But I have to say that it has been a pretty difficult and miserable year so far. We, like many, many other people elsewhere are having a tough time. January started freezing cold, but we managed to clean most of the aviaries ready for the breeding season. Some of the birds had eggs already, Indian Eagle Owls and the African Fish Eagles are always early layers. February we reopened as usual and I sneakily disappeared off to South Carolina the day before! I have to say that the three weeks I was there has been the only time I have been warm this year.
I do not want to bore or distress you with the heartbreaking details of the Foot and Mouth outbreak (FMD) which hit the UK on February 19th, the TV news is gruesome enough to watch. The farmers are having a horrific time, and we offer our heart felt sympathies to them. We also are saddened at the awful loss of domestic livestock, some of which will be irreplaceable.
We, as with others in the tourism business have been very badly affected, I won’t go into financial details, but we are probably 80% down on visitors, we have cancelled the five day courses, all the special events here are 100% down. Film work is down, shows are cancelling, and some birds due to go abroad have been cancelled because we can’t send them in the foreseeable future. It’s not a lot of fun. We have just heard that there is to be a round up of all the 5,000 sheep in the Forest of Dean – our tourist area, and they are all to be slaughtered. I don’t think I want to come back as a sheep in another life.
I don’t think anyone realised what the knock on effect of this tragic illness would be to the farm industry, the tourist industry and the moral of all those affected in the countryside. I can’t really describe it to you other than to say its like living with Russian roulette.
However, we are determined not to be beaten, yet. We have restructured the falconry experience days so that we do not go off site. Instead of hunting in the afternoon, participants are going to learn to swing a lure and fly a falcon and then end up with a simulated hunt round the field. We have been out in the local towns putting leaflets on cars with one free child ticket. If anyone feels like doing this for us, let us know, we can print more! All but one of my staff have agreed to take a 20% wage cut until the end of May. We just ran our first three-day Owl Course, which went very well. We are going to run as many evening events in the summer as we can. So tell friends and come along. We ARE STILL OPEN and will stay that way unless FMD hits any of our immediate neighbours, which God forbid happens.
We are taking all the bio-safety precautions we can. There is disinfectant to drive through, dips for your feet as you come in and leave, please use these. So help us by visiting and bringing a paying (preferable extremely rich!) visitor with you, every little counts at this stage. And to assist with our precautions, please leave your dogs at home, as we would rather they were not let out of your cars and this is hard on the dog. Jemima Parry-Jones MBE
Many of you will know that my father died last year, and we are putting in a memorial window in the local church. We have nearly £3,000 in the Memorial Window Fund and I would like to thank all those who have donated towards this. In particular those from The South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey, who are not really falconry based and never met my father. Some of the falconry Clubs have sent us cheques as have many individuals. I am not going to name everyone, you know who you are and you also know, I hope, how much I appreciate it.
The window is well on in the design phase. I have to say that although I knew we wanted to do this, I had no ideas at all. However, in January I needed to get things moving, and so looked at the list of names I had been given by the church committee in Gloucester. I had phoned a couple and spoke to them before Christmas. So, as I was going over to Stroud to take a bird to the vet, I chose the one closest to there, to go and see.
I am very glad I did. We had a chat, then Graham Dowding visited the Centre and the Church, and after another visit by me we had a design on the way. The window is in fact two small windows. Each one will be filled with birds of prey, eagles soaring, falcons, owls and so on. At the bottom of each window will be a reminder of falconry. One side will have a hawk on the fist and the other, a man, dog and falcon. I am excited about it.
Once we have the design a little further on and approved by the Church, I will put it on our website for all to see. We don’t have enough funds yet to cover the costs, so I am hoping more people and clubs throughout the world will want to get involved.
VALENTINE OWL / BEHIND THE SCENES EVENINGS
The Valentine Owl Evenings were a great success. Although, we think numbers were down initially due to the continuous wet weather. On the last evening we had a record 123 people turn up and some arrived without tickets, the shop was packed! No problem, larger guided tour groups than normal, but we did manage to split the groups so that we could fit them all in the education room.
Sadly, we have been advertising the Behind the Scenes Evenings for more than three weeks and to date, no tickets have been sold.
