Today, we are back at Kirkleatham Owl Centre, giving you a behind the scenes tour. Read about the birds, watch their progress in training, and get up close and personal with other residents, including the favourite meerkat families. This week, the clear up operation continues after Storm Christoph.

IT’S the third week of the year, and the third flood of the year.
The New Year, which we were all hoping would be so much better than the last, has got off to a difficult start to say the least, and the torrential rain brought by storm Christoph has again caused us flooding.

We, of course, knew the storm was coming. We had seen the weather warnings and had a plan, but the sheer amount of rain and the speed with which it fell caused us major problems.

The Northern Echo: Unhappy with the weatherUnhappy with the weather

By 3pm on Wednesday of last week it became clear we were going to be flooded and that it could be bad. The village road had flooded within half an hour of the rain starting and there was also a real fear the beck which runs alongside us could burst its banks, on top of this flood water was pouring from the main roads and surrounding fields into the village and towards us.

So, we started evacuating the birds housed on the lower side of the centre, which is most of our flying display/education team. Coal and Elmo the barn owls, Goliath the burrowing owl and Quokka, the Australian boobook owl, were all brought inside first.

They were followed by Stanley the Carcara, our pair of burrowing owls and our oldest owl, Layla the Indian eagle owl, alongside his friend Nadu – all of whom had to go into carry boxes and into our education centre on higher ground.

The Northern Echo: Waters rising at Kirkleatham Owl CentreWaters rising at Kirkleatham Owl Centre

By then it was dark, torrential rain was still falling and just to add to our problems the power went out.

There were two more birds whose aviaries we feared might flood – our black vulture boys Boris and Fraggle. So, by torchlight, we waded down the footpath in water that was now almost knee high to get the vultures.

Luckily, our aviaries all have a brick base, which stopped the water from the path flowing in, but it looked like it would rise high enough to go over the wall.
Boris was easy – he let us pick him up and carry him back along the flooded path and into the dry box inside.

The Northern Echo: Flood waters brought major problemsFlood waters brought major problems

Then it was Fraggle who, at eight months old, is a rowdy teenager. He thought it was a new game and got wildy excited, jumping around, grunting and making his rescue somewhat difficult, so with the waters rising we just grabbed him and had to carry an annoyed, wriggling, irate, stroppy teenage vulture along the flooded footpath in the dark to safety, and it is at times like that when you think a nice “normal” indoor job seems quite appealing.

The Northern Echo: Fraggle thought it was all a gameFraggle thought it was all a game

Once Fraggle was in a box and inside, we spent an exhausting night diverting the torrent of water away from our entrance building, while checking the beck levels, checking on the birds still in their aviaries, and those who had been moved, and luckily by 3am the rain had stopped, and a couple of hours later the water started to drop.

The next day, the job of clearing the sludge began – all birds were fine – all humans were exhausted.

The Northern Echo: A lot of clearing up after the stormA lot of clearing up after the storm

The past year dealing with Covid-19, bird flu and now flooding has been an extremely trying time for us – what was our 30th anniversary year last year was not what we planned – but certainly one we will remember.

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