MOTHERS’ DAY OUTING
A favourite place of mine to take photos is Kington Owl and Rare Breeds Centre, and it so happened that this year the weather for the weekend of Mothering Sunday – March 29 and 30, was great so I decided to make the most of it by spending an entertaining few hours at the centre in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside
An added bonus at this time of year is that there are lots of baby animals and birds to see as well and they are high on the cute-ometer.
The first thing you see as you walk in are three or four owls on perches. They are tethered but they’re tame enough to stroke.
Obviously, these owls have been rescued as babies and are very amenable but there’s no getting away from the fact that they are still equipped with sharp talons and beaks. Next stop -for me anyway- was the cafe to stoke up on cherry cake and coffee and plan my campaign. You can buy some very cute cuddly toys in here – ponies, owls and llamas, and all sorts of books and games, and also specially formulated food for the animals.
Outside I headed along the row of pens containing rare breed sheep, miniature ponies and a pair of Kune Kune pigs, who could clearly smell the buckets of food being swung about by excited children.
It would have taken a brave child to feed this pig, though – he grunted and squealed and looked like flattening the gate altogther as he rose up on his hind legs in his efforts to get at those buckets.
Opposite there was a paddock with some far more attractive creatures – a small herd of alpacas, who to me always look a bit bewildered, especially when you see them in the English countryside – they seem to be saying ‘Hang on, where have the Andes gone?’
Back inside I came across some tortoises, an array of rodents including chipmunk, mice and guinea pigs and then passed the owl incubators, containing two balls of downy feathers, and went back out into the sunshine around a series of walkways and cascades which housed the ducks, geese and a pair of very serene black swans, who were obviously practising tai-chi as they each balanced elegantly on one webbed foot.
At the top of the field were several aviaries which were home to some exquisite Asian pheasants with exotic plumage and beautiful long tails.
It’s such a shame these creatures have to be caged. I felt the same way about the tiny red squirrel I came across later, which, for reasons best known to the keepers, was located inside the Owl Garden – in a separate enclosure, of course, but it seemed a bit like putting a sheep in with the wolves.
For me the best part of the centre is the Owl Garden – a collection of aviaries housing rare and striking owls from all over the world.
Most of them sit on their perches and stare implacably out at the world – even the arrival of supper in the form of day old baby chicks, didn’t cause any commotion – apparently they prefer to wait until visitors have left for the day before they tuck in. (I’m sure most visitors would rather it that way too!!)
But I was lucky to come across two young Ural owlets from Scandinavia. They were about 10 months old, and compared with the rest, were very feisty, flying up to the wire fence to peck at the camera.
We should find these nocturnal creatures with their silent flight, amazingly penetrating eyes and spooky, swivelling heads frightening but instead they are endearing, comical even, because they have been caricatured in popular literature.
And who hasn’t read ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ by Edward Lear?
Here it is again :
The Owl and the Pussy Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love!
What a beautiful pussy you are
What a beautiful pussy you are!
Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.