Tag Archives: raptors

Of falcons and fools

Our last day in Europe was one I’d been looking forward to for the whole trip. We were off to 18th century Jemniste Chateau, where we would see the house and the gardens, and have a traditional lunch. Then we would get to see a falconry display. Woohoo. Raptors. Flying.

Unfortunately, after yesterday’s lovely weather, this one turned out cold and miserable. I’d bought a wool scarf in Potsdam, and I was glad to have it to keep my poor throat warm. I also took along a light rain coat to wear over my leather jacket. Got everything? Yep. Scarf, camera, throaties – let’s go.

As promised the house was impressive, beautiful but not completely over the top, a working country residence. We wore slippers to protect the timber floors.

But what was this? My camera was blinking at me. Battery down to 19%. Oh shit. Not wanting to carry much, I hadn’t brought my camera bag, which had the spare batteries. Tomas tried to get a bit more power into the battery using his phone, but that didn’t work. Fool of a woman! I would have to rely on whatever Pete got on his tablet. So pretty much all of the photos in this post are Peter’s (except for one). I’ll never hear the end of it.

Family photos and hunting trophies

Some nice frescoes and stucco

Set for a formal dinner

The front of the house overlooks a manicured formal garden, and there’s a wild garden beyond the house, with lawns sweeping down to a lake. They have a small zoo, too, which includes a few wallabies. The sign says ‘kangaroos’ – but the guide certainly knew the correct name. I imagine most non-Australian visitors wouldn’t know what a wallaby was.

The formal garden from above. Somebody keeps busy with the hedge trimmers

Lunch was delicious, based around wild boar, presented in the traditional Czech way. The meat is served roasted and sliced for women, and in a stew for the men.

And then it was time for the falconry. I could hardly contain myself.

Our hosts had set up a pavilion in a garden area so we could sit under cover in case of rain. The skies still threatened, but the drizzle had at least stopped. The falconers brought out their birds, a horse, and a hunting dog. Because, of course, these birds were used to hunt. The show started with the falconer showing us how they trained the birds, using a harrier called Harry. After a few manoeuvres, he asked for a volunteer. I haven’t moved so fast in a very long time. Pick me, pick me!

So I got to wear a falconer’s glove and hold a tidbit for the bird, which flew in and landed on my wrist. Somebody asked me if I’d been afraid, even a little bit. Um… no. All the bird wanted was the food. Apart from the harrier, the handlers brought out an eagle owl, a peregrine falcon, and a golden eagle. The owl, in particular, waited impatiently for the food, that being the only reason why he accepted being out in daylight. They’re fed baby chickens, legs, feathers and all. I expect they come from a chicken farm somewhere, the male chooks nobody wants. That’s nature.

This guy’s a peregrine falcon

The falconers asked for one more volunteer. The falcon would fly between his legs, so he was advised to keep his hands over his man bits. I suspect he really was a teensy bit worried.

The bird has just flown between our volunteer’s legs

This is Harry

Peregrine falcon

The horse was a handsome well-trained fellow who has been in the movies. I believe he carried Russel Crowe in the fairly recent Robin Hood. The dog was young, being trained, and having some trouble understanding that he wasn’t supposed to shake the target around before he brought it back.

That’s an eagle owl

Me and my mate – and the female golden eagle

So who’s an idiot, then? The time when I really, really needed a spare battery to photograph something I really, really wanted to capture, I stuffed it up. It’s not much compensation, but I doubt any photos of the birds flying would have been any good because the light was poor. But I’ll never know, will I?

This is the only raptor picture I took myself

Next morning we were on our way to the airport to catch a plane home. Yes, it was a horrible flight, thanks for asking, but that had nothing to do with the airline. The petulant child who became increasingly loud when its demands weren’t met only exacerbated my discomfort. Did I mention being sick when you’re away from home sucks?

Here’s a pretty garden picture to look at. That’s the lake in the wilder part of the chateau’s garden. Autumn has well and truly arrived.

 

No room at the inn? No room in town

We started day two with breakfast at Macca’s – raisin toast and a flat white, hoping to get onto the internet. No such luck. Wifi worked, but not internet access, so I guess their ISP had a problem. Bugger. So we were reduced to printed maps. How last century. We decided we’d stop at Longreach before we headed off to see the dinosaur stampede outside Winton. That way, we could do it all comfortably.

Australia, guys, is a biiiig country, with not much in it. You don’t really realise how big until you do the drive. I’ve included a few photos. Outside Emerald we didn’t encounter much traffic – but plenty of road kill. Roos, mostly but also some pigs and smaller, unrecognisable squashed bodies. The vegetation was very dry – much of Queensland has been declared in drought which is remarkable after the last few years of floods. But that’s Australia.

The country broods under a brilliant blue sky in muted shades of grey, eucalyptus green, silver, palest gold. Dried grass shimmers in the breeze and raptors circle in the updraughts. I’ve never seen so many birds of prey, and not just in ones and twos. They’re in flocks, wheeling around above the towns, gathering around the fresh road kill. Life’s not hard for the meat eaters out here.

Of course, I managed to get some great pictures. But that isn’t a wedgetail. I’m hangin’ out for that.

We stopped for lunch at Barcaldine on the way to Longreach. It’s pronounced bar-CALL- din. Its claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party, ostensibly created by a bunch of blokes gathered under a tree now known as the tree of knowledge. Some low-life poisoned the ghost gum a few years ago, but the town worthies have attempted to preserve the legend by creating a monument around its dead remains. This is a dead tree surrounded by a wooden box affair which is supposed to represent the canopy that no longer exists. You don’t want to know what that bit of madness cost – especially when they’re closing hospitals. I thought the whole thing was downright creepy. A bit like a mummy, but without the class.

Lunch (a salad sandwich and a pot of tea) took about 25 minutes to arrive. Ho hum. They only had white bread but the salad was fresh.

And then we arrived at Longreach, home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas museum, complete with Boeing 747. We’d been to both of those on a previous visit. Longreach this time was just a port of call. Except it wasn’t. The town was fully booked. Honest. Not a vacancy to be had. It seemed Longreach was hosting a Government Conference, and somebody of consequence had died and the town was packed out for the funeral. So we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and headed for Winton, about 175 km up the road.

I’m typing this up in a little motel right next door to the RSL, where we’ll have dinner and a drink. Tomorrow we’ll visit the dinosaur stampede, something which will be a highlight for me. And you never know, sometime I might be able to post this.

Oh. Update. The RSL was closed!!! Up for sale. Places like that are the life blood of tiny country towns. But we got a great steak at a local pub. Winton actually has a few things to brag about. I’ll write about that this evening. Dinosaurs first!