Its April 1st and its raining so it must be Easter! Which-ever joker decides that it will be wonderful weather up to Easter Saturday and then miserable on Sunday and Monday does not get my vote. We have had glorious weather for the run up to Easter, but just to give you an idea of how much the weather costs us – on Saturday we took £260 on Ice-cream and on Sunday £22.50-so you can see it really does matter to us. Which is why we are very boring about the weather. We have had a difficult start to the year with much in the way of rain and wind. All of which make it difficult to get the birds flying and ready for the season. How-ever we have managed and have a pretty good team of birds on the way to being fit.
The windy weather meant that we did rather a lot of mislaying birds temporarily!! In fact it got to be a joke with Mark’s birds. We had to track his Saker several times and mine once. Consequently although mine is now behaving, we have designated his for breeding!
I am pleased to announce that both Nettle and Arabis got officially married in January-both to the same handsome (and expensive) dad. They both quickly showed signs of being in pup. Then Nettle continued to get enormous and Arabis seemed to reduce – which is exactly what she did do. We had them both scanned and Nettle had ‘lots’ Arabis only two. However Arabis kept getting slimmer and Nettle fatter. So when nothing happened with Arabis on Sunday the 17th of March, her due date I was not that surprised, she had no milk and showed no signs of pregnancy or labour.
Nettle on the other hand decided on Tuesday 19th that not only was she ready, but the only possible place to have the puppies was on my bed. I did try to dissuade her, but to no avail. However after a very disturbed night we still had no puppies on Wednesday and a distressed Nettle. A trip to the vet was on the cards. I took both dogs. And to shorten the tale after two caesareans we ended up with six puppies. Arabis had one huge dog who is staying here. Nettle had seven pups, but we lost two, and very sadly one was the only yellow pup I have ever had in 11 litters.
Both mothers and pups are doing well, we gave Arabis one of Nettles and they are just beginning to open eyes as I write. We have a dog pup available!!
The rest of the breeding season is upon us and we have young eagles and owls with many eggs still to come.
Spring came early and the daffodils looked wonderful this year, as the rest of the gardens start to bloom we have many different plants to look forward to. As usual, if you are moving or getting rid of plants we can always find a home for them here.
Staff off to Japan
As you may or may not know, we have a continuing contract in Japan. This year Matsuda san, one of the Japanese staff from NASU Animal kingdom arrived in February to spend 6 weeks with us training. Although his English was better than our Japanese, he did not talk a great deal, but he worked really hard and we all got on extremely well, and what’s more he really likes Marmite, which is more than I can say for the fermented beans that I had over there!
On Easter Sunday Ben Evens and Gary Dyer, two of my birds staff here left to go over and get the birds retrained for the seasons demonstrations in Japan. Three of the birds have been ill and I have been trying to treat them by email from 12 thousand miles away. We are now thinking that perhaps it would be better for the birds to winter here with us, rather than staying out in Japan.
This contract is really useful to us in terms of finances and it was a godsend during the foot and mouth outbreak last year. Ben is going to do the whole year for us again, but after this year wants to go for shorter periods. Gary is back in May to help with the breeding as usual.
The Winter Months
We are closed to the public during December and January-and please note all readers of this Newsletter, we are extending that period this year. We are going to close on October 31st, 2002, not November 30th as before. Things are very quiet during that month visitor wise and so we are going to concentrate on courses and Owl Evenings and try and make the Owl Evenings even more interesting than they are now!
We were delighted at the number of people who came last year and hope that even more will join us for the owl evenings this year. I have had the floor done in the Education Room and we will have a wood burner in there, more owl perches around the place and I am going to repaint it – any volunteers please step forward!
During the months that we are closed we do our major clean of aviaries, this is boring and tedious work and I thank my staff and volunteers for always being cheerful about doing it. I know how much fun it is not! Mind you, I should point out that I give them Christmas off and I do all the feeding round for days on end!
Once the New Year is over, all the staff come back in and we continue to clean and tidy, we all start up all the birds again. We keep the young birds from the previous year going and we slowly add in some of the older birds who have had a rest during the winter months, and hopefully moulted.
This year (here we go again!) I have to say that the weather nearly beat us. You may remember those of you who are lucky enough to live in the UK, that if it was not pouring with rain it was blowing a gale and usually both This makes training or retraining birds very difficult, particularly with the larger birds such as the eagles. They tend to get blown all over the place and they do not really appreciate it, neither do we
However we managed and we had a reasonable team ready for opening on February 1st . And it has improved greatly over the Easter period, so come and see us – please!
