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Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Scottish Highlands - Pt.2, 28th May, 2013

This post will be dedicated to just one day of our Scottish holiday, and even then it won't be the full day. The main reason being that not a single bird that features in this post is a wild one. The blog header is, for the same reason, only there for the duration of this post (so if you read this after this post has ceased to be current, you'll wonder what the heck I'm talking about!).

Tuesday 28th May

My wife had been wanting to visit Dunrobin Castle since we stopped outside it late one day last year. This day, therefore, was set aside for 'tourism' now that the Bank Holiday weekend was over.

We arrived at the castle, to be told that the falconry demonstration was starting in the gardens in five minutes time!  Well, perhaps this did help in my decision to concede to my wife's wish to visit here!

This falconry display has the reputation of being one of the finest in the country, and after seeing it I wouldn't argue, although I'm not really a connoisseur of such things.  The falconer here has an amazing rapport with his birds, and clearly loves them. He is also fascinating to listen to, and I was torn between listening, watching, and trying to take the photos!

The session started with him introducing a Harris Hawk - possibly the most common species in falconry, but none the less a magnificent bird. He seemed to control the bird just by using his eyes and a few words.

Harris Hawk - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
One of the things that set aside this display from other falconry displays was that, instead of exclusively using artificial stands for the birds to perch on, the display made full use of the surrounding trees and walls.

Harris Hawk - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
The next bird to appear was a magnificent Gyrfalcon, although it looked more like a Saker to my uneducated eye (thank you Doug for putting me straight!). This was in training, and he was constantly telling it that its approach was too high, although this did give me some flight photo opportunities! Trailing jesses have been 'removed surgically' from the next two images for aesthetic reasons!


Gyrfalcon - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
Whilst the Gyr was displaying, a Peregrine Falcon appeared (presumably as a result of some unseen signal), and put on its own display, swooping from walls to high up in the trees and to various other parts of the castle grounds. The flight was too fast and too low for me to get any good flight images, the one below being the best I could manage.




Peregrine Falcon (male) - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
The birds were, of course, rewarded by food for their performances. I'll spare you the gory images, but I was surprised to find that the Peregrine's reward was a rabbit that it tucked into with relish! I didn't see what sort of relish it was though! The feeding allowed some close-up images.

Gyrfalcon - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
Peregrine Falcon (male) - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
After the display, I went up to the area where some of the other birds that hadn't been involved in the morning display were on show. In talking to the falconer he informed me that he'd be flying owls in the afternoon. Sadly, I'd promised my wife that, after going round the castle, we'd go to the Falls of Shin, so had to pass on that experience! Here are some of the other birds on show. The first was described as a Bengal Eagle Owl. This is almost certainly what is usually named Rock Eagle Owl, or Indian Eagle Owl, with the Latin name of Bubo bengalensis.


Rock Eagle Owl - Dunrobin Castle falconry display

Golden Eagle - Dunrobin Castle falconry display

Goshawk - Dunrobin Castle falconry display

Eurasian Eagle Owl - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
I do believe that falconry displays have a useful place in today's society. They enable youngsters, and even adults, to relate to the fabulous world of birds of prey and are, therefore, likely to help the cause of protection of such creatures in the wild. From a bird watcher's point of view they enable close-up views of birds that would probably only ever otherwise be seen at great distance through a 'scope. From a photographer's point of view they provide fascinating subjects and an opportunity to practise a wide range of one's skills in a short period of time - I've never done so much quick twiddling of settings in an hour!!

On the downside is that these birds are, I believe, all bred from generations of 'domestic' stock which are traded around the world. There is always the possibility that some are hybrids. Indeed, the falconer told me that one of the birds I asked about was 50% Lanner, 25% Saker, and 25% Peregrine (or something similar - I didn't take a note). This last shot of a falconry bird, taken as we left the area, may be of the bird in question.

hybrid? - Dunrobin Castle falconry display
I then did my husbandly duty and accompanied my wife round the gardens and castle - I must admit that they were well worth the visit. Here's a photo, taken on my phone.

Dunrobin Castle - from the gardens
We'd also missed going to the Falls of Shin last year, and planned to do it in conjunction with a visit to Dunrobin. However, we were reminded by our friends that the visitor centre at the falls, including the branch of Harrods, had recently burned down. A phone call to the estate office resulted in a statement that the car park and centre were closed and they did not know whether the falls were accessible. We decided to risk it, and found that the car park WAS open, and that there were no problems accessing the falls. However, we didn't witness any Salmon leaping and the falls, although scenically very pleasant, were far from spectacular! Judge for yourself!

Falls of Shin
We had some amusement as we returned to our car from the falls. A typical extended Indian family were sat having a picnic at a couple of surviving picnic tables in the middle of the burned out ruins. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take a photo!

I started this post by saying not a single bird in the post would be a wild one. The day is not yet ended, but I must finish this post as the rest of the day does feature wild birds! The third and final instalment will come soon!

14 comments:

  1. Love every image,the Golden Eagle looks so majestic,love the Eagle Owl,your Goshawk looks ready to go.
    All in all a fantastic display,backed with superb photography.
    John.

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    1. Thank you for your continued encouragement, John.

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  2. What a brilliant day. It is great to be able to see these birds up close, but I always think they should be flying and living free. From Findlay

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Findlay. The arguments for and against falconry are many and complex. Certainly, there is no prospect of these particular birds being released into the wild - they'd just come back home again, as they have a pretty good life in their current circumstances! Occasionally you hear of people keeping birds of prey who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near these birds. I came across one outfit in Northumberland that specialised in rescuing birds from unsuitable owners. They had some horrific stories to tell! Ill-treated birds might want to escape into the wild, but they would probably have led such sheltered lives that they'd soon fall victim to a predator.

      A thought to leave you with. Every single animal on this planet has its roots in a 'wild animal' - even though, for some, it might have been many thousands of years ago. Some of these (domestic cats and dogs, for example) lead extremely comfortable and safe lives when compared to those of their ancestors.

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    2. Can I just hijack your blog for a moment, I used to work as a volunteer for such an organisation, who with the help of the RSPCA rescued ill treated birds from not only private collections but even small falconry centres and zoo's, we even had to photograph a consignment of illegally smuggled birds, that included 66(!!!) Harris Hawks,21 Brahimminy Kites (spelt wrong),6 Kookaburas and a variety of reptiles, most of the consigment was dead on arrival, some died during the recovery, in total 5 Harris hawks survived and 3 Kites and 3 Kook's not sure about the reptiles as they went elsewhere. We also worked very closely with the Hawk and Owl trust and Barn Owl trust doing a wide variety of tests for disease prevention and DNA testing and breed/release programme, it is the biggest DNA database in the world including samples of birds from around the world which is used for identifying wether birds have been stolen from the wild for domestic "keeping". We also treated injured raptors and released these birds back to their sites (bird id rings help with this) and were kept seperate from the "tame" birds. I learnt alot from this centre and even beacme a bird watcher as a result previous to that I had no real interest for wildlife and even done talks with these "tame" birds to people who wish to trap/poison/shoot them in a bid to show them what raptors are about etc, and if only one person changes their attitude towards raptors then it's (in my mind) a success, I agree Findlay these birds should be flying free and wild but not only is there people who wish to cull and wipe them off the face of the earth, but they also face danger from habitat loss and theft. after all what's the difference between a falconry centre/falconer and Slimbridge and the captive breeding programme of species such as Common Crane and Spoon Billed Sandpipers as one supermaket says "every little bit helps". Sorry Richard for hijacking the blog but wished to put across an important point as I often get from birders "how could you work for a place like that?"

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  3. Interesting post Richard, the Gyr Falcon is Gyr and not Saker, it does look "pale" but you can get pale morphs of Gyr's also hybrids as the falconer explained but I think the hybrid one was the last image.
    I did once volunteer at the Raptor Foundation in Camb's and one of the advantages (when done legally) about displays such as this is the trade is more "legal" we had a massive DNA database of domesticated raptors and wild raptors, this enabled identification of what people had in their collections and wether they originated from the wild (stolen etc) also you'd be surprised how many of our Goshawks are actually released/escapee's from private collections. Lovely healthy looking birds and great images

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    1. Thank you Doug for your kind comments and useful information. I'm now editing the post to reflect your identification of the Gyr.

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  4. Hi Richard, I have just enjoyed catching up with both of your holiday posts and what a fabulous holiday it was! Your photographs are superb as always. Magnificent creatures on this post although I do share young Findlay's thoughts but also take on board your and Douglas's comments. What a shame you missed the owl flying session but the castle looked well worth visiting and looks just like something out of a fairy tale ;-) What a lovely photo of it, don't think my phone could do that well! I remember a blogland friend who lives in Scotland visited the Falls of Shin last year and saw the Salmon leaping but I didn't realise Mohamed Al Fayed owned the centre or that there had been a fire there recently, amazing how much I learn from blogs :-)

    So many interesting things in your first holiday post. Wonderful to see the Osprey, I never have but was watching the live webcam of 'Lady' and her chick at Loch of the Lowes yesterday, really fascinating! If you haven't seen it a quick google will find it easily. Lovely photos too of the Dipper, another bird I don't see in my area. I do know the difference between Grey and Yellow Voggtails though ;-) As others singled out the beautiful photo of the Song Thrush I will mention the lovely one of the Linnet looking so pretty with the mauve foreground. I could mention everything but will spare you any more of my ramblings :-)

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    1. Thank you for your very kind comments, Jan. Always good to hear from you. When are we going to get a new post on your blog?

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  5. I am on the fence with this one, I can see both sides of the argument. I am not going to go in to it in further than that, nice post mate.

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    1. I suspect that most of us are on the fence, Paul! I know that I have mixed feelings, which is why I never look for this sort of event.

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  6. It depends. I have seen the marvellous bond between Falconer and 'companion'. As long as the bird gets enough exercise and is treated with love and respect, then I am tempted to say that it is a 'lovely' thing. It is all in the quality of care provided to the falcon/bird. Like you say, cats, dogs, etc. were once wild. Who is to day that a bird cannot enjoy the company of an owner in the same way?

    A gorgeous view of a lovely collection.

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    1. Thank you Christian. I think that you've summed it up very nicely!

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