A Day out at Xtreme Falconry

03rd February 2018

A couple of days ago, I took up a day out at a falconry centre which was given to me as a birthday present by some friends. It was a great idea since I love big raptors and, despite working in the bush, we rarely get very close to them! To be able to handle, fly and observe owls, hawks, falcons and eagles close up was very exciting.

Xtreme Falconry are based in Dorset but run shows across the south of England. At their base, they keep more than 125 birds of prey, from large White-tailed Sea Eagles to tiny Scops owls and hawks. Many of their birds are breeding pairs and they have successfully reared many of the most sought-after species.

When I visited, during the Afro-tropical summer, many of the birds were in breeding pens, but I was lucky to fly 9 different species during the day, as part of the birds' exercise and feeding routines.

What follows is a mix of photos and snaps from my iPhone!

The first bird of the day was Solo, a juvenile Verreaux's Eagle Owl. I am very familiar with these birds from Zambia but it was great to handle one and see the plumage of a 7 month old bird. He called persistently out in the field, which appeared to be remedied only by meals of chicken chicks!

After we had exercised and fed Solo, we flew a Barn Owl, the iconic British bird. This bird was so familiar with people that I was able to handle its thick feathers and discover that it is really a very small bird under all that down!

The barn owl lifting off from its temporary perch.

Before lunch, we took Mable - a Harris Hawk - for a long walk, hunting her along the hedgerows and watching as she used the wind to ambush over the trees and into small copses. She is one of the team's show hawks so always returns to the call!

It was a windy day so Mable sometimes gave up fighting the gusts and landed on the ground. Harris hawks often hunt in large numbers of up to 14 in the wild. Some will run along the ground to flush rabbits and ground birds so they are more accustomed to spending time on the ground than other raptors.

After lunch we flew a Tawny Owl - another British icon - in the field behind the centre....

....and then fed chicks to a hungry Indian (Bengal) Eagle Owl.

We rounded off the day flying Kojak, a vast Bald Eagle who flew repeatedly to my hand and guzzled chick carcasses. The team warned me to keep my spare hand well out of the way as Bald Eagles often compete with others for food and they might interpret the appearance of my hand as competition and try to fight it off! I kept it in my pocket!

Martin, Tara, Pete and Kyle are totally devoted to their birds and very knowledgeable about their work. It was lots of fun to spend the day with them....thanks so much to you all!!

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