Recently, I celebrated my birthday, and with the day itself falling on a weekend, this provided the ideal opportunity to enjoy a nice day out. This year, I decided I wanted to do something different from the theme park trips I’ve done in years past. So, after a bit of deliberation, I finally settled on a visit to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover.
The Hawk Conservancy Trust is set within 22 acres of grounds, including woodland and a beautiful wildflower meadow, located four miles west of Andover. Their mission is the conservation of all species of birds of prey, from magnificent eagles, and beautiful owls, to amazing vultures. Right from the moment you set foot inside the grounds, the passion the team have for their mission and the birds in their care is clear.
Due to Covid-19, the Trust has had to make modifications to their usual offering, however this does not mean it is any less of an enjoyable day out. Throughout the day there were three spectacular flying displays to enjoy, and for me, these were easily the highlights of the day.
The first, Wings of Africa, introduced a wide variety of birds that would usually be found across the African continent. On the day I visited, the display opened with Othello, the fish eagle, and was then followed by one of my favourite birds of prey – a milky eagle owl who flew backwards and forwards across the arena, swooping over the heads of the audience. Also featured is a bird not many will recognise as a bird of prey, the secretary bird. Angola the secretary bird fascinated me, in particular its unique way of dealing with snakes was intriguing to see. No display of African birds would be complete without vultures, and the Trust’s team of white backed vultures were amazing to behold.
Valley of the Eagles was the second display of the day, and took place in Reg’s Wildflower Meadow, a beautiful open meadow named in memory of the trust’s founder, and with views across the valley beyond. This display provided the perfect opportunity for many of the birds featured to really show off their flying skills. Boe, the Egyptian vulture was the first to be flown, using the thermals to soar high into the sky and was even joined by one of the local, wild birds of prey. Showing off its superb speed and agility, the peregrine falcon provided an impressive demonstration with it flying high up into the sky, before stooping and diving toward the lure presented by its falconer. A team of hooded vultures swooped low over the meadow, then got up close and personal with the audience by flying directly overhead allowing an up-close view (sometimes so close that you need to duck), something you don’t get to see very often, but very much makes you appreciate these magnificent birds. Closing the display was a group of black kites, who showed off their skills at catching food effortlessly in mid-air and provided the perfect finale to an amazing display.
As the third, and final display of the day, Woodland Owls provided a much calmer demonstration, set within the cool, shaded woodland area of the grounds. As its name suggests, the demonstration highlighted a number of beautiful owls, including a tawny owl, a pair of stunning great grey owls, and barn owls. As in the previous displays, the birds flew and swooped over the audiences’ heads, not only giving the perfect up close view of the birds in flight, but also allowing us to marvel at how the owls can fly in absolute silence. It was the perfect display to end the day.
Across all three displays, the Hawk Conservancy Trust Team not only demonstrated an incredible knowledge and passion about all of the birds, but also highlighted the range of initiatives and conservation programmes the trust is involved with – from raptor nest box projects here in the UK, to several projects overseas aimed at helping protect a wide range of vulture species from the variety of threats they face. More information on the exceptional work carried out by the Trust can be found on their website.
Outside of the flying demonstrations, we were able to enjoy wandering around the grounds at a leisurely pace and spend time looking at the many species of birds that call the trust home. All the enclosures have been carefully created to ensure each bird has the ideal environment, and that visitors can view the birds without causing them any stress. For lunch, a good selection of food was available in Feather’s Restaurant and was very reasonably priced.
Perhaps one of the most impressive things is the steps taken to make the site Covid secure. The Hawk Conservancy Trust is easily the safest I’ve felt of anywhere I’ve visited both this year and last. Mask wearing and social distancing is enforced in the appropriate places, any surface that could have been touched is regularly wiped down and disinfected, and staff keep a close eye on numbers entering all inside spaces, including the toilets and the gift shop. Most importantly, capacity is carefully monitored and limited, with all tickets having to be pre-booked, to allow for plenty of space both when exploring the grounds, and when seated during demonstrations with staff carefully allocating seating to ensure there is always two metres between groups.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Hawk Conservancy Trust and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone. It is a highly enjoyable day out, made even better during my trip by some glorious weather which just happened to be almost perfect for the birds to fly.