As silent as a shadow, and almost as low, the large owl glided effortlessly above the ground. Arching steeply upwards it perched on the gloved arm of the presenter. Erect, unblinking and impassive, it stared at the audience, as if to say, “Beat that if you can!’
Looking at him, you could understand how ‘Wol’ was considered by everyone, himself included, to be the wisest person in The Hundred Acre Wood. After all, as Rabbit said to him, “You and I have brains. The others have fluff.’ I felt what he meant!
Wol, sorry, Owl was one of the stars of the Flight of Fantasy display at the Montecasino Bird Gardens. The others included a Blue Crane, a Malibou Stork, a Cape Vulture, a Pelican, a Crow who tidied away tin cans, a Toucan, a Harrier Hawk, and another Owl. In a marvellous show of unrestrained flight, held in the open air Tuscan Ampitheatre, we were introduced to the birds and told something about them and their place in the world. It was fascinating and instructive. At the same time, it was quite disconcerting to be eyeballed by a hawk at a distance of less than a metres – particularly after being informed that he could crush the skull of a rabbit, with the talons on one foot, as easily as I would crush a paper cup. And as we know rabbits don’t just have fluff in there!
The Bird Gardens are very impressive and beautifully designed and maintained.
I walked through the lorikeet aviary and met the colourful, and noisy residents – tame enough to be fed with nectar. The brilliantly coloured macaws and parakeets were waiting for me in the cageless gallery and posed happily. One of them walked up the path and took an interest in my shoelace.
In the very large Flight Aviary the birds and some smaller antelope wander free, watched, from behind glass, by the reptiles. The Scarlet Ibis were eating next to a white African Hornbill, and stood out in almost garish contrast. I had to watch where I stepped as quite often a little bird was sitting on the path as if it owned it – which perhaps it did! This section has ‘over 60 species of birds, reptiles and small mammals from around the world’. Many were new to me.
A little stream runs through the Gardens and finds its way into a small lake. Along the way there are waterfalls, fountains and ponds – where the flamingos, ducks, swans, and peacocks are happily at home. In one of the side enclosures I was intrigued by the activities of two tortoises. As I looked on in fascination the one scowled at me as if to say, ‘How would you like to be watched and photographed whilst you…’ I left!
The Gardens are also home to ‘one of the world’s largest collections of South African Cycads.’ Built up over 35 years it contains approximately 322 plants from 37 different species, and includes one that is estimated to be 2500 years old. They are beautiful and act as a majestic centrepiece.
Once you have finished, the Cafe Flamingo invites you to relax over a meal or drink. This is an opportunity to reminisce about your journey as you look out over the liquid beauty of the Flamingo Pond. It’s a peaceful, rewarding and fascinating experience – and one that children seem to enjoy.
The key to many cages is on the inside – turn it and step out!