I am having to write this early because of being away for much of November. However it has been an interesting autumn.
It started off quite beautiful, with dry cool weather and the colours came early and were stunning. Then it started to rain-come to think about it, just about at half term, damn it! Then we had a bit of a gale-to say the least. The wind did some pretty severe damage to some of the trees, particularly one of the older oaks in the flying field. One of the speaker boxes was half way across the flying ground and worst of all there was a large hole in the Owl Court yard, however the owls had not spotted it and so
Annie and Simon and I managed to catch the pair and put them in another pen. The roof will be repaired as soon as the sheets arrive.
I have had a miserable time with the dogs. As you will see my Salix died on October 1st, Nettle has been ill and had to be spayed, Rush went lame, Aster did something to his shoulder, and then sliced his leg open in barbed wire, then Rush got pretty ill and ended up having an operation. I had him neutered at the same time, just to really make his day!! He has paid me back with several sleepless nights. I hope they are all OK now and will be good while I am away.
The conference in New Orleans that I went to at the end of September was a little disappointing. We held a vulture workshop and should have had a large audience, but did not, so I felt sad for the people who had come so far to speak. However the important thing is to get a report out, so that everyone knows what is going on, and what we are going to achieve soon.
New Orleans is known for its restaurants, which is why it was a bit of a shame they all closed due to a hurricane!! There were 1400 people there as it was a joint conference with several bird groups, most of them interested in LBJ’s!! (Little brown jobs!). I thought it was too many, I prefer the more specialist groups as you can find people!!
As I write we have just finished the memorial service for father. All the aviaries had been cleaned and despite the rain and 43 million leaves (it could be more) raked up. The place looked pretty OK. Can you believe it, the flaming daffodils are coming up too. Global warming has a lot to answer for.
I will be home again in December, by which time you should have had this letter. So I am going to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Wouldn’t it be fun if it snowed on some of them!! Actually it did on one, the last one before Christmas two years ago, it was really magical.
However they are all pretty nice and fun to come on. Even nicer now that the education room has been tiled, and redecorated and hopefully fire-placed! So book up, as we would like to see you there.
Every Friday and Saturday from Halloween to Dec 21st. Starting at 6:30 pm with a guided tour of the owls. We have a couple of new pairs this year. Then warm up with mulled wine and the hog roast. Stay warm with the small owls flying indoors, and then join us outside (weather permitting) to see some of the larger owls fly in a spotlight.
The evenings are ticketed only, and cost £15.00 for adults and £7.00 for children. Wrap up warm and bring a torch. Phone to book with Katherine or Jan.
This year we have closed a month earlier than usual. The main reason is that after the school half terms in October in terms of visitors things drop away to almost nothing. The staff certainly out number the visitors during the week, and only if the weather is good do we have a few coming in at the weekends. It is just not cost effective to stay open.
However we do not sit and do nothing. Firstly we are still running the courses and the owl evenings, so there is much to do in terms of keeping things going. All the juvenile birds that were added to the team this year are still flown throughout the closed period. It is vital to get them fit and strong in their first season.
We also clean out all the aviaries and get nests into those who are liable to lay early. Simon is getting the incubator room moved out of the house and already has baby Indian Eagle Owls to look after.
There are many things to do, paths, signs, the gardens, plus the day to day feeding and caring of the birds. We are never short of things to do during the winter months.
I have always wanted Ural Owls so when the zoo’s available and wanted list came through, and there were two places with Ural Owls available, I immediately contacted them both, and blow me, we now have four Ural Owls! They are beautiful and we now have to check on the breeding lines of the birds and their sexes and then we can pair them up in a suitable fashion. At the same time I managed to get another young White-faced Scops Owl to join the two siblings that came earlier, so that will give us an unrelated pair, for future breeding.
You may remember that Faye Giddy has recently joined us as Education Officer, well with much work from her, Katherine and Faye’s husband Tim the lectures are now ready. We have a great logo, which I can’t find!!! So I can’t put it here, which is frustrating! The leaflets have gone out to schools locally and we are beginning to get replies.
