46/365 – Little Owls

These two posed in the summer sunshine for me last year.

Little owl take off

Lift off

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33/365 – Bald Eagle

I first came across this magnificent bird whilst out walking near my work. Not what you expect in the wilds of Yorkshire (it’s a falconers bird).

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Big Bird

The only thing a Steller’s Sea Eagle has in common with the Sesame Street character is the colour of its beak and talons and its size. This is by far the biggest bird I have ever been near to and I certainly had the wrong lens fitted for getting all of it into a shot!

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These eagles live on the coasts of north east Asia with a large population in the far east of Russia and feed mainly on fish and water birds. The one I came across was at the National Bird of Prey Centre in Yorkshire and it was huge. They are on average the heaviest eagle in the world weighing up to 20lbs and can stand up to 3 ft 5 inches tall with a wingspan of about 3 ft 3 inches.

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As a fish eating eagle they have spiracles on the underside of their feet. These are wavy ridges which allow them to grasp fish which might otherwise slip from their talons. They are generally brown to black in colour which contrasts sharply with the white patches on their wings, legs and tail.

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This one was being fed while I was there and was tucking into dead hen chicks which on most occasions it swallowed whole but did pull one apart for my delectation! (I’ve kept the more gory pictures on file).

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They didn’t fly the eagle the day I was there but when they do they probably have to tell parents with young children to keep a tight hold on them!!

 

Peregrine Brunch

While sat in a hide recently watching ducks out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a bird of prey shoot past with its prey. I grabbed my kit and took a walk to see if it could spot where it had gone. It took me some time to track it down as it was way off and high up in a pylon so apologies for the distant shots of it tucking in to its pigeon meal.

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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.

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.