Category Archives: Review

Hawk Conservancy Trust 

A visit to The Hawk Conservancy is a fantastic day out where you get to explore the grounds, see numerous birds of prey both in their enclosures and in flying displays. It’s educational and great fun for the whole family. Plus, you’ll be contributing to some important conservation work for these birds across the world.

Vultures feeding time

In the first event of the day, we saw Deloris and Hector showing their dominance as the biggest in the enclosure, getting their choice of food from the keeper.

There are 3 distinct types:

  • Rippers – they have strong bills and wide skulls designed for ripping off the skin and tendons.
  • Gulpers – go for all the soft bits like organs. They are usually very large vultures due to the high nutritional content of their diet.
  • Scrappers – they have bills designed to get every last little scrap of flesh off the bones.

Also, there is the bearded vulture or lammergeier who pick up the bones, fly up and drop them from a great height onto rocks so they break open and they can eat the bone marrow.

Vultures are vital for ecosystems, they are the dustbins that clear everything up; they stop rotting flesh building up and stop the spread of disease.

At the end of the 20th century use of diclofenac (anti-inflammatory) to treat sick Asian cattle caused the death of millions of vultures when the farmers put carcasses out for vultures to feed on. No one had any idea diclofenac was so lethal to vultures but with one carcass being food for up to 200 vultures, the mortality rate was astronomical. The knock-on effect was that feral dog packs filled the gap. Fear is that the same thing will happen in Europe as Italy and Spain licensed the use of diclofenac for vets. Eagles are also at risk. Support the call for a ban here.

Cassius and Clay are the Trust’s African white backed vultures, each weighing 9lbs with a wing span of 7ft. They are now critically endangered, which means the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified them as being at very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. The Hawk Conservancy have overseas projects running to try and restore vulture numbers in the wild.

Wings of Africa display

Here we met Othello, the fish eagle. These birds can catch anything up to the size of a flamingo in flight but usually, as the name suggests, fishes for their food.

We were also introduced to Tolkien, a milky eagle owl. Random fact, they are the only predator of the African spiny hedgehog but they can also tackle prey as large as a baboon!

Dr No flying kick at a (rubber) cobra
Next we were in for a bit of a laugh with Dr No, their secretary bird, also known as the archer of snakes due to the way it hunts and kills its prey. It flushes the snake out of the long grass then kicks it in the head. Dr No took his role in the performance very seriously, including showing us how he would tackle a cobra by doing a flying kick! It’s an hilarious sight! Not so hilarious for the rubber snake!

We then saw some cute sacred ibis and white storks as part of a beautiful multi-bird display. Interestingly, they’re not officially birds of prey since they do not catch their prey with their feet but with their beaks. It was lovely to see the close bond birds have with the keeper as they were hand fed at the end of the display.

Valley of the Eagles display

The saker falcon was an example of how many sayings we get through the history of falconry. For example being ‘under the thumb’ meaning to have control, ‘hoodwinked’ meaning tricked or ‘waiting with baited breath’ when waiting for something to happen. It was lovely to see some traditional falconry work with a lure, the relationship between the falconer and his bird was spectacular.

We were introduced to a new vulture, the turkey vulture which is one of the few birds of prey to have a sense of smell, and it uses it to hunt. Unusually it is actually a descendent of the stork family rather than the rapture family. I’m not sure who had to be more brave as the vultures swooped over and in between audience members, it was an extraordinary experience to be in such close quarters and even though we ducked, the wings of these great birds brushed our heads!

We were spoilt with 9 black kites who performed brilliantly catching their prey in their feet and eating it while still flying. This conserves energy as when birds catch prey and land to eat it, it’s the setting off again that uses energy. The commentator and the bird handler worked brilliantly together showing the birds off to their full potential in very comical fashion!