I finally got completely fed up with using WORD to write the newsletters, and so I am using a publishing programme. Please forgive me if the newsletter is not as varied as usual, I am struggling with the new programme. It has advantages over WORD, which drove me completely demented at times, but I have not really got the hang of this yet. However wait and see how things improve as I get better with it. Of course reading the manual would probably help but..
Various Half Terms
For some reason best known to themselves, England and Wales have different Half Terms, I am not sure if this helps us, but probably it does. Anyway, for the English Half Term Martin Foulds spent the week at the Waterways Museum in Gloucester, with birds, talking to all the visitors and telling them about the various birds that he took and at the same time encouraging them to visit us here at the Centre. The following week, for the Welsh Half Term Annie and Alasdair drove to Cardiff Museum every day for a whole week. They took a number of birds who all behaved very well, and talked to literally hundreds of people over the six days. One of the young Indian Eagle Owls bred this year helped out on both weeks, and is now nearly flying. I think he is rather relieved to be back home. Although the Waterways Museum job was quite quiet, Annie said that Cardiff Museum was chaos at times. Our birds never fail to amaze me in the things they will put up with and unfailingly behave just when we need them to.
The Easter Bunny
Which I hasten to add was Katherine’s idea-not mine!!! It is the biggest bunny out, (it was someone in a rabbit costume) and quite safe from all the eagles, which is more than the average bunny can say. I have to admit he was pretty popular with the children, but it could have been the basket of Easter eggs he was liberally handing out to all and sundry, I noticed a number of adults helping themselves as well!!
Personally I think he looked more like an Easter Poodle, but Katherine assured me that was because the wire in his ears was dangerous! So we all agreed that in fact he was a lop eared bunny. We also had an Easter egg hunt on Sunday, sadly the weather did not encourage a vast number of children to visit, nevertheless, those that did had great fun and raced round the field looking for the nests and brought back tokens to exchange for chocolate eggs. We did think about putting the eggs in the nests, but two things stopped us, the natural greed of children and five starving Labradors who are very, good at finding chocolate.
The New and nameless Golden Eagle
As you may know, we are a little superstitious here and we have a habit of not naming birds until they are trained and flying free. That has its down side, particularly if a bird is taking a rather long time to train. I am expecting my young Golden Eagle to gain his name by about 2004 at the rate we are going at the moment.
He is a charming chap (as long as you do not feed him on the fist). He flies well, when he flies, however his ambition is not high and we are so far taking one good step forward and several back in our training programme.
He is sort of on demonstration, you can come and see him, but don’t hold your breath, we are a long way from exciting yet. However I am optimistic that we will get there in the end and he certainly is a challenge. Incidentally the name theme this year is Cities and Towns from the country of origin. The only name so far is Jha Jha who is the Indian Eagle Owl
New Souks – Old Souks
Dr Mike Nicholl
In February this year I was lucky enough to combine a trip to Zayed University with a visit to the Nad al Shiba Avian Reproduction Research Centre in Dubai. Falcon propagation Nad al Shiba is managed very ably by David Le Mesurier who is devoted to the production of high quality falcons for the Arab falconry market. As a business Nad al Shiba must therefore make a profit, and it is, perhaps paradoxically to some, the commercial dimension which is of conservation value to wild falcons.
Traditionally Arab falconry relied upon wild taken, passage Saker and Peregrine falcons caught on migration from their breeding grounds in central Asia. Because they can command such high prices, poaching and smuggling of falcons from their breeding grounds in remote parts of Mongolia and China have meant unsustainable pillaging of the breeding heart of falcon populations. These find their way to the souks of Arabia through merchants in Syria and Pakistan.
Although the souks are managed according to traditional values and represent a colourful dimension of Arab falconry, they cannot be said to be, by modern Western standards the most hygienic and wholesome place to buy your new falcon. Nad al Shiba is “rocket science” by comparison. Visitors enter only after walking through disinfectant footbaths and air to the breeding chambers passes through ultraviolet filters. Food is reared on the premises in hygienic conditions and on the best possible diets.
And the ambition of David Le Mesurier? To be able to produce top quality captive Gyr falcons at a price which is less than a wild caught Saker. This would inevitably make the trade in wild falcons a thing of the past – “conservation through commercialisation”.
