With the team we have with the birds and in the office I really don’t have to worry. The only aspect that I never was able to hand over before now, for a number of reasons was the incubation and rearing of the young. So I just can’t tell you how nice it was only about ten days ago when someone I have wished I could have working here for ages, phoned and for various reasons, was willing and able to come in and help. Martyn Paterson has worked for Dr Nick Fox for many years on the incubation of his Falcons, so he is very experienced. Things are a little different here because it is a wide variety of species that he will be dealing with and he is jumping in right at the deep end as we have eggs and babies already, he has been here two days and I leaving in 18 hours! I know the rest of my Bird Staff are delighted not to have to worry about eggs hatching while I am away. Poor Arthur Middleton, who is working with us as a Volunteer had to hatch an African Fish Eagle by telephone in January while I was out of the country and a very good job he did too, but it does get a little stressful for all concerned.

The millennium slipped by and was not a problem apart from the fact that everyone had far too much time off! I don’t think the birds were impressed by the change of century, but I have to say that personally I am very pleased it is over and done with!

Our last Owl Evening in December was amazing. It started snowing late afternoon and by the time people started arriving we had about half an inch on the ground. Walking round and seeing the Owls by torchlight with gently falling snow and candles and lamps dotted around the place that dose to Christmas really was magical. All the birds flew well except for Brunel who got upset by the whole thing and disappeared.

Once the public had got off safely and all the other birds and staff were done, we looked for him for about an hour. By this time we had four inches of snow and the trees were laden, but no sign. So we sent all the staff home who did not live on site and the three of us remaining agreed to meet up by the house in an hour. Gary joined Arthur and together we kitted up for snow, took the dogs and walked Out of the house, as we rounded the corner Brunel rolled up! He flew round the side of the house and landed on the Land Rover. It was great to see him, so we popped him back in his pen with food and went and played in the snow!

We re-opened to the public on February 1st and it really was a nice month. Spring is very early, half term was sunny and we had lots of visitors. And right now in mid March, the weather has been amazing and very pretty. The daffodils are out, the leaves are coming and the place is looking great – I hope to see you visiting this year.

Jemima Parry-Jones

Tribute to Sable (1966 – 2000)

Working with living creatures is full of joy, and also heartbreak. As with all living things, the birds die. Some die too soon, some live many years before they succumb. The larger birds such as the eagles have a long life-span in captivity and so really do become a part of our lives.

You may remember the year before last we bred our first Golden Eagle. Her mother was Sable. Sable came to the Centre in the early years. She graced the middle lawn for many years. We did try to breed from her in the early days and I am afraid that she killed one husband and considerably upset at least one more.

For many years she laid eggs, and in 1984 Jim Weaver from the Peregrine Fund in the US came over to try and help us Al her. But to no avail, she just kept laying each year and we never got the eggs fertile. Each year she would build a nest with our help, lay her eggs, look at them proudly and get bored with them very quickly. We even gave her a goose egg one year which she hatched (and then ate!). In 1998 with absolute delight from all concerned except for Sable, we managed to get and hatch one fertile egg, who grew into a large and beautiful daughter with roughly the same somewhat difficult temperament! The only person who really was not impressed was Sable herself, who, when shown her daughter tried to eat her.

We tried again in 1999, but failed to catch any of the eggs which was a shame, I dread to think how many eggs she laid over the years that we never managed to catch. At the end of 1999, about two weeks before Christmas, Sable got very ill. It was during a period of severe cold at night. I was so worried about her the first night that eventually Arthur and I decided that the only really warm place large enough for her, that would not stress her out was my sitting room.

Now this is actually a very beautiful room so we covered the carpet, brought in a log and put it in front of the fire, let the dogs out and put them in the kitchen (it was late by this time) and I brought Sable in. She was delighted and sat on the log, watching the fire. Sitting watching her move and look around her, we then discovered that she was almost totally blind. I had known that she had cataracts, but not that they had affected her so badly.

Arthur slept in the sitting room on the sofa with her all night to make sure that she did not hurt herself, I got up regularly as we were giving her fluids every two hours. Over the next three weeks we worked with her, but she slowly got sicker, although at all times she was a joy to be with and was always pleased to be with us. We moved her to a heated room, she had chopped fresh food hand fed to her, fluids and antibiotics but all to no avail. Bit by bit she was deteriorating in front of us all. Finally on January 4th, the day before I left to go to the US, Neil Forbes our vet came over and while she was in my arms he put her to sleep… It was so quick and she never knew… She is the second Golden Eagle to have died in my arms. I knew her for over 30 years and it was not a happy day. Sable is buried in the field next to our very dearly loved Martial Eagle who died just before she did. It was a sad time for us. JPJ

