Monday, 21 July 2014

18 July 2014 - Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover, Hampshire.

On Friday 18 July I visited the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover with my wife and son, as he was home visiting for a long weekend. We intended to spend all day there and view the three different flying demonstrations - each of which takes place in a different arena.

11:45 demonstration: First bird up was an African Fish Eagle. On previous visits this bird had flown in the second demonstration, but we noticed that the first demo arena had been furnished with a new pool. The pool is an essential part of the demo as the eagle fishes from the pool as part of the demonstration. As this was our first experience of the new pool I was unfamiliar with the run ins etc so missed out on clear fishing pics. All I managed was a couple of flight shots.

The second demonstration featured the Secretary Bird - named after its resemblance to a Victorian secretary, complete with Quill pens(-:). The bird spends a lot of time running round gracefully, like a long legged ballerina and it's party piece is killing and eating snakes (they use a model snake) using its feet to stomp on the snake's head.

Thirdly we were entertained by a Verraux's Eagle Owl, sometimes called the Milky Eagle Owl, because of its milky coloured eyelids. Magnificent to see it gliding effortlessly across the arena.

After the owl, it was time for some of the centre's favourite species - vultures. The centre does a lot to support vultures and to promote them  with the audience. A new feature is the mock up Water Buffalo carcase, in which the staff hide morsels of food and then they fly in a selection of vultures and other birds of prey, with quite a few flying about at the same time - a very impressive sight.
First in were a pair of White Backed Vultures.

Also introduced to the arena at the same time was a Tawny Eagle and we were told that the eagle was not afraid to eat carrion itself, especially if it meant not having to hunt for itself(-:).


A few Hooded Vultures were also introduced to the mix.

The final bird added to this scenario was a Yellow Billed Kite, which had food thrown into the air for it to catch and eat on the wing, which it did effortlessly.

It was very special to see such a variety of species flying at the same time. After the first demonstration was over we went for lunch at the restaurant and then looked round a few of the aviaries before the second demonstration began.

After lunch and it was off to the second arena for the next display.
First out of the box were a pair of beautiful Barn Owls - how nice to photograph them so closely and in such perfect light. Interestingly they are training these Barn Owls to come to squeaks for their food rewards. I think the idea is to somehow try and get them to search for their food in the long grass as they would in the wild - that way people would get to see them diving into the meadow.

The only falcon of the day was flown next - a Lanner Falcon. It was beautiful day and off the Lanner went, gaining height on the thermals. It wents so high that everyone lost sight of it, confused as much by the very distant buzaards and kite, so much so that no one noticed its retturn until it hit the lure that the falconer was gently swinging - it could have a been a super stoop, bu  no one saw it(-:).

Time again for vultures and the Hooded Vultures joined the audience  - literally, as they were encouraged to fly gracefully over our heads.

 Another of the larger vultures, a White Headed vulture, joined the throng, though not encouraged to low fly as much as the others(-:).

Then came the highlight (for me) of this demonstration - over a dozen Black Kites joined us and gave a fantastic aerial display as food was thrown into the air for them to catch and eat on the wing.


 To finish off this display, once the Kites had departed, we were treated to the site of two American Bald Eagles flying in from two miles away - majestic creatures, truly worthy of their iconic status.

Following this their was time for a further exploration of the aviaries and a cup of ea and cake before the last demonstration of the day. As opposed to the other demonstrations which took place in wide open spaces, this one takes place in a small wood and as you would expect consists primarily of woodland raptors, predominantly owls.

First in was a European Eagle Owl. All of the Owls were encouraged to fly over the audience so that you could appreciate the silence and the beauty. 

Then  we had a  flight by a Long Eared Owl, the first time I have seen one flown here.

 This was followed by a Brahminy Kite, which also fished from a small pond in the woodland. Like the other Kites it fed on the wing but flew out of the woodland to feed in open space to avoid crashing into trees while moving food from talon to beak.
 Last of the Oowls was the Great Grey Owl, which is apparently a lot smaller than it looks - being covered with such an abundance of feathers and down to keep it warm in its natural environment. So although it looks bigger than the Eagle Owl, its actually smaller(-:).

 Finally we saw a Crested Caracara, which ran about the forest floor retrieving food items dropped by the owls, hidden by the staff in log piles, under leaves etc.
All in all a brilliant day out, helped by what turned out to be fantastic weather. The majority of the pictures were taken with Canon 7D and a 200mm f2.8 prime lens. The Lanner Falcon shots were taken with the 1.4 extender on, giving a 280mm f4 equivalent, as I had hoped to catch more in flight work around the falconer, but that didn't happen(-:). At times even the 200mm lens was too long, though hopefully I got some nice flight close ups.


  1. Magnificent, Bob! What a wonderful variety of absolutely stunning birds.

  2. Smashing account and pictures of what must have been a memorable day.