Posts Tagged With: English wildlife

Adventures with Vouchers: You will be the falcon and I will be…

Birds!

Birds!


I don’t have any great affinity for birds. When the voucher popped up for a Birds of Prey Experience at the English School of Falconry, I basically thought: why not? The English School of Falconry sounds like one of the most English things you can possibly do. Bonus: it was in a town called Biggleswade, and oh wow did I want an excuse to say the word “Biggleswade” as many times as possible. I had visions of Harry Potter and Hogwarts and Hedwig. I want a self-sacrificing owl, you know? Plus, I always loved that tagline from the silly SNL sketch starring a falcon named Donald.
Barn owl

Barn owl


Now that I think about it, I don’t think we even hung out with any falcons.
Eagle

Eagle


My friend from Manchester drove down with her husband and met me at the Biggleswade train station (the town is so small and off the beaten track it is only open in the morning, shut and locked by 3pm). Driving through Biggleswade was sadly unimpressive. Arriving at the GPS-directed address, we drove through a strange world of hangars and muddy fields before arriving at a none-too-well marked lawn parking area and a further muddy walk to the school’s office. My friend’s husband just wanted to observe, having come as chauffeur and photographer for the day, but they made him pay GBP15 for the privilege. He’s a good sport, so he ponied up the cash and we raced to meet our group, having arrived a squinch late.
No, I'm not scared. (Yes, I am.)

No, I’m not scared. (Yes, I am.)


So then we held some birds. They were big and heavy and pretty. They were species of eagles, I believe, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. They were just big and heavy and pretty. Then we went to a little fenced in area where we got to catch some kites (maybe?) and owls, little ones. By catch I mean we held out our gloved arm, and one of the trainers called the birds (each bird has a name, like Trevor) and they came and landed on us, knowing they would get some food for obeying. Some birds were less obedient than others, and at one point I had two little owls on my arm. Which was pretty cool.
Two for the price of one

Two for the price of one


We moved to a bigger field for some hawk catching. At this point I got a close-up look at what they were feeding the bigger birds: torn up pieces of tiny, fluffy chicks, their yellow down smeared with blood. I didn’t want to think about that too much.
IMG_8754
We watched a flying show, in which our tour guide, a cheerful and well-versed young Englishman who seriously looked like he was 12 years old, gave a running commentary on the different types of birds he showed off – egrets and pelicans as well as more owls and eagles. Maybe a falcon.
IMG_8790
We went into a caged in area where we go to hold, bare-handed, little five week old owls. Four of them perched sleepily on a diagonal wooden rod, and it was awfully rude of us to disturb them. But they were very cute, sitting on my friend’s shoulder and nibbling her hair and ear, burrowing into the furry hood of her sweatshirt (as usual in this glorious land, it was late April but cold, cloudy, and windy.)
It tickle-hurts.

It tickle-hurts.


We were then free to wander about looking at the caged birds, most of whom were lazing about for their midday siesta. Birds are tremendously pretty. Who knew?
IMG_8786
I actually had a lot of fun – it was great to see my friends for a couple of hours, and I fought off my terror at allowing birds to fly at my body (I have walked through New York City on more than one occasion and felt an imminent pigeon attack strategizing around me.)
Blue eagles are awesome

Blue eagles are awesome


I got some fun photos, which is, unfortunately the point of the experience. Despite our well-educated guide, who could spit out facts at the rate of four a minute, I didn’t get a sense of why the English School of Falconry exists. Why do they train birds? What purpose do the birds serve? A glance at their website listed “conservation” as one of their goals, but conservation from what? I imagine if I had read the little placards near each bird station I would have a better understanding of which birds are endangered, and how the centre helps breed and repopulate them.

But do they ever free them back into the wild? Could they even survive? These birds are so dependent on humans for treats, why would they even want to leave? I know I wouldn’t. Is that good, or bad? Ecotourism in a paradox. I’m just not sure if I agree with it. Near the beginning of the day, as we waited to hold some of the bigger eagles, we watched a bunch of enormous birds nestling in their feathers. Occasionally one of them would start to flap its wings and launch itself off the perch where it rested. Inevitably, they landed two feet away, their feet tied with rope to that same perch. There was something sad about watching birds try to take flight and failing. It was a terrible living metaphor.
IMG_8730
Still, I had a good day. Does that make me a bad person? I pushed the metaphors out of my mind and just enjoyed the beauty of the birdies. I am uneasy with myself for this unthinking submission to a photo op. The twenty or so cheery English who were part of our group didn’t seem to be overthinking the moment, oohing and aaahing as the birds sailed around us. It’s just hard to know if the centre does more good than harm.

