Friday, 9 February 2007

Twit Twooh

Dashed over to John's on Anglesey on Thursday night for supper and few glasses of wine. Been a rubbish day as my cold hit hard, as did the snow. Felt a lot better by evening time, and could even taste the Mmmm & Ssss food; peppered Aberdeen Angus steak, Pommes Lyonaise and Sugar Snap Peas.

John was heading off on the train to Edinburgh in the early afternoon the next day to attend the Wales Scotland Six Nations rugby match, and had booked the day off work. I had a treat as a result. During his Career Wales work he had met a local family that have an owl sanctuary at their home, looking after abandoned, orphaned or disabled birds. He had arranged for us to have a tour round. Their place is not open to the public so I was hoping this would be a little different to a bird park visit. I was not disappointed.

The couple that run the place are clearly animal mad. We were greeted by a young Husky who left her paw prints all down the front of my fleece. Rabbits of all types and sizes were kept in various outdoor cages. One enormous floppy eared specimen loved have his chin tickled.

The first owl we saw was a young injured barn owl, fast asleep on her perch. She sat above a cage full of juvenile hedgehogs. Further down the path in a greenhouse were kept a buzzard, a Harris hawk, an American eagle and a small inquisitive owl who had lost the power of flight. I asked of could don a glove and have some of them perch on my arm. If you don't ask, I thought, you don't get. I was told maybe later..............

They also had a cage of wonderful red squirrels who clearly loved munching on walnuts. They are wonderful little characters, with their tufted ears. The youngest of the family of squirrels was actually black rather than rusty red. I didn't know that could happen.

The larger owls were kept in aviaries further down their garden path. There were a pair of snowy owls hissing away at us, one of which had lost an eye. Next door were the rather massive Bengali eagle owls with bright orange irises, these hooted their greeting in classic owl style. We also saw rescued tawny owls and a number of Australian owls whose name I cannot remember.

We were joined by the father, Robin, who we were told flew most of the birds. He took us over to much larger aviaries beyond the small pond teeming with ducks of various types, and strutting geese. The first aviary contained two European eagle owls. Larger than their Indian cousins these majestic creatures observed us with interest. Again their piercing orange eyes were captivating. They suggested danger. I was asked if I was afraid of birds, of course not I replied. So in we went. John declined. He is not an animal man, and said later that I could have had my eyes pecked out. He's been reading too much Daphne Du Maurier!

These pair are tame and used to human contact. Robin stroked the breast of one so I followed. Gazing into those orange eyes close up was stunning, as was looking down at their massive sharp talons that surely could have lifted a large buck rabbit.

In the next aviary were a pair of what I recognised to be the owls that live in Lapland and Siberian Taiga, great greys. These were amazing creatures, and were again very tame. They are actually quite small birds, but with their deep feather covering, were only marginally smaller than the European eagle owls. I felt the air move as they flew close to my head, but I heard not a thing, as their feather design makes them silent, yet deadly predators. I had seen these owls on a TV documentary. It was a privilege to meet them in real life, albeit a long way from their natural habitat.

Back to the greenhouse I was handed a leather glove to don on my left hand. The first out was the Harris hawk, clearly a killer. He looked at me with his determined yet cruel eyes as if to say "I'm the boss". I knew he was. All my life I had wanted to hold a bird of prey. Today it happened. It was magical.

Next to hold was the American eagle. He did not seem to want to settle so I had only a short spell feeling close to him.

Here are the pictures:

Harris Hawk

Great Grey Owl

European Eagle Owl