At the weekend we visited Rutland Falconry Centre at Burley Bushes near Oakham to hang out with the birds. It’s a really lovely place, quite basic, but marvellous, and set in fabulous woodlands. I think they have around 160 birds there.
I’d signed us both up for a bird handling experience, and I had lured Adam by telling him it was called Hawk vs Owl. A bit like bird Tekken. Obviously he didn’t believe me, but he went along with it.
At the centre we wandered around and had a look at many of the beautiful owls before gathering with the others who were all there to handle the birds too. We were given the option of ‘Hawk or Owl?’ Adam picked a Harris Hawk, so I asked for a chubby owl.
Adam’s hawk was called Harry, and he belonged to one of the experts at the centre, Ed. Harry was lovely, with his little worried face, pointy sharp beak and bright yellow feet.
My chubby new friend was a Bengal Eagle Owl, called Roxy. She was absolutely stunning. Her breath smelt of wet dog.
The feathers around her eyes formed the most beautiful criss-cross pattern, her markings were incredible and her feet were soft and furry.
We introduced ourselves to our birds and sat with them for a bit so that they could get familiar with us. Then we went for a walk in the woods.
I cannot explain how magical it is to walk through the trees, smelling the damp earth and the rain on the leaves, hearing nothing at all apart from your footsteps, carrying the most magnificent bird on your arm.
I was in awe. I made a little Instagram video – you have to see it. I’ve watched it about fifty times. It makes me gleeful!
We walked up to the Flying Field where we sat down and listened to Ed talk about each of the birds, giving us a background on them, as well as more information about the centre and the conservation work they do.
Then it was bird petting time. One of the owls was so gentle that when the lady carrying him felt her arm was getting tired, she tucked him in towards her chest and he rested his head over her shoulder, before he was lulled to sleep!
What about Roxy? No, not Roxy. Roxy isn’t into being stroked or cuddled. Every time I showed her my hand she hissed at me! It made me like her even more.
We walked back through the woods and surrendered our birds.
When Hannah came to take Roxy away from me, she very kindly put her gloved hand out for Roxy to bite so that I could sneak a quick stroke of her soft owl chest.
And then I thought, ‘it doesn’t look like it hurts to be bitten by her!’ so I asked if it was okay for me to let her bite my ungloved hand. It was clunky, it didn’t hurt.
Hannah said I was ‘the first weirdo to do that!’ and that generally people were too scared of Roxy, but I was just curious, and it all turned out okay (not like the time I got bitten by a bat, but that’s another story!)
Adam seemed quite endeared by Harry as he sat stroking his silky brown feathers. Harry didn’t have quite as much love for Adam though.
We all gathered together again and followed Ed and Harry up to the Flying Field where we all had the chance to fly Harry and feed him. When it came to Adam’s turn Harry didn’t want to come back for his day-old chicks leg. Adam thought it was because he recognised him. Harry had to be lured with a whole chicken.
We had the most amazing time, I would go back there right now if I could, and I really recommend a visit to anyone who loves birds, trees and/or peace and quiet.
It’s £6 for adults to go and have a look around, or £65 per person for a Hawk or Owl walk. It’s definitely worth phoning ahead and booking, and it’s worth asking if they have an special offers or events on.
Give Anne or Chris a call on 07778 152 814, they don’t have a landline at the centre as they are too remote (cool hey?!)