Sunday 7 February 2010

Kite Amble, innit!

As you will know from a previous blog, I find that there’s nothing quite so tedium-relieving on a long car journey than spotting a bird as you careen along. Raptors figure quite highly (though I did spot a Great Spotted Woodpecker on a telegraph post by the A5 the other week). Top raptor for me tends to be the Red Kite, as sadly, I don’t have a commute that includes mountains or moorland.

In fact, the majority of my Red Kite sightings have been from behind the wheel at 60-70mph. I know, I know, I shouldn’t let them drive, but they do thrive on road kill. And you thought they were just scavengers!

Seriously though, there have not been many non-vehicular moments in the Tense/Kite relationship.

Little persuasion was required, therefore, in the decision to visit the Red Kite Centre just outside Rhayader (or Rhaeadr Gwy, for my Welsh readers), to sample a bit more of the spectacle that shines from this charismatic bird.

Large birds of prey are always impressive to see, but combined with the kite’s wonderful colours, markings and aerial agility, they are a joy to behold. A bit like a Spitfire painted using the autumnal palette, with razor sharp talons replacing the Brownings, though without the Merlin engine, cos that’s a much smaller raptor, obviously.

The trip from Shropshire, down through Herefordshire and into Powys was reasonably uneventful so we arrived in Rhayader requiring the adrenalin rush that only a tea shop can deliver. Suitably sustained, we then pootled the short distance out of the town to Gigrin Farm, which is the official Red Kite Feeding Station. Sleet and snow showers were sweeping across the area, but fortunately, we made it to the hides without becoming soaked. Thankfully, the sun appeared as feeding time approached, its weak light mixing with the tangible sense of avian and human anticipation.

On cue, a tractor chugged onto the field in front of the hides, and chunks of meat were shovelled from the rear bucket. Somehow, the raw redness of the situation was heightened by the whiteness of the snow, a feeling probably lost on the assembled Crows, Rooks, Ravens, Buzzards, Red Kites and, bizarrely, two Grey Herons. The corvids were the first to begin feeding, followed by the raptors once they felt safe. In contrast to all the other species, the Red Kites did not land to feed, but would swoop between the assembled throng to grasp the meat in their talons and then gain height to eat it whilst flying. Their aerial antics, experienced at such close quarters, were something to behold, but the best was yet to come.

Needing to move our cold muscles, we abandoned the hide to wander around a nature trail above the feeding site. From this vantage point, we noticed that as the food stocks were depleted, the Kites would harry any bird flying from the field carrying food. Ravens, Buzzards, even other Red Kites, were chased in a whirling, soaring, diving dogfight until the food was dropped, at which point the nearest Kite would twist in mid air and swoop to retrieve it before it fell more than a few feet. It was absolutely amazing to watch and I suspect that we will return to sample the magic again.


Janells said...

Very exciting! At my sister's in the Chilterns they nest about 100 feet away from the house, so they soar up and down the valley all the time. Haven't seen them pinch food from other birds like that though.


Imperfect and Tense said...

Wow, I think there might just be a little weekend trip in the offing! And if there's any dragonfly surveying to be done in South Bucks, this would make a handy stopover. Thanks for the tip, Jane.
Regards, Graeme