Chepstow

Birds of Prey Centre

Away Days visit to the International Centre of Birds of Prey, September 13th, 2018

Alistair's photos:

Our exclusive tour White-tailed Sea Eagle Juvenile Condor Barn Owl in flight

Alan Bradshaw's photos:

----- Juvenile Condor Kestrel
Grey buzzard eagle Black-shouldered kite Barn Owl

The ICPB - the International Centre for Birds of Prey - near Newent in the Forest of Dean, is a charity founded in 1967 and has been conserving and studying birds or prey and welcoming visitors ever since.

About 20 of us set out by coach on 13th September under glorious blue skies. It was one of those autumn days when you almost forget that summer is over until the occasional cloud blocks the sun and a sudden chill reminds you. We arrived just in time to head over to the flying area for the first demonstration at 11.30. First up was a kestrel, which spent some time at the top of a neighbouring tree, apparently unwilling to play its part in the demo in return for a bit of raw meat. The demonstrator explained that birds of prey in the wild spend very little time flying, and only take to the air when they need to eat. So they need to be carefully trained to fly to order, even when their keeper always rewards with meat. Sometimes (like all of us) they get into a "don't want to" mood and we have to be patient. It didn't sulk too long however (perhaps as a result of the demonstrator threatening the "taxidermy conversation"), and soon the demonstrator moved on to a Barn Own, which also spent a little time inside a nearby tree to hide from a wild Buzzard circling high above us, then we were shown a Buzzard which belongs to the centre, and finally a very impressive Grey Buzzard Eagle.

After that our group was given our own exclusive tour, which included a closer look at some of the hawks, an Osprey, and a White Tailed Sea Eagle. The high point for most of us was a juvenile Condor, already rather larger than a turkey, being cuddled by one of the staff seated up against railing. The condor, like all youngsters, was keen to subject everything in sight to the taste-test, including the ornamental shrub just behind the railings, and whatever it decided must be hidden deep in the sleeve of the keeper's fleece.

Lunch was in the centre's cafe, which is small but very good, with everything you might want for lunch, including excellent cakes.

The second demonstration, at 2pm, started with a group of four African Yellow-billed Kites, all whirling around together while the keepers threw snacks for them to catch on the wing. It continued with some vultures, and then a falcon attacking a crow! Don't worry - it was all planned and not as gruesome as it sounds. The crow was of an unusual species called a ro-crow, and was constructed of fibreglass, powered by a propeller, and controlled remotely by one of the staff. Unfortunately on this occasion technology proved even less well-behaved than some of the birds, and on its first flight the ro-crow promptly shot over the top of a distance oak tree and crashed into the neighbouring farm field. While the controller retrieved it and took it off for a ten-minute repair job, the demonstrator filled in with more information about falcons and eventually arranged an extra demonstration of some owls. Finally after mechanical repairs, we got to watch the ro-crow brought down by the falcon, which then enjoyed the reward of the raw meat attached to the robot’s back.

After the second demo we had about an hour before our 4pm return to explore the centre further. There must be almost a hundred birds kept in timber barns designed to protect them and let us see them through a fine mesh front wall. They are distributed among a pleasant garden which included some beautiful acers just starting to get their autumn colour. One of the most popular birds was the Great Grey Owl.

ICPB creates a wonderful impression, not only because of the fascinating and impressive birds, and because of the important conservation work they do, but also because of the enthusiastic young staff, who are not only totally professional at looking after both the birds and the visitors but also clearly love their jobs. It made for a very entertaining, instructive, and inspiring day out.

Alistair Wylie

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