The Owl Experience

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!

Barn Owl in Flight

This morning, I took a little time out from my planned work to draw some owls in my sketchbook. I’d been feeling the need for a little creative playtime for a while and finally decided to give into the urge for a few hours. I put on a podcast, grabbed a cuppa and just allowed myself to play. It was honestly so restorative and I’ll definitely be carving out some more time for this soon!



In my pursuit for drawing reference material, I came across this BBC Earth video ‘How Does An Owl Fly So Silently?’ and thought I’d share it with you. Apparently it’s to do with their large wings and small body, but the clip explains much better than I can! Barn Owls are such elegant, ethereal creatures, enjoy!

What’s been capturing your imagination lately? If you’ve got any recommendations for me, I’d love to know in the comments below.

Note: For the keen eyed among you, the second drawing is actually of a Short Eared Owl…Just wanted to share him in this owl post too!

The Woods are Dark and Dangerous

owlstation illustration_the woods are dark and dangerous_2020I’ve been making more time to play in my sketchbook lately and draw things just for fun. Little, one off experiments based on references or prompts that I find particularly enticing and exciting. Raiding my Pinterest boards for images that have inspired me and then getting my art materials out to see what feels right.

Whilst not all of these experiments result in images I’m pleased with (aka ready to share on Instagram!) they’ve definitely been helping me develop my illustration skills and learn more about the mediums I work with. I was pleased with how this Crayola and pencil study turned out though…I added the owl separately after finishing the woodland background, sticking him on top collage style. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of typography underneath to encourage the story that was forming in my head!

Owl Post, Sending Love

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Dear Friends, I hope that this owl post finds you safe and well in these challenging times. I know that we’re all facing challenges right now. From the smaller adjustments of our daily lives to the bigger and scarier realities that some of us are now having to face. I just wanted to send you some love and warmth. Some positive vibes and hope. Encouragement and strength to look after yourselves, your loved ones and others.

Just to give you a little notice – I’m going to keep posting illustrations and images of nature, creativity and pleasant things here on the blog and across my social pages. I completely understand if that’s not for you right now or doesn’t feel quite right given these heavy times. We’ve all got to handle this in the way that suits us best. For me, that means balancing news checking and Covid updates with some down time and escapism. Staying informed and in touch, but also allowing time for rest and calm – which as I understand is good for the immune system!

That’s all for now, take care in your hobbit hole,
Love Alice X

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington

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I’ve just finished reading Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington. Aside from having a gorgeously illustrated cover featuring a magical barn owl and a shower of gold foil sparks…it’s also a rich and soothing read!

I’m sometimes put off by nature books that can be a little dry and factual in their descriptions, but Miriam’s writing is full of life. Each chapter focusses on a different species of owl and her journey to viewing it in the wild. As the adventures unfold, she shares her in depth research into the habitats, biology, history and mysteries of each creature. At the start of each chapter we’re also treated to an illustration of the owl in question, including; Snowy, Barn, Tawny, Pygmy, Eagle Owls and more…

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Miriam explores our fascination with owls throughout history. She delves into folklore and literature where the owl is sometimes revered – but often times feared as a portent of death and doom. She perfectly conjures up images of dense forest and icy plains and weaves in her personal encounters with bird lovers and experts that she encounters on her quest.

But throughout, there is a steady respect for the wildness of the owl that I very much appreciated. Miriam reminds us that these magnificent creatures belong to nature. We shouldn’t make the mistake of cute-ifying them or imagining them as cuddly Potter-style pets. Nor does she shy away from climate change and how our actions as humans are endangering these precious birds. But even with its urgent messages and heavier thoughts, I found Owl Sense to be a calming book for the soul. And I loved learning more about some of my favourite animals!

Owl Sense jacket illustrations are by Talya Baldwin (owl) and Peter Fitzpatrick (tree).