If, like me, you’re a big animal-lover, then this experience will be right up your street. Owls have exceptionally good camouflage, eerily silent flight and generally only come out at night, so to see one at all is a rare treat, let alone have one land on your arm!
This experiences takes place at Eagle Heights in Kent, which is a haven for endangered and rescued animals, with everything from a giant water monitor to a donkey called Donkey! I travelled up with Michelle, the boss of Experience Days who was over visiting from Colorado, for a 10am start. We were greeted by Marita, who was completely insane but the most lovely lady! She showed us round the reptile house, the arctic fox enclosure, past two beautiful herons and into the bird of prey building.
Our owl encounter started with an introduction to Winston, an Athene Noctua (Little Owl) – and boy was he little! At first he was very shy in front of the cameras (hence the lack of pictures), and fluttered around in a panic, but we soon calmed him down with a few strokes and cuddles (but he still wouldn’t let the cameras near). As Marita taught us about his history, feeding habits and lifestyle, I gently scratched his head until he started to nod off – it was so cute!
Up next was Kiki, a beautiful barn owl. These are one of the most common owls seen around Britain, mainly because they’re bright white with brown tints, making it rather difficult for them to camouflage with anything. Kiki was slightly more reluctant to land on Michelle’s arm, and kept swooping from one end of the room to the other, but at least this gave us a great demonstration of their silent flight! Marita tempted the owls back with pieces of chicken, and pointed out the distinguished feather patterns on Kiki’s back. Once again, we stroked and cuddled until Kiki started to look a bit sleepy!
The third and final owl we got to meet was Moonshine, who’s breed I can’t quite remember… Similar to a Great Grey Owl though! She was very big, and very beautiful, with huge eyes and an incredible wing span. Holding her on your arm was very different to holding Winston, but even given her size, she was still extremely light. Marita was full of knowledge, and clearly very passionate about the animals, encouraging us to ask plenty of questions and get really interactive with the birds – even giving Moonshine a little snuggle!
It was incredible being able to get so close to these elusive creatures, they were totally at ease with us and clearly looked after very well. At the end of the session we were treated to an audience with Alaska the great Bald Eagle, who was rather famous as it turned out – she’d recently finished filming a scene for the new Christian Bale film, Exodus! All in all it was a fantastic experience, with excellent staff and great facilities, making it the perfect morning out for families.
Huge thanks for Marita for being an incredible instructor and making the experience personal and enjoyable, I would highly recommend Eagle Heights to everyone! If you want to work with them, they’re running a student programme in Gambia at the Abuko Nature Reserve, helping conserve the wildlife and natural area. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
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