Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Hawking Centre - Falconry Experience

Birds are magnificent creatures, but I didn't realise just how magnificent until my family and I visited Doddington Place Gardens in Kent, for the half day Falconry Experience. I never knew there were days available that offered such experiences. This being a gift from my Grandparents, my family and I went in a little blind, not quiet knowing what to expect with our three hour time slot... however it opened my eyes to a whole new side of the feathered beasts that roam the skies.

The location alone is beautiful, and would encourage anyone to visit if passing through, or, if you live locally to take a day trip there. Particularly in summer, we visited in late winter/very early spring, but the photographs of Doddington Place Gardens in the height of summer look beautiful.

On arrival, it turned out we weren't actually being expected. With the Falconry Experiences, they require arrangement in advance. However there was a mixup with our booking, and after confusion, the staff said that they did in fact have an availability, and were able to take us on our experience.

We began the afternoon with a cup of tea in the little tea room over looking the beautiful landscape, and then lead to the aviary. The tour began with introductions to each bird of prey, facts about their individual characters and species, with photograph opportunities - the Mottled Owl, Humphrey, instantly stole my heart, with his stereotypical 'owl twit-woo' and his handsome physique!
So naturally, I couldn't stop photographing the handsome man.

The relationship between the staff and the birds comes as an instant, initial observation, warming to witness. The affection and love for their feathered friends is understandable, and the trust between both human and bird is striking.

The first bird we flew with our Falconer, Paige, and volunteer Amy, was a black/brown barn owl named Reggie. Little did I realise just how much character birds can possess. And boy, did this little chap have character. A charming and cheeky chap, was the little Reggie, full of mischief.

 Photo opportunities are hugely encouraged, my mum came along as a spectator, with her camera, purely to play the role of photographer as she had never been a huge fan of birds... however the Falconry Experience has completely altered her perspective on birds. For the better. In fact, she almost seemed very attached by the time it came to leave!

The second flyer we had was the very entertaining Harris Hawk, Jaeger. After our Falconer had been singing his praises, he decided to go and completely show her up by sitting in a tree and refusing to come down. We had all managed to have him perch on our trendy leather gloves, but he'd clearly decided he had had enough. So, leaving Paige and Amy, we were passed over to Falconer Aaron, who introduced us to another Harris Hawk called Jasper, who was much more well behaved!

Our third... well technically our fourth bird... was another gorgeous owl, a Canadian Great Horned Owl, Cinders. Who I think I also fell in love with. Her beautiful colouring, is something you cannot appreciate until you're up close, I never noticed just how beautiful birds, particularly owls, are.

The next bird, I developed a rather unexpected fondness for, I say unexpected, as they are typically not shone in a particularly positive light. Maggie is a Hooded Vulture, Vultures, usually related to death, or in Disney movies depicted as the 'bad guys'. When in all truthfulness, Maggie, although may have a tendency to nip and steal pizza (highly entertaining story, I suggest you ask if you visit, the staff found it very amusing also!) was a pure delight! Although she would much rather walk, than be flown, which is very funny to watch, as this bird has more swag than the average gangster! However, she did indeed fly for us! And when we were finished, she swaggered back to her home!

Last and not least - a huge surprise to us all! Aaron came out with a Bald Eagle, now if you have never seen a Bald Eagle, you wouldn't be able to appreciate the magnificence of such a bird. But she was huge, and absolutely breath taking... not to mention heavy! We didn't fly her, obviously, as she is incredibly powerful and takes a lot of experience... and muscle... to fly.

And that brought us to the end of our Falconry Experience.

I couldn't recommend it enough. The staff are wonderfully warm and welcoming, extremely knowledgeable and have a wonderful bond with the birds they work with. My family and I had such an enjoyable day, despite the elements, we battled the winds, and the rain just about stayed off! But that was hardly noticeable.
It's fun for all the family, even my Dad seemed to have an absolute blast, and he's usually pretty tricky to keep happy!

To find out more, or to book your experience, visit The Hawking Centre: Falconry Experiences or their Facebook page!

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