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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Thank You, Melanie! - on 4th July, 2015

For my birthday, our wonderful daughter, Melanie, kindly bought me an hour's photographic session with a falconer, Simon Tebbutt. I have mixed feelings about falconry, as I prefer to see birds in the wild, and sometimes I get the impression that there is little love lost between falconer and his birds. However, they do serve a useful purpose in getting people closer to the birds so that they can appreciate these splendid creatures and, hopefully, gain greater respect for their wild counterparts.

For the wildlife photographer, there are other benefits. An orchestrated photo session allows one to play with camera settings to establish what is best for the combination of plumage and light. Even more useful is the opportunity to hone one's skills for flight shots, if the session includes flying, as this one did - overall, an extremely useful practice session

The session was booked to be between 14h00 and 15h00 and I was asked by the falconer to be there by 13h30. As it was to take place near Rutland Water, I used my usual owling route for most of the journey, having a picnic lunch en-route - but only spotting one owl on the outward. I arrived in good time, but my confidence was not boosted by, after 13h30, people asking if I was the falconer. In the event the falconer and his daughter arrived a little after 13h45.

We were walked down to an area of grass where falconry facilities were set up. I was the only person for the photography session, the rest of the group (approximately 12 persons) were there for a two-hour handling session. We were then given the necessary Health and Safety briefing.

I was then taken by the falconer's daughter to the area where the birds were being held. They'd brought five birds;- a Barn Owl, an Eagle Owl, a Goshawk, a Harris Hawk, and a Red-tailed Hawk. If you know me, you'll not be surprised that I opted for a session with the Barn Owl first. I'll also point out that the light kept changing from brilliant sunshine to heavy cloud, and back - not easy when your subject is primarily white!

Just a quick note. Contrary to my normal practice these days, I'll not be giving scentific names for the species as cross breeding is rife in the falconry industry. Furthermore, I did consider doing some removal of jesses, etc. in the post processing but decided against it as that would be falsifying the record.

Barn Owl (male)
Following this, I had a session with the Eagle Owl. Doug and Noushka, if you're reading this, have a look at those feet in the second image - my, that bird looks powerful!

Eagle Owl (male)
Having tried some shots of the Eagle Owl in a different location, I asked for another session with the Barnie at that location too, but it didn't work so well. 

Barn Owl (male)
I'd missed the flying session with the Goshawk whilst the above was taking place, but I was called over for the flying sesion with the Harris Hawk. I was told that, because this is not an everyday venue for these birds, the birds had to be tethered or there would be a risk of losing them. A very long cord was attached to the jesse of the bird, with the other end being held at the receiving end. The falconer's daughter (sorry, but I've forgotten your name) took the bird to the limit of the cord and, on indication from the falconer, released the bird which then flew to the baited glove. Here's a few of the Harris Hawk.

Harris Hawk (female)
Whilst the falconer was setting up for the Red-tailed Hawk, I had a static session with the Goshawk. I'd have loved to had a session with this one flying!

Goshawk (male)
The finale for my session was with the Red-tailed Hawk flying.

Red-tailed Hawk (female)
It had been a very interesting and exciting experience and, by the end of the hour, I'd fired off 772 frames!

Wanting to make a day of it, and not being expected back for tea until early evening, I headed off for the Egleton side of Rutland Water. My main objective was to find some dragonflies, but I wasn't over-successful.

By the small pond near the visitor centre, I photographed a couple of butterflies.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Egleton
Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata) (male) - Rutland Egleton
On the way to Redshank Hide, I stopped for a while to try and get some images of a male Banded Demoiselle. There's plenty of room for improvement in my efforts, but these are some of my better ones!

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Rutland Egleton
On the approach to Redshank hide there were a number of damselflies, including Common Emerald, which I tried to photograph and failed miserably. I did, however, manage some of Common Blue Damselfly and of Ruddy Darter.
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Egleton
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (female) - Rutland Egleton
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (immature male) - Rutland Egleton
From Redshank Hide there was little bird life showing. I did see Brown Hawker, and probable Common Darter dragonflies, and also this distant Four-spotted Chaser.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (female) - Rutland Egleton
It was now time for me to start setting of homewards. The day was truly completed by seeing Little Owls at four different sites on my way home, although none were photographically cooperative! I can't leave a post with Little Owl sightings without an image, so here's one from that day.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.46
I'd had another splendid day - thank you Melanie, and shot well over a thousand frames! Thank you, also, to Simon Tebbutt and particularly his daughter for looking after me so well.

Thank you for dropping by. Next time it'll be back to the natural world!


  1. Great job with the photographs, Richard. I am like you I have mixed feelings about falconers and without any equivocation I would prefer all birds to be left in the wild. Having said that there is no denying the role that falconers have played in the recovery effort for peregrines and their contribution has been significant. A pot luck supper is being held tomorrow night for all the volunteers at our recent peregrine watch, so I'll be chatting with a falconer then - and a fine and decent fellow he is too. See you next week!