Your support is desperately needed, so if you would like to come along on Saturday 2lst or Saturday 28th April 2001, please telephone 0870 990 1992 and buy your tickets now. £12.00 for adults and £8.00 for children (including food & refreshments) 10% discount for members.
Please keep in touch throughout the year for details of more evening events, and special days or check our events page or register with our updates page.
WILDLIFE WALK UPDATE / BOG GARDEN APPEAL
With enormous thanks to Forest Products at Huntley, about six miles from us here, we have now got a very pretty woodland walk, or it will be in a couple of weeks once the leaves are here on the trees. Approximately twelve years ago we planted a wood at the side of the flying field. It grew, as they do and we thinned it out, as you do and early this year we started work clearing the under story and pulling in a path. Forest Products, who make some very nice garden furniture, have donated the edging for the path, which winds its way from the barns, through the woods down to the pond. They also gave us an arch to exit the wood and some really nice benches to sit on and contemplate the wild daffodils. We have collected wood chippings from them and covered the path, so all you have to do now is visit and take a walk through the wood.
Once you are out of the wood you walk round the large pond and up towards the middle pond, which very soon will have a wild cherry tree in bloom in front of a beautiful copper beech tree. There you will come to the new bog garden, which Angie has been making (and re-making) this winter. It has been completely submerged at least three times because of the rain, but it is looking great now. If anyone has any more plants that would be suitable for the bog garden or the ponds, let us know. But no Canadian Pond Weed please, give it back to the Canadians.
VOLUNTEERS EVENING – NEW DATE
Our sincere apologies to all the volunteers booked to come along on Saturday 3rd March 2001. A new date has been set for Saturday 7th May 2001 at 6:3Opm. To book a place on the volunteers evening, please telephone 0870 990 1992. We have plenty of jobs for volunteers to do now, so if you are available please let us know. Many, many thanks to all the volunteers that helped us prepare to open in miserable, grey January… we could not have done it without you!
Remember when we had a few days of very wet and gale force winds in December? Well, we decided to go to France! At 2:00am on a very wet and windy December morning, we left with two boxes, paperwork and the land rover to travel to Jardin de Plantes in Paris. The plan was to collect a young pair of Palm Nut Vultures to bring back to the Centre as part of a breeding project.
Arriving in plenty of time for the ferry, we were delayed at Dover for four hours before setting sail in horizontal rain and gale force winds… the crossing took considerably longer than planned. Arriving on French soil thankfully in one piece, a mad dash to Paris! After a navigational nightmare and negotiating the Christmas shopping traffic, we were made extremely welcome at the zoo. Sadly did not have time for a look behind the scenes… we had arrived more than five hours late.
The juvenile Palm Nut Vultures were caught up by their keepers, checked to ensure they were fit and well to travel. A few fond fair-wells followed, reassurances that we would look after our precious cargo, then we were off again with warnings of rush hour in Paris ringing in our ears. We made it out of the city and relaxed a little before arriving at Calais to find out the ferry had been delayed by six hours. We had not eaten anything all day, so I won’t even mention what was said when we found the café closed.
Another rough crossing and back in the UK, we drove past hundreds of lorries waiting to be ferried across the channel. It was early hours of the morning, but not sure when so we decided to pull in at the services for a quick nap before pushing on… no chance, our passengers were wide awake and knocking very loudly on their boxes. More coffee and off again… arriving back at the Centre about 6:30am, 28 1/2 hours non-stop and in the office working at 9:00am.
The good news is that the Palm Nut Vultures have settled in at the Centre very well, and have been joined by two other unrelated birds. All four are happily on show to the public in barn 2… bring oil palm nut seed with you, we are a bit short of them! SJR
For about three years I have had a single Eleonora’s falcon, 18 months ago I was loaned a second bird – a dark phase female and we paired them up, hoping that my bird was a male. Hope was not substantiated, we now had two girls. I was therefore delighted to be emailed by a friend in Germany, who wanted Merlins and who had a contact breeding Eleonora’s Falcons. We managed to breed two male merlins for him and they carne over to collect them and bring a male Eleonora’s for us. I am very pleased to say that we paired him up with the dark female and he is already starting to display, even though she will not lay until about August.
Ornate Hawk Eagles
After a long drawn out wait and much organisation we sent our male breeding Secretary Bird out to Walsrode Vogel Park (bird park!) as they have an egg laying female who breeds and just lost her mate, and our female has not laid for years. We are hoping very hard, that it works and we get a young bird back.
