Last month my wife and I went along to a Hawk and Owl Experience at the Barn Owl Centre in Hempsted Gloucester: it was a brilliant experience and I would highly recommend it to you – and it is all for charity.
I can’t believe that I am only now getting around to blogging about it, but my tardiness at blogging the experience is nothing compared with our tardiness in actually going on the experience: this was a gift from me to my wife last Christmas!
The thing is, we are at that age now where buying presents becomes difficult because there aren’t that many actual things that we want. Well, there are, but not at a price that we are able to afford to buy as presents.
So, toward the end of last year I was walking through King’s Walk and happened upon some nice young ladies standing about holding owls. They explained that they were from the Barn Owl centre and told me about the various experiences that you could purchase. That sounds like just the thing, I thought, my wife likes owls. So I took away a leaflet and went on line to check them out.
You can do just a Barn Owl Experience, but I thought I’d push the boat out and for a few more quid treat her to the Hawk and Owl Experience. Initially I was only going to buy a spectator ticket for myself so that I could take photographs, but then I thought stuff it, I’m going to have a go too. You buy vouchers, which you can then use any time in the next 12 months.
My wife was delighted with her gift, although somewhat tinged with trepidation about getting up close and personal with a hawk. “It’ll be fine”, I told her, “what’s the worst that can happen?” She always worries when I say that…
And so, a mere 9 months later we turned up for our experience.
To be fair, we had tried to go a few weeks earlier, but they were fully booked on our chosen day so we had to re-plan. I’m glad we did, because now we were mid-week outside of the school holidays and we were the only ones there!
There was some waiting around as the person showing us around was busy doing something else – it is a small, relaxed, laid back kind of place with seemingly few staff, not some big, swish well-managed corporate affair.
Eventually we met our guide, a nice, friendly, enthusiastic lady called Juliette, who took us out with some of the birds. As we went around she told us a little about the centre and what they do.
The Barn Owl Centre is not just there for entertainment, it is a registered charity dedicated to education, wildlife conservation and bird welfare. Their birds are all rescue animals, mostly taken in from private collectors where they have often been neglected, abused or mistreated in some way. This means that there is often a good deal of work to be done before they are ready to be introduced to the public.
The Centre moved to its current premises at Netheridge Farm in Hempsted in 2008. The farm was pretty much derelict, but the City Council leased it to the charity for a peppercorn rent for the first 25 years of a 99 year lease.
They rebuilt the current centre pretty much from scratch with minimum funding and it does the job, but it is functional at best. They have big ambitions to develop the centre further and have launched an appeal to buy the farm. To do this though they need a lot of money: you can make a donation here or go along to one of their experiences and have a great time whilst also enjoying the warm glow of helping out a worthy charity.
Anyway, back to our day: Juliette first took us out with a Harris Hawk called Mrs Harris. We went for a walk around a field which is part of the 12.5 acre farm and Mrs Harris was allowed to fly off into the trees. We then took it in turns to be given the glove with a small piece of meat and Mrs Harris would obligingly fly in and land on our hand to enjoy the snack.
As we walked around Mrs Harris got braver and after a while started landing on the ground next to Juliette. She knew where the food was and kept looking up at the bag. Previously Mrs Harris had been abused and kicked, so was nervous of people’s feet: it was nice therefore to think that she felt confident enough now to hop around on the ground near us.
After a while Mrs Harris was allowed to go back to her cage and we were introduced to Turner, a very impressive Eagle Owl. We stayed within a smaller area with Turner, again taking it in turns to take him on our glove. It is really spectacular to get up so close to such a large and impressive bird.
Overall the experience took a couple of hours and we enjoyed every minute of it: my wife’s verdict was “best Christmas present ever!”.
We will go back again: maybe to do the same experience with different birds, or maybe to try the Barn Owl Experience. I also quite fancy the Photography Day, which is a little more expensive. They also do children’s birthday parties and school visits, although we will definitely try to steer clear of those.
Hopefully it won’t be another year before we get around to going back!