Sunday, 6 November 2016

A Late Christmas Present

For Christmas last year, one of our friends gave us an ‘experience’ gift, which was a trip to the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover. We were not able to redeem this gift until September, so a few weeks after we had come back from our holiday in Yorkshire, we set off to the vicinity of Andover.

This is a familiar route for me because I used it for a number of different reasons. One was when my No 1 son was on a sandwich year from university in 1997. He had got a placement with an American based computer company and spent a very productive year writing programmes for them. He was able to make their version of the DRDOS operating system year 2000 compliant and added other features to the kernel which boggled his course tutor when he returned to University. He had done things which demonstrated a very very deep understanding of computer systems, which I suspect from his tutor's response, was well outside his tutor’s own comfort zone. Writing changes into an operating system kernel is complex and not something even the most computer savvy people could attempt so it is something that makes me very proud of my No 1 Son.

Before that, in the 1980s I used to use this route to drive down to the IBA engineering department . The organisation that determined the broadcast standards for the ITV companies. I was able to keep up to date in my field of endeavour by attending lectures and demonstrations of new developments, such as satellite and digital TV, something they were well ahead of before Sky was launched. A European standard had been developed which was far superior to the, by then, antiquated PAL colour system and they were all set to roll out the new standard across all of the UK and Europe when the owner of Sky pre-empted everyone by launching the first Astra satellite and going ahead without official sanction using PAL broadcasts. This action allowed him to capture such a large customer base, that no one else could compete and singlehandedly he set Europe back about fifteen years technologically speaking and it was not until digital TV started that we got back on course. If he had stuck to the rules, we could have had high definition wide screen TV by 1990, but going ahead with the old technology Sky created a virtual monopoly and squeezed other services out of the market. ‘Never mind the quality, feel the width.’

Anyway, so I knew the way to Andover and off we went. The Hawk Conservancy Trust is just off the A303, a major road that eventually passes Stonehenge and in yet another era of my working life, I used to commute past there on my way to Blandford when I worked for the Royal Signals.

Long before you get that far west, the turn off for the Hawk Conservancy is down a single track lane and we arrived in good time. The day was cloudy but dry and we were able to wander around the enclosures before the flying demonstrations took place.

Not one of the flying display, just a local inhabitant resting on a fence
There were several venues within the large area covered by the Conservancy and several different flying demonstrations were to take place throughout the day.

One of the weekend events which we did not see since we were there n a weekday
We headed for the first one, which was the African experience. This shows a number of birds from that continent, including a Fish Eagle catching fish from the small lake, a Secretary bird killing a rubber snake, Vultures, Sacred Ibis and White Storks. They also produced a mock bush fire with hawks catching prey as the smoke drove insects up into the air.

A Fish Eagle heading in for a catch at about 90mph

Clutching his prey the eagle flies off leaving a trail of water droplets

The Secretary Bird has a really long stride

I've done my act, where's my reward?

Sacred Ibis in flight

Getting fed

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An African White Stork
African Vulture
The handlers told us that these vultures are facing extinction in Africa.  This they told us this is because of poachers.  When they kill an elephant or rhino for the ivory or horn, the vultures start to home in on the kill and a flock of circling vultures can be seen for a very long way.  This makes it obvious to the local police there are poachers in the area. Because of this, the poachers have been lacing the corpses with poison to kill off the vultures and they have been so successful, that these birds are now endangered.

Smoke is made to simulate a bush fire

This hawk is able to catch insects in a real bush fire, but here is having food thrown for it to catch
The whole event was very well run and we all agreed that we had never seen so many birds in a single flying event.

 When this was over we found our way to the next event in another arena, which again has a whole range of birds, Vultures Hawks and Eagles. There was the familiar demonstration of a hawk catching prey whirled around on a cord by the handler and a flock of vultures which were encouraged to buzz the crowd by flying low over them, making people duck.

An Eagle in flight

This hawk catches the lure

It is then allowed to eat it

A vulture buzzes the crowd

There were three of them flying over the crowd and making people duck

 The last event in this show was a whole bunch of hawks trying to catch pieces of meat which were shot into the air by catapult.

They sometimes got locked together grabbing the same piece of food, but let go before they reached the ground
The number of birds in the air at any one time was many more than I have ever seen and the whole thing was really well run.  The sky was by this time getting rather dark and as we left this arena it started to rain and we hurried into the café for lunch. Whilst we were eating the rain went from large widespread drops to torrential and we were glad the weather had conveniently timed itself to rain at lunch time.

By the time we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped and we went around the parts of the Conservancy we had not seen so far. Later there was yet another flying demonstration, this time with owls and we all sat on plastic bin bags that had been handed out, to prevent getting wet from the now thoroughly wet seats. The owls performed well, but the owl’s arena was under trees and the sky was still cloudy, so the light was not sufficient to capture very good pictures of them flying.

The owls were also trained to buzz the crowd, but much more silently than the vultures

After that, we spent a while looking around the gift shop and then we went home. I also found that a Conservancy baseball cap had somehow found its way into my shopping basket, not sure how…

Altogether a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone for an enjoyable day’s outing.

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