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North East Falconry Centre (Cairnie)

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Address: Broadland / Cairnie / Huntly / AB54 4UU / Aberdeenshire / Scotland

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      19.08.2009 16:30
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      Take a walk on the wild side :)

      It's summer and it's the holiday season. My partner and I have been planning our holidays since the beginning of the year, the first of which was a trip to Glenfinnan on the west coast of Scotland. This review is about the absolutely fantastic Falconry centre we just happened to visit on the way to our final destination. ==How we got there== Our trip was to take us on the A96 through the village of Huntly on the East coast of Scotland which is approximately 45 minutes from our home in Aberdeen and onto the road to dufftown. The falconry centre is sign posted from the main road and very easy to find although you do need to keep an eye out for the sign indicating where you need to turn off when on the Dufftown road, otherwise you'll be passed it before you know it. About a mile along a single track road you end up at the falconry centre where the car park is nothing more than a dirt arena. There is a house being built right at the front of the Falconry centre which my partner and I thought was maybe being built for the owner's of the falconry centre to allow them to be on hand for the birds at any time of the day or night. Arriving at approximately 10:45am we parked up the car and headed toward the entrance. Luckily for us the day had started out sunny and it was a very pleasant morning for being outdoors. ===Inside the centre=== Once inside the entrance to the centre we were surprised at how small it actually was. The visitors centre was the first thing we came up to where a small booth was set up for visitors to pay the entrance fee which was £5.95 for each adult, at first I thought the cost for entrance was a little expensive given the size of the place and we hadn't actually done any research before our visit so I was a little unsure as to what to expect but we paid our fee and were advised that a display would be taking place at 11am giving us 15 minutes to have a wander round so we continued on inside. Just inside the entrance to the visitors centre gift shop/cafe was an elderly woman who appeared to be hand feeding a very young bird (not sure what kind of bird - but a bird of prey it seemed) carcasses of other birds, I wasn't sure whether to be disturbed or intrigued by this site but you have to respect the circle of life and the dietry needs of birds such as hawks who have a diet mostly made up of other birds such as doves, pigeons, grouse and so on. The centre itself is very suitable for disabled visitors allowing wheelchair access. There is a small walkway that takes you around the centre where you can view magnificent birds such as eagles. hawks, owls and falcons some of which are displayed in cages. Although the birds are in cages, the staff there at the centre assure visitors that the birds are well looked after, and they don't look uncomfortable and it is very fascinating being able to be so close to such beautiful creatures. The first birds that we saw were a selection of eagles including an african fish eagle (pictured) and a golden eagle (pictured) which were out in the open uncaged although tied down to prevent them flying away - complete with picnic benches set directly across from their pen so that visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch and relish watching the birds at the same time. The Eagles truly were magnificent to look at, very majestic looking and they were a great start to the short walk around the centre. The next lot of birds we came to were all in cages and there are signs on the grass that request visitors to stick to the designated path obviously to avoid visitors getting too close to the cages and prevent the birds from being disturbed un-necessarily. Among the birds that we saw in the cages were a peregrine falcon - the fastest animal on earth, and I have to say one of my most favourite birds of prey, so to see one so close was very exciting - a Harris hawk which I'll talk about more later on and some other species of falcon and hawk which I can barely remember I have to be honest. The next lot of caged birds that we saw were owls, including a barn owl, a Tawny owl and an African spotted Eagle owl. The one thing that I found disappointing was there wasn't a whole lot of information on display for each of the caged birds as it would have been interesting to know a bit more about the animals we were looking at. The only thing that was on display were small plaquards in the grass stating what the species of each bird was. ==The Demonstration== At approximately 11am we were guided up to a large display area with rows of seats set out for visitors where we waited patiently for the demonstration to begin. The demonstrator was very good with the visitors and informed us that he was going to go and bring out the first bird, so off he went as we waited with anticipation. When he returned, his hand was gloved but there was no sign of a bird. The demonstrator told us that the first bird we would be seeing that day would be a harris hawk and proceeded to call on Lucky. We all watched in awe as the beautiful bird gracefully swooped into the display arena and landed on the demonstrators glove where he was rewarded with little scraps of meat (we were informed the meat was from mice). The demonstrator then proceeded to tell us a little bit about the Harris hawk species - a medium bird of prey most commonly found in southwestern USA and Western Europe, specifically Britain. This particular hawk is dark brown in colour with a white tail, chestnut shoulders and thighs and long yellow legs, and is the most social of the hawk species, very easy to train and one of the more common hawks found in falconry centres, it wasn't long into the demonstration before we were asked if anyone would like to hold the bird. After a few of the visitors had taken a turn to hold the bird, my partner John decided to get up and have a go, all throughout the display the demonstrator invited us to ask questions, one of which was how did lucky get his name and so we were told the story of how, when lucky was born, an owl was being kept at the centre on a temporary basis and was accidentally placed into the wrong cage at the end of one day proceeding to eat Lucky's siblings and he ended up being the only survivor. We learned some interesting facts some that I knew and some that I did not for example, I did not know that the hawks eye located on the side of it's head can move each eye independantly of each other allowing it to locate and catch it's prey more quickly than other birds. While the Harris hawk was out for demonstration we heard quite a bit of activity coming from behind us in the centre. One of the visitors enquired as to what the noise was and we were told that a number of birds were sitting on eggs and among those birds were bald eagles which was the bird we could hear making all the noise in the background. After about 15 minutes of demonstration