I was beginning to think we’d been misled by the title of the show but they’d left the best for last. A stunning American bald eagle was flown in from 1.5-2 miles across the rolling Hampshire countryside, he swooped into the arena within a few seconds. Absolutely beautiful!

Woodland Owls display

The first owl we saw was a tawny owl. Baby tawny owls are often brought into the Conservancy by well meaning members of the public having found them on the floor. Unfortunately, this is not necessary and leads to them being humanised. Tawny owls do something called branching where they climb out of the nest before they’re ready to fledge, unfortunately this leads to them sometimes falling to the ground but the parents will continue feeding them no matter where they are so they will be fine. Troy was one of the tawney owls brought to the Conservancy and he’d already been humanised so he’s now used to fly the flag for all his wild cousins. Unfortunately, when he arrived he was also afraid of heights (probably because his only experience of any height was falling from a tree) so to get him to do anything interesting in a display his trainer had to climb a tree to reduce his anxiety; he put on an excellent show for us!

We then saw Walter the great grey owl, not the most inventive name for such a beautiful bird. He displayed stunning agility, with a wing span of 5 feet, he flew between to members of the audience standing, I estimate, less than 2 feet apart by swooping and bending his wings up at the last second.

Whisper the little boobok owl was a beautiful little thing! He performed wonderfully, landing on the benches close to audience members. But he showed us that he was boss and that even though humanised and tame, he’s still able to choose what he does and wouldn’t perform his trick, flying through a hollowed out log, until the last try when he performed it spectacularly.

Our native barn owl has showed a worrying decline in numbers as agricultural habits have changed. Not only have their possible nesting sites reduced but they have seen a decline in habitat for their prey. Fortunately The Hawk Conservancy Trust discovered they like nesting in purpose built nest boxes so their nest box project is have great success! Charlie did a wonderful display for us, circling the woodland area many times. Elder, however, decided she would only show herself as the commentator was wrapping up the display, she did, however, show us her flying style beautifully.

I cannot enthuse enough about the skills of the commentators and bird handlers, they obviously love the birds and are passionate about what they do. They truely made this a wonderful day to remember.

In visiting The Hawk Conservancy Trust you can support the local, national and international work they do. I’d highly recommend a visit!

Pipefest – a music festival like no other

Starting with Pipefest fringe on Friday evening, a wide variety of talent in a fantastically supportive environment! From the incredibly nervous getting up for the first or second time to much more seasoned performers relaxed and enjoying sharing their amazing gifts! A memorable highlight was Den Miller – with some humorous thoughts about 1st world problems, It’s The Little Things!

We were very glad to be recommended The Plough for very generous portions and we found a great little camping spot, Fell View with a separate field for tents (with flat and well-kept soft grass – Steve was very pleased there were no stones so the pegs went in very easily!) and more than adequate facilities.

We arrived a little late on the Saturday morning but caught some enticing introductions from Duke Special (the reason this particular Pipefest stood out to me) and Amy Wadge, famous for co-writing Thinking Out Loud with Ed Sheeran but has written with a long list of “stars” and continues to write her own music. Of course we knew Martyn Joseph would be on form and he did not disappoint! The acoustics of Lancaster University chaplaincy centre were just right, it was a lovely intimate space, perfect for the music and discussions. With this Pipefest was seriously under way!

Lunch was a generous buffet and some friendly chat. For the afternoon session, we had the choice. Steve heard about the Let Yourself Trust and their most recent venture supporting Advantage Africa and their work improving the lives of people with albinism. 98% people with albinism do not see their 40th birthday. It was shocking to hear how relatively cheap a cryogun is. If they had more available, they could make a significant difference to the prognosis of individuals with albinism. We’re saving deposit for a house, a relative luxury when you think we could donate just 1 months savings and buy a machine outright. There are so many good causes out there – how do we decide where to spend our money? Let Yourself Trust has also supported projects in Guatemala, Palestine and Swansea.