Baby!

Baby!


But how else was I going to pretend I was Harry Potter for a few hours?

What do you think? Is this kind of “interactive” nature experience good or bad for, you know, actual nature?

Scorecard: Vouchers – 1 Me – 1

Advertisements
Categories: London, Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Wilds of London

The first time I saw a fox in London, I was waiting for a bus on a side street in Islington. It shot past, low to the ground and tail streaming, racing toward the Angel Tube station across the street, as if it were desperate to catch a train. It was running toward a highly congested (even at 9pm on a Tuesday night) area of London’s Zone 1. “Was that a fox?” I said out loud to the woman also waiting at the bus stop, who laughed along with me in strange delight.

I have since discovered urban foxes are a “thing;” Mary Poppins wasn’t a scam. I’ve seen them several times in my own neighborhood, and I love it: “View Halloooooo!” I like to think they appear just for me, a good luck charm, a symbol that things are peculiar and wonderful here in London.

2012-10-16 21.29.13

I haven’t seen a fox in a while. Maybe they’re hibernating for the winter. What I am becoming acquainted with in these early-darkening, ceaselessly gray days are the well-known, much-feared poisonous spiders here in the wild jungles of the London metropolis.

Haven’t heard of them? Oh, right that’s because they don’t exist…well, they only exist for me. They are a bit of a bad luck charm, a symbol of something. I just don’t know what.

Since moving into my flat near Stoke Newington, I have been bitten in my sleep four times, presumably by spiders, though I have never seen one in my bedroom. The first three were spread out over three week intervals. Then I got bitten two nights in a row: once on my arm, once on my face. I am not someone prone to allergies; I have never had a bad reaction to food or animals or insect bites. Yet here I sit with a ballooning left arm and a goitery face.

I have friends in actual exotic places like Australia and South Africa and Japan who aren’t experiencing this kind of wildlife.

Right now my arm is swollen and red from my wrist to my bicep. It’s sore and I’m experiencing waves of intense itching.  The texture of my skin has changed to sandpaper, oddly tacky and firm. It’s like my arm isn’t my arm. When I touch it I can’t believe it’s part of me.

IMG_8361

Last time I went to the hospital, when I was bitten on my right wrist, smack dab in the middle of my cherry blossom tattoo. They gave me antibiotics, but I don’t think they sped up the recovery. I just have to wait this out. I will survive it, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme.

But in my current state of my mind, these bites are a perfect metaphor for how I feel about London: like it is rejecting me, attacking me, needling me to give up and leave. What if somehow I’m allergic to London, a city I have longed to live in?

I know this is homesickness talking. I’ve arrived at that point where the adrenalin and novelty of figuring out a new place have worn off, the bleakness of winter has settled in, and I have learned that even more than New York, London is a distant city. It’s not a great big friendly invitation to a “cuppa” tea. It is a jungle, a space overcrowded but hidden. It’s hard to meet people and make connections.

I suppose it’s a byproduct of that polite British aloofness. No one will be rude to you here…they just won’t talk to you at all.  I’ve done an informal study of pub culture compared to American bar culture. English people go to pubs, with their friends, to drink. Heavily. Period. There aren’t men leering at women, trying to chat you up. They are too immersed in their mates and cups.

I almost miss the unwanted attention. It was nice to at least feel visible. The grass is always greener, right?

These, my friends, are first world problems, though who has ever classified a poisonous spider bite that way. I’m trying to look at my life patterns, the time of year, and recognize that I’m just in that wistful slump after the initial romantic has mellowed. I’ve only been here four months. Is it surprising that I don’t feel completely settled, that this isn’t quite “home” yet? I’m at a low point that aligns with the winter solstice. As the days slowly (so slowly) get longer again, so too will my desire to get out and explore come out of dormancy.

As with these treacherous spider bites: I just have to wait this out. I will survive it, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme.

I look forward to seeing another fox, though. Those are pretty cool.

Categories: London, Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.