Monday, 16 June 2014

At last a new posting.

Time flies.   Never more so than when you have post something on your blog and think   "Tomorrow ".

I was horrified to see how long it's been since the last one.    Life at North Devon Hawk Walks has been busy over recent months.  The upturn in the national economy is reflected in the number of people wanting to go on hawk walks. May 2014 was the best one, in terms of number of customers, for three years.

The hawks remain their own sweet selves.  Cassius is as friendly and approachable as ever.  Lady Macbeth is as forbidding and dignified as ever.   The only real change has been with Artemis the Sparrowhawk who early in May began to get get broody.  Her usual raucous  squawk demanding food turned into a low-toned, seductive cheep as her hormones took control.   She is an imprint so there was no question of her wanting a male Sparrowhawk, it was me she fancied.    Some hurried research later and I hooked up with a guy who breeds birds and was able to give me a crash course on avian artificial insemination.   Sad to say, Artemis' hormones had kicked in a bit too late and there were no imprint male Sparrowhawks still producing semen.  She laid one, unfertilised egg.   However, we shall be prepared next year.

We are all concentrating on the moult at the moment. Lots of food, lots of sunshine to stimulate the annual dropping and regrowing of feathers.   Photos to follow.

I've started  Facebook pages  both for myself,  Nigel Penfold, and North Devon Hawk Walks. We are also on Trip Advisor and doing very well, thank you, in terms of good reviews.  37 so far, and all  5 star Excellent.             There's definitely something about birds of prey that appeals to people.
Below is a pic of Her Ladyship shouting abuse at a passing dog.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Video of hawk landing.

North Devon Hawk Walk with Cassius from Manta Daz on Vimeo.

This video was posted on the North Devon Hawk Walk Facebook page some time ago.
It's by a customer who came out with us a few months ago on a Hawk Walk on Exmoor. He got some really good footage of the hawks flying and landing on the customers. 
I'm in the process of building a new website, and there will be a few video clips to show exactly what we get up to on a Hawk Walk.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lady Macbeth by Tansy Rollin

A couple of photos taken by Tamsin Rollins    at the North Devon Show earlier this year.

Trip Advisor etc.

Here at North Devon Hawk Walks    ( )   The birds have nearly finished their moult and have only a few gaps in their wings where new feathers are not yet fully grown.  Every year they drop all their feathers ( not all at the same time), and new ones grow down.  There is a definite system, with the outer  feathers falling first, then those closer to the body.   If I find one feather on the floor on Monday, then I know that on Wednesday I'll find the mirror image feather from the other wing or side of the tail.  Regular as clockwork.

The Harris Hawks have done very well this season, with the customers really enjoying their flying displays. It's a shame that most people want to go out in the summer, because it's when there is a strong wind blowing that these birds are at their most spectacular.   I was training a new young hawk, Hero, that I've been loaned for a couple of years, the other day. I got him to fly towards me from a tree, then threw up a piece of meat about twenty feet into the air. The strong wind meant that it was easy for him to keep airborne and to travel at speed, so he  was regularly catching his "prey", getting lots of exercise, honing his flying skills and providing a spectacle for a couple of motorists who stopped to see what was going on.   My birds and I are a regular sight outside Withypool on Exmoor, and one year I put up a sign on the side of the road, because I was afraid of drivers cruising past looking at the hawks and not noticing that the road bent to the right. I had visions of them plowing straight off the road and down the valley.

Somebody recommended that North Devon Hawk Walks go on   I was surprised to learn that a lot of people use TA to search for activities like my Hawk Walks. We've now got 19 reviews, all "Excellent", which means that the hawks are officially the best attraction in South Molton, Devon.

Hopefully I'll be taking the gang out hunting soon. It's nearly pheasant season, and the undergrowth is dying back so the rabbit holes will be visible. More exercise for the hawks, and free food too.
Look closely at the photo of Lady Macbeth above, and you'll see the photographer reflected in her eye.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Summer time = Show time.

We're going through a hot, hot summer in the UK at the moment.  Very welcome after three years of rubbish summers, but God is it hot!

