Ho ho HOW are we in December already! It only feels like yesterday that we were getting ready to start the flying season here at Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre and now I’m sat here with less than a week to go before Christmas.

Now tis the season to be jolly and a jolly season it’s been for me and the team. We’ve trained 6 birds this season and they’ve all made us very proud indeed. Whether it be Reaper tearing holes through the sky to Pixie and Phoenix rocking the ‘Owls by Moonlight’ displays. I can honestly say they’ve definitely made us look good! The feeling is hard to put into words when you’ve watched birds grow up, train and become an incredible part of the team. I guess the best way to describe it, is that it’s like someone baking a cake from scratch, watching all the ingredients go in and come together to create a mouth-watering masterpiece at the end which is delicious and an absolute pleasure. You can tell I love a good bit of cake.

Phoenix, Pixie and Griffin. From young to present.

Owls by Moonlight displays have gone really well this month. The general layout of these displays is that guests come in for a hot supper, followed by a talk about the local wildlife and our conservation and preservations efforts we carry out. We then take guests into the ‘Old Rose Garden’ for the first display of the evening and then a tour around the illuminated castle and gardens up to the meadow for the second display. Generally we’ve been very lucky with the weather when flying our birds however on one of the nights it decided to snow/hail causing the ground to become very slippery and chilly. All was well as people wrapped up warm where as I had to walk around a slippery pitch black arena flying the birds. I felt like a new born fawn trying to find my legs! This was also Pixie our Long-eared owls first ever ‘Owls by Moonlight’ displays and he done superbly, in fact he was possibly more reliable and ‘on it’ than some of the older members of the flying team.

Ash in the meadow on ‘Owls by Moonlight’. Photo credit: Mike James

As we’ve had all the new birds this season, we’ve been trying to take some really good pictures of the birds to create and go on their new aviary signs. Now this is easier said than done when you have a cheeky bird that would rather sit on the camera instead of on a perch in front of it, see picture below.

Pixie being cheeky

It’s been very cold, frosty and snowed a bit here at Muncaster. If I’m honest I appreciate the frosty cold snowy days rather than the damp cold rainy days. What I love mostly about the snow is that apart from drastically changing the appearance of the land and covering it with white beauty; I love the history and story it tells within. Now I’m not going to get all hippy with this, more David Attenborough. The snow can often reveal things that you wouldn’t have even known had happen without it, history literally frozen it time. The first thing bird staff do every morning is walk around checking that all the birds are safe, well and happy. Upon walking through into the ‘Old Rose Garden’ arena I noticed tiny little footprints cutting across and around. I believe these footprints belong to stoat that seems to have taking up residence in the plant centre. We’ve even seen it hop a scurry away when we’ve come in. Also around the grounds and gardens were footprints of hare and rabbits. It gives me a weird fuzzy feeling that you’ve witnessed something that happened and can see how it moved and went about their business without actually witnessing it as it happened!

Stoat footprints

If you ask people to think of a bird that represents Christmas, a lot of people will say a turkey, but a lot of other people will also say a robin. The robins at Muncaster are very ‘friendly’ and seem to have minimal fear of people. Robins are known for being the gardener’s friend and we have our own falconer’s friend sticking around at the centre. We first noticed him as he sat on the floor in the weigh room singing, almost claiming it as his or her territory. Mike our awesome volunteer made some yummy mince pies for the bird staff and the robin started coming in to eat the crumbs we dropped on the floor. I then thought I’d test my bird staff skills out and see if he’d fly to by hand. Within minutes he/she flew and ate out my hand! Magical to get so close. Now I hate to admit it but that’s the easiest bird I’ve ever trained to recall back to me!

With our final daytime and owls by moonlight display of the season on the 23rd December, all of our birds get a well-earned rest and holiday until mid-February. Every bird gets fed up and allowed to take a break from flying in this period. It does them the world of good, if we constantly work and don’t have a break we get tired and run down, much the same for our birds. Which also means if the birds get a holiday the staff can as well, although I don’t really need much feeding up, more bringing back down to flying weight after all the Christmas food I’ll be eating!

This concludes me to finish this last blog of the year. I hope if you regularly read this blog you have enjoyed a part of our journey and also wish you all a Happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.