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Posts Tagged ‘red kite’

Woburn Red KiteI count myself fortunate to have witnessed the re-establishment of Red Kites in this part of Bedfordshire.  I saw the first one here only a few years ago, and it was a real event for me.  Now, while not exactly abundant, they are more common.  There have been times over the summer when I’ve watched a kite from the comfort of my sofa through the french windows.  However, we’ve recently discovered a spot not too far away where you can see the Red Kites almost on demand.  It’s only in one small localised area, and it’s a great example of how habitat and food availability shapes the distribution of a species.  I’ll explain.

We’ve recently got a season ticket for Woburn Safari Park.  It’s on our doorstep, they offer a good deal on an annual ‘toddler pass’ and Scarlett is old enough now to appreciate the animals (and the indoor play area).  It means I can go with Scarlett to the library on a Saturday morning and drive home through the safari park, just for the fun of it.  The carnivore enclosure is always a favourite, with bears, wolves, tigers, lions – and Red Kites.

Yes, the kites seem to have taken up residence here.  On my last visit there were three of them, circling and swooping low over the park.  Why do they gather at this spot, and not anywhere else in the vicinity?  Here’s a clue:

Wolf with meat

The wolf has just picked up its breakfast.  The animals in this part of the park are fed on meat – it’s the carnivore enclosure.  Red Kites are carrion feeders.  Obviously the wolves and bears and lions leave enough scraps for the kites to feed on.  They’ve found a regular source of food and are making the most of it, hence we’ve got a concentration of them in this small area, whilst my house (which is no distance at all away for a kite) gets relatively few.

It seems a bit odd to have to go to a safari park to see a wild bird, but it shows that nature finds a way, and it has helped me to get my best picture of a Red Kite so far.  I did have to take it through the car window though – getting out for a closer view wasn’t really an option…

Wolf - looking menacing

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‘Nature is lavish with her riches for those who have eyes to see’

Charles Tunnicliffe

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Bedfordshire Sunrise - red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning

Bedfordshire Sunrise - red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning

It was as if Bedfordshire was fighting back, making a point about my birdwatching trips to other parts of the country.  It was saying ‘look – we have birds here too!’

I’ve had a thing about Red Kites for a while, ever since I saw my first one in Bedfordshire a couple of years ago.  They’re a real success story – a bird driven to the edge of extinction, clinging on as a few pairs in Mid-Wales, only to be re-introduced and make a real comeback in England.

The Kites we have here won’t be from the original Welsh stock, they’ll be outliers from the Chilterns, where they’re almost as common as Sparrows.  Nevertheless, it is good to see them spreading our way.  I can watch them as they re-colonise the countryside.

Bedfordshire Red Kite

Bedfordshire Red Kite

I’ve been trying to get a picture of one of our local Kites for ages, but they’ve always managed to elude me for one reason and another.  Until this morning, that is.  I took Scarlett to the nursery at 8.00am and drove home along the back lanes.  There, above me, a pair of Red Kites was cavorting on the breeze.  Now, as chance would have it I had my camera in the car – I’d brought it along to photograph the sunrise.  I pulled over onto the verge, wound down the window and got off a few quick snaps.

And there you have it.  My first picture of a Bedfordshire Red Kite.  You can just about make out the white bars on the wings, but the silhouette and the forked tail are unmistakable.  Maybe I should carry the camera in the car more often…

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It’s always the way.  You wait for ages for one Red Kite, and then three turn up at once.

On  Sunday I got up early, packed up a flask of tea and some food, and went out for an early stroll and a picnic breakfast.  I sat under the big oak tree and looked across the valley, drinking tea and watching the antics of a Chinese Water Deer in the field below.

At 7.40am three Red Kites rose up from the woods on the other side of the valley.  They circled slowly, gaining height, and then soared away in different directions.  Within five minutes the valley was empty again.

It was as fine a view for breakfast as you could hope for.  The Red Kite is now definitely ticked off my local species list.  I need to find something else to focus on.

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The Red Kite has been preying on my mind.

After my wife saw it, and after I saw it myself from my car, I just had to get a better view of it.  Like I said, it isn’t a great rarity, but it is unusual for this area, and for me that’s a good enough reason to try and track it down.  I resolved to get outside and find it.

I’ve got friends who live in the Chilterns who would be perplexed by this.  Over there the kites are almost as common as sparrows and it isn’t unusual to have ten or more in the sky at one time.

But as far as I know we’ve only got the one kite around here, and this makes it special.  So what are the chances of finding one individual bird?  I love a challenge so this is just the sort of thing I enjoy, and it gave me a perfect excuse to get out and about.  I was a naturalist on a mission!

Half past seven this morning saw me wandering the countryside, binoculars in hand.  I concentrated on the road where I saw the kite, and followed a big loop all around it.  The road itself is at the bottom of a broad, dry valley, so I followed the footpaths on either side of it.

Two hours and five miles later my breakfast was calling me, and I conceded defeat.  Perhaps looking for a single bird, one that could effortlessly cover a territory miles across, was a bit far-fetched after all.

But the idea wouldn’t go away.  By early evening I had finished what I needed to do around the house, so I grabbed the binoculars and headed out for a short walk.  It was a beautiful evening to be out, so it seemed a waste to be sitting indoors.

Half a mile or so from my house there is a large oak tree where you can sit and look out across the valley.  I sat and scanned the landscape slowly, and there, perched on a tree about 500 yards away, was a large bird of prey.  As I watched it slowly flapped off and glided into a patch of woodland.

I couldn’t see the shape of the wings or the tail as it was flying directly away from me, but it was a reddish brown colour with a distinctly pale head.  It was my Red Kite.  I had managed to find it.

The reintroduction of the Red Kite has been a phenomenal success story, and the rate at which they are spreading across the country means that they are likely to be commonplace here within a few years.  Nevertheless, I’ll always be able to think of the time when I tracked down the first Red Kite I saw in Bedfordshire.

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Only in silence the word
Only in dark the light
Only in dying life
Bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky

Ursula Le Guin

Regular readers will know that there are two species (apart from badgers) that I have been trying to see in my local area: the Red Kite and the stoat.

Since my wife saw a kite a few weeks ago I’ve been looking out for it, and my failed attempts to find and watch stoats are legendary (see A total absence of stoats).

Today was a beautiful, bright, warm spring day.  I drove out the DIY shop in the afternoon, and as I came back into the village I looked across the fields and there, gliding effortlessly across the sky, was a Red Kite.

It was unmistakeable.   Its primary feathers were splayed out and its forked tail stood out clearly against the blue of the sky as it soared on the warm air.  A magnificent bird.  I allowed myself to feel a little satisfaction at having caught sight of it at last.

Another 500 yards further down the road, and there was a stoat, lying dead in the middle of the road.

Nature can be cruel sometimes.

I parked the car and walked back.  The stoat was in the same place that I had seen one almost a year ago.  It was probably the same stoat.  I suppose I had a hope that it was just stunned.  The body was still warm and there wasn’t a mark on it, but it was quite dead.  It must have been killed no more than minutes before.

I’ve never seen a stoat close up before, and it was a beautiful creature.  Sleek and lithe and every inch the predator.  I somehow felt unwilling to leave it there by the road for the carrion birds – the crows and magpies and yes, the kites – and I took it away and buried it.

I guess this is the great game of nature being played out.  Still, where there’s one stoat there must be more.  I still want to see one, but under happier circumstances.

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