Things are starting to quieten down now after the festivities of Halloween. It was, as we expected, a mad week with thousands of people arriving at the gates to celebrate this incredible time of year for Muncaster. By far the best sight for me during that period is seeing the castle lit up against the inky-black sky. That is if you don’t include the sight of our owls during the Twilight Owls displays. The word spooky doesn’t quite do it!
These evening demonstrations were all fully booked every night which was very pleasing and the feedback we’ve had from them has been overwhelmingly positive. I learned that some visitors had actually travelled from miles around specifically to see the owls fly in the dark. And even if the evenings didn’t always go to plan (Mulberry decided to spend much her time floating around the gardens hunting for mice and voles) they were magical and all our visitors were great sports – especially those who came on drizzly evenings. We’re now in the process of planning our Owls by Moonlight evenings for December. These sessions include two flying displays in two separate locations, a two-course hot supper and a talk by one of our expert bird staff about British owls and the work we do here at Muncaster and with the Hawk Conservancy Trust to conserve them. More information can be found here.
Just before the start of the Halloween madness we had a blip. Iris my American Kestrel, whilst on a training flight, disappeared from the castle lawn where I was flying her to the lure. Despite our best efforts to track her down she was nowhere to be seen. To be fair I had never seen her fly the way she flew away from that lawn and over the valley towards Eskdale. Such power and determined flight away from me was a sight no falconer ever wants to see, especially with a bird so small. Emma spotted her flying back over the centre at one point about 40 minutes after she vanished. She alighted in a tree for about 5 minutes and then disappeared again. That was the last we saw of her. For the couple of days following that we were all out at first light until dark, working around the displays, to look for her. Nothing. For six days until I got a call at home so say that someone had seen what they thought might be a kestrel. With a lot of these calls it turns out that it’s not our bird but a wild one. Or if it was our bird the person on the other end of the phone has picked it up too late and the bird has moved on. In this case I was in luck. Chris from Wasdale told me what the bird looked like – it was almost certainly Iris – and that she was still sat in front of him as we spoke. Well, to say I probably broke the speed limit might be an understatement. I hurtled to Wasdale Head where Iris was waiting with Chris and his family on a post in the corner of a field. I got out of my car, put my glove up and she flew the 10ft across to me. It’s an utter joy and relief for all of us to have her home! Thanks so very much to Chris and his family for spotting her and having the sense to give us a call!
Our team of Yellow Billed Kites, William, Foxpitt and Bandele have all returned home to the Hawk Conservancy now. The aviary they live in in the summer is too open and exposed for such a delicate species to spend the winter so they will be back in the spring when the weather should be a little kinder. Over this winter the plan is to build them a winter moulting aviary so they don’t have to make the 200 odd mile trip twice each season. To do this there’s a lot of work to do first. Work that has already begun as we start to demolish yet more of the older, now redundant aviaries in the Old Rose Garden and level the ground ready for the build to start.
A bird very worthy of a mention this month is Galaxy. He is a Spectacled Owl who joined us in September in place of Gucci who now permanently resides at the Hawk Conservancy. The damp conditions simply didn’t agree with him and his health. For a bird who we all thought would be very difficult to motivate, Galaxy has become a bit of an unexpected favourite among visitors and staff. His slow and ‘take it easy’ approach to life makes him such a character and I’m hoping he will do well in our daily displays and our Owls by Moonlight evenings. If you haven’t yet been to see him then do so when you get the chance – he’s a hoot. (Sorry!)