Falconry Has Changed Since Kes’s Day

Growing up I loved the film Kes and the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines on which it’s based. It tells the story of Billy Casper, a young working class boy who’s always in trouble at home and school, but who finds an escape when he finds and trains a kestrel. My dad took us to the cinema to see the film and then later at school it was a set text for our O Level and it’s a book I often revisit. I blame it for my fascination with Birds of Prey.

When Billy was training Kes he stole a book from the library to learn about falconry and made his own jesses and lures. Things have definitely moved on since then.

Falconry has gone high tech! At the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley the birds now have GPS tracking and can be followed in flight on an iPad!

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On this picture the radio tracking aerial can clearly be seen behind this stunning Eagle Owl, and below the GPS unit can be seen attached to the handlers belt. The iPad is used to tack a bird that has left the line of sight and allows the handler to not only know where the bird is but its height and distance away.

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I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of Kes but this equipment must really help with those moments of panic when your bird disappears from sight.

If you haven’t read the book I would highly recommend it and the film is a much watch. The title of the book comes from Medieval England where the only bird a peasant was allowed to keep was a Kestrel.

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Buzzard v Crow

I’ve noticed buzzards more and more in my local area recently soaring above the valley. I’d seen one yesterday just before bumbling into the fox, so I returned to the same area hoping to see both again.

It wasn’t long before I heard then saw the first buzzard as it swooped low over the trees being harassed by some crows. It seems every bird of prey attracts a mobbing wherever they are, with the feisty crow being the main antagonist.

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There’s usually a small group who will fly up and noisily chase away the buzzard but in this case one lone aggressor chased him away.

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Interestingly there were three buzzards soaring on the thermals today and it may be that this one was this years young. They feed mainly on small mammals with voles being their prefered prey but will take carrion if available._JM10232

As these birds now seem to be residents I will hopefully be able to get better shots.

Gotta Love A Ginger

Beautiful moment this afternoon when I almost bumped into this stunning fox. I had wandered off  down a new path and had just got to the top when this fox casually wandered through the grass toward me.

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As I started taking pictures the shutter noise caught her attention and her ears pricked up ( I say “her” because she was just so beautiful) .

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She didn’t seem scared by my presence and she slowly walked off about her business before stopping to just check me out one last time. She looked healthy and well fed and she certainly made my day. The fox has always been a favourite of mine and top of my list to photograph.

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An Interesting Angle

This is a Bateleur Eagle endemic to Africa and some parts of Arabia. This one is a resident at the Birds of Prey Centre in North Yorkshire and was busy tucking into a dead chick for its breakfast. It refused to pose for its picture but did allow me to get this upside down, back to front shot.

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The Eyes Have It

The King Vulture is found in Central and South America and like all vultures feeds on the remains of dead animals. This one is a resident at the National centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley North Yorkshire and the first thing that struck me apart from its amazing colours were it piercing eyes.

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A large and predominantly white bird, the king vulture has a grey ruff but although the head and neck are bald, the colours on its head are amazing and vary through yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red.

Here it’s third protective eyelid can be seen almost covering its striking eye.

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The centre has an amazing collection of birds of prey and has regular flying displays by the residents during the day. Here’s a link to their website Bird of Prey Centre

 

Diving Gannets

I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted of a gannet with its beak just breaking the water as it dived for a fish, but I got close.

In this one three gannets all dived close together entering the sea like a poorly synchronised diving team.

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Here this gannet prepares to dive

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And in this picture one gannet emerges with its prize as another heads down for a fish.

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Gannet Chaos

Another day and another trip out, this time on a boat out of Bridlington to photograph diving gannets below Bempton Cliffs. I was due to go on this trip earlier in the year but the sea was too rough so it was cancelled however this time the day dawned bright and clear and the sea was like a pond.

The trip to the base of the cliffs takes about an hour so plenty of time to relax set up the camera and watch the world go slowly by. The boat is stocked with 6 or 7 cases of mackerel which are the chum to lure in the gannets. As soon as the boat is in position the first gulls arrive and greedily grab the first few fish.

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However within seconds the boat is surrounded by a cloud of wheeling gannets who rotate around the boat looking for their chance to dive and grab a fish. They can hit the water at up to 60mph to snap up the fish and it soons becomes an absolute frenzy of gannets arriving at all angles.

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As soon as one emerges fish in beak, it is assailed by others looking to steal the prize.

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It really is a scene of complete mayhem and great fun to try and photograph. No big long lens needed here as the birds are often close enough to touch and getting wet is part of the thrill. Watching the circling throng lining up their dive, then following them as they plunge into the sea is a joy to watch.

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The madness continues till all the fish have been cast over the side and a sense of calm finally returns as the gannets move off looking for another meal or just to float on the waves. If you’re ever in Yorkshire I would highly recommend the trip, 3 hours on the North Sea with an hour in the middle of just pure gannet bedlam.

The trip is run by Yorkshire Coast Nature and you can visit their website here

 

Fish Juggling

On a recent visit to the East coast I stopped off for a brief visit to the nature reserve at Top Hill Low. I’d only ever been once before and that also was a very quick visit. I will one day get back for a proper day out.

In the first hide I’d barely got comfortable when the local male kingfisher decided to show me his fish juggling skills. Three dives three fish, very impressive.

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