THE START OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM…

  • Four Bengal Eagle Owls hatched, starting the breeding season early in December!
  • JPJ went off to USA via Canada to collect the team of birds for South Carolina Centre for Birds of Prey
  • Central TV visited to film baby owls and help with publicity ready for opening on the 1st February.
  • The RSPCA’s new recruits from West Hatch in Somerset visited for a training day.
  • BBC TV filmed with John and birds and the children at Picklenash School, near Newent.
    Diary date: Flying demonstration on Saturday 14th June 2000 at Picklenash School Summer Fete, Newent. 
  • ALL the Staff attended an “Educational” training day with Mike Nicholls from Christchurch College, Canterbury.
  • Tickets for the Owl Evenings SOLD OUT early in January!
  • The First Aid Course for Birds of Prey organised by the Owl Society was held at the NBPC with Neil Forbes from Lansdown Veterinary Hospital, Stroud.
  • Finally, the Charity Number (1079323) was received on the 10th February.
  • A Tropical Screech Owl, the 55th Species bred at the NBPC hatched on 20th January.
  • JPJ chaired the TAG meeting held at the Hawk Conservancy, Andover.
  • The National Farm Attractions Network invited JPJ to talk about keeping Birds of Prey in captivity.
  • Cotswold Vale Hunt went from the NBPC, unfortunately JPJ had a nasty fall and concussion!
  • The Countryside Alliance Gloucestershire invited Sarah to sit on the Committee as a representative for Falconry.
  • Arthur Middleton left for a break and visa renewal in South Carolina.
  • Maurice Tibbles, Wildlife Cameraman started filming for the new videos.
  • JPJ launched the new Zoo Standards at Bristol Zoo and visited the new “Penguin Coast”.
  • Foxley Ladies Club from Hereford organised a special Owl Evening at the Centre for all their members.
  • Mark and Kirsty become Mr and Mrs Parker and Jack on 30th March… Congratulations to you both!
  • John & Ben flew out to NASU Animal Kingdom, Japan on the 1st April.
  • JPJ attended a Conference in Israel, and is off to the USA again on the 6th May.

OWL EVENINGS

The Owl Evenings in December proved to be so successful that we had to put in an extra date, and the February dates were sold out before the end of January!

If you were unable to get tickets for the Owl Evenings this time, we have already put the dates in the diary for December 2000 and tickets will be on sale towards the end of October… Don’t forget places are limited, so please book early.

Thanks to everyone who came along to the Owl Evenings. the funds received really did help us through the Winter this year and we look forward to seeing you again!

55th SPECIES: TROPICAL SCREECH-OWLS

This enchanting little owl is one of the Scops Owl family which is the largest of the owl families. Like many of the widely spread tiny Owls, there are two colour morphs, this one is the more commonly found grey morph. The Tropical Screech-Owl is found in open forests, woods and forest edges throughout South America.

As with many of the smaller raptors it is mainly insectiverous – grasshoppers, moths, bumble bees and even scorpions, mammals such as bats are sometimes taken. This is not a threatened bird, but it is vulnerable to traffic and many are killed on the roads. They breed in holes in trees or other cavities, one to four eggs are laid.

This bird was bred from parents on loan to us, which have been living at the Centre for just over two years. We bred two this year and are hoping to increase to a few more next year. Although not the first baby to hatch this year, the first Tropical Screech-Owl to be bred at the Centre arrived on 20 January, weighing just 6 grams!

UPDATE ON SOUTH CAROLINA CENTER FOR BIRDS OF PREY

If you have read our previous newsletters, you will know that we have an ongoing working relationship with The South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey. Having bred and trained a team of seven birds last year, we sent them to an acquaintance in Canada for quarantine prior to their going into the US. The paperwork was not easy but we managed to get all the required licences and veterinary certificates together in time. We collected them from Montreal in the Center’s very smart and kindly donated Van on January 7th 2000 and drove the birds straight through to South Carolina, stopping only for the border controls and handing over of the relevant paperwork, plus petrol and coffee stops. The whole trip took 22 hours during which time we were with the birds and able to handle and check them out and feed them regularly. They were pleased to arrive and sit on perches in the sunshine on the lawns having a bath and enjoying the fresh air.

All the birds settled well and by the end of January when I left, all were back in flying condition, flying free and behaving themselves pretty well. The weather in SC that month was a little bit of a shock it actually snowed twice, which is unheard of other than very rarely in that part of the world. However with snug weatherings, and heat lamps, the birds coped very well and it was warmer than Canada!!

Since then I have returned to SC in March to see how they are settling and flying and all are doing very well. Arrow the Saker is going to be as spectacular as his older brother Chardonnay, here at the centre in Gloucestershire. Chance, the Tawny Eagle, having gone through a somewhat tricky stage and trying to get the upper hand, has settled well and is starting to get the idea of working for a living. I return in May to help with a big fund raising day for the Center where a live concert is being held at an old plantation and as a start to the afternoon we will be flying some of the birds on demonstration. It will not be their first public appearance, as they have all been working since they arrived, however it will be their first large public flying demonstration and we are all looking forward to it.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OSPREY?

