Raptors in the round...
... how the vision for the largest free flight aviary of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere
The Aviary was named in honour of Dr Peter Spitzer my friend, GP and mentor without whose continuing encouragement and wise words kept me going through some tough times. Peter sadly passed away just before the opening of the aviary but his family was here and we all knew that Peter was with us in spirit.
Higher Ground Raptor Centre is situated in the beautiful Sth Highlands of NSW, Australia. The facility is home to the Peter Spitzer Free Flight Aviary , the largest free flight facilty of its type in the Southern Hemisphere and one of only a few in the world.
The purpose of this complex is to provide a suitable pre-release fitness exercise facility for birds of prey that have come into care, principally through injury. Many are shot, hit by cars, caught in rabbit traps or have become separated from their parents, often as a result of tree felling or weather conditions.
This is a recovering Peregrine falcon that was shot, and the bird that really convinced me that I need to embark on the road to determining the best structure to help birds like this, and the fundraising required to facilitate such a project.
The project was initially researched thoroughly and intensely by the builder to ensure a good, functional result, at a reasonable price.
As there was no precedent for this facility this was an extremely challenging project to attempt.
In essence this was a serious collaboration between carer and builder, determining what was required from all angles, and just how to make that a reality.
Without the skills, energy, brilliance, tolerance, work ethics and dogged determination of Ross Robinson, a panel beater by trade from Marulan in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, this is a project that would not ever have seen the light of day.To Ross I will always be eternally grateful. He made my dream a reality, and is responsible for giving many, many raptors a much greater chance of their right to a successful life back in the wild. Our story on this journey together follows:
Initial rectangular aviary
The project commenced around 1999. This aviary was the beginning, and is 7m long x 5m wide x 4m high. At the time the minimum standard size as determined by NPWS for the rehabilitation of large birds of prey including wedge tail eagles. As with all raptor facilities, of upmost importance are the need to protect the bird’s feathers, hence the steel structure has been lined with shade cloth.
Stage 2 Aviary
The realisation that the previous structure allowed a bird such as an eagle very few wing beats, and no room for turning, began the journey to construct stage 2, a replication of stage 1 that joined on, and had the ability to be a separate structure or have a central hatch door opened to allow the bird access to both areas, and hence 15m of horizontal space. To Rod Young, an aviculturist and builder who understood the need for this facility, and the late Bryce Courtney, whose love of nature and ability to appreciate what was needed here, I will always be grateful.
That completed it was clear that there was still no way a bird could regain the survival fitness in such a “small” area, and so began the plans, and the very long journey towards the next stage.
At this point I would like to thank Ross publicly, and with eternal gratitude for making this dream come true. He put his heart and soul into this project, and can now talk with great intelligence about why this facility is so valuable and needed. His ability to see this project to the end, despite at times some extremely difficult circumstances, to work alongside me so closely, and to always keep up our “we will get there” attitude when the going got tough, I will never forget. He worked in pouring rain, at night in the middle of winter using his headlights, and best of all whenever there was a problem he quietly went about solving it. Literally, never once did he let me down through all my realisations that I needed to change designs and incorporate this and that. Here’s to you Rossy, and faithful George the foreman, be very proud of what you have achieved.
In the beginning
The initial plan was to create another aviary that tacked onto the first two stages, creating a further space 10m high by 5m wide by 6m long, giving the birds the opportunity to fly against gravity within the height, thereby providing another form of exercise that had not previously been available to them.
And so the fundraising began again to hopefully complete what would in essence turn out to be a 14 year project.
Then Ross walked across my pathway and it was obvious that he had the knowledge and fortitude to work with me on this – and here we are today.
In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be able to complete an internship at the wonderful Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. It was there that I luckily discovered the benefits of the circular aviary. I came home to greet Ross with “guess what, we are going round not up” with the response “Peg, round ooohhh!!” and guess what – 2 years and tens of thousands of dollars later (plus uncountable voluntary man hours from Ross) he has done it. We have the most magnificent structure that works brilliantly, and whilst nothing can compare with flying in the wild, at least these beautiful birds can now regain a good degree of exercise to prepare them for release back in the wild again.
The land area was cleared with as little disruption to the local flora as possible. A laser level was used to determine the heights for the columns as the land was on a slope
The footings were marked out, pegged and dug.
32 holes were dug for the main concrete foundations, 700mm deep and 500mm wide.
9 cubic metres of concrete was mixed and poured.
Anchor bolts to support the steel pylons were fabricated by Ross and concreted in place.
16 perimeter foundations were dug and concreted in, to which steel cables were attached. Turnbuckles were used to tension the cables.
Delivery of prefabricated columns
Column footing detail
SHS – galvanised square hollow sections, were utilised as structural supports, and to these Ross manufactured and welded steel plates. In 6m lengths these would then be hoisted, and match up to the mm to the last of the 64 bolts anchored into the ground. No mean feat on uneven bush ground!
List of metal required
Unloading netting from Tasmania
One of the major tasks was to find netting suitable for the roof. This had to be soft, to protect feathers, UV and water resistant, snow proof, flexible and durable in cold weather to prevent cracking
Smaller Raptor facility operators around Australia and in NZ, and their advice, were sought. None had attempted anything of this magnitude.Shark proof netting used in Tasmanian salmon farms was eventually chosen and shipped in bales to NSW.
First column being installed
And in October 2012, following months of initial material sourcing and off site prep, we began onsite. Ross the metal man/panel beater/ beginner aviary builder and myself, the inexperienced project manager/material sourcer, both of us with a mission to turn a reality into a dream.
Additional columns being installed
Perimeter beams were made in the workshop and delivered to site. These bolted to the top of the columns to form the circle, providing the structure for the netting attachment. All measurements were worked out using a CAD programme which enabled the builder to bolt the structure together precisely.
Central pavilion assembly
The central pavilion. Within the structure a circular section, 6m in diameter and 8m high, was constructed to provide support, but primarily to encourage the birds to fly around in a circle as they are unable to see an end point as they get up speed. This has proven to be effective for both the eagles and the smaller birds such as kestrels. It was made from steel pipe, bolted and welded, and later lined externally with shade cloth. The lower half will also be lined internally with shade cloth and a “roof” inserted. This now proves most effective as a small aviary in its own right.
The roof netting is supported by outside perimeter cables and attached to the perimeter beam. A boom lift was hired to assist with this process. This is the very central point, 8m high, of the structure.
Gradually the roof became a reality…
Once the roof was in place the aviaries were linked together with corrugated iron, providing an extra shelter for the birds. Internal hatch doors allow each facility to stand alone, be linked to its neighbour,
or to all be opened as one large aviary.
Starting to take enormous shape
Central perimeter beams were attached by tech screws to the columns to give a point of attachment for the netting and shade cloth.
Outside netting with a steel thread
Vermin protection above & below ground
Entry doors to facilitate truck entry & soft release
Sand & blue metal base to facilitate hygiene & drainage
To the individuals and organisations who supported this project, I and the birds will always be grateful.
Particular mention is due to Wingecarribee Shire Council, Brian and Frank at Ellsteel and Engineering Supplies Pty Ltd Bowral, who not only believed in the project, but also in the ability of both Ross and myself to make it a reality.
I acknowledge with gratitude the help received from: The NSW Wildlife Information, Education and Rescue Service (WIRES) and TLLF WildlifeLink, The Tony & Lisette Lewis Foundation. Many other people and organisations donated as they could, often by way of purchasing and supplying materials and helping with fundraisers.
To everyone who helped along the three year journey a big heart-felt THANK YOU!