Last year, just before the first lockdown began, I enjoyed a very special day out. My lovely friends had given me the gift of an ‘Owl Experience’ for my 30th birthday. The chance to meet, draw and learn about the beautiful owls of Knockhatch Sanctuary. So on a very chilly January morning, Adam and I set out on our Owl Adventure.
The two friendly and knowledgable owl Keepers met us at the park entrance and took us to their office; a cosy cabin stocked up with owl supplies. Frozen mice dinners, leather gauntlets, weighing scales, tools, feeding schedules and muddy boots. From then on in, we accompanied them in their daily owl care routine, picking up plenty of owl facts as the day went on.
First we were introduced to Pingu, a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. We were very lucky to be allowed to hold him. He had very large talons and intricate peppery, grey feathers (we would get to draw him later!).
Next we met Blizzard the Snowy Owl and joined in with his exercise session. He was building up his flying confidence so was a little shaky in the air, but easily encouraged when a few morsels were offered up. He was spectacularly beautiful. His thick layer of feathers were the purest white. We learned from the keepers that snowy owls build their nests on the ground in the barren Arctic to which they are native.
After Blizzard’s flying session, we went back to the cabin to warm up and to say hello to Mufasa the White Faced Scops Owl. The Keepers encouraged us to gently stroke the feathers on his chest. He nibbled my fingers while I did so and kept me company while they checked the Winter weights of some of the birds to ensure they were healthy for the time of year.
Warmed up, we went back outside to exercise Steel the Siberian Eagle Owl. She was absolutely enormous, it was awesome to see her in flight, if not a little scary when she was flying towards you. I would not want to get on the wrong side of an Eagle Owl! We also met one of the Keeper’s favourite birds, the Great Grey Owl, with whom he had developed a special bond.
She was very affectionate and keen to be snuggled up to him which was lovely to see. However the Keepers reminded us that owls are wild creatures and always to be treated with the upmost respect. They should never be approached in the wild as they do not seek human interference. The owls at Knockhatch sanctuary are cared for very carefully and encouraged to behave as they would in the wild.
As an illustrator who loves drawing owls, being able to see these birds in flight, up close was invaluable. It gave me a greater understanding for how their wings work and the very particular movements of their heads and bodies. With the hands on part of the experience complete, Adam and I returned to the indoor sanctuary for a sketchbook session. We both got so much out of it and left with drawings of the Asian Brown Wood Owl, Steel the Siberian Eagle Owl, Blizzard the Snowy Owl, Pingu Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, a Spectacled Owl, African Spotted Eagle Owl and finally – Julie, the very noisy Kookaburra (who is of course not an owl!)
Aside from the drawings we made, Adam took fantastic photos and videos (used in this post), that I know will prove very useful for future sketching reference. I felt very lucky to have spent time with these spectacular predators and grateful for our time with the Knockhatch Keepers who look after their owls with great care, love and respect. Finally a huge thank you and shout out to my friends – the very creatively talented Amber, Fred and Summer. This was a very special present that I will never forget!
All photos by Alekadzie. Apologies If I have misremembered the exact names and gender’s of some of these Owls. I think I have recorded each species accurately, though you’ll forgive me if a year of pandemic has slightly muddled my memory of the day!