From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 30
September - October 1984
David Fox : Dunkirk - Where Eagles Dare
David Fox with his Imperial Eagle beside the University Lake. Photograph by Bruce Bradley
David Fox's passion for keeping birds of prey has made him quite a local celebrity. Following the appearance this July of his first book Garden of Eagles*, David's name will now no doubt become familiar to a far larger audience. The book recounts David's experiences with his birds, in particular the various eagles that he has owned.
As a boy growing up in Carlton, David developed a strong interest in wild life, especially in the more strange and exotic varieties. He became a regular visitor to the local banana warehouses in search of creatures concealed within the bunches of fruit. Here were rich pickings - everything from insects and spiders to something as large as a bush baby. Nowadays the bananas are dipped into a chemical bath which lowers the chances that such stowaways will survive the journey to this country. Happily for the young David this practice had yet to begin and his parents soon became accustomed to the appearance in his bedroom of cockroaches, tropical wasps, tarantulas and the like.
His long association with birds of prey began at the age of eleven when he discovered the nest of a pair of Little Owls and took away one of the young birds - an act which he now accepts as wrong, but which at the time did not strike him as such. He kept it for less than a year before it escaped and returned to the wild, but it was long enough to fill him with enthusiasm for the world of falconry. Following up an advert in the local paper led him a year or so later to the acquisition of a Common Buzzard for the princely sum of £l5. To raise this money, David was forced to sell his Raleigh moped. Later when he had the opportunity to buy a Tawny Eagle, it required the disposal of his electric guitar and his subsequent resignation from a local rock group.
'Aquila' - A Golden Eagle which resided
in Dunkirk while in the ownership of
With no one to advise him, he had to try and teach himself the art of falconry from books - books not written with the suburban youngster in mind.
Inevitably he made lots of mistakes. All these experiences, mistakes and all, fill the first part of David's own book. The remaining sections deal with the other eagles he has owned, since birds such as his Pallas's Sea Eagle and his huge Imperial Eagle, originally imported from Russia. The trials and tribulations that these birds have given David make entertaining reading, which is what the publishers obviously saw in the book. David hopes that it will prove instructive for those interested or actually involved in falconry.
When David started keeping his birds of prey there simply were no suitable contacts for the ordinary man in the street to follow up. Now with the emergence of falconry clubs all over the country, anyone interested can sign up for one of their regular courses of instruction. But be warned - keeping a bird of prey must be considered a serious matter. Since the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 198l, falconers are required to be registered with the Department of the Environment. Each captive bird is ringed with its own number and entered in the DOE's register. Any transfer of a bird to a new owner must be reported and a DOE Inspector called in to witness the bird sitting on its eggs if the resulting young are to gain their own registration. In this way the DOE hope effectively to prevent the sale of any birds or their eggs which have been taken from the wild. Moreover each falconer can expect periodic visits from an Inspector to check on the conditions in which his birds are being kept. Failure to register with the DOE can lead to a heavy fine - £500 for a first offence. Although some falconers may chaff at all the red tape and regulations now in force, David welcomes the close scrutiny of the DOE as an effective way to try and eliminate the 'cowboys' whose activities in the past gave falconry something of a bad name.
One of David's photographs showing a
Sparrow Hawk chick crawling out of its
David currently owns eight birds of prey - a pair of Peregrine Falcons, two Snowy Owls, a Sparrow Hawk, a Barn Owl, his Imperial Eagle and a hybrid bird, half Saker and half Peregrine Falcon. These he keeps in his back garden at 100 Beeston Road in Dunkirk. Each day those birds which aren't being kept for breeding purposes have to be exercised. In winter this means rushing home at lunchtime from his job as Chief Technician in the Cancer Research Laboratories at the University and taking the birds out. In the summer it's not so much of a rush as this can be done in the evenings after work. Birds such as these prove a big attraction, so it's usually simpler to try and find a quiet spot in which to let them fly. This used to be on the land beyond the old park and ride site off University Boulevard, but now the Science Park is going up there, David will have to find somewhere else. Every so often David will take one of his birds hunting. This he does on private land with the owner's consent. It is this aspect of falconry that some find the most distasteful, but to David it is only letting the bird do what comes naturally. All the falconer has trained the bird to do is to return to the glove after the kill.
David posing with his Imperial Eagle near the Highfields Sports Ground
Falconers have proved quite successful in getting certain types of bird to breed in captivity. Their record is far better than that of the zoos. Cages in zoos are constructed so that the visitors can see the birds and this usually means the birds get a good view of the visitors. The continued human presence is sufficient to put the birds off for good. The falconer who is able to shield his birds from such distractions usually reaps the benefits of this imposed seclusion. David himself has successfully bred Sparrow Hawks and in his book he has included a series of photographs of a sparrow hawk chick breaking out of its eggshell. These he took himself like most of the photographs used in the book.
The publishers were so pleased with the finished product that David has been asked to start work on a second book. This will have a wider frame of reference than the first. Far more of the birds and animals which have crossed David's path should find their way into the pages of this next work, which has 'Through the Mists of Time' as its working title.
Kitted out as a medieval falconer, David regularly appears at such events as jousts and medieval banquets. It was at one such occasion that David met up with Richard Carpenter, scriptwriter of Harlech Television's 'Robin Hood' series. Richard confided that he intended to write a part for a falconer into the next series. While not able to offer David the part, he asked if David would act as falconry adviser. So it may not be long before David gets his name among the television credits. He is, however, no stranger to television having already appeared on 'Madabout' and the Saturday morning 'Superstore' programme. You might say that his birds of prey are taking him to places which other birds cannot reach.
* Published by Patrick Stephens Ltd 1984