. I will get another photo of him for a future blog. I am going to end this blog with a picture of ‘Sprite’ sitting drying after a bath on the back lawn. Peregrines just love water and typically cannot wait for the bath to filled and jump just straight in! In warm weather they like a bath everyday.

 

 

news – end of February 2017.

We have been hunkered down all day with Storm ‘Doris’ raging outside – so no flying just too windy. This would have been the last official day at the community centre using the adjacent field to fly our birds something I have been doing for the past 30 years or so. It is to be used for the new Doctors Surgery. So mixed feelings – naturally – for the greater good I guess is my feeling but also sadness.

It is undoubtedly a great loss as it has been ideal for what we do –  a busy environment with lots of people around to keep the birds tame. We have other places that I use but the community centre field has always been Michael Davie HQ as it were. I will include a picture of me and Sprite the Peregrine with all the colour drained out to give that ‘set in time feel’ with the community centre field in the background.

Bookings are now coming in and it is always uplifting when we have plenty of inquiries – of course I am always on hand for display requests at Thornbury Castle. This effectively means the birds of prey are flown everyday of the year weather permitting in readiness.

On my daily walks no further peregrine sightings but lots of skylarks on the stubbles that remain unploughed – this is a real treat and just shows the influence agricultural practice/crop rotation has on birdlife. It is a reminder of my youth when they were common along with other birds such as lapwings. I have also seen a couple of Red Kites recently always appearing to be travelling from the Oxford direction westerly towards Wales – or the other way – possible to pick up a husband or wife. Thankfully Buzzards and sparrowhawks are often seen along with Kestrels – though the latter less often. Tomorrow hopefully will be less windy.

Sprite our Peregrine doing well!

Good news is that Sprite is flying well – plenty of pace and fitness improving and not yet chasing pigeons! I am having a lot of fun flying him. Peregrines are not mainstay demonstration birds due to the above but it is such a privilege to be able to fly one.

Peregrines are always newsworthy and like many other places in the UK we have wild Peregrines living around here. At certain times I see them everyday – notably after the grain harvest when they hunt pigeons that feed on the stubbles before ploughing and replanting brings it to an end – and then nothing for weeks or even months.

I call them pylon peregrines – this is there chosen vantage point to rest and then when hungry hunt. When there are no pigeons there are no peregrines or only rarely. Since Christmas I have seen only one peregrine up on their traditionally favorite  pylon. This was a female or falcon and she did not stay  long but flew back towards Gloucester.

I was not sure if she was chasing prey and then gave up or pursuing another falcon maybe her mate – it was just a moment obscured by trees before she broke off and flew to the pylon. Pylon height is the operational height for hunting peregrines – as if they were made for them.

Before the peregrine on Friday the last one we saw was on Boxing Day at Thornbury Castle. It was hunting in virtual darkness. We were packing up after our display. Anyway it was great the see the Peregrine here again.

If I was like J A Baker I would be cycling many miles to discover where the peregrine spends the rest of its time – its other vantage points – probably over looking fields of rape waiting for the large flocks of roaming woodpigeons to come and feed. We do not have rape in our local fields at the moment so no pigeons. As Baker said Peregrines view pigeons as we view Cattle. I leave you with a picture taken recently of Sprite our Peregrine Falcon or tiercel as he is know in falconry parlance.

‘Pete’ the Kestrel.

I have been struggling to get another photo of ‘Pete’ our 2015 male Kestrel. So I include a picture of him set against the Laurel hedge. He is a game little hawk and is flying really well. He is not afraid of vertical stoops and does this wonderful parachute stoop, down to to the lure on the ground. He is more likely to do this on a windy day – he drops down  as if on a spiders web – wild kestrels do this frequently.

He has not hovered yet – not properly – when he does I will reward him and hopefully this will encourage him to it again. Guests really like him and appreciate holding him on their falconry gloved hand after he has flown- they all feel like a later day Billy Casper from the book ”Kestrel for a Knave’ written by Barry Hines. I should mention that it was his brother Richard who was the inspiration of the book. He was the falconer and indeed trained the 3 Kestrels used in the film ‘Kes’ directed by Ken Loach. Richard Hines recently published autobiography ‘No Way But Gentlenesse’ is a great read and gives him the recognition he deserves – thank you Richard. He was an also an early reader of the ‘The Peregrine’ by J A Baker. I flew ‘Pete’ at an event yesterday he was just great – so were the the other birds but I leave you as promised with a picture of  him taken recently.

News of Sprite our Peregrine.

Well Sprite is flying again! and well but as anybody will tell you flying Peregrines as always a high risk business as they are dedicated chasers of pigeons – but so far so good.

My last blog covered our stay in Essex in the autumn of 2015 and I included a picture by my late father from the ‘Darent Suite’  which I am fond of. It evokes a similarity of emotion  to the way I feel about Baker, light and landscape. 20161002_112817Even more so as my father bought me the book ‘ The Peregrine’ in about 1970. So I am early reader of the work. I will talk more about Baker in future blogs. I leave you with a further picture of ‘Sprite’ and the good news that he flying again.