Located in beautiful Teesdale in County Durham, with easy access from the A66, Northside Falconry aims to provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Having flown and bred birds of prey since his teens, owner David and his partner Tori offer a relaxed introduction to the art of falconry assisted by their team of Harris Hawks, Goshawks, and Ozzy the Eagle Owl. For those wishing to experience a higher level of falconry, they also specialise in Hunting Days flying over some of the best hunting land in the North East. Homepage
Where to start????
Firstly let me apologise for my “blogging drought”. I can safely say I have never been so busy in my life.
To give you a brief overview, in the last year David and I married, I had two major operations, bred nine puppies, bought a young horse, trained six birds of prey, moved house, re-located a business and built a falconry centre, all whilst running a thriving falconry business and keeping the falconry team fit and flying. Phew!
So which bits to bore you all with?
The business has been going from strength to strength with more work coming in each year. However, I am always conscious of the need to try and keep my original goals in mind – to have a fit, healthy and happy team of birds and to ensure that I don’t sell myself out just to make money, there are plenty of times you could make a quick bit of money but it can often be detrimental to the birds health and wellbeing. I witnessed a prime example recently on a prime time television show with a Bengal eagle owl, clearly very distressed by being in a television studio, but the bird’s falconer was oblivious to the bird’s distress and carried on regardless.
With this in mind, we recently had to move house and business and suddenly found ourselves with the opportunity to locate to the fabulous Walworth Castle just outside Darlington. We were given this fantastic opportunity by the castle’s owners and meant starting from scratch on a stunning green field site within the castle grounds. The whole process was quite nerve-wracking if I do say so, with me preparing all the plans and liaising with Planners and English heritage to ensure we maintained a standard throughout the build in keeping with the castle’s Grade 1 listing. After a nail-biting wait we were granted planning permission in May this year and work started in earnest. We now have all the birds housed in purpose built free loft pens and aviaries on site and a fabulous venue to increase our business platform.
Our vision was to create a professional falconry centre, open to the public from March till October, and for our current private bookings year round. We both had a clear idea of what was important to us and what was needed to run the business successfully. Most importantly, we wanted the birds to be happy and for that to be portrayed to our guests. It’s safe to say that of the private guests we have had since we moved, all have been nothing other than impressed. The birds settled within days and were all preening and immediately relaxed. Alfie my little male Kestrel thinks he is in seventh heaven with his own personal sand bath and an idyllic look-out spot to shout as loud as he can at any passing birds of prey.
I am often asked if our birds deter native birds of prey from the area but in fact it is quite the opposite. Within days of moving the birds to the castle we had seen a Merlin, three kestrels, about 15 Buzzards, half the counties sparrow hawks and a female red kite so it’s safe to say they are not deterred by any of my motley crew! It is not just the local BOP’s we are attracting, I also seem to have attracted some rather unwanted attention from a resident wood pigeon who seems to think the birds baths on the weathering lawn are there for him as a personal bathing area, he seems somewhat blasé to the fact that there is a real live falcon tied to the block adjacent to the bath and, much to the amazement of the falcon, he helps himself to a bath and a nice cool, fresh drink! This was all quite amusing until he upped his bathing area to incorporate Big Red’s bath and was nearly pigeon pie within seconds of dipping his beak.
All the birds have been flying well over summer, my two young falcons have moulted out nicely and are now ready to come back into work ready for next seasons shows, the older ones are slowly being put down to moult to allow them some hard earned rest over the winter and the increased diet needed to grow a fantastic set of new feathers. I am looking forward to starting a few of the owls again, namely Chirpy and Spike who were put down to moult a few months ago and I have missed Chirpy every day since, flying Ozzy daily just reminds me just how fabulous Chirpy really is, Ozzy is for want of a better, somewhat more professional word an old sod! I do love him but most days I can be heard chuntering some very different affections in his direction as he insists on making everything a chore.
On a slightly sadder note I am afraid to be the bearer of bad news, a week before our relocation to Walworth we lost Millie to a heart attack, those of you that follow our progress will remember Millie as the little Barn owl that came to us a few years ago. On arrival we discovered she had an impacted preen gland (doesn’t make for a very healthy bird) and despite all our efforts, she was always off colour. She was truly a stunning little bird and has been a huge loss to us all. I felt it only fitting to bring her with us to Walworth and we had a small ceremony for her and buried her under the barn owl aviary. Sadly and doing what I do, you are always going to be more exposed to loss purely because of the quantity of birds being kept, but it never gets any easier to bear, they become a huge part of my life and I think it is often overlooked that without them we would have no business.
