Saturday, 24 March 2012

Our Falconry Experience

Wow, what a day.  Astute blog readers may recall that we enjoy our birds of prey.  We've seen demonstrations at Warwick Castle and the Battle Abbey as well as static displays on Holy Island and Glastonbury.  Not to mention catching the very good show at the Indianapolis Zoo a number of times when back home.  In addition, Nicole has always had a thing for owls as well.

Well, last year I jumped at the opportunity to purchase a Falconry Experience Groupon for Nicole and me (Alex was too young).  It was affiliated with the Rosliston Forestry Centre which is about 30 minutes away.  It took about 5-6 months to book a spot as it was a very popular deal.  Fortunately for us, it turned out to be a very nice weather day. 

It didn't look to be starting out that way though.  Sunny skies were expected but the day began with a fairly thick fog.

It was a 3-hr tour that started a little slowly as they walked us around some of the cages and displays to talk a bit about the birds.  Nicole was able to get her owl fix at least.  This is a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

flapping his wings a bit

barn owl (link)

tawny owl (link)

 Harris Hawk (link)

 this is a younger Harris Hawk -- striking how different (lighter) it looks compared to the picture above

We finally get a turn ourselves.  We formed 2 rows and the barn owl (a dark breasted one -- different from the photo farther up) flew back and forth down the line (while being enticed by food).

 Nicole and "her" owl

my turn -- camera in one hand, owl in the other

Next up was this little guy; an American Kestrel (link).   For this one, we got in a big circle and she flew back and forth to the opposite side.

my arm -- trust me

Common Kestrel (link)

nice photo of Nicole -- too bad the bird wasn't looking

Back to the Harris Hawk (getting a little bigger now).  One tidbit we did learn was the fact that they very carefully monitor the bird's weight.  For one reason, a few ounces either way can greatly affect their health.  But they also keep referencing their flying weight.  This has to do with keeping them hungry enough to keep coming back to their handlers.  If they eat too much, they become "fed up" and they will stay perched in a tree for hours (and these birds cost £5000+ so that means the handlers are waiting all this time).

This is where the term "fed up" comes from.  Interesting! 

The hawk was up on a high perch and then came swooping down.  It landed very gently though.

Like in Battle, they had a demo where a young boy ran across the field with a stuffed rabbit and the hawk swooped down and "killed" it.  Note the technique called mantling where they cover their prey from sight.  They eat very quickly because they are exposed to other predators.  The food gets stored in the crop and is digested at a more leisurely pace when the bird is safer.  The fur is also eaten and then later coughed up as an undigested pellet.

mid-air snatch (notice that the fog has definitely lifted and we got our nice sunny day)

This Lanner Falcon (link) did some swooping and soaring demos before snagging this out of the air.  Note the mantling here as well.


The final demo was this very large (10 lb) Golden Eagle (link).   This is the personal bird of the Director of the Forestry Centre.  He actually hunts with him and noted how hard it is to carry this big lug around.  Of course Nicole was the first one picked to hold him.  Notice her expressions through the next shots (though she is squinting because of the sun as well).

climbing on -- all's good

 big fella -- fortunately she's not having to hold his whole weight (notice the helping hand)

 I think that is more squint than worry.  Only 6-8 folks got to hold this guy (I did not) so it's good that Nicole did.

 checking each other out (that is one big bird)

couple of nice shots

 and one with the Director (Wayne) as well

check out the wing span!

All in all, it was a great day and we both enjoyed it.  It was a larger affair than I was expecting; about 30 people or so.  But it still ended up being quite fun.  They had a separate session in the afternoon that you could upgrade to that allowed you to go hunting with them but we had our fill.

No meal of the week this week but Nicole did make a pineapple upside down cake as part of her home-ec class.  Pretty good.

Have a good week everyone.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Elvaston Castle, Derby sites, and a crazy UK Mother's Day Weekend

Well, crazy might be taking it a little far but it was a upside-down, nothing went exactly as planned weekend.

A few comments before I get started.  We have now been here for a year.  In some ways, it has flown by (and others not).  The part you see on the blog (and actually doing the blog) has been great.  I love how we are doing things together as a family as much as we are and getting to experience new and interesting things.  The blog itself is good motivation to not only get out of the house in the first place, but to also learn a little background info to share.

