Today we jumped in the car and headed down the M3 to Andover to the Hawk Conservancy Trust. I had seen vouchers for them on our local radio's website as part of a half price summer deal and thought it worth a go. I wasn't expecting a great deal - a bit of a 'bird world' really - so I am delighted to tell you that it was one of the best days out we've had EVER!
Easily found off the A303 (literally about 500 yards off it!) and plenty of parking. In we went and began our look around. We arrived with around 40 minutes to spare before the Wings of Africa flying demonstration so we visited some of the aviaries and looked at the birds. The youngest two girls each got a card to find stamps to fill up so they were eagerly looking for those too. Time for the flying demonstration arrived.
We hadn't thought to get there early and there were only seats at the back left. Oh well, at least the girls could sit up on the back rest or stand. The announcement came that you had to sit down properly so they were a bit disappointed...until the display began! It didn't honestly matter where you say as birds swooped literally over your head and much of the time you felt like you had to duck! What a joy. Every member of the audience got an up close and personal experience. Once the fantastic flying was done, the girls queued up to hold an owl. They were wide-eyed doing this and loved it.
We then wandered over for a bit of pond dipping which was about to start. Four children at a time, with adults, and about 5 minutes each. Doesn't sound much but they were so engrossed with what they were getting out, and so excited, it was magical for them. Hand gel later and we were off for our picnic.
After filling up on our goodies, we went over towards the Valley of the Eagles display via lots of other aviaries (and a few more stamps). We ended up being in the front row for this display, but like the previous one, everyone got a great view. In fact, low flying would be an exaggeration - the vultures almost hopped from one head to the next! The girls were loving this and the teen was beaming still. Watching the hawks doing their thing and then one of the handlers trying to 'march' across in front of us without the hawks stealing the meat was hilarious. Seeing the bald eagle coming in from it's flight over the downs was incredible.
Once the show (hosted by a very funny commentator, who was the son of the man who set this all up) was over, the girls went for a tractor ride (all free) whilst J raced off to the Hawk Flying Arena and got to fly a Harris hawk!
Back she came afterwards with this great picture and then we all got an ice cream (amazed at how cheap!) before having a walk around the lovely area of Reg's Wild Flower Meadow.
We started to head back and noticed that we were just in time for the Woodland Owls and Hawks Flying to start, so at the back we sat again, ducking down as owls flew over our heads, with much hilarity again from the handler of one little owl who, it seemed, didn't like heights!
Finally our day drew to a close. I had primed the girls that I wasn't about to buy them each something from the shop but when we got in there and saw the prices, we all came away with something! Little snowy owl soft toys were £4.99, magnets £1.50 and a lovely owl necklace for J was £5.99. Very impressive and so nice that this wonderful place was letting all the visitors have the ability to take home a little something by keeping their prices sensible.
We are now considering family membership as sadly hubby couldn't come today as he was working but we'd like to go back...more than once! What can I say - great handlers, beautiful birds and sensible pricing. The Hawk Conservancy has everything going for it!