For my birthday last January Stu bought me a days falconry experience - and for various reasons I've just got round to using it. I've flown birds a couple of times and loved it, but only for an hour or so and only with other people, so to do it for a whole day, and on my own with lots of birds and a falconer was fantastic.
We went to SMJ Falconry which is near Haworth. It was a terrible day, mist, wind and drizzle, but I'd already had to cancel one because of bad weather, so we set off regardless. The scenery was spectacular - those of you who know the area will know how rugged it is, and some lovely, "northern" villages with dark stone house and dark satanic mills lurking in the mist.
Luckily the weather cleared up a bit in the morning, and I had a great introduction to the birds, from a tiny hawk, who was lovely,
to some amazing owls,
They were all fascinating. I didn't realise how many different types of owl there were - I think she had over 50 there.
Then I got my chance at flying them. The owls and hawks will fly to your glove, the falcons tend to be flown by them chasing a lure which is spun by the falconer. It was a great experience. Here's a kestrel landing on my glove.
And one of the barn owls
Of course, they don't fly to you for the fun of it - they want the food you have in your glove. We had day old chicks, or bits of them. Only when they've flown to you a few time are they rewarded with a whole one or two - and owls can swallow them in one go.
But the best bit of the day was taking a hawk for a walk. Really. Bit like taking a dog, but it flew. Or walked sometimes. We had a harris hawk called Toby. Here he is:
I let him off the glove and went for a walk along footpaths and across fields, and he came with us. Sometimes he flew up over the valley, trying to catch the thermals, then he would come back to us and land on a fence or rock. Sometimes he walked with us. Of course, he did get fed when he came back, but it was a great experience.
One of the kestrels took a liking to Stuart's shoulder:
and one landed on my head.
Totally my fault as I turned away as he was flying towards me, and he had to land somewhere. My head just happened to be the highest point.
It was a great day - I got to handle and fly loads of birds, and learnt so much about them. I would certainly recommend it if you are interested in these magnificent birds of prey.