I'd completely forgotten about this but I've been trying to think back to when and why I first started visiting the brilliant Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre (http://www.kielderbopc.com/), and it was because I'd tried to think of somewhere to take my ex and his young boys out for the day as a treat about 5 years ago. I'd figured that his youngest, aged about 7, would love to have a mini-adventure to Kielder and hand-feed a Little Owl - and I was right, the youngest absolutely loved feeding minced up raw chicken to Ollie the Little Owl (pictured above). The eldest enjoyed it too, as did their Dad and of course I loved it as well and have been back several times since. Ray Lowden and his team are super friendly, their birds are beautiful, and their Centre is a pretty special place.
In fact it's so special that I've been back about 6 or 7 times since, to watch flying demonstrations, sponsor a couple of the owls (including little Ollie!), just to have a look around, to learn from the team and to take some photographs for inclusion in FotoVue's Northumberland guidebook (https://www.fotovue.com/shop/books/photographing-northumberland/). Willow the White Faced Owl and Saxon the Gyr / Peregrine Falcon are both featured in the book and I've thanked Ray and the team on the 'Acknowledgements' page in the book too!
As well as opening their gates to the visiting public, they also do a huge amount of educational and charity work across the whole of the North East - the work they do is very inspiring.
During a visit one very cold morning at the turn of the year, when Kielder forest was sparkling white, silver and blue from a heavy layer of frost, I noticed that Steven (one of Ray's team who first visited the Centre when he was 8, volunteered there and now works there and knows everything you could possibly want to know about birds of prey) was delivering a photo workshop with a couple. My timing was perfect - one of the owls I'd sponsored was a Barn Owl (love Barn Owls!), and she was the bird Steven had brought out for them to photograph when I arrived. She was just stunning, sitting on a post with the glittering white frost all around her and soft morning light setting her off perfectly! I didn't disturb them but just seeing her in that moment left me dumbstruck - and bursting to book onto a photo workshop there myself, which I promptly did!
Having booked a 1-2-1 photo workshop for late March I was praying for frost and very much looking forward to heading back to Kielder for it. But then we all know what happened next, Covid-19 struck and we all went into lockdown. So I donated my fee to the Centre to help them keep ticking over until the virus was gone or lockdown eased.
Luckily I was able to re-book and have my photo workshop several months later, in October - no frost but we had a gloriously sunny day and the Autumn colours were starting to show.
This was my first ever photography workshop and I loved every minute of it! I'd taken up a copy of the Northumberland book and a great big box of Cadbury 'Heroes' chocolates for them too - as, to me, for the outreach educational work they do with schools and outdoor centres to teach children about wildlife and the environment and to inspire the next generation (and indeed the older generation too!), Ray, Steven, Cath and the team are heroes and I will happily support them in any little way I can.
More info on their photo workshops can be found on their website http://www.kielderbopc.com/ - I'd highly recommend a look, for just £55.00 (as at 8th October 2020) it's a bargain! You get to spend a couple of hours with several of the birds and Steven gives you photography tips and shares his wealth of knowledge about the birds with you - fantastic value, and you're also helping to support this great charity, so it's all good!
They've put in place social distancing and other safety measures and the photo workshops are 1-2-1 and outdoors, so are ideal as you'll not be in a crowd and you can keep a safe distance. I took my 70-200mm f2.8 lens (a lovely, lovely lens that makes dreamy pictures) and mostly used it at 200mm, which was perfect for being approximately 2 metres away from Steven and also from the birds too, so they were not crowded or stressed.
Here are a selection of images from my photo workshop - brilliant day, can't recommend it highly enough! With thanks again to Ray, Steven, Cath and the team at Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre - looking forward to coming back again soon!
Ooh, I nearly forgot the location foodie reference - not cake or ice-cream this time, I had an amazing bacon butty and coffee for a pre-workshop late breakfast from The Hide cafe next door to the Birds of Prey Centre - was delicious! I did forget to take a picture though - shall have to go back ;-).