I really hope this works, I used to lecture in Surrey up to 10 lectures a week in schools and it is a great shame that we have not had the interest in Gloucestershire schools.
Faye Involves the kids, takes birds, works with the National Curriculum and is absolutely first class. So watch this space to see how we do on this venture as the children we need to be talking to are the future for us.
Our website has been causing us some problems, but we are now changing servers and that should mean that stuff we put on should stay on. I am hoping to get round to a major tidy up when I get back from the US. If anyone has good pictures for the website send them to John Leith who is the webmaster.
I am glad to announce that the 35th anniversary day was a great success, there were no hiccups, we had 600 visitors, all the birds behaved and the swans came up and spent the whole day watching the Ferret racing!! I think everyone had a good time and I would like to thank Katherine, particularly, and all the staff for putting on such a good day.
You will have noticed that mostly I write this whole newsletter, if anyone feels like doing an article for us I would be very pleased and I am sure that those having to read it would be ready for a change too! So just put pen to paper after Christmas, when you have nothing to do and need a challenge.
We reopen on February 1st, so we will look forward to seeing you then. It will probably be raining just for a change. The pups will be nearly full grown and the staff will be bored with being closed and look forward to seeing visitors again-I hope!
As many of you know, I have a number of dogs, in fact until October 1st it was seven. I have had Labradors since 1978. Bramble, who was the first and the founder of the pack here, was an unparalleled dog who was my constant companion, to the point where if she was not invited to dinner I did not go either. Since then there has been Danny and Tomale, Hebe and Salix, Daisy and Lupin, Arabis, Aster and Lily, Nettle, and Indigo and Rush – good Lord, that is 13 of them, all children of the previous dog, if you see what I mean.
I remember well all of those that have gone, I also remember their going and the loss. Which is why a part of me is doubly sad now as I was not here for Salix when he had to go. A good friend of mine will now be saying to himself that I am tormenting myself, but he would be wrong. Salix had a great life, in fact generally all the dogs here do. Many of my friends have said that if there is another shot at life, they want to come back as one of my Labradors. I am just sad I missed him going.
Salix and his sister Hebe were born on January 25th 1989, they were charming puppies and their dad was the Champion Stud dog for 89 and 90, their mum was Tomale. The owner of the dad actually picked out Salix for me so he was not even my choice. Salix always was a favourite of mine, although I should not have them. That favouritism grew as he did. In his early years he started to wander and caused me such worries, that eventually when I went away, he would go and stay with some friends in Derbyshire and I would collect him on my return. I think they were a little surprised to come in one day and find him lying fast asleep on the kitchen table. He didn’t really understand that tables were not for him and frequently would gently and quietly climb onto a chair and then onto the table, never during a meal, but often afterwards and just lie being the centre of attention. He once joined me on a table when I was singing at a medieval event, quite unasked, but much applauded and he was always very polite about it.
He insisted on carrying keys and radios and generally helping whenever possible, although I have to say it was sometimes not that helpful. After losing the main bunch of keys several times (and being blamed frequently when others had lost them!) we discovered that he could not hold things in his mouth and still have a pee at the same time – he had to drop them. An interesting lesson we all thought.
I will never forget Mark Rich spending an hour one evening in the house with Salix sitting in front of him, trying to teach Salix to bark on command. He kept telling Salix to say ‘woof’ and Salix was being a little uncooperative about it. Finally Hebe stood up from the sofa where she had been sleeping, barked once, as if to say ‘for heavens sake this is what they are asking you to do you idiot’ and then lay down, never to bark on command again!!! Salix did finally learn-I can’t advise doing it though. In his later years he would bark for attention with increasing and very demanding regularity, right up to the day he died.
I knew the decision to call it a day was coming, his back legs were very weak and he had a job, even with my help, to get upstairs each night-yes of course he slept on my bed! So while I was away in the US Katherine phoned me to say that he was unable to stand and crying, and they were going to take him to the vet. So I said, no, wait, I will phone the vets and get them to come to you, just in case.
