Meeting some owls from Hilltop Birds of Prey

Last weekend, S, his dad and I went to Manydown farm in Basingstoke because I’d heard that they were going to have some feathered visitors – owls from Hilltop Birds of Prey.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that I’m interested in owls. Anyone who knows me in real life will know my owl handbag that comes everywhere with me. You may have also seen my post about the rare breed farm and owl centre.

Whilst owls are wild birds, as someone who can’t see them, I’m always interested in getting closer to those birds that are comfortable with it, so that I can find out what they look like.

The birds from Hilltop Birds of Prey have all been rescued from somewhere, so they have not been specifically bred or taken from the wild. They may have been bought for children by parents who didn’t do their homework first or realise that an owl is not a pet that needs no looking after. They might have come from a zoo. Each one has its own story and I’ve put the link to Hilltop Birds of Prey at the end of the article.

These birds live at Hilltop Farm with other rescued animals such as a couple of donkeys and a rescue dog.

Meeting the owls

The first owl that we met was Jackson, a tawny owl who was only a year old. This made him the youngest of the owls there, but he is fully grown. He is still getting used to people, and although he perched quietly when we met him, he wasn’t quite as chilled out as some of the others who, like a dog, would just relax and let you stroke them for ages!

Fun fact: Tawny owls have short wing spans, which makes it easier for them to hunt in woodland.

Next came Wispa, the Little Owl. She was a little owl, but that is also her owl type. At over 10 years of age, she was a mature lady, and was very comfortable being handled. She was very small, but then being a little owl, that’s not surprising.

Fun facts: little Owls are between 21-23 cm long, with a wing-span of 54.58 cm. They were introduced to the UK in the 19th century.

When Wispa went back, the next thing I heard was the flapping of some big wings! So I guessed the next owl we would meet would be larger.

And it was – it was Yorkie, the European Eagle Owl. She has powerful wings, but isn’t bothered much about flying. She knows her food will be provided, and she was happy just to sit there being admired!

Fun fact – the European Eagle Owl is the largest species of owl. They liv all over mainland Europe and there are a lot of them in Scandinavia. They are also breeding more in the UK now.

The final bird, whom we didn’t meet, but who was also there was Fox, the Peregrine Falcon, whose official name is fox’s Glacier mint. You may have noticed the confectionery theme of Wispa, Yorkie and Fox’s Mints!

There was no entry fee to see the owls, but you could make a donation to support the running of the centre and looking after the owls. Mike was happy to answer my questions about where the owls came from, what they ate, how they got along (very well seeing how close they were together), and where they lived (each in their own space).

Find out more about the owls

The owls are not usually at Manydown –they just came for a visit.

This is the link for the Hilltop Birds of Prey website, which is not open to the public. So if you want to go and visit, you need to sort out the details in advance.

The Manydown shop

While we were there, we also bought some things from the shop, including some diced beef for a stroganoff, some sage and onion sausages, and some lamb kebabs. All very good quality and reasonably priced. Oh, and caramel shortbread, which I can also recommend for a sugar hit! They have a good range of meats, ready-to-go snacks, sauces, chutneys, biscuits, cakes, tarts – and there’s a Facebook page for the farm shop too.

What is your favourite type of owl?

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Hive Originals – with ingredients fresh from the beehive

My review of four products from Hive Originals. Products contain natural honey and beeswax from the Hive Origianals beehives.

So, S and I were at a chilli and cheese festival, chomping on unusual cheeses and looking for the hottest chillis that we could find, when he noticed a different kind of stall and one that he thought I would like! He was right! I spent the next 15 minutes or so being given a tour of the Hive Originals stall, testing out products, and deciding which ones I wanted to buy!

Claire took her time explaining about the products. I was most interested in the skincare, but there were also candles, soaps, foot care products, and products for men, all made with natural ingredients from the Hive Originals own bee hives.

According to the website: ” Our bees work extremely hard to produce their honey and beeswax. Our skincare follows the same ethos and is lovingly hand-crafted so that we can ensure that only natural products ever go into any of our products. Raw honey is well known for its healing, moisturising and protective qualities. We blend our raw honey and beeswax with the finest organic vegetable and essential oils to truly bring you the very best that nature has to offer. ”

I have been reading a lot lately about the benefits of honey in skincare, and I was interested to find out a bit more about why it’s good for you and how these hand-made products are made.