Hobby’s as They Should be and as They Should Not be
For those of you who are not familiar with a small falcon called a Hobby, imagine a swift, with that gorgeous sickle shaped wing and imagine it larger, about the size of a Kestrel and you have a Hobby. They are wonderful little falcons who mainly feed on insects, except during the breeding season when they catch birds to feed their young and can and do catch swallows and swifts and house martins. Very soon they will be leaving Africa where they winter and they will migrate up, with the other migrating birds to breed in the UK and Europe.
These birds should be seen in the air flying, as they are stunning flyers. However we have received two juvenile Hobby’s who cannot fly. They would have been hatched in June or July last year, in the wild somewhere, and then someone took them illegally and sold them. Somewhere along the line someone cut off all their wing and tail feathers, and I don’t think that these birds have ever had the chance to fly.
They were confiscated and brought to us. It is going to take at least one moult and possibly two moults before they are able to even learn to fly, and get fit. Its such a shame to see them like this However they are here and cheerful and feeding. They should start to moult in a month or so and we will watch them carefully to see how the feather growth is doing.
We hope to be able to release them into the wild, but it will depend on their ability to survive in the wild once they are able to fly again. And that will be assessed later in the year. We have another Hobby who is going to be flown this year and who will hopefully release himself come migration time.
Biologists in Arizona and California are monitoring the re-productive behaviour of five pairs of California Condors. If any of the pairs are successful in incubating and hatching their single egg, it would be the first wild-hatched California Condor since 1984.
There are two species of Imperial Eagles, the Western Imperial Eagle which is one of the rarest eagles in the world, with only about 130 pairs left, all to be found in Spain. And the Eastern Imperial Eagle found more widely in the eastern parts of Europe and in Asia. 30 – 35 pairs breed in Slovakia but are being badly persecuted by hunters who, when investigated, threatened to kill more eagles.
Indian Gyps Vultures
The vultures in India are still dying at a frighteningly fast rate and although study on the birds is continuing, there is as yet no one answer to the problem. The National Birds of Prey Centre, along with the RSBP, The Institute of Zoology at London Zoo and the Bombay Natural History Society are continuing to work with birds in India. There was a monitoring workshop held in Haryana in northern India in January. The aviaries have been built to house birds and work is going to start on sick vultures to see if they can be treated and recover.
The famous American Bald Eagles continue to die on the Eastern side of the US. Birds that reside on man made reservoirs are dying of brain lesions which are picked up from the birds feeding on Coots and Geese, which are suffering from the same condition. Work is being carried out by DNR and other groups including the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey who are helping with the dead and dying birds.
Ashy-faced Barn Owls
Its hard to find news on owls internationally, but I am pleased to be able to say that I have now been in correspondence with Simon Guerrero who is the Sub-Director of Dominican National Zoo and director of Dominican Owl Project He wrote to me in March last year about breeding these pretty owls and now with a year of correspondence under our belt he has bred the next generation. It is nice to be able to help people successfully, even if only electronically.
And finally – Philippine Eagles
Davao City: The Philippine Eagle Foundation today announced the birth of a new captive-bred Philippine Eagle. The baby eagle hatched at 9:15 a.m. today and weighed in at 116.70 grams. This is only the 4th eaglet ever bred using cooperative artificial insemination techniques.
The chick is the offspring of the eagles Pitha and Junior who are both imprinted on their human surrogates. Imprinted eagles bond with their keepers and think of their keepers as their mates. This process facilitates artificial insemination.
This is Pitha’s first successful hatch. Now 18 years old, she had previously laid several eggs but were either infertile or failed to hatch. Junior, on the other hand, has proven to be the Center’s most productive semen donor. He is the sire of the eagles Pag-asa, Pagkakaisa, and Ellen Therese.
The new baby is the ninth (9th ) Philippine Eagle bred in captivity. It is also the smallest chick hatched at the Center. Despite its size, Domingo Tadena, deputy director for conservation breeding, reported that “the chick was normal and appeared to be in good health
A Short International Extra
If you visited during 1999/2000 you will have met up with Arthur, a young American who came over and helped out, and Lily one of my Labradors, with the short legs. Well Arthur has now officially got through his first year as an American falconer and will get his general license soon. Lily is with him and got stuck down a hole going after a Woodchuck (whatever that is!!) recently, but is well and very happy. There is an extremely enterprising young wild Red-tailed Hawk who hunts over the campus of Arthur’s college and appears to specialise in gulls. It could have a field day over here.
