February was a relatively quiet month from the point of view of completed tasks for my charity challenge. That said plenty of preparation work had been carried out, and with March only into its second day, I can now tick off challenge no.25, thanks to Colin, who runs The Falconry Centre at Kirby Wiske near Thirsk, and a very handsome Golden Eagle called Boris.
I'd carefully studied the weather forecasts in the lead up to what was the Centre's opening weekend of 2014. The five-day forecast suggested Sunday would be fairly bright, but Saturday was likely to be cloudy. We arranged the visit for Sunday, at which point the forecast suddenly swapped round. Saturday morning ended up being glorious, and there was rain in the air as we headed south down the A19.
Actually, strong winds can pose the birds more of a problem if they're flying at relatively low level, but thankfully, although it was overcast when we arrived, the rain had stopped and there wasn't too much of a breeze.
We were shown the Centre's largest birds—including White-tailed, Bald and Golden Eagles. Colin warned us that one or two could get "feisty"—I'll assume it was just a coincidence that they were all females!
We also saw Ringo, the Eurasian Griffon Vulture, just three years old, but weighing 19lbs with a 9' wing span. He was having a bath when we passed, he'd done his first ever public display the previous day and looked justifiably pleased with himself. Colin explained that vulture numbers in parts of Africa are dwindling because of the trade in ivory and rhino horn. Apparently carcasses are being impregnated with poison, so that as soon the birds come to feed, they are essentially doomed—all for the sake of a few pounds (or equivalent currency) for the poachers.
Anyway, Boris was to be the bird with the responsibility of flying onto my hand, which by now was safely encased in a comfortingly thick glove. Boris weighs just over 6lbs, and has a 6' wingspan, and is sixteen years old. Apparently in captivity, the largest birds can live over thirty years... I just thought you might like to know. Colin demonstrated how it should be done, before placing a piece of raw turkey leg in my glove and signalling Boris, who was perched on top of an aviary about fifty yards away.
Boris clearly wasn't impressed—and promptly flew off into the woods, but he returned a minute or so later and before I knew it, he'd landed on my hand and the food was gone. What was interesting is that Boris would actually plan his path to my hand by judging the speed and direction of the breeze. He flew to me twice more, before "posing" for a few photographs.
It was fascinating stuff, and I'm indebted to Colin and everyone at the Falconry Centre (not forgetting Boris, of course) for being so welcoming and for allowing me to complete my eleventh challenge. If you happen to live or find yourself anywhere near Thirsk, here's the link to the Centre's website... the birds of prey are magnificent, and you'll have a fantastic time!