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Mollyblobs

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Tuesday 10 April 2012: Our local kite

Best viewed large for maximum feather detail!

The sun appeared again today, and it turned out to be one of those gloriously bright and breezy spring days when it's good to be alive. Pete and I went for a morning walk along the River Nene near Oundle. This part of the river is particularly good for red kites, and we saw five in the air at one point, though all were too far away to photograph. The river seemed less rich in wildlife than our local stretches, although we did see a small number of redshank on a flooded area.

When we got back the sun was still shining, and I took my camera into the garden to see if I could get some decent images of the many solitary bees which are now appearing. As I was strolling round I looked up and saw a red kite fly over the top of our extension, really quite low in the sky. I took several shots on reflex, and a couple came out quite well - I chose this one because the kite's just spotted me. It gave me a good stare as it flew over my head, but the angle was too extreme for me to get the shot!

For the last few months red kites have been seen very frequently in and around the city, including the City Centre and I feel sure that they will breed close by. The re-introduction of red kites to various places in Great Britain, including nearby Rockingham Forest, is one of most well-known conservation success stories.

During medieval times, the red kite was one of the most common birds of prey in Great Britain. They were often seen scavenging in towns and villages, as well as in the countryside. They were protected because they helped to keep the streets clean. In Tudor times, the streets were cobbled and became much cleaner. Kite numbers started to drop because there wasn't as much food for them. Then, in the 1560s, red kites were added to a list of animals and birds classed as vermin. People were encouraged to kill them and were even paid for each kite head. Not surprisingly, their numbers dropped again.

In Victorian times, shooting game birds like pheasants and partridges became a popular pastime. Gamekeepers thoughtred kites killed their game birds and farmers thought they killed their lambs.Although this was not true, red kites were shot and poisoned until, by theend of the 19th century, they had disappeared from England and Scotland. Only a few pairs survived, in the valleys of mid-Wales. A Kite Committee was set up in 1904 to protect these Welsh birds, and farmers were paid to protect red kites nesting ontheir land. Slowly the Welsh population started to recover. The recovery of the kites in Wales was very slow, probably because rainfall was high and the countryside did not provide much food.

It was thought that the kite population would take a very long time to recover to its former levels naturally, so in 1989 the Nature Conservancy Council and the RSPB started a re-introduction programme in England and Scotland. The Chiltern Hills and later Rockingham Forest were both chosen as English re-introduction sites because the landscapes were very similar to parts of Europe where kites were common.

Between 1995 and 1998, a total of 70 young birds were brought to Rockingham Forest in the East Midlands from Spain and from the successfully reintroduced population in the Chilterns, near London. The released birds first started to breed in 1996 and, since then, their numbers have increased dramatically. The number of young produced has almost doubled every two years, and now the kites are spreading out to colonise the fens and areas further north towards Grantham.

(Most of the information is from the RSPB)

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