Bluebells & Milky Owls

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After a rather hearty working week, I spent Monday’s bank holiday embracing sunshine and peppy gales at the Hawk Conservancy in Andover. I’d heard plenty about their conservation work overseas and at home, particularly with the international plight of vultures and their rehabilitation service for injured birds of prey. Despite windy conditions the Test Valley lay in sunshine for most of the morning, replete with dizzying wildflowers all afternoon.

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This dapper bald eagle was one of a number of cool birds trained to dazzle visitors with their flight displays. In the morning we watched the Wings of Africa demonstration under a cerulean sky, featuring Othello the African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Tolkein the milky eagle owl (Bubo lacteus), two white-backed vulture brothers named Cassius and Clay (Gyps africanus), a mob of yellow-billed kites (Milvus aegyptius), four sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) and two white storks (Ciconia ciconia).

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After coffee and a highly viscous cheese toasty, we headed over to the wildflower meadow to watch a display of kites, vultures and eagles. In one moment thirteen black kites (Milvus migrans) floated through the sky like a dark blossomed carousel, only to be joined by a lone red kite (Milvus milvus) gliding in from the wild, all accompanied by the haunting compositions of contemporary musician Ludovico Einaudi.

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Once the awe of watching birds in flight has settled in, there usually lies an array of complicated ecological problems that need resolving through funding or support. I was particularly interested to hear more about vulture conservation abroad; it’s a topic that’s been circulating on Twitter, as vultures face increasing threats from poison, habitat loss and the poaching industry, who don’t like them hovering around their illegal carcasses in case their location is revealed to authorities. You can read more about their International Vulture Programme here.

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The paddocks were home to the fluffiest donkeys that ever walked the earth, and were filled with paths of wildflowers adorned with chubby bees, including a dusky-lilac palette of bluebells and storms of cowslips and ground ivy.

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Most excitingly, we were able to watch the brand new Woodland Owls display in a faux churchyard surrounded by silver birch trees. Barn owls tumbled from the ‘bell tower’ and crept through the air like moths, and Ennis the great grey owl flew through us and swept our cheeks with cobalt primaries. Apparently owls were a favourite creature to transform into when witches were sneaking away from their hunters, although this sadly resulted in heavy barn owl persecution during the witch trial heyday.

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I can’t recommend the Hawk Conservancy highly enough for the chance to encounter magnificent birds of prey in an enchanting setting. Their conservation record has been fantastic and is seriously contributing to the protection of these birds worldwide. Plus the bakewell tart is to die for. Here’s a picture of me hanging out with Troy the tawny owl:

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