However, imagine my delight when they asked us if we would like to take their captive bred Ornate Hawk Eagles here on loan for breeding.
Needless to say we said yes and they are here, very beautiful and I am going to work on getting them unrelated mates over the next year.
At the same time as delivering the Secretary Bird and collecting the eagles we were contacted to see if we could home an injured German wild Red Kite. As we have a breeding and release programme for these, we were delighted, so we organised to collect it at the same time. Even more pleasing was the fact they had two for us and on our return to the UK, we discovered that both are male, which is just what we needed. So we now have three unrelated pairs and two unrelated birds that we are flying, who will be paired up at a later date.
NATIONAL BIRDS OF PREY TRUST LAUNCH – POSTPONED
The National Birds of Prey Trust was initiated last year, but to get it off the ground with a financial boost the trustees had organised a special launch to be held at Gatcombe, with the kind permission of The Princess Royal, on May 13th this year. Sadly it like many other events has had to be cancelled, which is a great shame as we had a number of projects that we had intended to support this summer. However as with everything else, you have to look on the positive side. At least it gives us a little more time to design a brochure to be even better than it would have been.
2001 BREEDING SEASON SO FAR
Up and down would describe it so far I think. We lost the first clutch of African Fish Eagles, but hatched all three of the second clutch. Only to have the parents eat one and one die the following day in the brooder room. So we are down to one, damn it, however we caught the pair up and cleaned the pen again and re-built the nest and they look like them may go for another clutch, which would really help this year.
The Indian Eagle Owls have had two clutches, the first all have new homes and the next three are nearly ready to go. The Striped Owls had one baby, who already has a new home and is much enjoyed.
And to everyone’s intense pleasure, we have a baby Burrowing Owl after a two year gap. So he or she is doing well and will be on demonstration later in the year. The Luggers have three babies back with them and many of the other birds are either sitting or preparing to lay. Even the Stellers Sea-eagles are playing with nesting material, so we are hoping.
CENTRE CLOSED… OPEN… CLOSED… OPEN
As usual we reopened to the public on February 1st, then on February 19th the news broke of the FMD outbreak. As the situation got worse and worse, and closer to us, we decided that we would close to reduce the risk factor to our neighbours. It happened to be in a fairly dry week and although we were closed, people were still arriving as all our literature, of course, states that we are open.
So we conferred with MAFF and we spoke to our local farming neighbours and with their permission we reopened. I think we have done the right thing. We are not a threat as we have no animals that are susceptible to FMD and we are being as careful as possible. We have also grounded any of the birds that might have wandered, and the dogs have not been off site since February.
If we are really unlucky and the disease strikes any of our immediate neighbours, then no doubt we will have to close, we would probably not be given an option. But for the time being, we remain open, on tenterhooks, and hoping for decent weather and as many really nice visitors as possible to help the empty coffers.
A perspective of raptor work in Panama from Arthur Middleton (USA)
The Peregrine Fund is building its Neotropical Raptor Center just outside of Panama City, Panama. To date, much of their work in Panama has been research on the Harpy Eagle. What people have found over several years in South America is that Harpy Eagles, and some of the various hawk-eagles (Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, Black and White Hawk-Eagle) are frequently shot. So the work in a place like Panama involves an important stewardship, especially in the case of the Harpy. A pair of these eagles raises one eaglet every two to three years, and so public education bears a rare urgency.
But try as he might, the visitor to that part of the world will find it nearly impossible to find a Harpy Eagle. So the question is, how do they get shot?
I had the privilege of tracking a young female eagle for some time with Peregrine Fund biologist José Vargas. She carried two transmitters and was placed on Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island for daily observation, as part of the Harpy Eagle research program. About a month after I first saw her, she left Barro Colorado by crossing to the mainland at its nearest approach, a peninsula called Peña Blanca. Over four or five days she wandered up through the peninsular forest, ate a young sloth on the way, and came out the other side between two small villages called Lagartera and Las Pavas. We always tracked her with special care, but when she approached those villages, we began following her more closely. One day–her seventh or eighth off the island-José and I were watching her through field glasses from a hilltop. There she was across the broad valley before us, sitting on the only remaining section of an old wooden fence. Never mind she had only ever perched in cool, sheltering tropical forests for two years-she was just perched on the fence, visible to the world, staring at nothing. The obvious worry was that someone unpleasant would spot her.
