Eagles, owls, kites, hawks and vultures call the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary their home because they cannot be released due to imprinting or injury.
“Stay there and she’ll fly right over your head.”
I hold my crouched position with camera poised. The Spotted Eagle Owl flies towards me, glides past without making a sound and lands behind me on Belinda’s outstretched gloved arm. Awe inspiring!
Since our first visit to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary in early 2009 we return whenever we’re in Kwazulu-Natal to catch up with Shannon, watch her birds and see if we can be of some help. It was actually during that very first visit that both Russ and I were changed. Nikela was founded largely because of what we experienced that day over seven years ago. (Watch the video)
It’s a cloudy day as we drive into the Sanctuary. We find Shannon, Jan and Candice fussing over the down internet while the technician dances on the roof trying to get it working again. Shannon breaks away and we sit catching up over a cup of tea. Shannon tells of her recent visit to the Drakensberg Mountains to the breeding site of the endangered Bearded Vulture. Nonchalantly she talks of a helicopter crash in the snow high up on the escarpment. We come to find out that by shear providence she and her three colleagues escaped serious injury. It never ceases to amaze me what people in this wildlife conservation arena experience and survive!
After chatting with Jan about the upcoming group of high school students we’re sponsoring to be enthralled by a flight show, we give Candice the money. Then it’s on to the good stuff. Shannon invites us to join her while she exercises her ambassador birds.
For the next hour Russ and I enjoy our very own personal time with these magnificent birds. Russ even gets to receive the African Wood Owl, well after a bit of coaxing. Shannon says, tongue in cheek that the bird has never worked with a mustache before!
But I get ahead of myself.
Long Crested Eagle
First out is the majestic Crested Eagle with his sexy hairdo. He seems to know he is super cool as he flies effortlessly from post to tree and back to Shannon. He has no fear of humans as he imprinted long ago and was brought to the sanctuary because he can’t be released.
Yellow Billed Kite
Out next is the noisy, fast flying Yellow Billed Kite. She can climb and fall almost vertically. She flies straight up, then drops to grab her ‘prey’ from Shannon’s gloved hand almost. She is literally faster than the eye can follow. (Watch the slow motion action in this video)
This bird has flown with Shannon for 16 years. After recovering from an injury she was released, but she came back. She was released again and came back again. After the third time she stayed, and has been an ambassador for her species ever since.
Spotted Eagle Owl
The large Spotted Eagle Owl is as grand as you imagine an owl to be. Large, with piercing marble eyes and a head that turns 270 degrees. And yes, she flies without making a sound becoming perfectly camouflaged in the old tree she lands in.
With a bell on his foot so he can be found if he flies too far the African Goshawk is out next. This bird of prey pursues small running rodents so we watch him adeptly catch and ‘kill’ a fast moving lure. Shannon runs over to him then looks up into the sky. We spot several wild kites and a Snake Eagle flying above. Keeping one eye on the sky is crucial to the safety of these captive birds while they’re working.
African Wood Owl
It’s time for Russ’ instruction. He puts on a falconer’s glove, attaches a bag with ‘prey’ to his belt and Shannon shows him how to hold his arm and call the bird. Belinda brings out the small African Wood Owl. After a bit of coaxing and watching the sky for the Snake Eagle this small owl flies to Russ’ outstretched arm. I think I enjoy watching the smile on Russ’ face about as much as watching the bird.
When it’s all over we take a minute to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, feeling very privileged to have been in the presence of these magnificent birds. Words can’t express it. You’ll simply have to watch the video. There are some great slow motion clips of these beauties in flight… close up.
Thanks Shannon and team for all you do for the birds, for the people, young and old who come daily to be enthralled and inspired.
Helping is easy.
100% of your donation goes to the Sanctuary.