Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Hawk Conservancy, near Andover

We paid a Sunday visit to the Hawk Conservancy near Andover. I’d only heard of it relatively recently and wanted to see what they had there and learn more about their work and the birds they care for.

I’m pleased to report that it is a wonderful place and impressed all of us.  The grounds and the buildings are well set out and the staff made us feel welcome. A well stocked and attractive shop leads into the Conservancy itself.  The visitor can wander around at leisure and have a look at a wide range of birds of prey including several different types of vultures, falcons, eagles and owls.  Such a wide range of birds brings home the wonderful diversity of nature and makes clear the range of different types across the world.

In particular, the Bald Eagle was beautifully striking and the Pygmy Owl had a cute, meticulous look to it.  The Conservancy has recently been highlighting the importance of vultures and is doing a good job of unseating our preconceptions of these creatures.  Their size and wingspan impressed me. 

Bald Eagle
One of the highlights of our visit was a flying display in which the keepers allowed some of the birds to show off.  We were ushered in and soon one of the owls was circling around gracefully but with a distinctly predatory sense of menace. Having normally only seen owls perching calmly on an upturned log, it was something of a shock to see it undertaking a hunting swoop low over the audience. At one point, my four year old son gave a little cry, as young children will do from time to time, and instantly the owl looked round at him, a fierce intensity to its stare. Breathtaking.

Later the Secretarybird was lead out. We had seen this in its hide shortly before and it looked somewhat ungainly, a long, lolloping walk on its crane like legs.  The keeper this time had a rubber snake attached to a lead and the Secretarybird sought to attack it. Gone was the peculiar and unlikely creature from before. Now, like all living things, the excellence with which it had evolved was obvious as it deployed its tactics of kicking and clawing at the snake.  The display also included a vulture who was new to the business and learning his way and a veteran golden eagle whose sense of understated majesty and confidence was like a throwback to an ancient age of heroes. At times the birds flew so close over the heads of the audience we were warned to duck and at others they landed on perches so close they were near enough almost to touch.

Secretarybird attacks!

The keeper who narrated for the benefit of the audience was not only informative and humorous but also bought us into the lives and the world of the birds of prey. The affection they had for the birds that they worked with shone through. Thrilling yet at other times funny, especially for the children, the display was a very memorable experience.

Two (or maybe three!) visitors outside one of the Vulture enclosures
The work at the Hawk Conservancy is so valuable in assisting with the survival of these species.  They are also involved in rehabilitating injured birds and in education. Their respectable restaurant also sells good food.  It had been a wonderful visit and I would strongly recommend it as an enjoyable day out.  There is more information at their website at  The Conservancy is on Sarsons Lane, Weyhill, Andover, Hampshire SP11 8DY.

A Hawk Conservancy cappuccino!

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