185/365 – Meet Aries

“I’m afraid we have an infestation” are not the first words you want to hear when you check into your hotel on holiday, but this happened to us recently in Portugal.

“What of?” I asked.

“Seagulls” replied the manager, “we us an eagle to scare them away”!!!

At this my ears pricked up and I scanned the information leaflet he gave me, and I quote “In order to be able to control in an effective and ecological way we use the method of astonishment with the use of birds of prey where there is no physical damage to the invading birds.”

Now bear in mind the hotel is built on a cliff above the ocean and they are claiming an invasion of seabirds, I’m pretty sure the seagulls have been nesting here way before the hotel was built.

The next morning I was stood on the balcony when I noticed a man wandering the grounds by the swimming pool with a hawk on his arm. I grabbed my camera and rushed down to have a look and watch the “astonishment method” in action.

This is Aries a Harris Hawk who’s job is to basically intimidate yellow legged gulls and scare them away.

Harris hawk profile


I chatted with his keeper who introduced me to Aries. They visit this hotel and others twice a day and basically, from what I witnessed, they mildly irritate the gulls while they are there and then it’s back to normal.

Harris hawk with keeper

Harris hawk with keeper

The gulls would make a bit of a fuss with a few dives at Aries and would vacate their usual spots while he was in the grounds. As soon as he was gone they would return.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the hotel facilities.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the facilities.

From my perspective I loved seeing Aries up close and personal but as to his role in “astonishing” the gulls I wasn’t convinced, they just seemed slightly put out that he was there, before quickly returning to business as usual.

I didn’t find them invasive or a problem and after all the hotel has been built on their natural home. I’ve a feeling they’ll still be there long after the hotel has gone. However I do like the method, I’m sure there are some places where the gulls may be killed and their nests destroyed in order to clear the “infestation” so just pissing them off for an hour gets my vote.

Harris hawk portrait

Harris hawk portrait


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!


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.


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.

What A Cracking Week Part 2

The day after seeing the Little Owls again, I spotted the local Kestrel and decided to follow her and see if I could get a couple of pictures. I knew where they had nested and raised chicks last year from chatting with a local resident and I was surprised to see a Kestrel nesting box had been attached to the barn where they had nested. Apparently the owners had filled in the hole used last year but had fitted the nest box in hope they would return.

 As I walked down the lane I spotted the female landing on the wall opposite me so I raised my camera. I managed one sighting shot before the male arrived, so apologies for the quality!


There was no courtship, no pleasantries just mating.


And not even a cuddle when he’d finished!!!! Typical bloke.


Hopefully she will now go on to lay some eggs. I’ve seen the male in the nest box since so fingers crossed. An amazing moment and one of those occasions of being in the right place at the right time. I will be keeping a close eye on this pair and hopefully I’ll get to see their young when they fledge.

In Memory of….

We seem to be losing famous people by the day at the moment but there was one at the weekend which particularly struck me.

Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave which was made into the film Kes. When it played at the local cinema back in 1969 my Dad took me along to watch and my love affair with birds of prey began. I loved the film, who can forget the bullying games teacher, the scene where our hero gets the cane for no reason and the tragic outcome. If you haven’t seen it please do, you won’t be disappointed but you might struggle with the Yorkshire accents.

Later at school we read the book in English, the whole class waiting the moment when our quite posh English teacher had to read the line “and put his hand in the dog shit”. Imagine a class of 13 year olds hanging on every word and the disappointment when she substituted poo for the offending word!

So in memory of Mr Hines here are a couple more of my recent kestrel shots.



The Kestrels and the Crow

I had a trip out to a different nature reserve yesterday for a change of scenery and spent a pleasant hour watching a pair of kestrels enjoying some welcome Spring sunshine, As usual with wildlife and me they were slightly too far away but I did get some interesting shots when a crow tried to land in the same tree.




To be honest I don’t think the crow had spotted the pair and pulled out of landing but before giving Mrs Kestrel a bit of a Sunday surprise.

Red Kites

Returning from a visit to our head office this week I knew there would be a good chance to see some Red Kites if I came across country to the motorway. Having spotted a couple I decided to pull over for a short break and see if I could get some pictures as they glided overhead.

Down in the valley a farmer was ploughing a field and I soon noticed that it wasn’t just gulls following the tractor to look for some treats. The ground was covered in red kites and at one point I counted over 40. They were in the trees, in the sky and in the field and I was mesmerised. Although some distance away I managed to get a couple of decent pictures before I set off North again.


Rain Rain Go Away

If you live in England you’re probably as sick as I am of the constant wet, grey and miserable weather we’ve been having all Winter long. So when I looked out of the curtains yesterday and the street was almost dry and the sky had a strange blue tint I decided I was off out with the camera whatever happened.

I had decided that the next time I managed to get out I would visit the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands in East Yorkshire as I had read it was a good place to spot Marsh Harriers a bird I’d never seen. Its only an hours drive from home and is different to other reserves I’ve visited in that it’s predominantly a large reed bed with expanses of open water, In front of these lagoons are spacious and dry hides with big windows and unbroken views.

I spent the first hour or so visiting each hide to get the lay of the land and then sat down to photograph a few new birds. The first were a couple of shelducks which are quite large and brightly marked ducks who were hunkered down from the wind on a small island. It took me a while to spot the 6 or 7 snipe sheltering as well and they were soon joined by wigeon and teal trying to get out of the draft.


Moving down to the next hide I finally spotted the marsh harrier hunting low over the reeds looking for an early lunch. They were a long way away and I was willing them to head my way so i could get a decent shot. I had to settle for distant and cropped I’m afraid.

They were though a joy to watch and at one point three were hunting close together.

A fly by from one of my favourite subjects certainly made me smile and some formation flying from some black tailed godwits gave me another new bird I’d not seen before.



An excellent day out and I will be returning again as soon as the rain stops!!

Owl Portraits

Yesterday my local nature reserve had a fund raising open day and one of the guests brought along some birds of prey. They included two owls one of which was a Little Owl which I have been trying to photograph in the wild and the other was an Asian Brown Wood Owl.

It was great to get a really close up shot of the little owl but it didn’t have the satisfaction of tracking one down in its natural habitat. However the wood owl is not something I’m ever likely to see in a Yorkshire tree so was a pleasure to meet Herbie.



Who Scared all the Birdies?

I’ve been spending a fair few early mornings on my local river bank after seeing Kingfishers whizzing about. Yesterday while sat patiently waiting for a flash of blue and gold I noticed a commotion in the trees and all the small birds flying quickly away. I couldn’t see what had upset them so carried on my vigil. However a few minutes later a movement on the far bank caught my eye and I spotted this young lady Sparrowhawk. I guess she’s just had breakfast!