I could have spent a lot more (there were face creams too!) but in the end I decided to get four things

Body lotion

Firstly I am always keen on a citrus scent, and after testing out several of the body lotions, I chose the orange one. This orange body lotion is a lightweight whipped lotion with organic sweet orange essential oil. It also contains skin-regenerating honey, and beeswax to lock in the moisture. It’s great if you like a fresh citrus scent. If you don’t, there are other body lotions in the range.

Hand cream

I like the lemongrass scent anyway, but lemongrass is also a natural insect repellent, so this is a good handcream to wear in the summer to keep the insects away. This is especially good for me because they love to bite me and leave everyone else alone. I think maybe they like the high caffeine content in my bloodstream!

Anyway, this rich lemon-scented hand cream contains beeswax and jojoba oil, which act together to create a protective barrier to lock in the moisture and protect against the elements.

Lip care

I didn’t know what to do because there were lip balms containing two of my favourite things – so I got both of them! Both contain beeswax to protect, cocoa butter to soften, and organic sunflower oil to nourish and repair the lips.

The Mango lip balm turned out to be my favourite, because you can almost taste the juicy mangos, and it’s not as sweet as some other mango products. However, if you want a sweet treat, or a gift for the chocolate-lover in your life, I can also recommend the chocolate lip balm!

Have you tried any products from Hive Originals? If not, why not check out what else they have to offer!

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If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Visit to the small breeds farm and owl centre

After surprising my partner with a trip to the wolf sanctuary, he surprised me with a trip to the owl centre!

The owl centre is in Herefordshire, and it is home to a wide variety of owls, as well as a number of small animals.

The owls live in the owl garden, and here you can see the five native British owls, as well as owls from all around the world. Some of these owl species are not on public display anywhere else in Europe.

The five owl species that you’ll find in Britain are the British Barn owl, the Tawny owl, the Little owl, the Short-eared owl, and the Long-eared owl. My favourite is the barn owl!

All of these owls are facing challenges at the moment due to changes in farming practices (better pest control means less rodents to feed upon), new roads, and fewer suitable feeding sites. These challenges are particularly intense in the winter time, especially when snowy conditions make it harder to find food. There are a number of charities that work to help the owls to thrive and survive, particularly as falling population numbers have been a cause for concern in recent years.

I’ve been collecting owls for years, but I think Harry Potter contributed to an increased interest in all things with owls on them! Products with owl designs are everywhere in the shops, and I hope this increased interest in them will also translate into people learning more about them and supporting them. A good way to do this is to visit the owl centre. There is information outside every cage about the species, where it’s from, and more general information about its appearance, feeding habits and preferred nesting sites.

If you want to see more owl pictures, visit the owl page on the owl sanctuary’s website.

It was probably a good time to visit because there were lots of tiny animals. We went in the pen with some lambs. They were rather cautious, but as soon as one headed over, the others dared to come a bit closer.
The farm encourages petting and stroking of the animals, so it’s a good experience for visually impaired people too. We didn’t ask about handling any of the owls, apart from the one that greeted people at the entrance, but my partner read the information to me so I could imagine how the different species looked. In any event, it was daytime, so some of them probably wanted to sleep!

There are a number of different types of goat, including pygmies, boer goats, and Golden Guernsey Goats, all of which were eager to chomp anything they could find, and not just the food that was offered to them. One larger goat tried to munch my hair, and one of the tiny kids, that were the size of small cats, tried to nibble the bottom of my dress.

The miniature horses and donkeys have often been featured on TV.

The farm would not be complete without the farm dogs! When my boyfriend said “I’ve seen someone whom you’ll want to meet,” I wasn’t expecting a Labrador, in fact there were two of them, but I was very happy to give them a pat!

Other animals that you can visit are reindeer, alpaca, pigs, cows (including the miniature zebu, the world’s smallest breed of cow), sheep, horses, and donkeys.

This is where you can see some pictures of the other animals on the Owl Centre’s website.

There is also a house for small animals. I stroked some floppy bunny ears, but there weren’t so many opportunities for interaction here. Still you could see the guinea pigs, mice, chipmunks and chinchillas.

