We are the Falconry & Wildlife Team, we consist of Mark Brattle, Falconry & Wildlife Manager, Hannah James, Head Falconer and Sam Weir, Falconer. Sam is the newest member of the team, joined us as a full-time Falconer on 16th August this year after volunteering with us for a few years previously. We’re really lucky as Sam brings two of his birds to join the team! Harper (Harris Hawk) and Morgan (Tribred Falcon) can now be seen up at the Bird of Prey Centre daily!
Sam said: “I’m so excited to be part of the team; I can’t wait to see what we can achieve over the next few years!”
Our team also contains 24 wonderful volunteers; these people are the kindest, most hard-working people you’ll meet. We’ll be including them in our blogs throughout the year so you all get to know them and their stories. Each blog will include some information from one of our volunteers; they’ll share an experience or favourite animal, just something to give you an insight into their role in the team.
Simon is the first volunteer we are going to hear from:
What’s your favourite part of volunteering?
Everything; including poo-picking & cleaning out, handling and interacting with the birds. I guess the most rewarding part is the smiles on the Guests’ faces during & after an experience or demonstration.
What interesting wildlife have you seen on the Estate?
Kingfishers, Egyptian Geese, Pike, and a Cinnabar Moth emerging from the ground.
Who’s your favourite bird of prey and why?
Vespa stole my heart on my first day. I had always loved Kestrels since I was a very young child, the way they just stayed in one place mesmerised me. On my first day at the Castle I saw Harley and was so excited to be within 3 feet of a kestrel after 50+ years but it was the “Chip, chip, chip” that drew my attention to the little lady next door so there you are.
Now we’re rolling into September there are lots of changes going on, one of which is Kahn (our Steppe Eagle)! Our biggest bird at the centre is returning to our flying team, he’s been resting and moulting over the last few months and is now getting ready to come back to participate in experiences, meet the bird sessions and lots more!
As well as Kahn; Bella, our largest Harris Hawk is back in training, Indiana our Ferruginous Buzzard is now resting and Norris the adorable baby Tawny Owl is almost ready to take his first free flight!
Exciting and busy times at the Bird of Prey Centre
On the Wildlife front, the seasons are changing which means wildlife is now adapting and preparing for different ventures. Some are ready to migrate, you’ll see Swallows, the acrobats of the sky, gathering together along the top of the castle getting ready for the huge flight they complete crossing the Sahara Desert all the way back to Southern Africa.
Migration isn’t the only thing happening, hibernation is not too far away! Many animals are preparing for a harsh winter, a great example of this is bats. I’m a big bat fan so will often get out to watch them and, at the moment they’re incredibly active. Babies are fully grown, fledged and weaned which means there is a small amount of time now to eat what they can and build up fat reserves for the colder temperatures on their way! Diets are changing for many birds too, Black Caps (awesome birds that can be seen at Leeds Castle!), Blackbirds and Thrushes will soon be seen scoffing down lots of berries. The previous caterpillar and insect diet needs to be adapted so berries tend to be a great alternative. There are a lot of plants, bushes etc. that will grow this time of year and sprout plenty of fruity goodness for our feathered friends!
A favourite bird of ours is the Jay, easily identified by the brightly coloured blue feathers but difficult to see as they’re a relatively shy species. We have a healthy population of these birds at Leeds Castle and this time of year they’re generally spotted on the ground burying acorns to retrieve for winter feeding. A super-intelligent species belonging to the Corvid family!
Simon previously mentioned his love for Kestrels; these are another great species to see this time of year. By September, the dry, rough grass is alive with small rodents which this falcon feeds on. This raptor is easily identified by the hovering abilities it displays whilst looking for its prey, if you wanted to see a real-life Kestrel up close, there are two that live at the Bird of Prey Centre – Harley & Simon’s favourite, Vespa!
This time of year is great for wildlife sounds; you’ll hear young Tawny Owls establishing territories, Buzzard with their high-pitched squeal and even (one of my favourite sounds) the stridulation of a Great Green bush cricket, especially towards the end of the day. Not everyone’s favourite type of creature but beautiful nonetheless, very easy to hear but not so easy to spot, they’re one of the more common crickets we have in the UK, bright green and the largest resident in that family!
Thank you for reading, as always if you have any questions, enquiries or even experiences you’d like to share then get in contact with us (details below)! Keep an eye out for our October blog!
The Falconry & Wildlife Team I email@example.com