Muncaster Castle - "Sky Hunters" bird of prey display
Updated: Apr 11
The Lake District for me has always mainly been all about hills, mountains and lakes.
On my most recent trip to the Lake District, we decided last minute however to visit Muncaster Castle as we were staying a little further out and away from the parts of the lakes where I usually like to roam.
The day started with driving rain. We headed to the little cafe for shelter and had a brew before venturing back out and around the castle grounds. This was where I then noticed that there was a bird of prey display taking place. This is just my bag and so we made our way over to the grassy "arena" and took our seats.
I was excited for two reasons - the first being that I love birds of prey, the second being that it was the first time I had the chance to test my XT-2 and its ability to focus and track fast moving objects. A great test for the camera.
The display was opened and presented by a Swedish lady who was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. She introduced each bird with some genuinely interesting facts, with each one having a good amount of flying time. This impressed me as it didn't feel like your typical bird of prey show where the birds get paraded out for a very quick couple of swoops over the crowd and then get bundled back to where they are kept.
There was no interaction from the crowd in terms of touching the birds either which I actually liked. It meant that the birds could enjoy flying in a more natural environment which was great to see. It felt like the Muncaster Castle team really cared about the birds and this was more about the birds getting flight time and educating the audience rather than them simply being there to "perform".
There was some very impressive falconry on show with some incredible birds. The XT-2 locked focus excellently capturing some fantastic action shots of birds in flight such as the one below.
The images below show one of the falconry team showing how these birds hunt and the speed in which they can fly and manoeuvre. Their aerial agility is amazing!
One of my favourite shots of the day was of this owl. It was absolutely silent in flight which is an advantage of this bird when hunting at night. It flew over my head from behind me on several occasions whilst I was looking at my camera, and it made me jump as I didn't hear a thing but just felt the "swoosh" as it brushed my hair!
The most interesting part of the display for me however was the hooded vulture. Like many others I assumed these birds to be a bit of a menace due to the way they look but the Muncaster team dispelled that myth.
These birds get a bad rep due to the media and how films portray them as stupid or intimidating creatures. These birds are scavengers unlike the falcons and hawks that hunt prey, and so are not the menacing creature that many think of them as. These birds are facing great threat from poisoning in their natural habitat due to hunters putting poison in carcasses of dead animals where up to as many as 500 hood vultures could be feasting. This poison affects the central nervous system and paralises them (even meaning they cannot close their eyelids) in the unrelenting sun on the savannah and causes them an awful slow death,
This is having a devastating effect on their numbers in the wild, and so if you visit Muncaster Castle, please support their "help a hoodie" campaign by buying one of their wristbands or doing what you can to help. These are amazing birds that need to be helped and protected to avoid extinction.
The "Sky Hunters" birds of prey display at Muncaster Castle was hands down the best I have been to from both a photographic and educational sense. The visit to the castle was worth it for this alone despite it being a bit wet on the day.
Go to the castle and see it, you won't be disappointed (even in the rain!) - and you'll get to help save an amazing bird from extinction.
Location: Muncaster Castle (Ravenglass - Lake District)
Mucaster Castle address: Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass, Cumbria, CA18 1RQ
Muncaster Castle bird of prey website: http://www.muncaster.co.uk/hawk-owl-centre/bird-displays/
Camera/Lens used: Fuji XT-2 and Fuji 50-140mm f2.8
All images copyright of Mathew Kendall/FujiXplorer. Please do not save or use these images without prior permission and credit. If sharing on social media please kindly credit FujiXplorer and the website www.fujixplorer.co.uk