Two of my dogs have died at the vets, under sad circumstances, but to this day I can never under-stand people taking their dog to the vets to be put down unless it is absolutely necessary, it is so much kinder on the dog to go at home. I spoke to the vets and asked that they go and see him and decide what was best for Salix, then if it was time, they were to give him a sedative before administering the last injection. He died on the sofa in the sitting room with his friends and family around him.
I spoke to the nurse who also went, only the other day, and she said it was wonderful, he was completely unstressed, at home, happy, with the other dogs around him and snoring after the sedative. She thought it was quite the best way to have the deed done – at home.
He is buried in the field next door to his sister Hebe and we go down to see him regularly. You never stop missing them, particularly the special ones. Some people think I spoil my dogs. My contention is that a spoilt dog is a disobedient one and mine are not that, they are just very much loved. And they give back so very much more than I ever give them in the most loyal, undiscriminating and forgiving way.
This year we tiled the floor of the education room, and not before time, I have been wanting to do something about if for ages. Then of course the walls did not look good, so with the help of volunteers and a bottle of wine or two, we painted the walls.
However there was one other thing I have wanted to do for ages, put in a large wood burner, which although unlikely to keep the place warm, would take off the chill and make it look much more welcoming, especially on the owl evenings.
So we looked at putting one in, and quotes of £2200 later we decided that perhaps we could not afford to. Then a friend said – what about a fire place and so it was built and it looks great, but it’s a good job there is not a smoke alarm in there right now or it would be working overtime! We have a bit of a smoke problem. However Mick has assured me that when I get home from the US it will be superb, and I know he will not let me down, or I will have to feed him to the condor!!
During the Foot and Mouth last year, to keep afloat we started running falcon days, as well as the hawking days that we run. These have proved to be very popular, however they are starting to cause us some problems in terms of space.
So I went to our neighbour Philip Watham and asked about renting another piece of his land, The overflow car park is his land as well. We negotiated and we now have about three acres in the field over the hedge next door to the Cafe. It will only be used for the courses and for training young birds that we want to do in peace rather than in front of people.
We start to fence it next month and then will use it once the fencing is done. It should make a big difference both to the courses who will have a little privacy and the rest of us trying to train and fly birds while the courses are on.
As many of you probably know, we started a charitable arm of the Centre, with a launch last year. We had hoped to have a fund raising event this year, but sadly timing did not work out, however we have some great ideas for next year.
As a part of the work in which the Trust is involved we are working on a joint project with the Peregrine Fund in the US and the Cape Verde government. We now have after many trials and tribulations Five Cape Verde Kites at the Centre. The field team had a hell of a task to I catch them and did a great job. Mia actually flew over with the birds and had an extremely long day finally getting to the Centre at about 2:00am. I had a nightmare getting all the paper-work right and in fact I am still working on one piece. However they are here and safe and feeding well.
We now have to start work with them, we need to know exactly what they are taxonomically, and also what sex they are and which one is best to put with which in terms of captive breeding. Hopefully more of them will arrive here later next year and we will have a viable and successful breeding project to eventually be able to release birds back into the wild.
The Trust suffers like all charities from a lack of funds. We had hoped to run a fund raising event this year, and Vinny Jones was going to host it. I hope he still is, however due to pressure and lack of time to do the job properly we have postponed the event to next year. There is a chance that we might be in line for a legacy, but this is not yet known and is moving slowly, it would be lovely if it happens.
Recently two people have contacted me and said that they are mentioning us in their Will, as we now have a registered Charity if anyone wants to follow suit, not only will it benefit the work that the Trust does, but better still it will be less money for the taxman, which is always a good thing in my book.
Still to be won handmade quilt and a cushion embroidered with an Ornate Hawk-eagle We will be selling raffle tickets for these really nice items up to December 21st, so if you are interested, give Katherine a ring. I would personally like to thank the two people who spent hours of their own time making these and donating them to the Centre for fund raising, these sort of things really help us.
Yes, it is done, it is in and it looks really really nice. I have spoken to the parishioners and they are pleased, The vicar is pleased, I am pleased, my brother likes it, and my sisters like it. The day of the memorial service dawned grey and raining and sadly stayed that way all day, however it did not seem to dampen spirits. We had no idea how many people were liable to come, which made catering for all a little tricky, however with good planning and taking a radio to the church we could radio back to the Centre and give numbers. And about a hundred people came, which was so nice and really pleasing both for us and for father.