I attended a session on song writing led by Amy Wadge and Duke Special. It became clear as I heard them explain their processes and ideas, the audience wanted hints and tips for a process they find quite difficult but Pete and Amy are so naturally gifted, they make it sound easy! It was interesting to hear that Amy had to come to terms with not being a singer-song-writer in order to discover and develop an incredibly successful career as a co-writer. It helped me reflect on times when I’ve had to re-frame my ideas of “success”. (Being a doctor wasn’t right for me, I felt a failure, but it’s led me into a more fulfilling path of getting to know and support people with serious mental health conditions and I find it more rewarding.) It was fascinating to hear how Pete took on a project writing songs based on a series of photos. He lived with the photos for a year, researched the photos in depth including the subjects, the times in which they lived, even the equipment used. I managed to come up with few lines I might develop into a song (when I have time and space!).

It was noted that politics is not a usual topic for song writers but Martyn (who never shies away from a challenge) has recently started a project writing songs influenced by the democratic history of our country. Cole Moreton then led an interesting and lively discussion, kicked off with the question “Are we happy with the democratic process of our country?” If not, which the majority were not, we were asked to propose a change which was then discussed and put to vote for acceptance or rejection! We travelled through ideas such as moving parliament to Derby and whether to pay MPs more, to a proposition to select MPs as we do for jury service – this was rejected in favour of a proportional representation type idea!

We then heard about Martyn’s most recent album “Sanctuary”. He describes this album as more balanced – the mood of the songs (and 1 instrumental) is varied as he’s feeling at a more positive place in his life and the music reflects this expressively, even including a couple you could “dance” to! Martyn explained the process of working with some incredibly talented musicians, they manged to record 9 songs in 2 days. Martyn also reflected on how quick the process is (using digital technology in someone’s living room) compared to 20 years ago (when tapes had to be physically transported from studio to studio). We heard excerpts and I succumbed to pre-ordering it.

Dinner, selected prior to the weekend, was again, delicious and generous. Chocolate fudge cake was a must for me! Our political musings continued with a couple of guys from Northern Ireland – where else would you get to have such a respectful discussion – our general conclusion was that there are no simple answers!

The day concluded with intimate performances from the 3 special guests. Pipefest is not somewhere you will find celebrities. Each performer was humble about their gift, just sharing what they love to do. Highlights for me included Amy’s song influenced by her grandparents, a beautifully moving love story. Although I’ve heard it before, I love Duke Special’s song, essentially a list about what it means to be human, he captures the “Condition” eloquently! Cole Moreton also shared an excerpt from his first novel to be published soon.

The raffle supported Festival Spirit – a charity that enables people with life limiting conditions to get to music festivals. We were won over by Steve Clarke’s testimony of a young man who, a low point, used their charity to attend a festival which enabled him to realise he could achieve great things and was next seen at the Paralympics lighting the Olympic flame and is set to take part in Rio 2016!

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The evening would not have been complete without a great set from Martyn Joseph, he never fails to fill me with awe and admiration. The family theme was continued with a song influenced by his Mum which I found incredibly emotional. Martyn’s humble approach to his talent and music makes him even more appealing. The audience of course, asked for the traditional encore but once Martyn left the stage, the audience wouldn’t stop singing the chorus, it great to be left satisfied but also wanting more! Martyn had to get a good night’s sleep as he ran the Lancaster 10k on the Sunday morning (in aid of Let Yourself Trust) – despite his reservations and fears he’d have to be carried, he ran it in a very respectable 1 hour 12 minutes.

I found myself on the last morning reflecting that, even when we’re “roughing it”, I still get to stand under a hot shower, letting in just cascade over me for as long as I like. I thought I’d been a long time, returned to the tent, only to find Steve was still enjoying his shower, I had to agree, they were better than ours at home!

A massive thank you has to go to Nikki and the Pipefest team who made an excellent weekend filled with eclectic company, abundant food, amazing talent and great music with inspiring messages.