In our last Newsletter we told you about our very first Osprey. She is, we hope, having a great time living for the next year or So in The Gambia. After a recovery period of just over a month and a weight increase of over a pound, she really did look wonderful. We managed with the help of Dr Linda Barnett who works for the Department of Parks and Wildlife in The Gambia, to get the right paperwork to import the bird into Africa and our own government issued a CITES permit to export her from the UK. Once this and the veterinary certificate were in place it was only a matter of organising the trip.

We were delighted when the Daily Mail were so interested in the Osprey story that they not only paid her airfare, but the airfare of Philip from James Cargo to go with her to Brussels to make sure the plane connection worked, and they also sent out a reporter to photograph her release.

We should stress at this point that James Cargo did an absolutely first class job getting the Osprey trip organised and sorting out all the travel problems that cropped up. We would not have been able to succeed without their valuable help and sheer hard work. I should add that they have also been responsible for all the successful travelling of birds to Japan after our initial fiascos, and the travel arrangements for the birds that went to South Carolina via Canada.

But our Osprey had the last word! Having travelled all the way there and arrived safely she was taken out to the release site with an audience. She was so confused by the whole thing that instead of flying to a tree and landing and taking her bearings before getting going, she flew out to sea, ran Out of steam and landed in the drink. After a frantic scramble for a boat, she was rescued again, thank goodness. She was dried out, put back into a holding pen and released more slowly and quietly a couple of days later.

Osprey’s do not migrate back in their first year, but appear to wait until they are adult birds capable of breeding, so with luck she will stay in The Gambia for a while, getting more able to cope with life before starting the long trip back to Scotland for breeding. We wish her the best of luck and thank James Cargo and especially Philip who worked so hard to get her there safely and the Daily Mail for the foresight and kindness in paying for her to go. Also, the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey for their invaluable advice in getting the Osprey to feed and recover in the first place.

STAFF PROFILE: John Crooks

Many of the visitors to the Centre last year asked where John was? We all missed him too because he was in Japan for eight months! Originally from Derbyshire, John Crooks BSc (Hons) studied Environmental Biology at Swansea University. He then went on to work for the RSPB monitoring Birds of Prey (Hen Harriers, Red Kites, Peregrines and Merlins) in Wales.

After a quick change of trousers in the lay-by up the road before his interview, John was employed as Curator at the Centre. The official start date of 13th November 1989 took him on a film job in the Brecon Beacons with “Stormforce” and “Brimstone” for an Insurance Ad. Six months later he was trying to keep up stripy tights whilst flying a Falcon on the Medieval Day!

This was just the start of a decade of flying demonstrations at home and away, appearances on Blue Peter, The Big Breakfast and What’s up Doc (to name but a few), three Royal visits, numerous film jobs, illustrated talks and guided tours. A Halloween extravaganza in the bosses house whilst she was away will not be forgotten, “Bond parties, and several million gallons of Vodka later John is still working at the pace he was on his first day!

John has always preferred to train the more unusual birds. Not for him Eagles, Falcons or Hawks, he has always got on better with the Owls, Kites, Caracara’s and Vultures, which he adores. They get on well with him too, it was noticeable last year while John was away in Japan that we had immense trouble with Pandora our Crested Caracara, who really did not want to work with any of the other staff and was difficult to impossible with most of them!

This year, at his request, the staffs request and the visitors as well, John will rejoin us for much of the summer. He is going over to Japan with Ben to get things going. Gary will then go out to help and John will return (via a trip to Australia) in July and remain with us for the rest of the summer, which we are all looking forward to.

As he and Ben do their last day this spring, prior to leaving for Japan tomorrow we all realise what an integral part of the Centre John has been for a very long time. Although we know he does really well in Japan, we will miss him greatly here at the Centre for the next few months.

“BEHIND THE SCENES” IN THE BREEDING SEASON

Have you ever wondered how and where the eggs are hatched and the baby birds are reared?

Would you like to see our new clinic where all the wild sick and injured birds are assessed and treated?

Do you know how and what we feed over 300 birds of prey?

Would you like to see the eagles, nests and young close up and from a different angle?

Starting at 6.3Opm with Guided Tours, Flying Demonstrations, Hog Roast and Owls at Dusk…

13th May, 27th May* and 3rd June 2000

TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW from the Gift Shop or Telephone 0870 990 1992 for more information.

£14.00 for Adults and £7.00 for Children including Food and Refreshments.