After our visit, we had lunch in the gift shop, where I also bought an owl necklace, an owl bracelet and a little bag with an owl face on it to add to my ever-growing owl collection.

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Walking with wolves

As you may have already noticed, I’m a big fan of wolves. I’ve always loved dogs, and my interest in wolves really came about through my partner, who had been interested in them long before I was.

I really think they get a raw deal – often portrayed as the big bad wolf, or bad guys in fairytales, which gives people the idea that they are something to be feared. They are definitely something to be respected, but rather than seeing them as the villain, as I started to read and find out more about them, I understood that there is a lot we can learn from their behaviour, ways of communicating and pack structures.

I wanted to do something with my partner that would allow us to learn more about these wonderful creatures. As the charities and organisations in the UK work with captive wolves, I began to wonder whether I would actually be able to touch one. The first place that I tried said that none of their wolves were accustomed enough to people for interaction to be possible, so I tried further afield and came across Wolfwatch UK, a non-profit organisation that works with displaced captive wolves. According to their website:

“Wolf Watch UK is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the rescue, welfare, and conservation of displaced wolves from captive situations across Europe. Aiming to set the standard for the care of captive wolves, and provide them with as close to natural a habitat as is possible. Whilst providing the opportunity to study, educate, and offer factual information to our visitors, allowing them to form their own opinions regarding this magnificent animal, and hopefully expel some of the myths and misconceptions that still exists around them.”

As visiting Wolfwatch would be quite a long drive, I organised a two-night stay in the cottage, a renovated barn close to the main house, and a private visit with two of the wolves. I was very excited. Initially it was going to be a surprise for my partner, but as it would involve him driving quite a long way, I let him in on it before we booked! I thought this would be better than just producing the postcode on the day and telling the sat nav to get us there.

Last Friday, , we drove to Wolfwatch and were greeted at the door by Tony, who runs the sanctuary, and his two very friendly dogs. After deerhound and spaniel hugs, we were shown to the cottage, where we would stay for the next two nights. It does have a kitchen with a fridge, hob, and microwave, so you could cook there if you wanted. We just bought snacks for lunchtime and went out to a local town for our evening meals.

The cottage is surrounded by beautiful hills and countryside and it’s an ideal place to get away from it all. If you’re lucky, you hear the wolves howling. I made this recording whilst leaning as far as I could out of an upstairs window, so the birds and background noise are quite loud, but I didn’t want to miss the howls all together by running downstairs to go outside! I think this is Anja howling:

https://englishwithkirsty.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/anja.mp3

On Saturday morning, we met Tony, and Helen, who also works at Wolfwatch, and went to the enclose where Madadh and Kgosi live. They are Canadian wolves, brother and sister, and both in their senior years. I had already adopted Madadh on the website (see below for ways that you can help the wolves), and I was very keen to meet her. There was also a special link with visual impairment, because as Kgosi lost his sight, Madadh helped him out, both in terms of getting around the enclosure and finding food. So in a way, she was his guide wolf, and later that day, she became mine, too.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went in (apart from a lot of mud because it had been raining!) I didn’t know how big they would be, what their fur would be like, how keen they would be on interacting with people or how they would respond to us. I imagined them to be something like very big German Shepherds, which wasn’t far wrong, but as they live outside and still had their thick winter coats, it wasn’t like the German Shepherd coats I’d felt before. I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to get so clos to what, despite the familiarity with people that these two wolves have developed after being hand-reared as puppies, is still a wild animal.

Madadh (also known as Maddy) was the first to the gate and she was definitely interested in the dog kibble that we’d brought for her. The first part I felt of her was the big, gentle snout coming in for the biscuits. I was amazed how gently she took them. She then allowed me to stroke her head, her pointy ears, her silky (if a bit wet) coat, and to feel the length of her body. After she had sussed us out, her brother Kgosi came to join us as well. He is much bigger, like a stately old man, and he too was partial to the scooby snacks! He let me touch his strong body, his massive paws and his thick, powerful tail. If he dropped a snack, Maddy was quick to help tidy up!

We spent the next hour or so with them – walking around their enclosure, taking photos, giving them treats and learning about their history, their lives and about the other wolves who live at Wolfwatch. Kgosi couldn’t see the treats, but his keen sense of smell didn’t let him down. He usually allows his sister to go and check out new sights and sounds, but if she needs him, he is ready to defend her.