    1. I'm afraid my comments re falconry probably sounded a bit more negative than they should have done - probably mainly through sentimentality, as I like to see birds in the wild, and seeing these birds fully tethered went against my natural insticts. I'm sure, however, that it was done as much for the birds welfare as it was done to protect the falconers livelihood.

      I'm not aware of falconers having any part in maintaining the peregrine population in UK, and am looking forward to discussing this subject with you when we meet up next week.

      I hope your supper event is all it deserves to be. A big thank you to the team from me - you dedication is exemplary.

      See you both very soon. Best wishes - - - - Richard

  2. As you know I used to work at a falconry/rescue centre as a volunteer when done properly there's a lot of love between animal and bird. It looks like you had a fantastic birthday treat and experience the Goshawk is stunning (they're all stunning) as is the Red Tailed, but guess what? Look at them feet on the Eagle Owl....phwoar lol

    1. I'd forgotten your past connection with falconry, Doug, and I'm sure your right about most falconers being passionate about their birds. However, I'm mindful of a chat I had with a BoP rescue centre in Northumberland where virtually all their birds had been rescued from neglectful owners.

      Yep, I'm in total awe over those feet. By God, they could do some damage! Not hard to see how one of our Ospreys is believed to have succumbed to an Eagle Owl in Morocco.

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  3. Hello Richard,
    Well it must have been a thrill to see up close these magnificent creatures!
    The portraits are fantastic. It is a great exercise to manage flight photos like this.
    Congratulations on your butterfly and Calopteryx pictures, the Banded demoiselle is so beautiful! It is one the 2 species with C. haemorrhoidalis we don't have here.
    I dearly hope the weather will soon clear up in England so the 4 of you can enjoy all your outings...
    I will be in thought with you, feeling very sorry not to be part of fun...
    Keep well and enjoy your day

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Noushka. I certainly had a most enjoyable day.

      I knew from your comment on someone else's blog that you didn't get C. splendens, but my field guide would suggest that you got C. haemorroidalis. Shows that you can't believe everything you read in books ;-}. C. exul looks to be the most likely absentee, but I guess you probably discounted that as not being a European species?

      I'm keeping my fingers, and everything else, crossed for good weather whilst David and Miriam are here, and hoping that we can all get together sometime - a topic to be discussed!.

      Best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  4. I too love going to falconry centres but have mixed feelings. The birds I have seen always seem well cared for but I do have doubts.
    Wonderful shots as always.

    1. As mentioned in my reply to Doug's comment, above, there are places that exist to rescue birds of prey, often from unfit owners - so there are neglected birds out there.

      Our weather seems to be picking up, Adrian - but for how long? I hope yours is too so that you can get on with your inspiring photography/

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. A once in a life time experience,what an amazing birthday gift,up close and personal.
    One of the best ways to appreciate the majestic beauty of these birds,which you've manage to capture in your photography.
    I think a professional photographer would be very pleased with these images.
    Have a nice day Richard.

    1. Thank you, John, for your very kind words. Have we got more to look forward to from Bulgaria?

      Enjoy the rest of your week - - - Richard

  6. Great images from your birthday DAY OUT. Barnie is superb, and as you say the feet on the Eagle Owl are on the large size, if they got hold of you ouch. Difficult to pick out a favourite, they are all good.


    1. It was a most enjoyable day, John, and it took a while to sort through all those images!

      See you tomorrow - weather forecast doesn't look too bad.

  7. Yes Richard.
    Theres more to come from Bulgaria.

  8. I have to agree with you I prefer to see the birds in the wild. I did though work for a Falconer when I was living in, what was then Rhodesia. He exercised the birds daily in the centre of the local race course and they seemed to enjoy it as much as he did. He went hunting with them at weekends and again there seemed to be amazing communication. When he was away I looked after the birds for him and I have to admit to enjoying working with them. He had mainly Goshawk, peregrine and lanners.

    You have taken some great photos here Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. That must have been an amazing experience to work with those birds.

      Have a great weekend - - - - Richard

  9. What a lovely birthday present, a great opportunity to get close to some beautiful birds. When I spent Christmas with mother in Sturminster Newton, we took my mother's dog for a walk across some fields, we saw a man walking through a field and with him was a Harris Hawk flying freely from tree to tree following him, the Harris Hawk is quite a handsome bird. Lovely set of images of your birds and also the dragonflies and damselflies.

    1. It was a really great present, Linda. Our daughter is always very thoughtful with her presents.

      It can be really fascinating to watch a 'working' hawk, can't it.

      Thank you for your kind words. Have a geat weekend - - - - Richard

  10. amazing and gorgeous series of photos
    summer at it's best and beautiful birds
    looks like a grand gift

    1. It certainly was a great day and a superb gift. Thank you for your kind comments.

      Best wishes - - - - - Richard

  11. What a fantastic present from your daughter Richard. The photos are stunning! Also the Dragonflies and Damselflies are juwels on itself. It must have been a memorable day for you.

    1. My daughter does give some wonderful thoughtful presents, Roos. It was an excellent day.

      Thank you for your kind words - - - - Richard


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