Falcons, fun rides and farm animals

A hush fell over the crowd at the Otago Taieri A&P Show as a rare native falcon soared over their heads and down into the main ring.

It was a unique experience for many people while for the falcon's handlers it was the first time they had exercised the birds at an A&P show.

Wingspan chairman Noel Hyde, of Rotorua, and member Dean Thomas, of Otago, allowed the crowd to see two falcons in action as they flew from each handler to the other in an effort to catch their lures, baited with meat.

It was the ideal opportunity for the Wingspan Bird of Prey Centre in Rotorua to show off its work to increase the population of the native birds as two of the falcons bred at the centre were to be released in Central Otago after the show.

''This is a great opportunity, as we need all the help we can get.''

The birds, Cazador, a 2-year-old male raptor, and Ota-Go, a juvenile female about 7 weeks old, were due to be released on Peregrine Winery in the Gibbston valley.

In preparation for their release, the birds were exercised to build their muscles for life in the wild.

Mr Hyde said throughout their training the birds were handled regularly, so they would be acclimatised to humans and the crowds at the show would not bother them.

''Once the birds are set free they'll quickly revert to being wild birds as they're naturally bold birds.''

The organisation's patron, ''bug man'' Ruud Kleinpaste, was the commentator during the display, telling the audience about the birds, including that they flew at up to 200kmh, had amazing eyesight, were ferocious predators and hated to fly into the wind.

There was something special about the birds and the history of falconry, so it was important people were aware of that, he said.

Otago Taieri A&P Society president Steve Quin said the falcon demonstration was one of many activities to entertain the crowd at the 153rd show, which went ''fantastically'' at the weekend.

''We've had an excellent grand parade, bigger entries than we've had in quite some time.''

The gate takings were ''excellent'' but it was difficult to estimate numbers, he said.

The work of the committee and the judges had all made it a great event and it would only get ''bigger and better'', Mr Quin said.

Best exhibit was won by the New Zealand Fire Service, with the New Zealand Contractors' Federation runner-up and the best stall was won by Red Rock Hats, of Christchurch.

-rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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