Madadh is accustomed to being on a lead when she needs to be moved somewhere, and when we took her into the field, I held her lead and she led me along. The sighted members of the party were there to make sure that she didn’t guide mi into the lake, but there was something magical about being guided along by a wolf!

I felt a sense of awe that these powerful, independent animals had developed such trust for Tony, and as we came in with him, they accepted us as well. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to get close to these fascinating creatures.

As I was lying in bed on the morning that we left, I woke to the sounds of howls. I was in no state to be leaning out of windows, so I just stayed there and listened. Du to the direction of the howls, it was unlikely to be Maddy and Kgosi, but even though the other wolves are not socialized and would not welcome us in their enclosures, mainly due to less than positive experiences with humans, they still need our help.

What can you do to help?

There are a number of ways that you can help wolves like Maddy and Kgosi. Buying any of the products on the Wolfwatch website supports the wolves directly – they need to be fed, vet bills need to be paid and their enclosures need to be kept in good condition. Things that you can do include arranging a visit, as we did, adopting a wolf, which gives you access to additional information and resources on the website, visiting the cottage, or gifting membership to someone else. If you can’t afford to do any of these things, you can still learn about them, or share social media updates from organisations that help wolves, and in doing so convey the message that they are not some terrible enemy to be feared, but a smart and intelligent wild animal that deserves our help and respect.

Some of the stories I have heard about the conditions in which wolves have been kept are truly awful. Despite the similarities to dogs, they are not pets. They are not dogs. They are wild animals and need to be kept in an environment that is appropriate for them.

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The URL for the podcast feed is
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Skansen – a place worth visiting if you’re in Stockholm

I may have mentioned before that when we go away, I do the research and make a list of things for us to do, we decide what sounds interesting, then my partner works out the logistics of getting there.

Last year we spent a few days in Stockholm. We’re not really the typical tourists who go from one museum to the next, but I was first drawn to the idea of visiting Skansen because I read that there were wolves there, and we both love wolves.

Wolves at Skansen
Wolves!

Skansen is an open-air museum and zoo that is situated on the island of Djurgarden, near Stockholm.

You can see a variety of wild and domestic animals there, as well as a range of buildings, mostly from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. The buildings were moved to the museum from other parts of Sweden and show how things changed in terms of the architecture.

The wild animals have plenty of space to move around and get away from screaming children and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see wolves, wolverines, lynx, reindeer, moose, bison, grey seals and bears.

It is a great place for a family day out – there are pony rides for children and I imagine that children who love animals would get a lot out of it. I just wish that some parents would not just see it as a wide open space where the kids can let off steam, (there’s a playground for that), but instead that this is the animals’ home, the people are visitors, and as a guest in someone else’s home, there are rules you should follow, such as showing them some respect and not doing things that would potentially distress or scare them.

They are wild animals, so of course there are barriers to separate them from the people, but I was pleased that they had a lot of space and it wasn’t what you might think of when you hear the word zoo.

We wanted to see all of the animals, but we were particularly happy to see the wolves. I don’t understand people who go to nature reserves and complain about not seeing the animals because they were hibernating or asleep – I see it as a bonus if you do catch a glimpse of them, not a tourist right!

As we were walking around one of the traditional farm houses, someone who worked there produced a Braille floor plan of the house. I think they were glad to have found someone who could read it, and they took some time explaining to us what life was like, what the rooms were used for and something about the tasks that the people living on the farm would have done.

You can also visit a replica of a 19th century town and find out what life would have been like there for the farmers, craftsmen and traders. There is also a Sami camp, where you can learn more about the Sami culture and way of life.

If you’re in Stockholm, I would definitely recommend this as a place worth visiting. WE spent the whole day there. Be aware that most things are outdoors, so for the best experience, try to choose a day when it’s not raining! You can buy food on site, and also pay a visit to the gift shop before you leave. I came out with a plush wolf to add to my growing collection!

How about you?

Have you been to Skansen? Do you have any more recommendations for things to do or see in Stockholm?

If you like wolves as much as we do, make sure you don’t miss next week’s post which will be all about wolves in the UK.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty