PostHeaderIcon A hunting we shall go

When I was a little girl I was attacked by Magpies. If that makes no sense let me explain, Magpies when they’re nesting are very protective of their territory. Proving the best defense is an offence theory; they swoop from the nest at anything that goes by. If you’re caught unaware they will peck you as they swoop! That’s what happened to me – swooped and pecked!

Understandably, I’m not so fond of birds and don’t feel the Hitchcock movie The Birds was so far-fetched!

Knowing this, it may surprise you to read that a couple of weeks ago I spent Sunday at the Forest Falconry Park in Wiltshire; standing still whilst holding pieces of meat so the resident birds of prey would not only swoop toward me but land on me (one at a time)….within inches of my easily pecked out eyes!

Well, I’m always ready for a new adventure, particularly if it means trying things that are a little out of the ordinary and something not everyone you meet will have done. When my friend invited me on her adventure I decided I couldn’t let a little bird-phobia stop me!

The Thatched Cottage

The Thatched Cottage

So, after an eventful car trip from London (we encountered a road-rage maniac; another story in itself!) we arrived in Brockenhurst to stay at The Thatched Cottage. I’d recommend it as a lovely place to stay.

A room for a princess - or a hunter!

A room for a princess - or a hunter!

The rooms were luxurious, service was great and the food was amazing.

When we took a stroll down the main road we spotted at least 3 pubs and a few shops. Based on name-appeal we decided we must go into The Snake Catcher, another culinary find and a little local history; the pub is named after a local historical figure.

If you fancy “hot rocks” dining this is the place to go. Our food cooked itself on the plates set before us and was delicious – the local beer wasn’t bad either.

Sunday morning arrived with plenty of rain and we ate breakfast in hope that it would clear enough for our adventure. Upon arriving at the park things weren’t looking good as we took shelter with the park owner and our guide Ed. However, that time did give us the chance to ask questions and learn about birds of prey and the idiosyncrasies of hand reared birds, they don’t gain a sense of identity as a bird but believe they’re as human as those who raise them. The chupping (mating) stories were a weird but interesting highlight for everyone.

Potter

Potter

After a while the weather cleared enough for our guide Ed to take the birds from their shelter and “fly”

Potter's prey

Potter's prey

them with our first hunter being an English Barn Owl called Potter. A lovely white owl that looked fluffy and sweet until it swooped in to munch on what was clearly some kind of bird leg! Potter was however, very graceful about the whole thing.

Our next hunter was a young Harris Hawk named Pee-Wee, still in training and a little playful with Ed. Pee-Wee is also a chatter-box who barely had a quiet moment during the exercise. Apparently the young hand-reared birds are often like this as they’re used to humans talking so they join in! Pee-Wee’s voice was rather piercing and I wondered how Ed could put up with that “Argh, argh” sound all day.

Before releasing him, Ed had warned us that Pee-Wee likes people and would find a favourite to land on. If that happened, Ed said not to worry but stay still, no waving arms or running away! In a hilariously predictable moment, Pee-Wee looked around then flew directly at our friend Dave and landed neatly on his camera! As I thanked

Pee-Wee

Pee-Wee

heaven it wasn’t me, he took off and came to rest on my head where he decided to stay for a while!

As Ed had done a great job of preparing us, I wasn’t scared but can tell you the talons are sharp! Although it wasn’t painful, the feeling of a hawk standing on your head is like needles sticking into your scalp. I don’t think I’d like to do it for a long time and I don’t want to imagine how it would feel if he wasn’t being friendly.

The speed hawks fly at is amazing and when you see Pee-Wee take off and swoop toward you your expectation is he’s going to land with a thud. I was hoping I wouldn’t fall over so was surprised at how lightly he landed. There really is something beautiful and amazing about the way these birds move.

Mascara

Mascara - lighter than expected

Once Pee-Wee had his fill we met a European Hunting Owl called Mascara. She was much bigger than the others but equally as graceful and although she weighs only 5pound, her talons can exert a pressure similar to a 250pound Rottweiler when gripping her prey.

Although I’m still wary of birds, this was a great experience that I’d do again so if you ever get the chance – have a go.  By the way, no; I didn’t end up with bird-poo in my hair!

 

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