As you can see in the title, this weekend (Sunday) is UK Mother's (Mothering) Day.  We were in temporary housing this time last year (just off the boat, so to speak) so we punted and celebrated Mother's Day in May.  We are going native this year.  However, I'm still not used to booking (reserving) a restaurant months in advance for a special occasion so I'll be whipping up something later tonight.

For the weekend, I looked at the weather forecast and it wasn't encouraging.  Greater than 50% chance of rain (heavy at times) for Saturday and similar for Sunday.  So, I called off any big plans and decided to stick close to home.  I apparently haven't figured out the nuances of reading the weather report or they don't know what they are doing (or both) because it turned out nicer than I expected on both days.

So, we ended up at nearby Elvaston Castle, the Derby Cathedral and Derby Silk Mill.

The castle itself is not open to the public (more on that later).  The grounds make for a nice day out though.  I learned about it in my trusty "Derbyshire Walks with Children" book (walk #13).  You can take a quick walk from the parking lot to the castle  but we did a big loop just short of 2 miles.  There's a nice map here.  We were still in the parking lot with Mr. Eagle here.

Also while still in the parking lot we met this cute Pomeranian puppy (6 months old?).  We asked to pet it and the nice old chap plunks her in Nicole's arms.

Still on our loop around to the castle.  A rare surprise shot.  Geese below (don't worry Jay, plenty of animal photos to come).

Like here for instance.  Numerous horse fields -- this was the first.  Signs not to feed but petting okay.  Most of the others warned of biting horses and not to touch.

Kuk, the horse/pony and two random kids.  Alex got a quick pet in and Nicole stayed away (big time horse allergy).

Some of the trees are starting to bloom.  You'll notice our UK layering technique of fleece plus waterproof jacket.  You never know what you are going to get.
Two reasons for this shot.  One is the first glimpse of the castle and the other is for the Elvaston C C (cricket club).  That is one sport that I won't have figured out in our time here (or ever).

Here we are having circled around to the front, formal entrance:  "The Golden Gates".  (. . .okay).

Manly Man fighting a lion at the end/side of the gate.  Looks like the Lion got his nose.

Moorish Temple.  A keen observer will notice a) the new sod and b) that it's not in the same place as was shown on the previously referenced map.  These estates often show that many of these folks had more money than sense (or they knew what to do with).

Nice trees.  That's really all my Little Man cares about.

 home of the blind and/or drunk hedge trimmer

a decent shot of the castle tower from the Formal Gardens
And here we are!  Hmm, not so exciting.  Little run down actually.  It's okay (cool?) to be old and in ruin but just run down?  Not so much.  Paraphrasing from the very brief wiki page:

The estate dates back to the 16th century (at least) and was a priory that was sold off by the Crown (remember Henry VIII).  The original manor house was built in 1633 but redesigned "in grand style" in the 1800's.  In was sold to the county to be used as a park in 1969/1970.

For the last eight years the Derbyshire County Council has been marketing the estate to private companies, claiming that it cannot afford to repair and maintain it but its actions have come to nothing. The latest of these is an attempt to turn the Castle into an hotel and the Park into golf courses. This is being fiercely contested by "The Friends of Elvaston Castle" on behalf of the local community.

We've been spoiled with our travels and this "castle" is rather ho-hum.  Oh well, nice walk anyway. 

We continued on the loop back to the parking lot and saw some more waterfowl including these huge swans.

 . . . and the "Rockwork" (Rock Arch)

 and a mill that's no longer functioning

As we were walking back we heard a helicopter overhead.  Most any helicopter you see here is a Medevac (none used for traffic, police or tourism close by).  It looped around a few more times so we got a little curious.

Well, it actually landed in the field next to the parking lot (we just missed it).  Evidently a boy took a dive on a bike and knocked himself out.  In the end, the regular ambulance was okay.  

The pilot held court while the paramedics went into the woods.  He was very calm and patient with answering the questions (and letting people get so close!).  For those that don't know, this is part of what I worked on back home.   This is an upgraded AugustaWestland A109S twin-engine helicopter (link) with competitor (PWC) engines.  I did some work with Augusta and the Belgian Army on their A109C fleet (and got trips to Milan and Belgium out of it).  Just another random event . . .

in like an eagle, out like an owl (and a sleepy one at that)

That was only about 2 hours including the helicopter diversion.  The weather was still holding out so we drove the 10-15 minutes back to Derby and decided to see a few local sites.