PLEASE BOOK AND BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY – PLACES ARE LIMITED

*Members discount for the evening on 27th May, Adults £8.00 and Children £4.00.

MORE BOOKS AND MORE VIDEOS…

I was surprised and pleased when David and Charles contacted me last year to see if I would like to write a book on birds of prey of the world. It is a subject that I am interested in and meant writing something that is not a teaching book like the others so I tentatively said yes. Imagine my surprise when Dorling Kindersley can come up with the same idea and offer. However as luck would have it OK have decided to do a very good encyclopaedia instead and I have been asked to write 43 fact sheets on various species. I have to thank Arthur Middleton for his invaluable help on this one.

The David and Charles book has a working title of Masters of the Air and I have a meeting with the editor the week after next. I have done some of the ground work and am looking forward to getting into the writing properly.

You may or may not know that we sell three training videos that we made over ten years ago. The Centre has changed so much in that time and so have some of our approaches to training that we have decided to make some new videos this year. In fact we have started filming already.

We are hoping and I stress that word Hope to make four this year and two more next The training of a large falcon and a small falcon. The training of Harris Hawks, and buzzards. The training of Owls. And a video on a year in the life of the Centre are what we are aiming at this year! Then training accipiters and training eagles next year. It is a big task, but is much needed and should in the long run help with the visitor numbers here at the Centre.

THE SWANS

In 1998 in the early part of the year three swans arrived on our small pond at the bottom of the flying field. After a couple of days and not a little scrapping one left and a pair remained. We saw them a few times during the spring and then they left. Last year in January the pair arrived again. They demanded (and got) food every morning when the sheep were fed. Finally after some to-ing and fro-ing they started to nest build and totally destroyed our lovely island clumps of irises, but it was all in a good cause. They laid four eggs and after the due time one baby hatched. We were delighted and so were they. Sadly the worst happened and the baby got killed and the swans left us.

We were surprised to see them return this January and they have been flying between us and our neighbour for three months now. However in February we noticed that the female was here but no male. So we phoned Mr Watham, our neighbour, who also feeds these birds with his sheep and he said that the male was with him but unable to fly. So we drove over, caught him up and on looking at his left wing it was dropped and very swollen and hot. So the following day we took him to the vet. Having a swan in your car is not a thing we can recommend – a little messy would sort of describe it.

Neil Forbes checked him out, put him on antibiotics and dressed the wing and we drove him home again. As we drove down the field with him in the back he could see his wife from the car window and was calling to her from the car, it was quite amazing to experience. We put him on the grass and they walked towards one another to say hello. Then the two slipped down into the pond and swam away head and necks bowing towards each other.

We gave him drugs each day in food – he was very easy to treat and finally about two weeks ago he flew for the first time. We have not seen him since, although the female is back and demolishing the irises again. We may go and check him out soon as the first flight may have been a little early and she appears to want to nest here. This year we will take much more care with the baby so they safely rear some young.

INTERNATIONAL & NATIONAL NEWS

The Mountain Serpent Eagle (Spilornis kinabaluensis) which subsequently was only thought to be in the mountains of north Borneo has now been found in East Kalimantan, in Indonesia which is a very great extension of its known range.

There is increasing concern for the wild populations of the Indian White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and the Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus). It appears that the decline in their numbers is reaching astronomic proportions and in some areas of their range there is a 95% population drop. The Indian White-backed Vulture was probably the commonest Old World Vulture1 with hundreds of thousands of birds. This population was artificially elevated due to the high numbers of people in India and this vulture’s sympatric behaviour with humans.

The cleaning up of slaughter houses and the like may have affected it, however at this time it is considered that a disease may be killing the birds. Work is starting on researching the problem, we can only hope that some birds will survive.

A new Species of southern Hawk-owl has been described. Previously thought of as a sub-species of the Ochre-bellied Hawk-owl (Ninox ochracea) the now called Cinnabar Hawk-owl (Ninnox ios) it differs in its colour, being much more rufous and various other details of plumage and structure.

The beautiful Eleanora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae) which has been found to inhabit a wider area than previously thought, appears to be suffering from problems in Crete. A number of dead and dying birds have been found. If cared for quickly they can recover, It appears that some sort of poisoning is the cause, but as yet it is not known what or how the birds are picking it up.

There is a proposal to down list the Gyr Falcon (Falco rusticolus) in North America at the next Cites convention of the parties this year. The proposal brings them from Appendix 1 to Appendix 2 with the proviso that there be no export of wild birds. Our director was asked to advise on this down listing.

Also on the cards to be down-listed within the US is the Bald Eagle. Information is still being gathered on this topic and species.

The South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey has just started their third year studying the Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus), the northern most population of which resides in South Carolina. They will be looking for nest sites, banding young and placing radio telemetry onto young and adult birds to track their migration.

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