Yarak Bird of Prey Experience
Last year I had a somewhat significant birthday and was delighted to be gifted a voucher for a half-day experience at Yarak Bird of Prey which is only 15 minutes from Halsbeer Farm and Blackdown Yurts. I knew I would never be forgiven if I attended on my own without taking Mark and the children with me, so I booked for all four of us to spend an afternoon flying hawks in mid-May. Never in a million years did I expect my eight year old son to have a fully grown golden eagle fly to him, but that was just one of the amazing things we experienced that afternoon…
Firstly, we were introduced to Bracken, a kestrel, and Felix was first in line to hold her with his falconry glove. Each of the ten participants were given three tiny bits of diced up chick and told to spread out in a vast circle in the field. The graceful bird flew from one glove to the next around the circle, resting for a while and eating a piece of chicken at each human pitstop. It is an amazing way to interact with the birds, you can really study them as they sit on your hand and see the skill and beauty of their flight as they approach you and then leave again.
The head falconer and owner of Yarak, John, has several fantastic members of staff working for him, all of whom were really knowledgeable and great with the children, for example assisting them by holding their arms up when holding the heavier birds and making sure they weren’t scared. John came out with the magnificent golden eagle Khan, explaining the amazing trust bond he and the bird have which means only he can fly it. Khan is actually a cross between a steppe eagle and a golden eagle which has reduced his hunting instinct to the relief of local farmers.
The word ‘yarak’ describes the state of readiness a bird of prey is in when it is alert, hungry and ready to hunt and we definitely saw that in the golden eagle. John allowed him to fly a short distance (on a line) to each of us in turn, and even to the children, who seemed undaunted by the sight of a bird with a two meter wingspan, huge beak and massive talons coming in to land on their outstretched arms. I had not anticipated having a golden eagle fly to me that afternoon, let alone to my eight year old son and ten year old daughter. It was really quite awe-inspiring and something I will never forget.
We then flew a harris hawk called Quico, in the same circle formation as we had Bracken, until she decided there was something far more interesting in the hedgerow and refused to come down. Harris hawks are supposedly one of the easiest hawks to train, but Quico was being rather headstrong and disobedient! Maybe it was too hot for her so she had sought some shade?
It was also quite hot for us, so we had a break and an ice cream in the pretty garden where picnic tables are set out beneath ornamental cherry trees bedecked with blossom. Afterwards we walked through to a well-manicured lawn where hawks of all sizes were resting on a handful of perches. My absolute favourite was Maya, the Chilean blue buzzard-eagle (also known as the black-chested buzzard eagle). I had never seen one before, but she is a simply stunning bird with soft grey-blue plumage. We got to hold her and have a really good look up close.
Next we went indoors to a barn where we took turns to hold Tarek, a Turkmenian Eagle Owl. He was then set loose to fly between perches at each end of the barn – we were encouraged to stand either side so he could fly between us, then to kneel down and eventually we lay down on the floor, so that he swooped on silent wings right above our chests. Magical.
All in all it was a super special afternoon spent in the company of like-minded people and knowledgeable falconers. We all felt very privileged to have been up close and personal with such beautiful birds and to have flown them ourselves was a step beyond the usual bird of prey displays you see at many visitor attractions. Yarak is a unique experience and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. I secretly hope that either Mia or Felix will continue their fascination with birds of prey enough to want to volunteer there one day!
About Yarak Birds of Prey:
Yarak is situated down a secluded track in a beautiful rural location in Langford, South of Cullompton, with a view of Blackborough village in the distance. You can walk around the aviaries and look at some of the birds before your session or over lunchtime if you are doing the full day experience. Please note Yarak is not open to the general public as a visitor attraction, only to those booked in on half- or full-day experiences. Spectators are able to watch for an additional fee. The cafe provides lunches, teas, coffees and ice creams.
To find out more visit their website.
We did the half day experience from 1.30 until 4pm which is £65 for one person and £10 per spectator. The price per head reduces with multiple participants. Check out the website for special offers (currently available on full day experiences and owl encounters). There were ten people in total on our course. Yarak gift vouchers would make a fantastic present for a wildlife enthusiast.