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Monday, 31 March 2008

Flying Goldies

" Chris, how do you fancy going to see Goldie's flown at Blue Hare in Scotland?"

That was music to my friends ears. Chris is actually my Tae Kwon-Do instructor. I had been training with the club for about a year without either of us knowing the other was a falconer!
Chris has only been in the game a few years, ( a yellow belt at Falconry he calls himself) anyhow Chris is a big Eagle fan.I had arranged with Neil Hunter a falconer and major collector of mine to go up and see his Eagles hunt. It had only taken us three years to get it arranged ! I was always busy so at the beginning of march started the final arrangements for a two day trip. I thought Chris would love this so on the 18th of March we were heading north on an easy jet flight to Edinburgh.we had arranged with Neil to pretty much head straight out . so on arrival as we cleared the doors of the airport there was Neil waiting or should I say driving by in his truck. We quickly bundled the bags in the back of the truck and got in.There hanging from the rear view mirror were three huge Golden Eagle Hoods! Better than any fluffy dice I thought, Neils smiling face said it all .He's one of those guy's that what ever he does he gives it 110 % enthusiasm and commitment.You cannot but be affected by this when your around him. Introductions made and we were off. A quick stop at Dobbie's a cafe where we met up with John Neil's brother and fellow eagle flyer all the time talking eagles and Chris sucking it all up like a sponge. After a breakfast of champions we bundled into the trucks and headed for the hill via a quick stop to at Johns to get our gear on and to load Johns eagle into Neils Truck.Neil is in a very fortunate position to have access at certain times of the year to nearly 30,000 acres of prime grouse moor . Now he admits that if he were flying falcons he wouldn't get a sniff of the place ,Its because uniquely he offers a good service to the resident keepers that he gets to fly there. By flying his golden eagles he is helping to reduce the number of blue hares on the moor.The keepers actively control their numbers because of the dreaded ticks that pass on disease and are also capable of killing grouse chicks. The reality is that actually Neil in a perverse kind of way is helping the hares . If he were not taking them with his eagles the keepers hold shoots to cull them and actually end up taking bags far higher than Neil and his eagles ever would. The moor we were on was beautiful and whats more pleasing is the weather was on our side! clear blue skies and a nice breeze. We pulled up and unloaded and Neil and John readied the eagles .John was flying Floyd his male and Neil flying two males , Taggart and Talon who was on loan from Jeff Mc knight.
Now when Neil said there would be alot of hares this did'nt prepare me for the amount that we actually saw. We lined out and started walking, we had'nt gone 70 yrds and an eagle was slipped at one. John took the first slip and his eagle was off the fist in the blink of an eye . Many of us think of eagles as great big lumbering giants of the bird of prey world, but this certainly isnt the case when being flown by experienced eagle men like Neil and John. A Goldies speed is very deseptive and Floyd caught up to his hare in no time. The hare put on the breaks, turning sharply to the right and shot away as the eagle threw up into the air , flipping over and swinging back down and intersepted the hare another ten yrds on . There was very little strugglefrom the hare once in those huge yellow feet . In fact Neil said its usually all over for the hare very quickly because of the massive power of the eagles grip. This basicly was the pattern for the day and we witnessed many great twisting and turning flight some of which went on for 3-400 yrds or more. Some ended with the eagles climbing up then throwing themselves into crashing dives ,smashing into the heather after the ever jinking and swerving hares. The eagles by no mean had it all there own way !many of the hares showed what amazing athletes they are . A hares main defence after running like the wind is to stop and wait for the eagle to commit to an attack . As the eagle streaks in the hare jinks or leaps out of the attackers path , sometimes literally over the eagle a few feet in the air. They also use the terrain . Eagles are disadvantaged going up hill once they have lost their initial speed. The hare again waits until the eagle comes in then sidesteps the eagle and then shoots up hill as fast as it can putting great distance between itself and the eagle .
Obviously though the eagles learn quickly too! and were successful six times in all. Things didn't always go well for Neil and John and a few times after an eagle was beat it would take off after another hare it had spotted and have to be recovered at some distance. I have huge respect for these guy's ,their physical strength and endurance would test the fittest and strongest of men . It helps with flying Golden eagles if your a big person . The eagles way 8-14lb depending on the sex. Its not lightly that Neil say's the ideal is a small male ! Once you are carrying a few hares caught and the Eagle the walk back to the car can be punishing . The distance you cover too whilst flying these mighty creatures is very deceptive .Before you know it you've covered 7-8 miles in no time over the sometimes knee high heather . Plus if your vertically challenged like me you have to lift your legs that much higher to clear it each and every step,and I think of myself as quite fit. But all in all you forget about burning muscles when your in the company of these magnificent predators and their natural quarry. The moor is a special place at this time of year .With Neils hunting coming to an end , the Grouse are displaying, the males with their "Go- back, Go-back,Go-back" calls reverberating around the hills .Skylarks singing in flight above . Between lunch we drove to a new place and I was rewarded with good views of the grouse courting on the tracks . There were Curlew and Golden Plover on the moor and the keepers were out burning heather strips . This was the first time I had seen this activity , you could see other burns going on miles away on other distant hills . It was a magical day and we came off the hill,( after lots more photo's of grouse !!!something the guy's ribbed me for "stop , stop there's another grouse " ) tired but rewarded with an experience many people will never see and I think they are the poorer for it.

