I kept thinking to myself “I’m not that guy”.
Sat in the reception of the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover, I saw all kinds of people walking in to the site including families with young children and grandparents. But I saw even more blokes walking in with absolutely enormous pairs of binoculars, or guys who were seemingly competing to have the longest lens on their camera without falling over head first.
My Dad was here for one of those experience days that you’ve probably heard about which are getting more and more popular. I’ve got friends who’ve been on spa days, driven supercars and even flown a plane all because they went along on one. My Dad seemed to know every sort of bird going, so my Mum thought it would be a good idea to let him fly hawks and eagles, among other things.
I should explain at this point that I’m often the butt of family jokes for not knowing (apparently basic) bird types, correct animal genders or what particular groups of animals are called. Despite that, I went along to take pictures for him, so he’d remember the day if he wasn’t there again.
Managing to blag a student discount to bring the total down to £12, I caught myself thinking that “I paid almost the same price to get into the Coliseum last week”. That thought process changed when they put on their first display.
We were packed into a wooden auditorium of sorts and treated to all sorts of birds flying in formation across the huge field, across the crowd and eventually fighting mid air for food fired from slingshots by the keepers. The vultures particularly enjoyed nothing more than swooping across the crowd, side to side, getting absolutely everyone to duck out of their way.
They released two bald eagles from two miles away, which could be faintly seen circling the trees on the horizon. As soon as the keepers walked into the field, they flew all the way to them. It was pretty amazing, despite continually thinking back to my Specsavers appointment the week before and how bad my eyesight is in comparison.
That was the point I decided that I wanted to learn as much as possible from this place and I didn’t care if I was “that guy” anymore. It was fun, above all else.
We were led to a pen where they keep Harris hawks, and my Dad was handed one to walk through the park to a small field where he could fly them.
They were sent to a tree at the other of the field, where another guest would call the hawk back by holding a chicken leg out in their fist, and then vice versa. After plenty of that, they were fed with a whole chick (head and all), which was fascinating to watch them eat up close.
After drinks, there was a final opportunity to fly a bald eagle across another enclosure, which they did. He was much larger and more powerful than the hawk had been, and even had to be fitted with a tracker in case he decided he’s had enough and flew off over Hampshire.
On that note, the one thing I’ll take away from the trip is that many of these birds live dramatically longer while in conservation than they would out in the wild. A barn owl is expected to live four years in the wild, while here they can live up to 15.
Apart from one of the handlers getting taloned by two other hawks fighting with each other, there wasn’t much else to speak about, so I’m leaving the rest of the photos in a gallery for you to hopefully enjoy!
If you want to see more stuff like this, let me know. I’m thinking of doing something similar with my recent trip to Rome, Italy. You can find out more about the Trust at their website: http://www.hawk-conservancy.org/.