If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The highs and lows of country living

Within 30 minutes of each other this morning:

The low: investigating a strange smell in the utility room, and lifting the cat's drinking bowl to find, underneath, the rotting corpse of a mouse, crawling with maggots. Disposed of before Anna could see, with some kitchen roll, a plastic bag and a spray of Flash. Yeurgh.

The high: pottering about outside in the sunshine, hearing the "whee-eur" of a buzzard, looking up, and seeing two buzzards chasing off another bird. As the bird turned in the sky and the sun lit up its underside, I saw it was a Red Kite. It decided against a fight, and hitched a thermal up to the next level of sky, eventually vanishing over the trees to the South. I watched it for around five minutes.

That's the first time I have ever seen a Red Kite in this area. Not so long ago, they were 'endangered', and I can remember visiting Gigrin Farm near Rhayader about ten years ago to watch them feeding these 'amazingly rare' birds. At that time, you could also see the birds in the wild at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian, on the A44 Aberystwyth to Llangurig road, if you were patient and lucky. Now, they are almost common in mid-Wales, although I believe they are still rare elsewhere in the UK.

I know it was a Red Kite because when we were up in mid-Wales on Sunday we stopped for a break at the reservoir of Llyn Brianne. D2 spotted a bird wheeling over the water and asked what it was. The general consensus was that it was a Red Kite, and we spent several minutes watching it circling. From my memories of Gigrin, I was sure it wasn't a Red Kite, so I made a careful mental note of the markings and when I got home I checked it in my birdwatching book. Sure enough, it was a Red Kite. So when I saw the bird this morning, there was no mistake. The orange underparts, the white wing-patches and the shape of the tail were all quite distinctive.

We have several breeding pairs of Common Buzzards in the woods round here, and it is wonderful to watch them on a warm summer's day, wheeling round in the sky and uttering that strange whistling screech. I like them, even though they are a bit thuggish. They are also clever: their natural food is small mammals, caught from the open fields, but one has taken to sitting on a telegraph pole on the other side of the valley, watching for roadkill. I pass it most mornings. Why make the effort to chase it, if it will eventually be given to you on a plate?

But Red Kites in the area ... now that's something.

Not my photos, by the way. Thank you birdwatchireland.ie (Buzzard) and northernkites.org.uk (Red Kite).


  1. My parents went to Wales many years ago, when they were endangered, and managed to see one in the wild. But now I think you'll find they are becoming much more common, and have spread over many parts of the UK. I heard a report that some have been sighted in North Norfolk.

    I came across a group of Buzzards last year whilst taking my parents out for drive. They were being hassled by a determined Crow, who was heavily outnumbered, but that didn't stop him trying to drive them off!!

  2. I saw my first red kite in the wild just last year. Truly, a marvellous success story for conservationists.

    Yet, there are always those who complain, aren't there?

    Frankly, fewer people like this and more red kites would be real progress in my book.

  3. MD - for a minute I thought your parents were endangered. Perhaps they were. The buzzards and crows get up to regular scraps round here - real dogfights in the air over the house. The species with the greatest number on the day wins.

    Julia - strange, isn't it? From rarity to pest in twenty years! I can't see the problem with the story you link to. Just stop them eating their lunches outside for a week or two. All the 'injuries' seem to be food-related. I bet that headteacher was the one who got them all to wear safety goggles for conker matches, too.

  4. At the same time as they re-introduced them to Wales, they brought some to the Chilterns. They have taken off there, as well (if you'll excuse the pun). Drive along the M40 and between junctions 7 and 2 you'll probably spot half a dozen.

    Beautiful things, but un-nerving when they start to circle over you in the garden. Guess I must look like I'm on my last legs.

  5. "Guess I must look like I'm on my last legs."
    - Like my parents!

    Well spotted, Richard. I really didn't proof read properly...

  6. Richard (at work and can't log in)29 June 2011 at 20:50

    I have mentioned the sighting to a few people at work, and it seems that Red Kites are now as common as muck, apparently. Our vet has a smallholding and his ewe had just given birth to two lambs. As he watched, a Red Kite came down and took one. Time to start shooting the buggers again, I suppose :)


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