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Flick ([personal profile] flick) wrote2015-11-19 03:08 pm

Walking in the rain

Last Christmas, I got Mike a voucher for a half-day falconry thingie at Leeds Castle (him to do and me to watch), and today (having planned to do it a few weeks ago then cancelled as Mike's foot was sore) we finally got around to going along. It was just us, so we got a lot of attention from the falconer!

(The falconer went to a falconry display when she was ten and got hooked. By the time she was thirteen, she'd convinced her parents that this really was what she was going to do with her life, and got her first hawk, which is the one Mike was mostly using today. After spending six years volunteering at various falconry places, she finally got an actual paying job in the field!)

First we met all the birds, and learnt various interesting things (New World vultures are a type of stork; in the wild birds of prey take about eight months to moult, as they have to keep flying in order to eat, but if you put them in an aviary and give them loads of food then they get it finished in about four; they mostly feed their birds on day-old chicks because the yolk sacks are full of healthy goodness; hand-reared birds tend to be very vocal), then we went out with a Harris Hawk for a walk through the woods. He was in his teens, and knew exactly what his job was: fly from tree to tree keeping an eye on the humans, not getting too far away, and every couple of hundred yards swoop down to eat the bit of chicken that the falconer had put on Mike's glove. He was very impressive!

(Before we headed off he went and perched on the scales for a weight check: too low and he won't have enough energy to work that day, too high and he won't be interested enough in food to cooperate, particularly with a stranger.)

Every so often, he'd see (or think he'd seen) something to hunt, and he'd go off into the undergrowth: didn't get anything, but a few days ago he got an enormous rabbit and, last year, several pea-chicks. He's not allowed to fly near the peacocks any more.

It was rather a damp day (although I think less so there than at home), so the walk wasn't as long as it usually would be: he was getting soggy feathers and starting to struggle slightly, so we paused at his dinner-eating-place (the non-moulting birds are taken to the same spot each day for their dinner. It's always somewhere nice and open with a distinctive view (in this case of the castle), so that the bird can find it easily. If a bird ever gets lost, the first place the falconers check is the dinner place). He got two chicks today: usually he only gets one, but he'd been working and would need the extra energy to dry himself out, and wasn't working tomorrow so wouldn't be overweight for that. I feel as though I have a greater insight into the food habits of ballet dancers now!

Rather than send us off an hour early, the falconer put him back on his perch and got the buzzard out instead. After being weighed, the buzzard had a little homing beacon cable-tied to her leg, Just In Case she decided to go soaring off on her own, but actually it was still damp enough that she stayed close to the ground. We went to the area where they do their falconry displays, and Mike flew her a few times (bigger bits of chicken!) but she wasn't really very impressed with the weather!

(There are videos as well, and just as soon as I figure out how to send them to him (why is email not one of the options with videos like it is with photos?) Mike will put them on Vine.)

After that, we had a quick lunch in the coffee shop, a brief walk around the outside of the castle (we saw a pair of kingfishers flying over the moat underneath us, and one of them left a little trail of bubbles when it scooped something out of the water!), a slightly longer walk through the grounds to the car park, and then came home to Release The Hound. I would have quite liked to see the inside of the castle and the historic dog collar exhibition, but we don't like leaving her for a very long time, and we're unlikely to go back, as we've seen pretty much everything except those two bits and I can't imagine that they're £24-per-person good!

After which I went for another damp walk in the woods, this time with a different mighty hunter.

(Actually, the sitter took that last Saturday after another damp walk. Isn't she adorable?)

I drove up to the woods, because I was feeling knackered and it was wet, so I went in a bit I'd not visited for a week or so. The loggers have been very busy, but I really hope that they're going to put the bridleway back into some sort of order before they leave, or at least smooth out the foot-deep tire tracks that cut across it:

I had at least half an hour to sit down after that before we went to get the boys in, slightly early as the farrier was visiting. They are disgustingly muddy: we turned the hose on their legs to make it less horrible for him! Tomorrow, we're supposed to be having a riding lesson but the weather forecast isn't great. Tonight, they're wearing their thin cotton summer rugs. Tomorrow night, they'll be in their thickest winter ones....

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