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UK Falconry

What do students do after a Wildlfife course?  

The following text is an extract from a newsletter written by:

Frances Bell
Wildlife Student
ACS Distance Education

Please note any opinions expressed in the document are solely those of the author and are therefore independent from ACS Distance Education, its employees or affiliates.

"June 2015

So… the sunny climes of Britain, hey?  Well – the birds are all having babies and so are things like moles and foxes.  So it must be spring.  But it doesn’t much look like it through the window, and it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.  It’s COLD.  The very odd thing is that the Brits and Scots are all in t-shirts.  I confess, I don’t get it!


I had a week or so back in the UK before starting a placement of which I hoped great things.  In the meantime I caught up on some much needed sleep, but it wasn’t long before I was full steam ahead tying up the loose ends of future plans.  This involved my rabies booster shot – vitally important; travel to and from Scotland for a future placement – where I managed to snag a busfare from one side of Scotland to the other for the princely sum of GBP1.50; flights for the long and winding road home; yet more study to try to pass the CWR exam; the acquisition of the most important technological advancement since the invention of the wheel – the luggage trolley; and picking up a hire car. Yes, I know, not exactly a cheap option.  However, this turned out to be MUCH cheaper than trying to find accommodation in the village near my next placement, Wildlife Aid in Leatherhead.  I loved my little car the minute I saw it – a yellow Fiat 500, which I promptly named the Beast.  Top speed up a hill was only about 30 miles an hour but as long as it got me from A to B, I really didn’t care. 


The next challenge was to master the intricacies of the Magic Roundabout in Hemel Hempstead.  This filled me with dread – I was even scared of it when someone else was driving!  It is, essentially, a big roundabout but there are seven (yes, seven!) smaller roundabouts which feed onto it.  Add to that, that traffic flows around it in both directions.  Combine it with peak hour traffic and you end up with something truly terrifying!


To conquer the Magic Roundabout required the assistance of a local, so the day after I picked up the car, Sally and I – well, sallied forth – tackling both the roundabout and the M25 all in one fell swoop.  I’m not sure which was more nerve-racking – getting onto the roundabout or changing lanes on the M25!  Sally told me to think of it as just a big ring road with lots of roundabouts feeding onto it.  After absorbing that, it seemed so much easier and I became ridiculously pleased with myself, getting on and off and going in both directions (but not all at once) with impunity.  I am the Magic Roundabout Queen!


I was agog to learn lots of new stuff at Wildlife Aid and got there ridiculously early on my first day.  I was full of enthusiasm but…. The first day consisted of cleaning out a few bird cages and holding perhaps one or two pigeons while someone else tube fed them – very odd for someone who besides being Queen of the Magic Roundabout, is also Queen of Unassisted Tube Feeding.  It went from bad to worse – as a workplace experience volunteer I was not allowed to feed, medicate or otherwise do anything hands on with animals.  It was only through the kindness of one regular volunteer that I was snuck into the squirrel nursery and allowed to assist with feeding squirrel babies right at the end of the day.  The second day I took my laptop with me so that at least when there was nothing for me to do – which was most of the day – I could study for the CWR exam.  I spent 4 hours in total on the M25 on that second day, for about 2 hours work cleaning out hedgehog cages.  I decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I had hoped to talk to the volunteer co-ordinator but she wasn’t on-site, so I sent an email the next day explaining why I wasn’t going back.


So instead of building on my wildlife rehab skills, I spent the next week and a half clearing up yet more loose ends - which seemed to have a habit of multiplying; going off and doing some touristy animal based things; and catching up with a couple of people.  One of those people was my sister, who I met at Runnymede ...  We had a lovely walk along the river while we talked non-stop.  I am eternally grateful for the development of the satnav but have to say I didn’t always trust it – a mistake on my part since there was more than one occasion where I ended up not quite where I ought to have been – and getting to Runnymede was one of them.


I took time to visit the English School of Falconry, a bird of prey centre where I also later did a 2-day beginners falconry course.  There were a lot of different raptor and owl species kept there, including caracaras, South American birds who are incredibly intelligent.  A few days later the Beast and I went to the Hawk Conservancy, another bird of prey centre and one I’d wanted to see for some time.  While I deplore that all these magnificent birds are kept in captivity, the standard of care in both centres was very good and the flight shows were amazing.  I saw all the shows at the Hawk Conservancy during the course of the day – one used only African birds, which made me homesick!  One of the shows had vultures and black kites flying together and buzzing the crowd.  The finale was letting two bald eagles go on a hill about a mile away, and we watched them soar and finally fly in to the meadow where the handlers were waiting.  What was most amazing was seeing how they slowed and put the brakes on before landing on the handlers arm.  It would have been so easy for the eagle to come in too fast and break his arm but birds operate in flight with such control and precision ...  There were some parts of the flight shows that had no commentary and instead were set to music.  When they co-ordinated music from Dances with Wolves with majestic bird flight, I was completely finished.  Exit Fran, trying to pretend tears are NOT pouring down her face…..  The very last show of the day was focused on owls flying through a small woodland, which showed off just how manoeuvrable these birds are.  In addition to the huge range of owls who took part, there was also a Brahminy kite…. Ahh, a bird from home!