The next six months will no doubt be a blur with preparations in place to open the falconry centre to the public on the 29th March 2014 and in the meantime continue with our winter full of hunting days, school visits and our private falconry experiences.
On that note I shall leave you and, as always, promise to keep you updated as often as I can.
Nice piece in today’s Sunday sun
Podge trying to disguise herself as a Christmas decoration!
The great British monsoon!
Well what a summer it’s been!
I am sure you can all imagine how hard it is to run a falconry business on the top of the Pennines when the slightest breeze elsewhere means we are battling with gale force winds, add to that the wettest summer for a long time and it’s been quite the interesting year.
The hardest thing has been trying to get young birds into a routine, training a young bird from start to finish normally only takes a month or two but this year has seen that stretch to months, the start of summer saw Alfie Bow our young Common Kestrel start his training, I wanted to achieve three things with him, firstly training him to fly to the glove so that he could do falconry days and be a fab little bird to fly to our smaller, younger visitors. Secondly train him to fly to the swung lure, so I could use him in displays at shows and fairs over summer and thirdly to have him hover on command, a perfect opportunity for photographers on our photography days to capture a kestrel in its most natural hunting style. Training him has been an absolute joy and I am pleased to say he has taken to all three styles with ease.
The second bird I started this year was Spike, an Absyynian Owl who came to us from Wales and has been the most awkward little mischief I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Having never trained an Absynian before I was unsure as to the ideal flying weight for her (the weight to which the bird is interested in being around me and also willing to fly for a reward) so I started her off at a fairly high weight and soon realised that she was only willing to fly very short distances once! She is now flying at 1ib 4oz and is the fastest little thing barring the falcons that I fly!
We have also introduced two new Falcons to the display team, first is Pigeon (those of you who know the team, he is Oscars brother) a Lanner x Peregrine Falcon, bred By a good friend of ours who always produces fantastic young birds. We then bought a Gyr x Saker Falcon called Ronnie who is taking some time to get going due to inconsistencies in the weather, we have just started to do passes with him having spent weeks long luring him (two of us at opposite ends of the field flying him backwards and forwards to improve his fitness). He will be ready for next year to join the display team.
Those of you who follow us on Facebook and twitter will be aware that we had an awful end to last hunting season with Big Red my Female Harris Hawk breaking her wing, thanks to some perseverance from our vets and lots of TLC we managed to splint the wing against lots of people’s advice and low and behold she was back to form, three weeks after we took the splint off she dropped all of her primary feathers in both wings, something that rarely ever happens in birds of prey, they normally moult in sequence dropping a feather in each wing and replacing them before they drop the next, this was a huge blow for us after getting our hopes up that she would soon be back in work. This bird is one of the best Harris Hawks I have had the pleasure of hunting and the thought of not being able to fly her was devastating to say the least, I consulted the vets and after much deliberation we decided to feed her the best quality food possible and see what happened with time, for weeks later all the feathers started to show ( don’t tell David but I cried like a girl) I let her feathers all come down and was terrified the first time I flew her, she was obviously very weak in her wing and so I took it very easy with gentle flights, trying to build her strength, she has spent the latter part of summer building fitness and started the season like nothing had ever happened. The first rabbit she took was the best moment of my life, the work, sweat and tears that had gone into getting her back to work were worth every minute to have my ally back!
Apart from doing shows and displays all summer I haven’t had chance to do much else, the start of the hunting season has started nicely I have given Ozzy, Millie, Oscar, Meg, Connie and Frankie some time off after having worked hard doing displays all summer and will now just concentrate on keeping the young display birds going and focus on the hunting days with Big Red and Molly.
Tilly our German Wirehaired Pointer has just had her first litter of pups, nine in total, I stayed up like a true mum all night while she whelped only to listen to David snoring away merrily upstairs! So I certainly have plenty to keep me busy at the moment.
This season will be an odd one with only my Labrador Taid to work, Todd is now eleven and we have decided to retire him gracefully and Tilly will be out of action until all the pups have been homed, I have decided to keep a lovely bitch back for myself, with Todd being the father we thought it would be nice to keep one on.
