Winter in the Hawk and Owl Centre is often a quiet and lonely one. Muncaster is closed throughout January to visitors and it’s when bird staff take the majority of their holiday days, which means only one member of bird staff in each day. Cleaning aviaries in the morning on a crisp quiet day, you often find yourself having full blown conversations with the birds! Most of them look at you like “I have no idea what you’re saying, just clean my mess, feed me and get out, human!” but some of them love to interact with you. Herriot loves playing with rocks when you put them on the tree stump in his aviary, he carries them around with him all morning. Linford loves to call to you when you talk to him. Whippet jumps on your shoulder and “boobooks” at you! It makes you a bit more sane on those lonely days!
The closed period bring opportunities to do things that wouldn’t be possible when open to the public. Liam and his team feather-edged and put an extended fence up in the centre on the big owl side. This has now allowed us to use two more of the aviaries safely which we’ve been unable to use for quite some time as the birds would’ve been able to see and even get to each other before the work was carried out. This has now also allowed us more options of bird placement and management. I love how quickly the lads got the job done and it looks great, so a big thanks to them.
We’ve also re-vamped the ‘Old Rose Garden’ arena with fresh bark chippings put down for the return of visitors.
Just when I thought we were getting over the peak of winter, it snowed again! It’s been very cold still but the birds don’t seem to mind with their toasty warm heat lamps.
During this closed period we’ve still been flying a few birds. Pegasus is still in training, building fitness and is quickly learning what we expect from her. Yes her, I know I said him previously but we now believe he might well be a she. We could do tests to confirm the sex, although it doesn’t matter on gender currently as we have no plans to breed her as of yet. I worked with a 20 year old secretary bird called Madeline which turned out to be a male. Everyone and everything is equal, so sex doesn’t really matter. Anyways, she is now understanding the higher and longer she circuits and flies, the greater the reward, consisting of a large amount of chicken, quail or rat on the dinner plate.
We’re also still flying Reaper the Saker Falcon and Chip the Merlin. Both are now fit as a fiddle ready for peak season. Reaper was last year’s young falcon and has learnt an awful lot, he gets more confident and understanding of how to use his wings, tail, body and the wind to fly to the lure. He’s caught me out a few times recently ending in a big reward for him.
As we’re into February now, we start winter timetable flying displays again in the ‘Old Rose Garden’ at 1:30pm daily. Some of the hardier birds are back down to flying weight and have been getting fit again ready for the 10th of February. We then go to full season flying displays at the end of March, which also means that some of the ‘Sky Hunters’ display birds are coming back out of their rest and will start fitness training again. My favourite boy Herriot came out yesterday and was health checked and fitted with equipment ready to fly. All the staff are looking forward to him getting back up on the soar again.
Apart from the snow and freezing cold temperatures, there are a few signs of Spring around the corner starting to show. Snowdrops are blooming and daffodils are starting to push through the crusty icy soil. Really looking forward to my favourite season; dawn chorus, warmer days, lighter evenings, nesting birds, return of swifts, swallows and martins, the list goes on! But until then, looking forward to seeing lovely visitors again this Saturday.