As a centre we aim to always operate to the highest of standards for our birds. The Falconers here, Emma, Stuart and I, are here for the birds first and foremost. We care for them to the very best of our ability and, I think, to a very high standard. In many cases I think it would be fair to say we love our charges (though whether they love us back or not is quite another matter).
So when the words “Prevention Zone” and “Avian Influenza” are uttered it’s hard not to get very worried very quickly. Last Tuesday, 6th December, the Government put into place a prevention zone to halt the spread of the disease which had been active throughout Europe. It was unclear for a time whether this would impact us flying the birds in the centre and, at one stage, we had cancelled all our demonstrations and grounded all the birds until we knew what was going on.
This is a perfect example of when working with the Hawk Conservancy Trust is very helpful. They liaised with us throughout to ensure we knew what best practice was and now we have a clearer idea of the severity of the situation. It seems it’s not as bad as it had sounded as we are now able to fly again. However we are not feeding the wild herons as it is believed that this contact could pose the highest risk. Any visitors who are worried about the Herons going hungry for 30 days need not be. These birds are fed really a very small amount of food on the Cannon Bank by staff and so are very good at catching their own food in the surrounding grasslands and in the estuary.
This confusion did however cause a bit of an issue for Owls by Moonlight which had been billed for Saturday 10th December. As a team we had taken the decision 2 days earlier to ground all the birds and felt it was unfair to keep them all keen and on weight for an evening that had by this stage been cancelled. We have given everyone who had booked for the evening of the 10th the opportunity to reschedule for next Sunday (18th) which I think will be a really nice and unique way to start the final countdown to Christmas.
Our first Owls by Moonlight went really well – all the birds were keen and flew beautifully. Emma commentated for us and hosted our enthusiastic guests (many of which had wrapped up for arctic temperatures – good for you!) and the evening, by all accounts, was a massive hit. Highlights for me include Galaxy’s first appearance on an Owls by Moonlight. I’ve got a lot of love for that owl! Also worth a mention is the entrance of the Great Grey Owl which I won’t spoil but Ash looks spectacular!
It’s also good to do all the small jobs you just simply don’t get a chance to do during the main season. Ash and Galaxy’s aviaries have now been properly boarded with feather edging and both now have equal space which is so much better – especially for Galaxy who didn’t really have the right amount of space. Its great how much it changes the look of the whole centre when old and tired ply boarding is replaced with fresh timber and with more of this to come over the winter; we’re all excited to see the centre continue its ‘face lift’ that started 20 months ago. We’ve also been changing the perches in some of the aviaries to make the birds’ homes as comfortable as possible over the winter. Something that Stuart has a particularly good eye for…!
On a final note – if you haven’t had the chance to watch Planet Earth II on the BBC these last few weeks then do be sure to catch up on iPlayer. The footage shown is incredible – especially those clips which include raptors, but we may be a little biased there!