The Now Infamous Stained Glass Window.
The founder of what is now the National Birds of Prey Centre, previously The Falconry Centre, Philip Glasier died on another memorable date, although a year early on September 11th.
Sadly during that period, we had a petrol crisis, consequently very few people managed to attend the funeral. And he, my father, was pretty well known in the falconry world. So after the funeral many people asked if there was liable to be a memorial service to commemorate his life, especially as so many people had not been able to attend the funeral.
So we decided that rather than just having a memorial service we would try to organise a stained glass window in the local church to commemorate his life’s work. Some of you will already know this. However the story is rather longer than I am good at dealing with. I went to see a designer of windows in January 2000, thinking once I had done that we were on the way. However things don’t always move as quickly as I would like!
After several designs had been turned down, we finally got one in front of the diocese committee who firstly want it to be rather more abstract – that is NOT going to happen, father would have hated it, so do I and luckily so do the Parish council, so I think we will win on that one. However they also want the window not to be one of the side ones that we had originally planned, but instead the west window, which is the one the opposite end to the Altar. This is fine, in fact it is a much better window – and larger. However so is the cost!!!
I have given the go ahead, the new design is on the go and we are having a meeting with the Parish Council this month. I hope to have the memorial service in September this year – in fact I will have the service in September this year!
We are making an appeal to anyone out there who finds any species of dead bird below an electricity pole, pylon or electric wires. There is increasing evidence that falconers birds are being killed, and we are sure that many other wild raptors and other birds are also being killed by these poles and wire.
UK Utility companies are not interested and are refusing to take any responsibility for this. And yet in the US they can be fined by the government for causing the death of protected species.
We want to run a survey of what birds are found and where. Ideally a photo of the dead bird in situ would really help, so if you do find a casualty near a pole, or like a Tawny Owl brought to our attention, hanging from barbed wire on a pole, please let us know.
If we can collate information then we will have a stronger case for forcing the companies to make their poles safer and it is perfectly easy to do so. Its just that the UK companies can get away with it at the moment and so that is exactly what they are doing.
We have been a little slow on film work in the last few months, it is not a part of the business that is either regular of reliable. Although sometimes it can be fun, generally it is tedious in the extreme. But it does help with the finances when it happens. There is an art to film work. You have to be sure that you know exactly what they are looking for, and then you have to say to yourself ‘well they might say no flying, but they will probably change their minds, so take a bird that can and will!!’ Gary took the Egyptian Vulture down to Kent to do some filming for Brilliant Creatures, where she behaved superbly and was a star. I am training my Sparrowhawk for some wildlife filming for the BBC and she is coming on OK at the moment.
As you may know, during the winter months we run Owl Evenings, now we are going to run summer ones. They will have a slightly different format, with a lecture not only on owls but also on the keeping of owls. We are doing this to try and encourage people not to be affected by the Harry Potter books and films, without realising what is involved in having an owl.
You will see owls fly, as usual, you will have the chance to see the owls in their aviaries, you will have a talk on owls that covers various aspects of owls and we will have a barbecue as well.
The Summer flying Teams
Both Annie and I agree that actually the birds we enjoy flying and watching the most are the kites. To see them soaring and gliding around the flying field is just wonderful to behold.
We have just got out the two older Black Kites and grounded the two juveniles from last year for moulting. At the same time we have got out our Yellow-billed Kite and the two Red Kites that we fly.
We are planning to try and fly the whole lot together which should be good, and fun to watch. So, if you are considering visiting this season, choose a good dry or windy day and bring your camera. If you are lucky and try hard, you should be able to get a good photograph of at least one of the kites flying. However, the trick is to follow just one. If you keep changing from one to the next you will not get a photo. And if you get a good one, send it to me and I will put it in a newsletter.
If you have visited the Centre, or any other good bird of prey centre, you will have heard, probably endlessly that female birds of prey are generally larger than the males. In some species the difference is significant. For example a female Sparrowhawk is twice the weight of a male, although she doesn’t look twice the size. In the falcons the size difference is about a third, hence the name tiercel for a male Peregrine which means a third.
In other species, the size difference is not so marked. We have great difficulty in telling our Red Kites apart from their size. The differences are far less and in a very few species it works the other way round. A few species of owl, the male is larger and in some of the vultures as well.