Well that’s enough from me, thank you for reading and I shall endeavour to update you with any news soon.
Podge our new Northern White Faced Owl
Its been a manic start to the year for us here at Northside Falconry, the end of the Hunting season finished spectacularly with Davids Goshawk Sally managing to pull two deck feathers out. We had changed from mounting the transmitters on the birds bell to tail mounted clips which we are very pleased with, until Sally went through a pig netting fence in hot pursuit of a huge rabbit and managed to catch the transmitter, one deck you can put down to bloody bad luck but when the same thing happened two weeks later - thats just bloody unfortunate! she has since gone into one of our empty seclusion aviaries to moult out, with a view to perhaps breeding next year.
Another unfortunate mishap at the end of the season was Big Red my young female Harris Hawk breaking her wing, more frustratingly it wasnt done in action, but on the bow perch whilst she was out, we have no idea whats happened but fingers crossed she is on the mend nicely and i am looking forward to flying her again next season.
Last season saw us flying Connie and Big Red together as a cast and what a spectacular team they made, my tally at the end of the season with the two of them was 212 rabbits, 1 duck, 3 pheasants, 1 stoat, and a RAT! we also have a new addition to the Harris Hawk hunting team in the shape of Molly, Molly was originally Davids bird and she went on to do hunting days with a good friend of ours for many years, she is an absolute assasin on game and so we jumped at the chance of having her back.
As far as the display birds go, we have several new additions to the team, firstly came Podge the Northern White Faced Owl, who is a little sweetheart, she is now three months old and i am looking forward to starting to fly her once she is hard penned. with her i shall only be flying her during the summer months, at 7 ounces pig fat i dont want her caching a chill in the cold weather here over winter.
Next came Barney (very original i know!) she is one of the most stunning barn owls i have ever seen and absolutely huge, flying at 12 1/2 ounces! she is also one of the naughtiest, cheekiest and noisiest barn owls i have ever trained. I am pleased to say she has just done her first display at Selby last weekend and apart from thinking she was the main attraction she was an absolute star.
Following Barney was the arrival of our first ever Abssynian Owl, named Spike after being spotted at a display by two young brothers, i overheard the elder brother ask his mum “whats that” only for his little brother to reply “its a hedgehog silly”. She is two months old and currently enjoying being fed at every available opportunity and meeting everyone who will sepnd some time socialising her.
The cheekiest arrival to the team is Chirpy our new Bengal Eagle Owl who is now nearly four months old and coming along a treat, he is a real character and if you met him you would understand the reasoning behind his name! i am incredibly pleased with the way he has come on, he has done two displays over this last weekend and acted like an absolte pro at all times - a true joy to fly and handle.
Last of the new arrivals is Alfie a tiny male kestrel who is now about seven weeks old, i have just jessed him up last week and so far he is an absolute little cracker, sitting on his block like he has done it all his life and hopping straight on to the lure for food - really looking forward to flying him over summer and seeing if i can get him to hover for our photographers!
I love this time of year when all the birds are looking amazing and enjoying what nice weather we have had but i have to say i do miss the hunting season and i dont think i am the only one, the dogs are all bored senseless of walking out and not getting any proper work! Speaking of hunting i am going to keep David busy ferreting this season with eight ferrets and another nine born last week he is going to have plenty of work to do. Squirt who will be just over a year old will start work this year, we had her in a few sets last year and she showed great promise, if she is anything like her mother she will be a welcome asset to the team.
Finally before i bore you too much! those of you who follow my blog will be pleased to hear that Greta the Harris Hawk rescued in very poor condition last year, has acquired herself a partner in the shape of Harry the male Harris Hawk and has laid three eggs so far, unfortunately Harry hasnt quite worked out what he is doing yet and so i hope next year when he matures we should have some new stock to add to the hunting team.
Breeding wise this year has been a bit of a disaster with our old female Goshawk killing the male at the start of the summer, they had been a pair for many years but unfortunately these things can happen, she was herself very old at 20 and so we hadnt really expected too much of her this year, the two eggs she had laid we put under Sally who was brooding them fantastically and shows all the right signs for being a superb mother for next year.
well i shall try not to leave it too long next time but as you can imagine with 19 birds, 17 ferrets, 4 dogs and David to look after i have my work cut out! add to that a house to run and all these game fairs, photography days etc i dont seem to have time to turn around!
Have a great summer everyone.