It's now half way through September, this blog has taken me ages to write, I actually started it in back in April when we were winding up last season. But I'm not the most prolific writer and I'm very easily distracted.
We left Nepal at the end of May for a much need break, since then we've been to India, UK and Norway, we are now back in Nepal and raring to go again.
summary, last season was the best by far, I still get asked the same questions, "What's the point of Parahawkng?" "What do you hope to achieve?", well I suppose the answer has changed over the years. What started out as an experiment has turned into one of the best ways humans can interact with natures aerial experts and one of the most useful ways to highlight Vulture conservation on a global scale.
Anyway, here's a summary of last season's main highlights.
In sickness and in health
Kevin took a turn for the worse back in March. We'd flown in the morning, had a blinder of a flight, about an hour and a half in fact. He'd eaten a fair amount of food during the flight so had a bit of crop on him when we landed. As usual he was put out on the lawn to weather and chill for the rest of the day. The afternoon passed and he was fine then he jumped off his perched and begun to lie down on the grass. This was a bit unusual but not a total surprise as he'll often have a little lie down when he's basking in the sun, but it was now late in the afternoon and the sun was on it's way down.
He began to get really thirsty, that's when the alarm bells started to ring and we suspected something was wrong. Within minutes he deteriorated quite rapidly and was now convulsing and struggling to breath. We immediately thought he'd been poisoned so we began to massage his crop to encourage him to regurgitate which he did after a couple of minutes. After getting lots of fluid down him, we'd come to the conclusion that he had some kind of crop infection. Within a couple of hours he had livened up a little, enough at least to keep pumping him with fluids.
The next day we'd heard back from the Neil Forbes - our vet in the UK who had confirmed what we had suspected after all, a condition called Sour crop which is caused by food gone off in the crop, which then release toxins into the body and the reaction is much like poisoning. He was put on a course of antibiotics and within a few days he began to recover. Since it was almost the end of the season, we stopped flying him, giving him a chance to fully recover. A close call!
The proposed Pokhara Vulture Restaurant is still a project that is very much at the forefront of our plans albeit taking a little time to get off the ground. Over the past season we looked at a number of potential sites and even though many had some good things going for them, none ticked all the boxes. We're hoping to continue our search in September after the monsoon rains end, hopefully with a little more luck.
Once again, we lent a hand to the guys at the RSPB and BCN with their Vulture captive breeding program. This year they were only able to collect 4 White Backed Vulture chicks from the Pokhara Valley area for the program compared to last years 14. A little disappointing as this was a clear indication of the lack of number of breeding pairs in and around the valley. Even so, more birds were collected from other areas in Nepal bring the total number to 14.
During the monsoon last year, we acquired a young Egyptian Vulture, since he had to be hand reared by us it wasn't possible for him to be returned to the wild. He was named Bob (after my Dad) and was trained for Parahawking. From his first step onto the glove it was only 4 short weeks before he was flying with me on short top to bottoms. Since then his flying has gone from strength to strength, taking on thermalling flights and flying alongside Kevin by early December. By the New Year we were able to take him for Tandem flights for over an hour at a time. But he really came into his own when Kevin was sick, Bob took over the tandem flying and went from rookie to rock star. Like Kevin, he has bags of energy, is super reliable and has a great personality but has definitely got more confidence than Kevin had in his first year and will sometimes be the more dominant of the two. I can't tell you how excited I am to see him fly this season, and to have the two of them flying with me truly is a spiritual experience.
Put my foot in it
Maya Devi came to life this season with our renovated veranda, the new extended seating area and regular Sunday BBQ's. The annual Christmas bash was hosted at Maya Devi as usual with more people than ever taking part in the traditional Secret Santa pressie game. I have to say though that there was clear evidence that the current global economic downturn had effected peoples gift buying abilities, either that or the tight arses were out in force this year. Take note, next year it will be a MINIMUM of 500 rupees not UP TO 500 rupees, so start saving :)
I must admit, in the past I've been slightly accident prone when I've had a few too many shandies so I thought i'd take it a bit easier this year. Anita was in charge and was instructed to cart me off to bed when my behaviour started to get a little over exuberant. All was going well - according to Anita - we left the party in full swing at around 2 ish and retreated to our hut for some kip. I desperately didn't want to be hungover as I had flights booked the next day. I was in bed, safe or so it seemed. What happened next is all still a bit of a mystery to me. Fastfoward onto me lying on the floor of the hut swimming in a pool of blood. Apparently I got up about 2 hours later, stumbled down the stairs, tripped over my mountain bike and stood on the Schrader valve putting a 2 inch gash into the ball of my right foot. A trip to the local hospital and 8 stitches later soon sobered me up. But that was it, I was bed ridden for at least a week. Or so I was told. Not one to miss a good days flying, Ii was back up in the air after 3 days having perfected the one legged take off and landing technique (not recommended)
New aviaries finished
During the spring we sent out an appeal to raise funds to build a new rehabilitation aviary as part of the Raptor Re-homing project that we had just launched. We had planned to construct three 12ft x 8ft aviaries to house up to 6 birds, the location was just behind Maya Devi on a local family's land that we have agreed to rent. We were overwhelmed with the responses, by the end we had raised almost 1000 Euros - which was just shy of our target - but an enormous boost nonetheless. We were able to finish the aviaries and get the birds in before the rains came. Thanks to everybody that contributed both with donations and manual labour. To see the results go to - http://www.himalayanraptorrescue.org
Tandem success but not much solo flying
In a nutshell, we stormed the tandem flying this year with over 200 Parahawking tandems flown between November and April, that's 100% up on the previous year. Finally the word is starting to spread and Parahawking is quickly becoming the "must do" activity in Nepal. All the Parahawking birds were ready earlier which means that they are fitter and can fly for longer, = more airtime for everybody = happy birds, happy pilots and happy passengers. But when one thing goes well, something has to give and unfortunately it was my solo flying this year. Sometimes there's just not enough hours in the day. However with the promise of a new wing from Gin this season, they'll be more of an effort to get up there alone this coming season... well not completely alone, I'll have one of the birds with me of course!