left ,Grouse display flight, right Blue hare keeping a low profile,below Neil and Chris relax in the heather while John retreives his eagle

Chris was blown away and more determined than ever to fly an eagle . They certainly aren't for everyone and should only be, I think be flown by an experienced few with the land and quarry fitting for such a predator . Neil most definitely has that ,but he works hard to maintain it . Unfortunately our second day the weather turned against us . However not to be daunted we arranged to visit one of the countries most experienced eagle breeders ,Andrew Knowles Brown. Andrew made us very welcome and showed us some of his eagles at this very sensitive time of year , which we were very grateful for . Some of his eagles were on eggs but he allowed us to see inside some of the breeding barns. On behalf of myself and Chris I would like to thank Neil,John and their families for their warm hospitality, and also to Andrew . I think Chris will be back definitely and so to will I!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Tiercel Attack Fri 14th Mar 08

Female Peregrine in the oak tree's above the quarry face.

tiercel on the wing (Above) The mist covered wooded slopes of the gorge (below)

On Friday I picked up Joe from school, I had taken the majority of the day off anyway . Walking back Joe asked if we could go and see the peregrines at plym-bridge. We usually take a trip or three! every year to see how they are getting on and its a really easy place to watch them from. A few years ago now, the pair that were resident were poisoned. So the National trust who own the land provided a watch point, surveillance camera's were put in and linked to a web site .This has been well publicised since and every year a host of volunteers watch the site and talk to the public about the peregrines. The weather wasn't great most of the day but seemed to have lifted and we still had a few hours of light on our side. With this unexpected request my pace quickened and Joe was home, changed,gear was packed, food supplied and we were off. I am loving this interest Joe has at the moment in everything Birds! and Drawing, I am just waiting for the bubble to pop. For now though it is great to see his enthusiasm for it all. I probably went a little overboard on the equipment side of things . Two camera's, two scopes, sketchpads, pencils , tripod and ergo rest for the other scope. oh and my bino's. I probably looked like a Marine with a huge back pack dragging his son on a yomp! Joe had his little ruck sack of food supplies so I didn't burden him with any extra. Don't know what time we got to the viewing platform but the national trust guy was leaving and there was only one other person there watching the quarry. One lady on the way up informed us that the tiercel was in the valley one side and the female on the quarry face. We soon had scopes out and bino's scanning the face of the cliff for her. I was too slow with the camera when the tiercel passed low over us and headed into the quarry and settled onto one of the many oaks that grow around the edges of the quarry. I did get some shots eventually of the female using my digiscoping set up but its real fiddly and I don't practice enough with it. The distance from the viaduct to the face is considerable too so results will never be great, but enough for me. The biggest problem was light, it was damp misty and cloudy but we were here now and I made the best of a bad situation. My main concern was keeping Joe interested by making sure the scope was trained on the falcons at various times. The tiercel disappeared for a time and I never saw him slip away and we had a long wait being frustrated by the multitude of wood pigeons that look remarkably like a tiercel when they come whizzing in to roost amongst the trees in the gorge. To Joe's credit he saw the little chap return and we watched him swing back up into the quarry but empty handed food wise. He then left the face again flying towards and above us I again didn't have the camera ready in time and as he passed above us heading down river he flipped over and went into a pumping