Owl be there for you-hoo!
Today’s short stroll in the park happened in York. As you may already know, York is the ‘capital’ of Yorkshire – or at least the town after which the county is named, which gives it a degree of importance that other Yorkshire towns simply cannot aspire to. Which is unfortunate if your family are from Leeds of course, but for the purpose of this article, let’s just accept that York is a serious town in Yorkshire.
Its main claim to fame of course is that it was once, way back in Roman times, the capital city in all of England. Back then, the Romans called the town Eboracum, where the famous Yorkshire saying ‘Eee, bah gum!’ is said to originate from. Of course if you’re uttering those words, you’re probably trying to make an interesting interjection when some more captivating personage is regaling the audience with some fantasmagorical tale of wunderlust and woe, rather than referring to the vanquishers of Briton’s pre-eminent Northern stronghold. If you’re not from Yorkshire, it’s probably best not to attempt it at all, unless you’ve managed to rope in a magnificent vocal coach, well versed in the art of local English dialects. You’d just sound silly – trust me!
The Emperor Constanine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire in 306 AD from within the city walls of Eboracum, where he had been accompanying his father on a visit. Unfortunately, poor Connie-pops the Elder popped his clogs one fateful afternoon in York (not something the city is particularly proud of, by all accounts) and young Constantine was declared the leader of the Empire by the legions of loyal soldiers that had accompanied the royal family on their trip. This is a truly enrapturous tale on its own which deserves a whole post dedicated to it, so I’ll hold off on that particular history lesson for now – but it’s a corker, so do come back when I get round to telling that one!
After the Romans departed, the walls fell into disrepair of course until the Vikings arrived and pronounced Jorvik as their capital and started constructing new, even stronger defences to surround this thriving city. They knocked down what rubble remained of the Roman walls and used these for substantial footings for their new walls. A walk along the walls today reveals much about this heavily contested fortress city and provides a fascinating insight into British history.
But that was not what I was searching for today.
I was looking for a gentle distraction to fill my battered soul with calming balm and make me feel that life is in fact worth the living. It’s been a difficult, even hugely challenging week that has not ended particularly well and here we are, the other side of Fractious Friday, alive and still kicking it would seem.
I needed cool green gardens with perhaps a little Spring colour to brighten my mood and sooth my jangling nerves.
A stroll along the river (the Ouse, for those who need to get their bearings) in dappled sunlight followed by perambulations through the Museum Gardens seemed just the ticket.
As we turned in through the gates to the gardens and sauntered up the path we realised with increasing excitement that the owls were in town! At various points in the calendar (it just seems random to me, but there’s probably a program of events somewhere, organised by some lovely volunteer) the Owl Conservation group – I think they’re called the Owl Adventures – show their fabulous beasts off in displays in the Museum Gardens, informing members of the public about the vital conservation work they carry out and introducing people to these stunning creatures; close up contact with the birds is a carefully supervised but incredibly thrilling experience and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time today. Often when we’ve been in the past the crowds are too large to get close enough to take any kind of photos, but today I was in luck. A large enough crowd to ensure the display was in full fling when we arrived, but small enough to afford me an opportunity to find an excellent position to shoot from.
And my, these birds are simply gorgeous!
First, I came across a Little Owl, sitting patiently awaiting some tasty tidbit, posing perfectly for me on his low perch.
Every feather a tiny work of art on its own, together they cause him to glow gloriously, as he gave me his best side along with a piercing glare – no doubt weighing up whether I had anything to offer him, apart from a cheery smile. I didn’t, except for the chance to take this portrait, which I’m fairly pleased with. I was reminded of Pigwidgeon, Ron Weasley’s Little Owl who was famously inept at delivering mail, frequently failing to notice glazed windows and consequently crashing into them comically. I wanted to pet him and tell him what a fan I am, but I refrained. I’m quite civilised really.
Next, sat a little way along on another low perch, came the Barn Owl; surely the most exquisitely bedecked bird in the world – the heart-shaped face Nature’s own design to ensure that pin-point accuracy is attained when hearing the slightest rustling in the darkened undergrowth, allowing the Barn Owl to pick off its prey (tiny mammals, mice, shrews and voles) from significant distances whilst making not a sound.
I fell in love instantly, so beguiling was she, hypnotising me with her curious contemplations. I could have looked at this face all day long.
There were others too – a Harris hawk and a Sparrow hawk if I’m not mistaken, although I didn’t get the opportunity to ask so I can’t confirm that of course.
Mean and very scary looking, awe-inspiring of course, but I certainly wouldn’t want to meet them alone in the woods after dark. Especially if I was a teeny mammal. Most definitely not.
But the main display that was going on involved Eva, the Canadian Great Horned owl, who obligingly flew from pillar to post, providing many opportunities to watch how silently they fly.
The falconer asked for several volunteers to lie down, in order that they might demonstrate how close to the ground Eva can fly – they duly lined up on the grass and awaited their fate – wickedly Eva was encouraged to ramble along the first volunteer’s tum, much to everyone else’s amusement! And then she launched from her perch and single-mindedly swooped towards her handler and the grisly reward he was offering her.
I was not in the best of positions to see this, but I hope the picture I did manage to capture conveys at least a little of the awesome nature of her flight. Wicked stuff!
Eva then returned to her low perch as she awaited her fans and she too posed perfectly for her portrait.
I was elated!
So that was my stroll.
Do I feel replenished? Yes. Who wouldn’t?
Or should that be ‘Hoo’ wouldn’t?
Thanks for reading once again my friends!
Posted on May 30, 2015, in Birds of prey display, City walls, Eboracum, Jorvik, Owls, Roman York, York Museum Gardens and tagged Barn Owl, Birds of prey, Emperor Constantine the Great, Harris Hawk, Jorvik, Little Owl, Museum Gardens, Owl Adventures, Owls, River Ouse, Roman Empire, ROmans, Sparow hawk, Vikings, York, York City Walls. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.