The birds at North Devon Hawk Walks don't appreciate the heat. Although the three Harris Hawks are descended from birds that bred and thrived in the hot, arid climate of New Mexico, Texas etc. that doesn't mean that they feel like exerting themselves any more than humans do in the heat.

We've been out flying on Exmoor today with some customers, and at the end of the hour, the birds were panting with beaks open to lose heat.  I sprayed them with water before putting them in their aviaries to cool down.

Tomorrow we're off to the Devon Country Fayre at Filleigh.  This year the national sheep dog trials are also being held there and so a lot of people will be coming along.  Hopefully a large number will find their way to the North Devon Hawk Walks tent and get acquainted with the birds. Last time we were there, each of the three days was really busy with people queuing up to get close to the birds, ask questions, take photos etc.

I'll be posting photos of the day here in a few days time.  We will also be at the North Devon Show and the Mid Devon Show, in a few weeks time. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Just spent a merry two hours cleaning the various aviaries with a pressure washer. How I managed before getting one, God knows.  Getting an aviary clean and keeping it so are the most tedious chores in falconry, but essential.

Most of the diseases that affect hawks in captivity can be avoided by always ensuring the aviary is clean of old food and droppings, which harbour the germs that can infect the birds.  A floor of small gravel stones about three inches deep is very good, provided it is raked regularly and the bones, castings etc picked out.  It can then be sprayed with a viricidal disinfectant. Perches and ledges also need to be sprayed.

Birds being birds, their droppings, or " mutes " in falconry-speak, can be all over the place, although obviously concentrated near the perches. That's where the power washer comes in handy.

Cassius, Lady Macbeth and Orlando, the Harris Hawks have just begun their annual moult.  Artemis the sparrowhawk has not yet started.  For the first three, the moult will be a long-drawn out affair. They have to fly throughout the summer, which of course is the most popular time for customers at North Devon Hawk Walks.  This mean their diet has to be controlled to keep them at flying weight. This slows down the moulting process.  Falconers who don't fly during the summer just put the birds away and keep them fat so  as to get the process over as soon as possible. Some feed supplements so as to speed it up.

Artemis won't be flying in the summer. Her forte is scaring away starlings in the winter. So she's getting lots of food. In order to keep her tame, I'm making time to feed her on the fist and keep her aware of who I am.

The whole avian gang will be with me at the North Devon Show, the mid-Devon Show and the Filleigh Show this  year.  Come along and meet them !

Sunday, 3 March 2013

At last, a new blog.

Last summer was pretty busy at North Devon Hawk Walks, ( which is my excuse for not having any new blogs posted for months.  It's not much of an excuse, but it's the only one I have.

In spite of the recession, every year I get more customers coming to Exmoor to experience falconry. Many are there for the first time, but a significant number are returning customers which is nice.  There is something addictive about messing around with hawks.

We are also on Trip Advisor now, and although we've only got six comments, they are all in the "Excellent" category, so we must be doing something right.

The sparrowhawk, Artemis, has been earning her keep chasing away starlings from dairy farms, and as a result her tail is a mangled mess.  The tail feathers of the sparrowhawk are very long and very stiff. This is great for manouverability ( the tail is the rudder of the bird), but not for longevity.

Over the next few months, she'll be growing a new set of feathers, and by the end of the summer, will have a new tail.  I'll be posting pictures of the tail as it grows.

Last October I had a scare with Artemis as she went missing. She had been on her perch on the lawn, tethered, when a visiting dog scared her, her leather jesses snapped, and she flew off. After five days, I was connvinced that I'd never see her again.  A hawk that has escaped and reverted to the wild is called a "haggard"  ( probably origin of the word " hag"), and is lost forever to the falconer.  However, on the sixth day, she re-appeared, sat on her perch and started shouting for food.  To have survived that long, she must have killed and eaten something, which made all the more unlikely that she would come back.  After all, why should she?  But she did, much to my surprise and that of all the other falconers I know.  Such a return, especially of a sparrowhawk, is very rare.

All part of the emotional ups and downs of falconry. 

More pictures soon.