A traveller appeared, riding a horse on the lone dirt road at the foot of the hill, blurred by the terrible heat. He was making his way from Lagartera to Las Pavas, ever so slowly. It seemed a lucky thing, at the time, that routines such as the daily commute cause inattention to the landscape– remained oblivious to the eagle, staring down at the road in front of him. He passed on, and she passed out of his field of view.
As this traveller grew more distant and mounted the next small hilltop, the eagle struck off in flight. She crossed her valley gliding, to land in a dead tree on a limb that stretched out directly above the fading road. We would agree afterwards that this was the longest flight we had ever seen her make. The man on the horse stopped fully; dust rose as his horse stomped nervously. She just stood there on the limb, not 10 meters from the man, bobbing and swaying her head so vigorously that the limb bobbed and swayed with her. Had he carried a gun that day, and been inclined to shoot her, he could have done so before we were audible. As it happened, he remained there watching for a moment, then trotted on. We were too distant to speak with him.
Visitors to South American forests will find it nearly impossible to spot a Harpy Eagle; they rarely move during hot days, and never soar. But what we saw that afternoon was the eagle being the visitor. She was utterly curious. It may be that young Harpy Eagles, as they disperse in their early years, come across and take interest in people. Young eagles can be curious and inexperienced, and forget fear for short spells. You like to think that wild animals coming across people will regress to a more comfortable place, but it appears that is not always the case. The young Harpy’s quirkiness affected her in other ways too; she ate an armadillo the next day, and that’s not in the rules either.
In the US and UK we talk of shooting as a serious problem for predators. It is, simply because it happens sometimes and there is not much logic involved. But a Harpy Eagle wandering into range of a gun in Panama, and making itself known, probably has as much chance of being shot as it does of leaving unscathed. The main reasons are not complicated. Consider the female Harpy Eagle herself: standing on the floor she may look straight ahead at your waist. She is the most powerful eagle in the world. Her feet are immense and worrying; the toes are short and fat; the talons are long, curved, and sharp in a wild adult. Her legs might be two inches thick. She can kill sloths, howler monkeys, and white-faced capuchins with ease. Her eyes are white-green, and set back below warlike brows, and the overall size of her head is exaggerated by a tall dark crest, often raised with disturbance from below. Now imagine that eagle staring at you with great interest, at close range.
So for people who kill animals because they are threatening, the Harpy Eagle is a particularly reasonable target. Sometimes people want to overpower or to possess the thing, so they shoot it. Sometimes they are afraid of it because it might hurt their family. And sometimes they are worried that it might damage or kill their livestock. A few hunters told us they saw eagles as competitors for their quarry.
Soon after our eagle’s audience with the traveller, José and several others organised a meeting with the people of Las Pavas and Lagartera. One afternoon they gathered at the school building in Las Pavas; a hundred people must have showed up–that’s the advantage of being foreign, and funny looking. We announced the presence of this eagle, and spoke about eagles and the Peregrine Fund for a bit. But otherwise, we just stood around and talked with people in an informal way. They expressed to us their concerns, and some of the older men were particularly bothered about the eagle’s proximity to the villages. The best method of allaying those fears, and the most engaging for people, was to tell true stories. We told the story about the traveller looking agitated, and how she bobbed her head, and was so curious. That amazed them (though many had already heard the story from the traveller himself). We told the concerned hunters about the armadillo, and of course they were amazed she had worked out how to eat it despite its tough shell. And we told them we had been watching this female for a long time, and she had only ever eaten something of medium size-a sloth or capuchin monkey-every three to five days. So these were all simple, understandable ways of saying that Harpy Eagles do not hurt people, but might look overly curious at times; that they are not competitors for food, since they have such a slow metabolism. The toughest concern of theirs was over livestock. We said we had never heard of or seen an eagle kill livestock; they said, surprisingly, they had. One old man’s grandfather had seen a big eagle kill a chicken, and all these people referred to that same story. It became clear how an entire region could come to think eagles evil–that way in which the human imagination hears something bad and assumes it will happen thereafter, and in a place where people have nothing much to do but talk, the imagination is utterly communal It would be pointless to tell these people they were wrong, that eagles do not kill livestock. It happens–probably once every 50 years in their case, but that is enough. We told them it would have to be a desperate eagle, driven to seek easy food because of disease or injury. That brought, inevitably, looks of astonishment, as if they should have known it before. The extraordinary result of honesty and this informal approach was that as we were leaving, people were asking if we would let the eagle stay in the area, and if they could name her. They were shouting out names like la Pavita and Lagarterita, and all manner of variations on their town names. That small amount of true knowledge, and the promotion or interesting thoughts about nature and eagles, and the people wanted to claim this eagle as their own mascot.
