The Hawk Conservancy in Hampshire #GreatDaysOut
Yesterday we headed towards Andover, for a day at The Hawk Conservancy Trust. Oh, we had SUCH a great time! Despite living just under an hour away, we haven’t visited for a long time – 10 years, we think. And it was lovely to be back; I have no idea why we left it so long.
Make sure you pick up the brochure on your arrival – not only is it packed with useful and genuinely interesting info, but it also contains the totally essential Itinerary; to make the most of the park, you really do not want to miss any of the main features of the day.
We arrived pretty soon after opening, which gave us an hour for exploring before the first ‘event’.
You really don’t want to rush by the aviaries, there’s plenty of time to see them properly, so walk slowly, read the information boards and take a look at the residents.
11.00 was Heron & Kite feeding in the Wildflower Meadow, watched from the hides. The children were invited to ring the bell and call the birds in, which they loved – but which the birds totally ignored, the only brunch guests were the two resident herons.
Then we headed over to the Vulture enclosure for the Vulture Restaurant. We all loved this – and it totally opened the children’s eyes to the gorgeous personality-filled Vultures. The talk was perfectly pitched too – really informative, but entertaining enough to keep us all hooked.
From there we wandered across to the Lower Flying Grounds to watch the first of the flying demonstrations, the ‘World of Birds of Prey’. Naturally I was too busy ooh-ing to take notes, but suffice to say we loved it, and the owl (who swooped so low over our heads everyone had to duck) was stunning.
Afterwards the children all got to hold Troy, the tawny owl, which even if it’s for just one minute is a special thing for them, and they were unanimously silent, beaming and proud as they stood importantly with an owl on their fist.
A quick break for some lunch (we had packed our own and went back to the car to eat, but the Feathers Restaurant looked really nice, and we plan to make use of it next time), and then we were back in the park ready for the Valley of the Eagles display.
This was probably my favourite demonstration of the day; having the vultures flying back and forth in a bedlam of wings right over our heads was something that had to be seen to be believed, and the sky-feeding of the Black Kites was brilliant to watch.
Finally, the children’s favourite bird of the day topped the show off. Flying from the other side of the valley, 1 1/2 miles away, came the American Bald Eagles. Cheyenne, the old pro, made it across in a speedy and efficient manner. But the children preferred Apollo, the new recruit – who took ages to arrive, then dropped at the far edge of the meadow and WALKED back to the handler he was so knackered!
There was a chance for the adults to ‘fly’ a Harris Hawk in the afternoon,
and once we had found all the stamps for the children’s trail passport we were ready for the last demo of the day, the Woodland Owls & Hawks.
It was brilliant to see the owls flying in their natural woodland setting, and the 6yr old was top-filled with joy and pride when Troy the Tawny Owl perched on the bench right next to her, settling literally inches from her shoulder.
Finally, the cold got to us, and we missed the ferret racing to get back to the warmth of the car and head home – we’d done so much and were all genuinely worn out. But what a simply brilliant day we’d had – and not just because of the stunning array of birds we’d been introduced to.
The park is small enough to have a friendly and personal atmosphere. Throughout our visit the staff really made the experience for us – they clearly have a passion for what they do, and showed endless patience with people watching their every move when they are around the birds. Cameras are welcomed and waited and posed for, children are chatted to and encouraged to be interested and involved.
We learned loads about all sorts of birds – and all of us came away really keen to know more. The 14yr old is now seriously considering a career as a falconer; the team just made him want to be a part of what they were doing.
And on top of all that, even I, the hobby bobby photographer, got some shots I’m really proud of!
Thank you Hawk Conservancy for a brilliant day out – we hope it’s not long before we’re back again.
A standard family ticket to the Hawk Conservancy costs £46.25 (2 adults, 2 children) currently – totally top value for a brilliant day out for you all. And under-4’s are free.