The first we tried to see was the Derby Gaol (jail).  It's only open on Saturday and I expected a visit similar to our one in Nottingham.  Hmmm.  No one home.  I sent  a nasty-gram to the office when I got home.

Next on the list was the Derby Cathedral (wiki link).

Cathedral from the northwest (front-ish) side.  It's built up on this side so it's hard to get a head-on view.

Here's a photo from the inside.  You'll notice our randomness continues as there was an orchestra rehearsal going on while we were there.

The cathedral is considerably smaller than some of the giants we've seen around the country (Lincoln, Yorkminster, Westminster, St. Paul's, Wells, etc).  One unique thing it did have was this wooden effigy.

The (only?) famous burial -- our old friend Bess of Hardwick.  Remember her involvement in Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall and Bolsover.

 quirky (to me) deer of some sort at her feet
Here's a view from the east (back) side.  This is a common teen-angst meeting ground.  We did not meet the tattoo or body-piercing minimums and quickly scampered through.

Without trying to sound like a tourist snob, we've certainly seen better cathedrals, but we at least at to see the one in our own city.

Random statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie near the cathedral.  I'll save that history lesson for our Scotland trip.

Since we were there, we made an unplanned stop at the Derby Silk Mill museum.  You can perhaps tell from board above that this mill became Britain's first factory, having all the processes of production under one roof and driven by a common source of power.  In our own little city even . . . 

Cool, let's go learn about that . . . .

Jet engines?  What?  Well, evidently the Silk Mill museum part is closed and the floor space is being used for vintage Rolls-Royce displays (and some modern art -- not shown).  That's cool too.  As I said, this was a roll with the flow day.  This is a 4320 hp Tyne engine (mid 1950s).

and a 200-hp V-12 Rolls-Royce Eagle engine (1st RR aero engine)

commemorative RB211 fan blade (for the 1000th engine)

side view -- note the curved slot (must be fun to make and assembly).  One geeky aside -- it's super important to minimize the gap between the blade and the case (not shown) when the engine is running.  However, when it is running the blade will untwist and therefore change its height.  Smart people figure all of that out. </geek>

They had quite a bit on the RB211.  Here's one for some perspective.  (Alex has entered the not-another-picture zone for the day).

The RB211 was developed for the Lockheed L-1011 and also powers 747 among other vehicles.  It was the first true 3-spool engine (a unique RR design philosophy).   Not mentioned in the display is the fact that the development cost of the engine forced Rolls-Royce Limited into bankruptcy/nationalization and the split of the auto and aero groups in 1972.  (Hmm, wonder why that wasn't mentioned).

This is the forefather to the Trent engines that Kuk and I are working on here on our assignments. 

another perspective shot . . . with all the nacelle cowling, etc. on you couldn't see the fun stuff on the inside

Here you go.  Read this and you can probably do my job.  (maybe not)

Moving on, sorry for the work diversion

After a long day, it was nice that Nicole was on deck for cooking.  We had a return of Sticky Chicken.  She also learned a valuable lesson that things down turn out the same every time either!  (she didn't like it as well this time for some reason).

we did enjoy the stack-o-profiteroles though.  Notice how we made them so well and even had a store bought tray to stack them on.

And to cap off our semi-planned, full of random events day -- game night.  We actually played Settlers of Catan on Friday and Saturday.  Great game for those who haven't tried it.  (Dad 2-0, just saying.  Actually each kid was set to win one night on their next turn so it was close and we all had fun.)

And finally, Mother's Day.  We did most of the fun stuff on Saturday.  However

 I at least managed to get some flowers.

 for the outside as well.  Alex even helped put them in.

One last pic.  Our "friendly" house spider(s) have returned.  I thought this was an Autumn/Fall thing.  Alex had a sighting on Monday and then I found this guy in our bathroom on Wednesday.  Go ahead and pull a tab on my manly-man card (if there are any left) but I don't care to see this first thing in the morning (or any time).  Either we have 2 (or more) and one is still loose or that guy somehow got from Alex's room, down the hall, through our bedroom, into our bathroom.  (Neither are good options, IMO).  I still don't know how something that big is getting in and around (we don't have air ducts).  Those are 1 inch tiles for some perspective.  Oh well.  One less spider in the world.

That turned out longer than I expected.  Thanks for reading this far and have a good week.  Time to make that special dinner.