Saturday 10th December 2011
This week saw the departure of Trystan Williams for pastures new. Aside from Michelle and me, he had been the longest serving keeper at the World Owl Trust. Trystan has gone to join Rod Angus at the Scottish Owl Centre near Edinburgh. He is travelling north as we speak. He takes with him six owls; last year’s juvenile Indian Eagle Owl, a male and a female Indian Scops Owl, a Tropical Screech Owl, and ‘the odd couple’, (an African Spotted Eagle Owl and a Tawny Owl), which like him are going to a new life in Scotland. We wish Trystan and the owls well, and hope they all settle in.
We have been ongoing with our off-season nest box cleaning this week, and in spite of the often inclement weather, we are about 85% complete on this particular task. All being well, we should finish this by the end of next week.
Whilst I was cleaning the mews aviaries this morning, Kevin the Kestrel was gobbing off at me. This got me thinking about Kevin. He is now nearly 14 years old. In truth, I don’t think he can have that many years left to him. He has been living in glorious retirement for the past year or so, his physical coordination isn’t what it once was, making ‘Meet the Birds’ rather tricky for him.
I remember when he hatched, way back ‘in the year of our lord’ 1998. His mother was ‘Misty’, a rather large and powerful female, who was quite opinionated, and who was an ex imprint. Misty had been retired very early on, as she would shriek at the top of her voice at anybody with food. This was rather wearing on her handlers ears. She had been paired off with an ex wild injured male, who was slightly disabled and couldn’t go back to the wild. Misty turned out to be a top breeder, breeding them large and strong, except, or so we thought; Kevin. He was the runt of the clutch, and was in danger of having his head ripped off by his tender loving parents or maybe his caring siblings.
As chance would have it, Tony Warburton wanted a Kestrel for ‘Meet the Birds’. It was decided to pull Kevin, and rear him for display work. The task fell to erstwhile keeper Terry Fallows, who has long since gone on to pastures new.
This young kestrel, despite being the runt, was so big, that it was thought to be a female. The other complication being that although Kestrels are ‘dimorphic’; that is to say; males and females have differing plumages, making it easy to tell them apart, juveniles of both sexes start off with female type plumage therefore looking identical.
Kevin started out as ‘Sybil’. He/she was rather large and powerful, and had inherited his/her mother’s propensity to be very ‘vocal’. By the following year ‘Sybil’ started to develop a grey head and tail, turning out to be an uncommonly large male. It was decided that this individual needed a new name. This name choosing was turned into a school competition, with ‘Kevin’ being the winning entry.
As Kevin entered maturity, he flew and wowed the audiences at Muncaster, except the local male kestrel population had other ideas! At least once a week during late spring and summer a wild male would fly in during ‘MTB’, no doubt attracted by Kevin’s vocal exertions, and launch an attack on this perceived interloper, only to be thoroughly ‘crunched’ by Kevin. This became a regular occurrence.
One year, during one such display ‘bust up’ Kevin and his opponent disappeared into the woods, not to be seen again, despite the staff’s best efforts. In the end, after days of looking and calling, we gave up.
About a week later, I was flying ‘Georgie’, Sparky the Barn Owl’s predecessor at ‘MTB’, and he was spooked by something, and flew off into the woods. I had lost two birds in the space of a week. I went out looking for Georgie. My travels took me far and wide. Somebody came across from ‘Chapels’, a homestead of Muncaster Fell saying they had seen ‘one of our birds’. I immediately went across with glove and food. I stood in the middle of the field waving this food around, When suddenly Kevin landed on my fist shrieking like there was no tomorrow, no doubt telling me off because ‘he’ was starving. Kevin has been with us ever since, and I have to say he has thoroughly earned his retirement. I’m happy to say that Georgie was later on recovered by another member of staff, so it all ended well.
See you next week.
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