Thursday, 7 February 2013

Falconry Insight Day.

I am so thankful that 'N' and I have been able to savour our friendship despite going our separate ways. His family has watched out for me since my arrival (even letting me stay at their place, as I searched for my own), and 'N' has been there to listen to the ups and downs along the way.

On Sunday the two of us FINALLY got to experience Falconry together.

See below for my preconceived notions as to what a person passionate about Falconry might look like:

This was a gift I had given him (something he always thought he'd like to try...and I had always made fun of him wanting to do) for Christmas last year. I made him promise to take me along, and we just hadn't gotten around to it.

On Sunday we braved the biting winds (it was reaaallly cold), grabbed breakfast to go (from The breadstall of course), and headed to Kent.
The Victorian Mansion (Stables and Tea Room in front, mansion behind)
Manicured Hedges. I thought they resembled a sleeping dog.

The Hawking Centre is located at Doddington Place, in Sittingbourne, Kent. It is a 10 acre property on which sits a gorgeous Victorian mansion, and beautiful landscaped gardens. I can only imagine what they must look like in the spring time. 

Doing as we were told.
After parking our car (as we were instructed to do so), we were greeted by our Falconers (Aaron and Katie) just outside the mansion gate. They immediately brought us out of the cold and and into the tea room for hot drinks and a quick introduction to the day. After dividing into groups (no more than 4 'flyers' per group) , we headed out for our day.

Warming up in the Tea Room.
Can you tell I'm excited?
Our group (led by Katie) started off with an introduction to the majestic birds of prey. I think this is where the 'perma-grin' first took hold. The birds were absolutely breath taking. I'm sure Katie was thrilled watching me 'snap' away while she was trying to give us her explanation of each bird.

Meeting our new friends.

'Buttons'...asleep. The norm (A White Faced Scops Owl)
'Maggie' the Hooded Vulture.

The Peregrine Falcon

'Jess' the Harris Hawk ('Jessica' when she's in trouble).
The Golden Eagle.
Weighing 'Winston' - getting him ready to fly.
(All the birds are weighed to make sure they are a healthy weight before taking them out)
After donning our left-handed Falconry gloves, we headed out to do some flying. We took Winston (A Bengal Eagle Owl) to the front Meadow to start with. Winston was incredible. Watching the birds approach you from the air was amazing, and getting to examine them closely as they sat on your arm was priceless. With each bird, we strolled as a group through the property, and the bird would join us, flying along from tree to tree (or whatever place he/she wanted to go). We had three 'flyers' in our group, and we just kept alternating who would receive the bird and fly it. This made for ample hands-on time with each bird.

Isn't he beautiful?
You could say we had a bit of a connection.
Can you see him approaching? This was the coolest part.
Nope, never got old.
Beautiful Wingspan

At one point 'Winston' ditched us for this little buddy...I don't blame him.
Who's a pretty bird?
Next it was time to meet 'Oscar' the white Barn Owl. He was a lot of fun because you could coax him from glove to glove. Kind of like playing Frisbee.... with an Owl. He was soft and fluffy, and liked to be stroked. We liked him. Unfortunately, he didn't like us as much as he liked the third member of our group. A Man-Crush.

'Oscar' liked to pose. He knew he was handsome.
We mostly flew 'Oscar' in the back woods.
....and there were pigs.
We felt like Harry Potter...not gonna lie.
We flew 'Oscar' back and forth across the pond.

And then he started misbehaving (he wanted to do our entire route in reverse) we took him back to the barn.
We passed the other group with this lovely creature on the way.
Each bird had a different personality (you'll have to believe me on this), and they responded to their names. And if they didn't, Katie and Aaron sure did a good job of making us believe they were responding to their names.

Because 'Oscar' was misbehaving, and Katie didn't want to short change us, we got to fly 'Buttons' for a lap of the woods. Buttons was a tiny little fluff ball of an owl (actually a White Faced Scops Owl) who looked wise beyond his years. You'll see what I mean...

Check out his little moustache.

Katie told us that Buttons had a party trick. When he got scared, he would suck in his feathers and sit up tall so that he could disguise himself like a stick in the forest. Sure enough (and completely by accident), we stumbled upon the other group flying 'Maggie' the Vulture. 'Buttons' did NOT like this. 

There was 'Maggie' hanging out across the lawn.
And this is what happened...

Poor 'Buttons', Our entire group was in hysterics laughing at him.

Ahhh...coast is clear.
Our last bird prior to lunch was 'Maggie' the Hooded Vulture. We flew Maggie a little differently. Each group stood at either end of the Great Lawn and we flew her back and forth. When 'Maggie' got excited, her face would turn pink. Basically whenever she was anticipating a snack, this would happen.

A Wing to the head was common practice with 'Maggie'- she wasn't really aware of her limbs.

There it is again.
And in case you were wondering what we were feeding the birds all day- "Baby Cocks"- (get your laugh out now). Seriously, the birds eat the little boy chicks that won't ever produce eggs. The Hawking Centre gets them sent to them frozen (and free!). Poor little chopped up "Baby Cocks". 

Ok, I'm done.

It was so cold out, that after flying 'Maggie' we were chilled to the bone, and hungry for lunch. We headed into the Tea Room for a buffet of Sandwiches, and cakes...and more Tea. 

And then it was time for 'Jess'. Jessica was a Harris Hawk. This experience was unlike any of the others, as she was the first quite intimidating bird. She had a beak like no other, and talons that could stun a spaniel (cover your ears Murphy). The second the food was on your glove, Jess was there. It seemed like she came out of nowhere. She was completely stealth.

Getting 'Jess' ready to fly.

There was a 'thrill' with Jess that was slightly different. The first couple of times she approached me, I'd turn my head, as I was scared. It got easier, but it was fun having a little bit of fear.

check out Jess' talons.
This was the third 'flyer' in our group.

The Hawking Centre also has a hunting experience, where you can take the birds out for a day of hunting. I know it sounds gruesome, but I'd like to try it some day.

Last but certainly not least, 'Margeaux' the Chilean Eagle. Words cannot descrive how cool it was to be that close to such a regal bird.

Look at her.

Just the weight of her alone on your arm was pretty neat.
My pictures don't do her approach justice.

Though we were sad for it to end, after a debrief, and more tea, we were presented with our Certificates. I had such an amazing time, and felt completely silly for making fun of 'N' for wanting to try this. I'm definitely taking my parents when they come for a visit in April, and would recommend The Hawking Centre to anybody wanting a completely thrilling and unique experience.


  1. WOW
    I have just indulged a good 10 minutes delighting at your photos and your commentary on the characters of the birds! It sounds like such a lovely day, and I'm glad you finally found time to do it...I want a go now!
    x x

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog and taking the time to comment! Great to get the feedback!

  2. Great photos!! Looks like such a fun day!


    1. Thanks for checking out the blog Giovanna!

  3. I will never think of falconry the same after reading this. I never really knew that it was a real thing. But since you received a certificate, then it must be official.

    1. Trust me- until N started babbling on and on about it, I didn't know people still did it either! Such a thrill though. One day, when I have a manor in the Country, I will also have a Falcon ; ) ....actually maybe my man will have a falcon, I'll take a barn owl!