Spring is here! I only know this because one of my favourite TV programmes has started, not because of the weather. Every year I enjoy a programme called Springwatch, which follows the lives of animals and plants as they mate, breed and try to survive a British spring. Now, you may have already gathered that I like nature. And I can say, “Aww! A fluffy bunny!” along with the best of them. But I admit, what I really have a soft spot for are predators. The first programme reminded me of that straight away, as Springwatch always features birds of prey.
Next to cats, birds of prey are my favourite animal eye candy. They are beautiful. They are deadly. They are perfectly designed for what they do. This is not going to be a list of facts about them, as there are plenty of websites (or good old-fashioned books!) to look those up if you want. But I have been up close and personal with a few of these birds, and this is a little bit about what I did and how these magnificent creatures made me feel.
I spent a day flying them, and it was amazing. But dealing with them in close proximity is not for the faint-hearted. Although it was not officially a hunting flight I took part in, you can’t stop these birds from hunting if that’s what they want to do. Therefore, you may see something killed right before your eyes. Also, as a reward for flying, they are given what they would normally eat: rodents. So, the little animal that was cute a short while ago is now in pieces and being fed right in front of you to a beak like a razor and talons like, well…talons. Fortunately, I am not squeamish.
Two of the most incredible birds I flew were the Peregrine Falcon and the Golden Eagle. However, I did not, strictly speaking, fly the Peregrine. A Peregrine Falcon takes its prey on the wing, so to simulate it hunting a ‘swung lure’ has to be used, and that takes training. A swung lure is a piece of meat (fluffy rodent again) fixed to a string which the handler swings through the air to simulate a bird in flight. The Peregrine flies in at extremely high speed and takes the meat right out of the air as it whizzes past on its string. Absolutely incredible to see. This bird is thought to be able to reach up to 200 mph in a dive, at the end of which it can still deliver a controlled blow and carry off its victim. Beautiful and deadly.
At the other end of the scale, the magnificent Golden Eagle. Living in Scotland, I have been lucky enough to see these flying in the wild as well, mainly on the Isles of Arran and Skye. But when you are close to one, that incredible wing span that’s always being talked about becomes real. It’s over two metres! That’s a wing span taller than most men. Having one of these huge birds sit on your wrist, then take off, fly, come back and elegantly pluck a piece of prey from your hand is amazing and humbling. It reminded me that all the stuff man has to do with tools and inventions can be done already by something created in nature. Now don’t mistake me, I love innovation and the fact that man has designed and made incredible things. But we get it wrong a lot. We invent stuff quickly, throw it out there and discover all the mistakes when it’s too late. Nature has spent millennia evolving things that work perfectly.
On a frivolous note, I am envious of these beautiful birds as well. A fellow writer asked me the other day what I would want as a superpower, and I said, “The power of flight” without a moment’s hesitation. Sure, there are lots of other cool ones: telekinesis, invisibility…but I would LOVE to be able to fly. In my dreams, I often can. I’m aware that probably has some hidden meaning – don’t spoil it for me, any dream experts out there, it just means I want to be able to fly! Under my OWN power, before anyone points out micro lights or the like. (I know that sort of thing is the nearest man can get – at the moment). So, if anyone wants a volunteer for some strange experiment to give a girl wings, get in touch…