Eagles Flying in County Sligo may be one of the lesser known attractions in Ireland, but it could be ranked amongst the most exciting ones - where else can you get that near to eagles, owls and other raptors? During the season, two flying demonstrations per day are scheduled. But this is just part of the work the Irish Raptor Research Centre does ... which ranges from conservation to wildlife rescue.
Let us have a look at what's on offer - and the thumbnails are clickable to view a full-size image!
This is what it all seems to be about ... Kelly, a Tawny Eagle, soaring through the amphitheatre where the shows are held (there also is an indoor arena for those Irish-weather-days). Tawny Eagles are mostly native to southern Africa and the Indian subcontinent, they are big and beautiful.
I said "seems" above - Eagles Flying is the "visitor face" of the Irish Raptor Research Centre, which is financed largely through entry fees and donations. There is much more going on than flying displays, so remember it is not just another tourist attraction.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of at Eagles Flying.
Now that's what I call a near miss ... Aisling the Eurasian Eagle Owl was cannily directed towards the camera, snatching a snack at close quarters. Until you have experienced an owl this close up and this active you have no idea just how agile and huge these birds are.
By the way ... love those woolly socks, Aisling! You'll find the Eurasian Eagle Owl (also known by the interesting name bubo bubo) nearly all over Europe and Asia, but it is not native to Ireland.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Aisling heading towards you at Eagles Flying.
My Turn? My Turn?
Joe holding Aisling for another show flight - with the latter being interested in a light reflection off the camera lens, or so it seems. The birds are quite eager to "perform", after all it is snack- and playtime combined.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Joe and Aisling at Eagles Flying.
Nice Bird You Got There
Sketch holding a Harris Hawk called Maeve, ready for take-off. Native to the Americas, Harris Hawks are also living in the wild in Europe and Britain - most of them having made a clean getaway from falconers, it seems. Unusual: these hawks tend to hunt in groups.
They are also very popular in falconry as they are easier to train than other birds and very social. Maeve's stance and "facial expression" may not readily convey this ... but note that Sketch is wearing no gloves! Actually ... Maeve landing on my hand to get a snack was less prickly than our cats trying to snatch some food ...
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Sketch and Maeve at Eagles Flying.
Myths, All Myths
So eagles and sheep never mix? This is Lynda, a White-tailed Eagle, enjoying the company of some woolly friends without any bother to either side. This Sea Eagle would be at home in northern Europe and Asia, so Sligo seems a good place to her.
That wasn't always the case - in fact Iolar Mara (Irish for Sea Eagle) was extinct in Ireland by 1912, ruthlessly pursued by sheep farmers. And when re-introduction of these magnificent birds began a few years ago (in the Killarney National Park), local farmers mounted a protest. And seem to be prepared to re-establish the status of 1912 ... two eagles were poisoned, two shot.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Lynda at Eagles Flying.
Lothar and the Eagle
The boss with a feathered friend - Lothar F. Muschketat, biologist and director of Eagles Flying, at a flying demonstration with Lynda. Lothar manages to combine factual information, some storytelling and a pinch of humour in his running commentary during the shows. Lynda, however, knows who the real star is ...
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Lothar and Lynda at Eagles Flying.
Just Finding a Landing Spot
Okay, we might discuss the label "beautiful" in some cases ... but then again beauty is, as ever, in the eye of the beholder. So behold Regina giving Sancho, a Turkey Vulture, a hand at/for landing. Vultures certainly have a bad press and do not conform to conventional beauty standards, but they are interesting nonetheless.
The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger, native to the Americas. You might have seen it in many, many Westerns. Its appearance usually is the cue for a dramatic turn of events or a grisly discovery.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Regina and Sancho at Eagles Flying.
Hedgehog ... in White
Not all animals at Eagles Flying are eagles or even capable of flying - but wildlife rescue also plays a part here. Meet Hedges, an albino hedgehog that was picked up on a busy road. His distinct red eyes may not be the sharpest, but he is a bundle of energy.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Hedges at Eagles Flying.
It's a Zoo in There ...
Visitors are often surprised that a small petting zoo can also be found at Eagles Flying, complete with mundane and rare animals. Some of which are roaming about quite undistracted. Like Rosie, a massive saddleback pig. So massive indeed that keeping a bit of distance is a natural reaction. As if she could be bothered ...
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Rose not greeting visitors at Eagles Flying.
Rosie - Rides Are Free
Another shot of Rosie, proving that size matters - after all, who can claim not only to be named "saddleback" but also to be able to carry a few passengers? It might just be a fun shot, but young visitors are likely to enjoy the close interaction with animals.
Click thumbnail to see a larger image of Rosie and her rider at Eagles Flying.