Himalayan Raptor Rescue
As you know, in addition to Parahawking, we also run the Himalayan Raptor Rescue Centre in Pokhara, which is the only dedicated Raptor Rescue Centre in Nepal. We are regularly handed sick, injured and orphaned birds of prey which we attempt to rehabilitate and return to the wild where possible. Himalayan Raptor Rescue is a small privately run non profit organisation that relies on donations, funding and sponsorships. If you would like to get involved or help in any way then please head over to the new Himalayan Raptor Rescue website - http://www.himalayanraptorrescue.org
. There is lots of info in there about some of the birds we've rescued plus info on the Vulture crisis. It's still a bit of a work in process but soon you will be able to become a member. There will be special club benefits such as discounts on Parahawking flights and activities in Nepal. Your membership money will go directly towards the running of the rescue centre. In the meantime you can sponsor one of the birds, this will help us to continue to treat and rehabilitate that bird whilst it is in our care.
You may remember that last year we rescued a Steppe Eagle who had suffered a fracture to his wing. Wing injuries in Birds of Prey can be extremely complicated, especially when there is not a specialist vet around to fix it. In the past we have had to choose euthanasia over treatment as the fractures have been too severe. In this case, the fracture looked fairly minor, the bird was young, strong and healthy so we thought we would try to fix it. As it turned out after about 6 weeks in a cast the wing looked like it had healed. I then began to train it with a view to getting the bird fit so it could be released. We called him Clive, I don't know why, he just looked like a Clive. Unfortunately the timing couldn't have been worse, he decided to start moulting and dropped primary flight feathers on the injured wing and 2 on the other side, pretty much rendering him flightless. So now he's is in a secluded aviary, away from the stresses of the outside world, where he'll replace his lost feathers. Hopefully I can start his training again soon so he can be returned to the wild. Watch this space.
New tandem and stuff from Gin
I'm extremely lucky to have Gin Gliders as one of Parahawking's main supporters. Gin comes through pretty much every year with some new toys for me to use, in the past I've received Solo gliders, prototypes, harness's, clothing et etc. My old trusted Beetle that Gin sent me two years ago was starting to show it's age. One email to Gin and 3 weeks later a brand new Be Cool Tandem arrives in the post, now that what I call quality service. Kevin and Bob had to get used to flying with a blue wing, but they soon forgot about the old faded yellow Beetle. In addition, Gin has also promised to send me a Sprint, the new 1-2 rated glider from the Gin camp, I can't wait.
New stuff from Tinyloc
Tinyloc radio tracking are another one of Parahawking's sponsors, they produce the smallest lightweight radio tracking equipment. It's perfect for us as it means we can deploy the system and track the birds as we fly, which I've had to do a few times, like I don't have enough to do when I'm flying!. Tinyloc are currently developing a revolutionary new system that uses GPS. They have promised to send one as soon as it's compete.
New stuff from UK Airsports
UK Airsports have kindly given us a couple of the fantastic GoPro Hero wide cameras. We'll be putting these great little devices in all sorts of places this year to get some unique Parahawking footage. We'll also be using them for the filming flights so if you want your Parahawking flight filmed, you know where to come.
New stuff from Ben Long
During our brief trip the UK this summer we took the chance to go the the International Festival of Falconry in Reading. The festival brings together falconers from all over the world from as far as China, Mongolia, United States, South Africa, New Zealand and the Middle East among others. It's a fascinating insight into the world of falconry and a great place to meet people. I, on the other hand managed to spend the entire weekend catching up with old mates from my home town in the UK. However, it was great to see them and find out what everyone's been up to. I also got a chance to catch up with a couple of our sponsors, The Identity Store, the people that supply us with our leather and of course Ben Long who donates all of our Falconry Equipment to us. Naturally I walked away with a sack of goodies from Ben's stall, Thanks as always Ben.
I am pleased to announce 2 new additions to the Parahawking team this season. I am delighted to confirm that Claudio Mota is joining the team this year. You may know Claudio from the amazing Paragliding film by Sean White "Never Ending Thermal" especially the closing scenes from the breathtaking flight he did from Angle Falls in his home country of Venezuela. Secondly I'm pleased to welcome Emily Hammel to the team, Emily is a falconer and bird of prey enthusiast. She comes with lots of falconry and bird training experience having worked at a number of bird of prey centres. To find out more about this year’s team - Click here
Plans for next season
We are now only days away from getting the birds prepared for this coming season, so much to do but very excited to get going again. Bookings are already flooding in for Tandem Parahawking and Sky Safaris so it's going to be a very busy season. Maya Devi came to life last season with weekly BBQ's and group lunches. We'll be giving our presentations to groups throughout the season, a great chance to spread the conservation message and give people a hands on experience with one of the birds.
Lastly, for all those that use Facebook, I have set up Facebook pages for Parahawking, Himalayan Raptor Rescue and Maya Devi Village. I'll be updating these pages fairly regularly with the latest news etc, don't worry, I promise I won't bombard with you with junk, just relevant info regarding our little projects. Please become a fan of the pages, suggest them to your friends if you think they'll be interested and spread the Parahawking love. The links are as follows:
That's about it for now, I'm literally all blogged out.