stoop straight at us!! My first thought was he was pissed at our presence but soon realized his intent when he shot passed us within feet . I could have reached out and touched him. He hurtled on down into the gorge below aiming for the river below, as I started to lose sight of him against the mist covered river below he shot out of the gloom upwards and started to climb passing us on our left. I then heard the agitated chattering of ducks below from where he pulled out of his stoop. He must have clocked them flying upstream and used the viaduct and his height as a blind to launch an attack from. It was a fantastic experience to have him shoot past pumping his wings all the way down his stoop only closing up occasionally into the classic teardrop. whoow that was class!!! I said to Joe , in typical fashion Joe just said yeah pretty cool . I think he was impressed really as he said can we come tomorrow dad?My sketches from memory of the experience , The images will be etched forever in my memory too such experiences are what life should be about.

A photo below by Dave Scott which shows our location on the viaduct this photo was taken in the Autumn. I have added diagrams to show trajectory of the tiercel in relation to our position. I managed to get a couple of shots of the tiercel as he came in one last time to the rock face but with the light deteriorating fast and Joe starting to get cold I decided we should move off home. The only one of us to get some drawing done in the field was Joe, while I fiddled around trying to get the other scope set up with the digital camera he sat there quietly sketching peregrines! I wondered to myself who was the real artist here? ! Joe looked cold so I took off my hoody and made him put it on, it absolutely drowned him and he looked like a jouwa one of those little creature that collect scrap on the star wars movies! But he never moaned so he must of been cold. He bombarded me with questions all the way back to the truck so he must have been ok. The next day I like to think I have redeemed my lack of field work by drawing what I saw from memory . Such a close encounter can burn onto your memory permanently!I think we might be back here real soon. Joe's drawings below some of which were done on location.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Leaving comments and voting in the poll

As you can see we've got the poll up and running on the right-hand side of the page. Great to see votes coming in already. If you haven't voted yet, please do. We'll be putting one of these images into print in time for the falconry fair in May, and your opinons are really important in helping us to decide which one to go for. Just scroll down the images on the right , pick your favourite and click on it in the poll at the top.

Also a quick note about leaving comments. Several people have contacted me saying they are having problems leaving a comment. If you'd like to leave a message click on the word comment under a post NOT THE ENVELOPE SYMBOL. This will open a new window where you can type your comment. You then need to type in the letters as shown (make sure you copy them exactly using lower case or capitals as appropriate)- this makes sure you are a human being rather than a machine sending us spam. Then sign in with your google account/ or click annonymous etc, and when you have finished don't forget to click publish. Your comment will then be sent to us to approve it before we publish it on the site. ( just a safety measure against spam etc and people trying to spread viruses)
Hope that makes sense, and doesn't sound too complicated. Once you click on the word comments it's pretty self explanatory. Hope to hear from you soon.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

My Sketches from Bowling green marsh, Topsham

Thought I had better put my sketches on from Sunday at Bowling green marsh.
The Pintails were off at a real distance from the hide but using the scope
I managed some half decent sketches. The Teal were allot closer hence more co-operative.
I hope you enjoy both mine and especially Joe's drawings.
I love his Egret , Its just perect.

