Saturday, 17 July 2010

Britain's got talons...

The other week I was outside a well-known supermarket in Dumbarton. Also outside were a selection of birds of prey, I thought initially they'd been attracted by the two for one offers on fresh melons but it turned out they were there to promote the work of the Loch Lomond Birds of Prey Centre.

There were around a dozen birds there, by far the most impressive of which was a very chilled looking eagle owl. I was thinking what a shame it was that the wee folk weren't there to see when a wonderful idea occurred - why not take them there? Sheesh. Who knew?

So that's just what we did...albeit about a week later. A meander down through Strathyre forest and Callander brought us in the back way, avoiding all the traffic we'd been hearing about heading for the golf at Loch Lomond. The centre itself is in the back of a garden centre of all things, there must be a good reason for that but I'm damned if I can think of it.

We were shown round by a group of teenage volunteers, led by a girl of about seventeen who, she told us midway through, hadn't done the tour for over a year but with her relaxed manner and informative delivery it seemed to us as if she did it several times a day. She managed to get across loads of great information and wee asides without ever doing the whole patronising-know-it-all thing.

The children were amazed to learn that the European Eagle Owl (the one I'd seen at the shops) has a grip strength in its claws over three times that of a Rotteweilers jaws whilst my own personal favourite tale was that of another owl, Cargottow, the African Spotted Eagle Owl. Apparently, some time ago, he -yes, he - had looked after a rock for about 18months thinking it was an egg and that in nurturing it he would impress the ladies he hoped to woo (to wit, to woo even). He eventually gave the rock to a prospective mate as a gift...we weren't told if she was impressed or if she just thought he was a bit of a twit (to woo).*

*Owl Fact from the visit: Tawny Owls are the ones which do the comedy twit twoo call, the males twit, the ladies twoo.

After the owls it was on to the raptors, including Orla the Golden Eagle who captivated the kids just by sitting there - both of them decided she was the best thing in the place. My other half and I were more keen on taking Brodie, the seven week old Tawny Owl fluffball home with us. I don't think that until that point I'd ever seen an animal with eyes bigger that its head but Brodie had a darned good go!

All four of us were thrilled to have the chance to stroke Smudge, a Little Owl by name and stature. He came out on one of the guides gloves and sat nicely while we all gave him a was easy to see why he's such a popular bird with the sponsors.

A venture like this can stand or fall on the quality of its dealings with the public. We left with the impression that the staff and volunteers are committed, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Most of all they're keen and happy to share what they know and bring some of their passion to visitors young and not so young.

Open seven days, 10-5.30 (5 on Sundays)at the incredibly reasonable price of £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for kids, it's well worth a visit and the chance to see these incredible animals.

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