This is now the fourth year we will be working in Japan at the Nasu Animal Kingdom. We did not know until March 19th if they wanted us back, although I sent the proposed contract for this year through in January. Thank goodness for email. I was able to send through the contract and the various letters to get Ben a visa, on the day.
John Crooks left us as an employee, but not a friend, at the end of February. Although I asked him if he would be interested in working in Japan, he decided not to. So this year Ben is in charge! NASU have decided that they only want one person this year, but we have organised that in the busy periods there will be two of my staff. So as we did not have John, I was very pleased to be able to get Charlotte Hill to do the first five to six weeks with Ben. Charlotte has worked with us before and is very experienced. She is also going to join us here for the summer when Gary is in Japan.
Two of the owls out there have not been well, so I have been treating them by email from about nine thousand miles away, which has not been easy, but the last report was that they are improving. I will be glad when Ben is back over there to be with them. This year, finally, we will be having Japanese staff full time to learn how to work properly with the birds. We stay out there working until November 3rd and then winterise the aviaries, feed up the birds, check all is well and safe for them to rest through the winter and then come home again.
I should perhaps add a footnote here. You would be amazed at how much advice we give to people from all over the world particularly on sick or injured or problem birds. I am not sure if email is a curse or a blessing really. However, it does allow us to answer as quickly as possible and refer people on to my poor vet Neil Forbes who has more than enough to do in life.
MORE INTERNATIONAL NEWS VULTURES IN INDIA
We are pleased to be able to tell you that a partnership with RSPB,NBPC and the Zoological Society of London has successfully applied for and received a grant from the UK Government, called the Darwin Initiative. This will allow us to start work on a captive monitoring and breeding project with the Bombay Natural History Society. We will be working with the now highly endangered Indian White-backed Vulture and the Long-billed Vulture, in Keoladeo National Park. The group has a meeting here in late April to plan the work for the next year, it is a three year project and then we will start work. We are hoping that Dr Vibhu Prakash will be coming over this year to work at the Centre and work with us here on management with captive vultures and all that entails.
We are also getting together some excellent speakers for a workshop on the Indian Vultures at the RRF European Conference in Seville in September this year. For further information on this conference.
GARY OFF TO TRAIN AT NICK FOX’S
For those who follow the comings and goings of our staff, you may remember that Martin Patterson joined us last year to work on the incubation. Sadly Dr Nick Fox offered him huge amounts of money to go back and work for him, and very sensibly he did, although we wish he could have stayed here!
However, in a couple of weeks Gary is going over to Carmarthen to work with Martin and brush up on his incubation knowledge. He is looking forward to going, and we are looking forward to him being much more experienced on his return and even better at record keeping than he is now. Hopefully Martin will teach him a little bit of cleaning at the same time!
THE YEAR SO FAR… TO MUCH TOO TELL! Gary (UK) and John (Aussie) in Hospital Meeting at Gatcombe Trips France and Germany to collect birds Katherine celebrated her 21st Birthday A tree from Gloucestershire Wildlife The Poplars have been lopped! Last minute demo at Eastnor Castle Coffee Shop improvements… we think? JPJ nearly meets Tony Blair New Owl Courses start Salix was 12 in January
GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES TO ALL THE LEAVERS:
John Crooks, Sally-Anne Phillips, Rachel Wiggins and Sue Taysom.
THANK YOU WALL’S FOR OUR NEW ENTRANCE SIGN!
HAPPY EASTER… DON’T FORGET TO RE-NEW YOUR MEMBERSHIP THIS YEAR… BRING A PAYING FRIEND NEXT TIME YOU VISIT… HELP IN ANY WAY YOU CAN… THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT… AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU ALL SOON…
from all the staff and birds at the National Birds of Prey Centre!