Demolition and Drawing

Had a great weekend ,although very tiring ! Saturday was spent demolishing a fire place with dad . It was good getting stuck in and covered in dust and soot and there's
something so satisfying about demolition!Dad was feeling his age a bit though after we'd finished and he wasn't the only one.Muscles were aching I never knew I had.

Sunday was a day of much slower pace.... thank god. Although with two kids the day's of leisurely lie' ins are long gone! The kids were in as usual at 7.00 ish just to
remind us of the life long commitment we have made to being parents. To entertain and generally cater to their every whim and want. Its funny how our copiously sized bed shrinks unbelievably upon their arrival in the morning. You then find yourself teetering on the edge of the bed with a postage stamp sized space to get sort of comfortable in. Anyway the battle never lasts too long and you find yourself being evicted to go and prepare breakfast. My wife will obviously correct me that its usually her that does that bit!
Well the forecast according to dad was for bad weather so we were scratching our heads as to what to do with the little darlings. However on inspection it did look to be quite bright.After some failed suggestions we hit on an idea favorable to Joe ( our main critic ) of going up to the RSPB reserve at Topsham , Called Bowling Green Marsh. Of Course this went down better with me than with Donna but the decision was made and Joe was excited about doing some sketches of his own and taking photo's of the waders and ducks. I would also get the chance to do some sketching too!
Donna prepared us a superb picnic and we set off as ever a little later than planned.We devoured our picnic in the car park at Topsham with such usual family incidents as Joe knocking my hand making me spill hot coffee in my lap!! A well to do lady and gent parked too close to our car , as the lady tried to exit the car she knocked the front of our car with her door!.... , did'nt even notice us inside and proceeded to walk off without a care !!!
So in revenge when Maisie inevitably needed an emergency wee. I aimed her at the offending peoples vehicle.
We then took the twelve minute walk to the marsh and public hide. Walking along the road we stopped to watch some Widgeon grazing the edge of the marsh and for joe to take some photo's with my camera. Its funny watching him trying to hold this large SLR with attached 100-400 lens but amazingly he still manages to get some decent shots, and even funnier watching his three year old sister insist that she must have a go, which she does... with more mixed results!!
Once in the Hide we settle down to our sketching and watching.Joe has his little book, Maisie has her's and I have mine. I set up the scope for them to look at the gathered birds. There were
Teal , Widgeon , Shoveler's Shelduck and my favorite's some Pintail's. Not many wader's though.
but I think we misjudged the tide! although there were a few Blacktailed Godwits there.Also swans, Egrets, Greylag goose,moorhen ,coots, mallards, Dab chick and lots of smaller birds too. Goldfinches ,Wagtails etc. Donna kept maisie occupied looking at the pictures on the wall and
the ever so friendly cat that seemed to hang out there. But all too soon we had to quit because Maisie's attention had wained too much. Joe did some great drawings bless him and I even managed to get some done myself!
We walked back to the car and drove round to the Quay side where we sat and had another
coffee , watched the wader's feeding out on the exposed mud of the river. The kids sat quietly
drawing in their books( Amazing!!) and Donna also did a sketch to use in her textile work.
What a creative family eh!
I slipped out onto the beach by us to take snaps of passing Godwits then we drove home.
Later at home we printed of some of joe's photo's and ones I took and stuck them into
his book . This got me thinking of my very early efforts and I think I'll put some on here
soon to show.
All in all a productive fairly relaxed weekend for the Ellis family

Monday, 3 March 2008

Here's some of the sketches for the eagle piece.
The stooping eagle I may put in another painting
as it did'nt lend itself to the format
of the first painting.

Thought I'd put these shots of the Bonelli's Eagle painting as the other one did'nt really do it justice . My own fault for not colour managing it before sticking it on here.

Oh and also there's a detail of the two birds.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Leaving comments

I realised yesterday, that I'd put the wrong settings on here for readers to leave comments, so sorry if you've tried to leave a message for me. I've sorted it out now, so please leave any feedback and comments, it would be good to hear from you.
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