Fascinated with falconry and birds of prey

We don’t always have our weekends planned out, so many times, we go places at the last minute.  That happened a couple weekends ago when we decided to go to a heavy horse show in Eridge.  We had seen the signs for a while and didn’t know what to expect.  It wasn’t the best of weekends, cloudy and all, but we didn’t want to sit indoors.  So, we decided to check it out. 

I looked on the internet first to see the start times.  I found out they had dogs and birds of prey in addition to the horse show.  It was a charity event for the Working Horse Trust.  We arrived just after some competition had ended and were worried that we had missed the main event.  It turned out they had quite a lot planned, some had to be cancelled due to illness, etc.  But, we got there just in time to see a “Bird of Prey” demonstration by Chris Neal.  Apparently, he has done some nature programs on TV previously, and it really shows in his performance.

I’ve always had a fascination for birds of prey.  I used to love watching them circle in the sky.  When we were in New Hampshire, we happened on a bird of prey display in support of a wildlife rescue program.  It was amazing to look at the birds close-up.  But it was just a display.  In Ohio, watching the buzzards return in the spring was a major event for some locals.  I never saw it, but I always saw them sitting in trees, on barns, and even in front of some people’s yards.  Again, it seemed I had a morbid fascination with them (even though buzzards aren’t technically birds of prey, they’re always included).

Chris Neal did things differently.  He invited photographers out onto the field with him so that they can photograph the Harris hawks as he flew them here and there.  He also challenged them to photograph the birds as they attacked a “prey” (fake).  He said that if they got a good shot, he would take them out on a day with him in the Shropshire moors.  My husband didn’t show him his pictures, but he hopes he has a good enough shot to send to him and perhaps get invited.  I don’t know if my husband has ever had a fascination with these birds, but after that day, he showed some serious interest. 

Mr. Neal then brought out an eagle owl. It was huge and graceful.  He invited the kids out to get close-up.  He had them lay on the ground while the eagle flew above them.  Then he had them form two rows and the owl flew between them.  Our older girl was game for anything and was out there in a jiffy.  She loved it.  Our younger daughter gets scared easily, so she sat out.  However, there were two demonstrations during the day, and at the second one, she did go out.  She came back smiling but said it scared her.

Lastly, a falcon came out.  That was the best part, especially during the first demonstration, not just because it was new, but because the demonstration was more rushed the second time as we started to get a little shower and he couldn’t fly the birds in the rain.  He allowed it to fly so far out that we lost sight of it.  When he came back, he was just a speck in the sky, and this guy’s eyes were so good that when people pointed out possible sightings, he knew it was a “pigeon” and not his falcon.  Mr. Neal brought out the lure and the falcon came swooping in.  It was fast!  And beautiful!

Since then, we have seen two more demonstrations, though not as spectacular.  One was at an animal farm that my older daughter insisted on going to (she was not interested in the birds, just the other animals and the play area) while we were on vacation.  Though the demonstration was not as good, they did have an amazing collection of birds and the girls liked looking at them.  We even saw a golden eagle.

The other was in the safari park (to be discussed in another post).  Since it was not the main attraction, it was a smaller collection than at the farm.  But it was still fun to watch these birds and we learned different things about them at each demonstration.  Each of the last two demonstrations also invited adults and children to come out and handle the birds.  We did not take advantage of the opportunity for various reasons.  My husband wants to take some falconry classes and become a falconer.

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