The service was divided into two parts, everyone, or almost everyone walked up to the church from the Centre and we started with a window dedication service at the church, this was presided over by the Archdeacon of Gloucester, who is not only a very nice chap but better still has Labradors! We sang some nice old hymns and my brother Nick did a reading from Isaiah which is where the text in the window comes from. Once the window was dedicated the next part moved to the Centre, lots of people walked up the churchyard to see father’s grave and then we all returned to the Centre. There we continued the memorial in the Education Room. The organist from Gloucester Cathedral played both the organ in the church and my piano which we had moved down to the Education room. After one more hymn Henry Robinson read some parts of father’s book As the Falcon her Bells, then the Archdeacon gave a very nice tribute to father and Joe Turned finished off with some very funny memories of father and the family. He also, to our great pleasure mentioned our Mother, and said, absolutely correctly, that without her, none of this would have happened, she was the drive and support behind father.
Once we had finished with one more rousing hymn and I have to say they all sang very well, everyone was served with hot snacks, mulled wine or hot apple juice. The dogs wore their party ribbons and everyone appeared to have a really good time. Graham Dowding, the artist and maker of the window and his two assistants were there and rightly received much praise from everyone.
There appeared to be no one there who did not have a good time or dislike the window, although I guess they probably would not have told me about it anyway!!
St Peter’s church is about a mile west of the Centre. The church is always open and I hope that if you are in the area, you get the chance to visit it and see the window. If you chose a sunny day, particularly in the afternoon you will see it at its best.
Remember though, if you ask yourself why it is not more falconry orientated, The Centre was started by my father and he cared about all raptors. This window is to celebrate not only his work but that of the many staff, friends and volunteers who had all worked so hard to make it possible.
The window was made possible by all those caring people who donated to the costs. They are too numerous to name and some are very special to me. I hope they all can come and see their efforts here one day as well.
And a special thanks to all my staff for all their support and help over this.
(You can have a closer look at the windows at but the page still needs some work. WM)
As you probably all know, apart from being open to the public we also run courses here. The falconry experience days and courses which are a part of the Centre seem to go from strength to strength. By adding the specialist days with falcons and another with owls, we have widened the base of interest for people to come and it is helping us no end.
Some people may not want to come out and go hunting with the birds, some may not be able to manage the more vigorous exercise that hunting entails, so the days learning to fly a falcon really makes a difference.
It is also very different learning to swing a lure, learning a pass, trying to hit the targets, then getting the timing right with a simulated bird and then finally when you think you have the whole thing off pat-it all falls apart as you try the real thing! However it is tremendous fun and the people who have come on the days really seem to enjoy them enormously.
So if you have always wanted to try flying a falcon-grab a day.
Similarly there are many people who are seriously interested in owls and so putting in the owl day has given them the chance to get closer and learn more about owls.
The most important thing the courses do, particularly the single days is give people a greater understanding of raptors and their surroundings.
Those who visit regularly, and remember what we say at the demonstrations, will know that the American Black Vultures are not related to the Old World Vultures, or indeed any of the diurnal birds of prey, but in fact more closely related to the Stork family. However there are many aspects of them that are very similar or the same as the Old World vultures. They are consummate scavengers, they feed almost solely on carrion, they are agile on the ground and yet are masters of soaring and of course are meat eaters.
However there are differences. They belong to the New World Vulture family. These all have virtually no voice, the nostrils are set differently and can be seen through from one side of the beak to the other. They urinate down their own legs-a stork habit, and some have a sense of smell, although not the Black Vulture.
They are incredibly bright and to their downfall very inquisitive. Because of this they are not always popular and recently in the State of Virginia there is a plan to allow the shooting of Black Vultures for crimes against people-i.e. For being a nuisance.
But the Black vultures were there first and are like most wildlife being squeezed out by that most destructive and nuisance making of all mammals- US. If you want to help-write to USFWS in Washington and tell them not to allow it.