Whew what a day! The Scottish Owl Centre is now open and the first day went by without a hitch!
Last minute preparations began at daybreak. Even before I arrived at 7 there were joiners on site to finish off things around the site. The back gate needed completing and the owl climbing frame just one or two last details before it was done. Even with this there were things that still needed doing as opening time quickly approached. We cleaned the aviaries, tidied round and swept up sawdust, and finally the doors opened.
Visitors began to arrive, slowly to begin with but getting busier as the morning went on.
At ten thirty we gave our first flying demonstration in the display arena. With the birds still getting used to the new place and people they were a little hesitant but this was understandable. Kenya the little White Faced Owl was the first bird in the first show, and she did well considering she has only flown three or four times here even without an audience. Lofty the Barn Owl came next, thankfully in a really good mood today. Third out was Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl. This was to be her first flying demonstration in front of the public since arriving at the Scottish Owl Centre so the pressure was on. At her previous home she was known to have a fear of pushchairs and buggies. Unfortunately the first thing she saw as I brought her into the arena today was a pushchair. I walked her to the end of the arena to the far perch but she was just fixed on the moving wheels and would not fly. I eventually got one small hop out of her then picked her up for a parade around the audience. Oh well, can’t be helped. I put her away to settle down until later in the day.
I have to say that my talk was a bit ropey to begin with. I am new to working with these particular birds and I was too distracted watching and thinking about where they were and what they were doing to concentrate on my words. This is only to be expected too so I wasn’t that worried. Practice makes perfect as they say.
The second display went better as we were getting into the swing of things. Hosking the Tawny Owl, Bruce the Boobook Owl and Oulu the Great Grey Owl flew in the second show. Hosking and Bruce did their routines well and the audience loved seeing the birds flying so close to them or just inches over their heads. Oulu was more spooked by the strange new situation, and like Sarabi would need a bit longer than the small owls to get used to it all.
By the third show we had a bigger audience and the birds were a bit more keen. I flew Hosking (my first time flying him) and Lofty, and the Barn Owl was just brilliant. He was very quick to fly and anticipate where I was heading, following on to the next perch or flying on ahead of me. I enjoyed the fun of neither me or the owl knowing where to head to next, Lofty often flying laps around the arena or switching back to land on a different perch. It was fun and the audience were laughing as much as I was! Last up was Sarabi again.
After her not budging in the first show I was more than a bit apprehensive about whether she would fly, but I didn’t have to worry. After a couple of minutes to settle she flew the whole length of the arena several times. I was able to settle into a pattern talking about the Milky Eagle Owl as she flew more reliably. By the end of the show I was very pleased with her. She definitely earned that round of applause, her first public flying demonstration probably for years!
We did a few photos for visitors holding Tiger the Brown Wood Owl or Sarabi and got a system working for the new camera and printer set up. We know now that even on busy days this set up will work well.
Finally as the day was coming to an end the collection owls all needed feeding. I was helped all day by new volunteer Veronica and I really have to say thanks to her again, she was invaluable today! What a day to start volunteering! She and another volunteer helper Stuart joined me feeding the birds. Woody the Tawny Frogmouth, sat in his aviary in the Rainforest Realm, was very eager for his food and flew like a shot to my glove to swallow a whole (small) rat in one gulp! I’d always thought these birds were slow moving but Woody is like greased lightning!
The collection birds themselves seemed to take the first day of public visitors well for the most part. I was aware that one of the Indian Eagle Owls, the young male, was quite jumpy in the afternoon as a crowd gathered around their aviary and the pond, but he wasn’t distressed or injuring himself. I popped by a couple of times to see he was okay but other than being jumpy and flying from one end of the aviary to the other he wasn’t too bad. I thought up an option of building a screen in one of the back corners for him to feel a bit more secure should it look like him not calming down over the next day or two.
So, that was our first day open to the public. No major problems at all and a steady build up helped us all settle into the swing of it all; just what was wanted from a ‘soft opening’ before the busier Easter weekend next week.
As you can imagine we were all exhausted by the end of the day so I’m going to sign off and get to bed, it all starts up again in the morning!
‘Til tomorrow then, goodnight!