with the Harris hawk our demonstrator left us again to get a 2nd bird. On this occassion the bird he brought out was an African Spotted Eagle owl called Spot. The African Spotted eagle owl is a medium sized species of owl found commonly in Africa, with an off white coloured face, very vivid yellow eyes and prominent tufts located above the owl's ears, a very beautiful bird. The demonstrator again gave the visitors the option of holding the bird, and at this point I volunteered myself. I slipped on the glove and held out my arm as instructed and watched excitedly as the owl flew towards me and landed flawlessly on my outstretched gloved hand. Where we were not allowed to touch the hawk we were invited to stroke the owl which was very, very soft. This is like nothing I have ever experienced before and I truly recommend that if anyone gets the opportunity to go to a falconry centre that they take the opportunity to hold the birds that are being displayed, at one point, the owl swivelled it's head round and looked right at me and I was awestruck. We were told more interesting facts about owls such as in the wild they don't tend to survive more than 10 years but in captivity at the falconry centre because they are kept safe from the dangers that present themselves in the great outdoors - '''one of the more common dangers to this particular breed of owl are vehicles on the roads as this tends to be a popular hunting spot and owls are often struck by unsuspecting travellers'''- they can live to be as old as 20. We were also told that the owl's eye, located on the front of the head is totally fixed in it's socket, but it's also said that an owl actually doesn't require it's eyes for hunting but instead uses it's ears which are set asymetrically to allow for more acute hearing allowing for improved sound position and distance detection. At this point in the demonstration I was very impressed with the whole experience and really enjoyed the ineractivity of the demonstration. The demonstrator was encouraging us to ask questions and was very good at offering up the information. Again this bird was taken away after about 15 minutes as the demonstrator went off again to bring out yet another bird. The final demonstration bird was a barn owl '''(my partner and I were a little disappointed that we did not get to experience one of the eagles)''' probably the smallest of all the birds we had seen that morning. The barn owl we were told is probably one of the most common and most widely distributed of the owls and probably the one that most people are more familiar with, with it's distinct white heart shaped face and black eyes, this is a bird with a startling appearance. Unlike other owls the barn owl has a call that is known as the Shree scream which is apparently ear shattering at close range instead of the familiar hoot commonly associated with owls. Neither my partner nor I chose to volunteer ourselves for holding the barn owl but we enjoyed watching the other visitors take a turn who confirmed that the 2nd owl was just as soft to the touch as the 1st and on listening to the information the demonstrator shared with us such as the barn owl's ability to hiss like a snake, and the revelation that as a defence mechanism the barn owl will throw itself onto its back when cornered and flail it's sharp talons at any predators posing a threat. With lots of interesting facts we got a real education relative to the birds we had seen in the demonstration that day. The whole demonstration lasted for about 45-50 minutes in total and after my initial doubt that the visit was worth the £5.95 entrance fee I have to admit that I probably would have paid more for the experience I had. At the end of the demonstration we were advised that the next one would take place at 12:45 and that we were more than welcome to stay for the next one. I imagine, had we not been venturing further west that day for our holiday we probably would have had something to eat and drink at the little cafe on site and stuck around for the next one, but unfortunately we had to end our visit there but both of us agreed that we would definately go back and have recommended it to friends and family since then. ===Other things to do at the Centre=== Our visit only entailed the demonstration session but upon further investigation I have found that there is lots more on offer at the falconry center. I have taken the following from http://www.huntly-falconry.co.uk/ _"Outdoor Flight Demonstrations_ _Our highly experienced outside display team travels country wide, providing spectacular static and free-flying demonstrations, that not only thrill but educate too!_ _Displays can be individually tailored to suit any event, and we are happy to attend both public and private functions_ _See the birds fly at: _ _11.00 am, 12.45 pm & 2.30 pm_ _Extra display 4.15 pm July and August"_ Other activities include - experience days which range from £65 to £120 pounds and last from 3 to 6 hours and also falconry tuition which is £145 per day and can be anything from 1 to 5 days. The experience days are as follows: _"An Introduction To Falconry_ _An amazing opportunity to spend time with our birds of prey. Enjoy learning basic falconry skills and handling techniques, meeting the birds and gaining an insight into the history of falconry._ _After this initial lesson you will be given the opportunity to handle and fly a selection of birds under the expert supervision of our experienced falconers._ _Duration: 3 hours £65"_ _"A Walk With The Hawks_ _Take a walk in the beautiful Aberdeenshire countryside with an experienced falconer and our birds, in pursuit of the birds natural quarry._ _Duration: 3 hours £75"_ _"A Falconry Adventure_ _An exciting combination of both the 'introduction to falconry' and the 'walk with the hawks'. This is very much a 'hands on' experience, and you will have the opportunity to handle a variety of different species, including falcons, owls, hawks and eagles. Mid-morning refreshments and light lunch provided._ _Duration: 6 hours £120"_ _"Falconry Tuition_ _A comprehensive training programme lasting 1 - 5 days covering all aspects of falconry._ _This is an intensive course offering falconry tuition that caters for individual needs and requirements._ _You will have the undivided attention of one of our experienced falconers. You will be able to take advantage of our 1-to1 training while getting to know our birds of prey better than ever before._ _Duration: 1 - 5 days_ _Prices: £145 per day "_ The centre is open from Easter to October from 10:30 in the morning and takes group bookings, school bookings or if you want just pop along with your family for a day trip. Even if you just go for the demonstration it is well worth a visit. Admission fees are as follows: Adult £5.95 Concessions £5.25 Children £3.95 Overall I'd say the falconry centre is a fun day out for all the family that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, it's very education and it certainly is an experience you won't forget in a hurry. Highly recommended :) Thank you for reading and if you choose to visit the centre I hope you have as enojoyable an experience as my partner and I did.

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