First day of our holiday and the alarm went off at 7am. We have an hours drive to one of my 50th Birthday presents today, A Birds Of Prey Photo Experience with Jessops at Shropshire Falconry Ltd, Holly Bank, Foxholes, Wem, SY4 5UJ. Wonder what they will think of me turning up with my little Olympus Stylus 1S?
Good job we had SatNav, the farm seemed like it was in the middle of no where. When we arrived the photographer Phil Gould was there to greet us and immediately put me at ease about being there with my camera. He immediately said it is about the photos and composition not about the kit you have. There was just a small group of 5 of us 'photographers' and two bystanders, Ian (my husband) being one of them. We sat down we a coffee and biscuits whilst we were being introduced to the course and Lisa and Steve the bird handlers and owners of the site. We then each introduced ourselves and what we wanted to get out of the day. There was then a brief chat about the settings on our cameras and which ones in general we would need for the day. As we all had a general understanding of our settings it was straight out to take some photos with adjustments being carried out 'on the wing'.
Due to the threatening weather conditions we went straight out to shoot a bird in flight, which Phil said was one of the hardest shots as as much as the handlers train the birds, at the end of the day the birds decide if and where they are going to fly and yes we would experience this.
The first bird we met was one of the five African Spotted Eagle Owls at the center. Such lovely markings. long ears and facial expressions, especially when its ears are getting blow about.
Our challenge was to get a shot of the bird as it swooped down from one perch and glide gracefully along the grass before landing on a perch right in front of us, simple!!
Well I have to say more luck than judgement, I got one or two shots that I am very happy with. It was difficult to decide where to concentrate on getting the shot and being quick enough.
I love the shape of the wings in this shot and the eyes are reasonably in focus. The bird was gliding so quietly and effortlessly, just skimming the tops of the grasses.
I just missed getting the wing tip in this shot but like the way you can see the Owl swinging its body round and the way its eyes are so focused on the perch and the bait sitting on the perch which was just out of shot to the left.
Even trying to capture the Owl landing on the perch was a challenge as again it happens so quickly.
A bit on an arty shot this one, just managed to capture the eye between the feathers.
This is one African Spotted Eagle Owl with attitude.
Next we went into a small barn to take shots of Diamond the Barn Owl. The first shots were using the natural light in the barn and coming through the gaps.
Phil then used a light wand to alter the lighting.
There was also a small window in the side of the barn to get some classic shots of the Barn Owl looking out.
Then we took some shots in a small wooded area where you really get the chance to appreciate the beautiful, subtle colors and markings on the feathers.
Then finally the Barn Owl in the hollow tree shot, this one I particularly like with the contrast of the rough wood with the delicate softness of the Barn Owl feathers.
Next came out a very vocal Casper, the Eurasian Kestrel. He is a youngster and very vocal when he is near Lisa his handler as he considers her to be Mum. It was lovely to photographer Casper against the backdrop of the darkness of the barn window where he was perched. I think this particular shot is my shot of the day.
We then moved from the barn to the small wooded area, when he sat on the perch here he was so much more alert looking.
On our way from the barn to the flying area with Casper we passed some Owls sitting on the grass. This one particularly caught y eye as it looked like it was carved of wood. It is an Ashy-faced Owl from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and belongs to the Barn Ow family.
We had reached the flying area and now had the opportunity to photograph Casper the Eurasian Kestrel in flight. Yes right, as if that was likely to happen, he is much smaller and quicker that the Barn Owl. I managed to get just one photo of him flying where he was actually in the shot but not at all in focus.
I was slightly more successful with him landing on the post and managed to capture the swooping action of his landing.
I did manage to capture this one with him just about still in flight.
After those shots Lisa moved to another area of the field so that there was slightly more distance between the posts for Casper to fly between. Suddenly we heard a Buzzard call and Lisa spotted one in some trees near us and so did Casper. He was so spooked that he would not take his eyes of the area where the Buzzard had been, even though we thought we had seen it fly off. Casper would not fly and just sat on Lisa's shoulder where he obviously felt safe.
It did not matter how much Lisa spoke to Casper he would not fly anymore, so we called it a morning and went for some lunch. Tea and coffee was provided by the center you just had to take your own lunch. It gave us all a chance to recharge our batteries and those of our cameras, if needed. We also got to find out a bit more about Phil the photographer and his work.
Ian my husband had said to me that he thought he recognised Phil and after talking to him about it it turned out that he sold us a Canon Camera at Jessops in Norwich around 18 to 20 years ago. It is such a small world!
After lunch it was raining so Lisa brought out Beanie a Little Owl for some close up shots. Again I enjoyed these shots as Beanie sat in a rough piece of wood with a hole in it so again we had the contrast of the soft feathers against the rough wood.
Next came out a cute, if slightly weird looking owl, Chris is a White-faced Owl.
Selfie time, we got the chance to handle Chris he was so light you hardly knew he was sitting on your hand.
By this time the rain had stopped so we went back outside with one of the Owls.
Then Steve brought out one of the Harris Hawks, the idea was to photograph him flying between the posts, however he clearly had other ideas and no matter how much Steve called him and bribed him with meat he was just not interested.
Instead he flew up into one of the high hedges and sat there munching on the berries looking down on us. When he eventually came down, when he was ready, he flew past Steve and landed on the grass and just stood there until Steve went over and picked him up. This was just another reminder that at the the end of the day these are wild birds.
There are three of these Harris Hawks, when Steve returned this one to his perch, each of them was given a dead chick to eat. They all showed us one of their trates of cupping their wings over their kill to keep it to themselves.
Next came out Fidget a Peregrine Falcon. One of the photographers had asked for a shot of the Peregrine eating some prey.
After taking some shots in the small wooded area, Fidget was given a dead chick to eat, but he would not eat it while we all stood there watching. Steve pretty much had to hand feed him to the chick to start off with and then it was not long before it had all been gulped down.
Next came out one of the largest owls, Finn the Ural Owl. He sat in the tree for us to get some close up shots. As had been the same throughout the day, Phil made sure that as I had the smaller camera I was as close as possible to the birds to get a chance at the close up shots.
Even Owls can suffer from 'bad hair days'!
While we were taking these shots there were several chickens wandering around near us, some of them were really quite pretty.
Lastly we were able to have some selfie shots with the Ashy-faced Owl.
He would sit for a short while on the perch and then fly across the barn to another perch. Because we were in quite a small space if he flew right past you, you could feel the rush of air on your face from his wing beats.
On one occasion he decided to land on Ian for a brief stop off before carrying on to his perch.
When we finished we went back for tea and cake, again provided by the staff, they had also found a candle/flare to put in the cake for my birthday. Thank you to Phil for this photo.
The course was between 10am and 4pm but went on until 4.30pm and then by the time we had all stopped talking it was 5pm. It was a lovely day and especially special as it was a birthday present from Mark & Jackie our bosses.
Shropshire Falconry where Steve and Lisa will introduce you to the birds.
Jessops Photography Experience
Phil Gould Photography