Thursday, 14 April 2016

Feathered hygge - birds of prey in Oxfordshire

April already!
It's been an unusual winter, mild and dry and, alas, the only snow that fell did so early in the morning and had melted before I was up and out of bed. Which lesson I did not fail to take on board even as I also try to relax, rest and let the world slowly spin without my stressing over things.

Because that's the rub.
The stress.
I've been under too much stress for too long and, as my health-care practitioners persist in telling me, stress impacts upon the immune system and a compromised immune system cannot be expected to protect a body against cancer.

It's a tough one. Especially for one who cares deeply, is loyal and dedicated and who works harder than really is good for her.

But this one is learning the lesson and letting go of the stress and a feeling of responsibility for everything that is wrong today. I cannot protect the planet, I cannot save every one of the starving, I cannot heal, mend, comfort all who are suffering. And so I do that which I can in my own little world and I try not to let the rest destroy my spirit.

Meanwhile, I enjoy small moments, quiet times and the occasional adventure.
Because, as this blog is all about, life is an adventure.  
N'est-ce pas?

Which brings me to the feathered friends that The Ragazza and I met one day last week.

Meet Leo, the little owl.

He was my favourite, I decided, as he stood on my gloved arm and totally ignored me.
Because that's what they do, birds of prey, raptors, owls et al. They focus on danger, on sex and on food, and if you represent neither of those three things then you are simply, a perch..

A pretty perch, granted. but still just a perch.

And sometimes your owl will be distracted and decide to take off and when that happens you must not join him in the flapping. You must be calm and firm and keep your head, lest you be towed away by your owl. Which is another lesson worth learning - that there are times in your life when you have to stand your ground.

It's daunting at first.
Having a killing machine on your arm. Even though the glove is thick and the falconer is nearby, especially when the falconer is nearby and recounting tales of the time when he was out hunting with a large bird of prey, felt a pain and glanced down to see its talons piercing his hand, right through, skewering him. The only action one can take is to stand still and to wait until the hunter releases his grip and withdraws his talons.

Respect the wild ones.
And, adorable as you may find them and much as you may wish to stroke their beautiful feathers and to bury your face in their downy chests, you really have to refrain from touching them because you damage their natural oils and preened plumage and, besides, much as you may find them adorable they care not a jot for you. You are just the perch.

Still, it's lovely to be able to stand and perform the perch-function while someone with a wealth of experience and passion for the birds teaches you about them.
And explains that sometimes appearances can be deceptive and that owls do not have ears.

And a buzzard on the hand is actually more amazing than a whole sky full of red kites.

And the raven is quite intimidating. Perhaps because of its darkness, its black wings and beak and feet and eyes and even its tongue. But probably because the falconer warned you before he emerged from its aviary with it sitting on his arm, that you should hold your hand as far from your face as possible and not tempt it with your pretty little nose.

But when it flaps its wings it really is hard to remain still.
Best to close your eyes, just in case.
Edgar Allan Poe has a lot to answer for!


Patience rewarded.
In truth the raven was more interested in its leg-wear than in the tasty flesh at the end of the perch.

And then to fly some birds.
And then you really are just a perch, one on each side of the arena, facing front, arm held out high so that your bird will elect to land on your arm rather than your head. You hope.

And a piece of chick on your glove that the owl knows is there

And flies to fetch.
Low, along the ground, conserving energy...
Before swooping up and onto the food.

The wingspan of this owl is almost five feet. Which means that if he and I both stretch out our limbs we will both be pretty much the same width,

It's difficult to stand still, to keep your left arm extended, high and still, and at the same time to take a photograph of an approaching owl with your mother's old camera. But The Ragazza did it.

And we proved that an owl in flight is silent.
We closed our eyes and waited while Ginger the barn owl flew to us and no, we could not hear her coming.  And that was an amazing conclusion to our morning with the birds of prey.

(Picture plucked from wikipedia)

The Ragazza and I spent the morning with Hawkwalk in Oxfordshire.
Conveniently close to Drayton, should we decide to return.
Which we definitely will.

As their website promises:
Hawkwalk  – Falconry Oxfordshire – British birds of prey up close and personal


  1. What an amazing time you had! Both of my granddaughters, but especially the oldest, love owls and, indeed, all birds. We play bird bingo together. We have a Raptor center near us,in Medina, Ohio, but not as amazing as this!

  2. Raptors are fascinating. Well done the Ragazza!


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