I haven't been out and about the last few days due to work, and today I was so tired I just curled up on the sofa and organised all the albums on my hard drive and laptop.
I had been wanting to go through some old photos I took in June 2012 of the time my friend Tony Sutton and I visited Watlington Hill, in the Oxford, area to see the Red Kites that frequent there. And as we are coming up for Red Kite breeding season I thought I'd dig out my old photos. I have a great fondness for Red Kites, and when one is seen soaring over Lake Farm it lifts my spirits that these gentle birds of prey are moving further and further down south.
Tony had been down on a visit from his home town in Norfolk, and never gets to see Red Kites in the wild there. The weather was dry and the visibility was clear, which was important, as when you get to the top of Watlington Hill, you look down over the valley and can see the Red Kites flying at almost eye level.
Tony and I visited via the M40 motorway. Come off at junction 6 and follow the B4009. We did get lost and ended up in a little car park watching amazed as kite after kite after kite was swooping down to scavenge food from the car park floor. One local, amused at our open mouths and cameras, pointed us in the right direction for the National Trust car park. Another local even invited us to her house later that day to watch the kites feeding from her garden. Very friendly are those Watlington villagers. We were hard pressed to tear ourselves away from the car park as kites soared and called overhead, but luckily we did, as the views from the top of Watlington Hill were even better..........The car park was easy to find, then we followed a path through woodland until we came out on a large clearing on a hill, that over looked Watlington and the rest of the villages and towns. Would we see any Red Kites ? Errrrr yeah !!! Hundreds of them, and at almost eye level as they flew and soared in front of us..........
A bit out of focus as for such large birds, they can move quite fast, especially when they're in competition to see who can swoop down for food first.
My favourite photo taken that day
I was trying to give an indication of how many birds we could see, so imagine this ten times over. The sky was full of kites. And if they weren't in front of you, they were coming in from behind.
The valley below
The distinctive Red Kite outline
Quite a few were landing in front of us, possibly to pick up scraps, or to hunt for worms
Trying to get a photo of them actually grabbing food proved challenging, but this is a snap of one just before it snatched a morsel. Got to love those 'hairy trouser' legs
I think these kites were settling to either catch worms, or to clear up tiny bits of food left over
Soaring the sky
Tony and I spent hours on the hill, taking photos and just watching these beautiful birds. They are clever too. As soon as we opened our sandwiches, we had kites above us calling. Watlington Hill is generally a really lovely area. We didn't explore as much as we should have, and I really want to get back there for another visit soon. Even the walk from the car park to the top of the hill is lovely and goes through some ancient woodland. There are rumours there is a Roe deer population there as well, though we didn't see any. So to end today's blog post from moi, here are some Red Kite facts......
Red Kites belong to the family Accipitridae and the genus milvus. They are large graceful birds of prey with a wingspan of just over 5 ft. The most obvious recognisable sign are their forked tails, which they use as a rudder.
For food, they naturally scavenge but will also take mice, shrews, voles and worms. At Watlington Hill, Tony and I were as guilty as everyone else there that day and did give them some of our sandwiches. I have since read that these birds actually get their nutrients from fur, feathers and bones. They are able to process the nutrients from these, that other scavengers would not.
Kites mate for life, but if a pair are unsuccessful in rearing young, they will pair off with a new partner. They start selecting a nest site in March, and its during this month that the best aerial displays are seen. Large cup like nests are made in the tallest trees in woodland. The female lays between 1-4 eggs and both birds will incubate for around 32 days. The chicks are fed by both parents until they are around 4 weeks old, then the parents leave the food on the nest for the chicks to feed themselves. After about 7 weeks the chicks fledge, usually early July, but will continue to go back to the nest site to receive food from the parents. Kites are sociable and will roost in their hundreds, so family packs are not uncommon.
Red Kites are listed as Schedule 1 under the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 and have full legal protection.