The next jaunt was to the Butterfly Project just on the outskirts of Hemel.  There was a butterfly house for loads of tropical butterflies and moths, and again I deplore the fact that they’re kept in captivity – but their housing was scrupulously clean and they were fed appropriately.  The centre also had about 10 little designer garden plots, and my favourite was the one with the Alice in Wonderland theme.



In amongst all this gadding about, I did actually sit down to retake the CWR exam.  Imagine my shock when I finally PASSED!!!!   

My final jaunt with the Beast was back to the English School of Falconry for the 2 day beginner falconry course.  This I did, not because I want to get a raptor to go hawking with – actually I hate falconry – but to learn how better to handle birds of prey in a rehab setting.  It was a bitter cold weekend but very enjoyable none-the-less.  We were a small group which gave us lots of time to ask lots of questions, and get more time with the trainer if we were having difficulty with anything.  I learnt a lot about diseases, repairing feathers and fixing overgrown beaks, and we did alot of handling – with some extra tuition thrown in for me as a rehabber.  Mostly we worked with smaller birds but we did get to “man”, or hold on the glove, a bald eagle.  Our training bird on the Sunday was Bentley, a little kestrel.  He ranrings around us beginners when it came to calling him to the glove – he’d taken the food and gone back to the perch well before most of us had the wits to put him into what’s called “safety” so that he couldn’t just fly straight off again!


The next day the Beast and I went our separate ways – a bus ticket to Stevenage for me, and back to the hire car yard for the Beast.  I was hopping up to Scotland via a few friends.  My first stop was in the lovely little hamlet of Nasty with friends from my lion farm days, a couple of whom I hadn’t seen for 4 years.  We had long walks, lots of bird-watching, and a great deal of laughter.


Next stop was Leeds to catch up with another lion farm contemporary.  ...  We visited a tropical house which filled me with dismay – birds, reptiles, butterflies, monkeys, sea creatures – all kept in enclosures that were way too small and all I saw was abnormal behaviour.  We also went to a donkey sanctuary – now there’s a project that’s truly worthwhile.  The donkeys are all rescued, all have lots of room and expert care – and one of them rested his head on my shoulder to have huge cuddles, which made my day!


From thence to a little village near Hull in Yorkshire, where I stayed with another friend from my early South African days – and one I hadn’t seen for almost 5 years.  Her cat Chloe immediately introduced herself and we formed a little bond. Yorkshire was action packed, with something to do every day.  I saw the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which pleasantly surprised me with their focus on conservation and partnership with bona fide conservation organisations.  We had a morning at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds site at Blacktoft Sands, where we spent a lot of time in bird hides and I saw loads of different species to add to my ID list.  The following day we went out to Burton Agnes which is a stately home.  My immediate thought on entering any of those imposing piles is that it must cost a small fortune to try to heat!  The day after that was a long-ish ramble on the Wolds, which was much appreciated.  I then said goodbye to my friends and the gorgeous Chloe, embarking on the epic journey to Glengarnock in the wilds of Scotland.  Sadly, only a few days ago I received an email to say that Chloe had a stroke and had to be put to sleep.  RIP little one.  You will be sorely missed.


The journey to Glengarnock may have been epic – it took all day – but it was also incredibly scenic.  The train crossed the Yorkshire Moors national park which is stark but stunning – and full of sheep!  Lots and lots of fluffy new lambs, some with black faces and all incredibly cute.  I looked at them and all I could think was – how could anyone want to eat such gorgeous little babies?


The thing I noticed immediately about Scotland was how friendly most of the people were.  The other thing I noticed was how COLD it was.  We had one or two sunny days but it wasn’t exactly warm – and the rest of the time, it rained.  ...


I spent one night in the little town of Cockermouth and had a wee excursion into the breathtaking Lake District National Park.  Then it was on to Bristol, where I’m temporarily installed until I head back to Scotland for my next placement – a whale and dolphin research course.  Perhaps it’s just as well to use this time to take a few projects off the back burner, and get some rest before I embark on the next manic phase of my travels – the long way home. 





RIP Chloe xx"


[26/01/2022 21:39:15]