Tuesday, 30 March 2010


At one of my kiting hotspots near Lampeter I observed 17 kites in the air during continuous heavy rain! Most seemed to be in pairs with the most dramatic interaction involving 3 birds, 2 of which grappled talons and fell almost to the ground. In view of the weather I thought they would soon clear off to their nests and my job would be done but as is typical they seemed to melt away and apart from one pair I'm none the wiser!
My neighbouring farmer is complaining that the long winter has adversely affected his ewes resulting in fewer lambs and today it was 3.6 degrees C around Tregaron.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Coming Home?

The above photograph, taken by Nigel Dalby, is of a tagged Red Kite which was present on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel from Mid March for at least a week and a half. The tags clearly show that the bird is one of those sent to Co. Wicklow in 2007 as part of our ongoing re-introduction project with the Golden Eagle Trust. This bird was though to be one member of a pair showing interest in breeding last year so it is a major surprise that it has turned up back on this side of the Irish sea - perhaps it got a preview at the press release below!

Poisons Continue to Threaten Reintroduction Projects

Some bad news from Ireland - The following is a press release issued on 27th March by the Golden eagle Trust

Two young Red Kites, recently recovered dead in Co. Wicklow, have both tested positive for poison in the State Lab in Celbridge, Co. Kildare. Both birds were collected in Wales by members of the Welsh Kite Trust as part of an ongoing project with the Golden Eagle Trust to restore this magnificent species to Co. Wicklow. The birds were only released last July and news of their poisoning is deeply troubling.

Although all the young kites are fitted with radio transmitters so they may be tracked, both these birds were recovered by concerned members of the public. One was recovered on a road near Aughrim and it was originally thought it may have been struck by a vehicle. The second bird was recovered in more unusual circumstances floating in the sea half a mile off Wicklow head. The bird was recovered by the crew of the Wicklow RNLI lifeboat while they were on operation off the coast of Wicklow. Both birds were submitted for post-mortem and toxicology analysis. This subsequently revealed that the in both cases the cause of death had been ingestion of Alphachloralose.

Alphachloralose, which may be purchased over the counter in many pharmacies and agricultural co-ops, has now been implicated in the poisoning of nine of the reintroduced birds, covering all three species, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and red kite. In the UK the use of this substance is strictly regulated because of its negative effect on wildlife. In fact it is a well held belief that the continued illegal use of Alphachloralose in the UK is facilitated by the ease of sourcing the poison from Ireland. Its continued wide scale use in Ireland not only threatens our reintroduced species but must also be doing untold damage to other native species that simply goes unreported.

To-date eleven of the birds of prey that are being reintroduced have fallen victim to the illegal use of poisons. So far four different poisons have been identified in the killing of these birds, Alphachloralose, Nitroxinol, Carbofuran and Paraquat. Only one of these chemicals, Alphachloralose, is actually produced as a substance intended for the control of vertebrate species. Illegal poisoning incidents have been confirmed in all four Provinces, clearly this issue is a national issue. The Golden Eagle Trust has lodged a formal complaint with the EU commission over the Irish States failure to protect these birds, which are afforded the highest legal protection possible.

Meanwhile, further toxicology tests on the poisoned Glenveagh Golden Eagle chick, Conall, have found that this bird had also digested a lethal dose of Alphachloralose. Therefore the farmer who put out the dead stillborn or aborted lamb dosed it with both Nitroxinil (found in a liver fluke veterinary medicine) and Alphachloralose (found in rat poison). An Garda Síochána have also received a formal complaint from a member of the public who had their dog poisoned near Ballintrillick, near Gleniff Valley, north County Sligo earlier this spring. A post mortem and toxicology tests shows the dog was poisoned by Strychnine and the complaint focuses on the fact that the dog was poisoned in a fully enclosed private back garden, which the dog had not left for several days before its death. The Gardai are investigating if the Strychnine, which is lethal to humans, was thrown into the back garden where young children were playing. This type of reckless attitude and serious risk to young children is indefensible. We know the Department of Agriculture and national IFA do not condone such actions but they do have an onus to publicly condemn and tackle this type of illegal poisoning and criminality as it continues to tarnish the good name of the vast majority of farmers. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Association (ICSA) have already publicly condemned illegal poisoning.

Mervyn Sunderland of the Wicklow ICSA said “Farmers should be aware of the potential danger of killing Red Kites when using poisons and should refrain from using meat baits. The Red Kites have fit really well into the local area and it would be terrible to see anything threaten their survival here.”

James Hill, Chairman Wicklow IFA, said “I regret the poisoning of the young Red Kites, which would otherwise mature into majestic birds, a number of which I have the pleasure of observing in their natural environment in the course of my farming activities.

Unfortunately society’s aspirations for an unrealistically sanitised rural landscape where all fallen animals legally must be removed from land, militate against successful breeding programmes for birds of prey, whose success depends on an adequate food supply until small mammal populations increase to adequate levels in late spring/ early summer. The role of such birds as scavengers has been forgotten, resulting in a view that predation is their only means of survival.

Perhaps enlightened measures could be adopted in areas associated with such reintroductions which would restore balance in the winter/early spring food supply, thus reducing the perceived threat to sheep farming in these areas. Any reduction in perception would undoubtedly result in less incidents where poisoned baits would be considered necessary.”

Damian Clarke from the Golden Eagle Trust said “It is very disappointing and worrying that these birds were poisoned, especially as this poisoning occurred in the core of the Red Kite range in Wicklow. The frustrating part is that on the ground in this area I have had nothing but support and good will from the locals, farmers and shooting interests. Clearly however there are a number of people involved in farming or game rearing that are continuing to use poisons in a reckless and illegal fashion. This is completely unacceptable and I would ask that all decent law abiding members of these sectors would help us in our efforts to stamp out these illegal activities. I hope that our efforts in this area will receive the full support of the farming and hunting organisations.”

“At this time of year my job should be looking for potential breeding pairs, we hope to have our first Irish Red Kite chicks fledge this year. Instead I find myself collecting poisoned kite corpses, a repeat of this time last year”.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Hidden Delights Discovered

On Tuesday last (23rd March, 2010) I found a typical red kite territory in an area of Herefordshire that I have not visited for many years, the small triangular shaped oak woodland seemed ideal for red kite. This is close to the border with Brecknock.

I observed the vista for about ten minutes, from the other side of the valley, when a single adult kite appeared. I watched the bird for several minutes before it disappeared into the wood.
Eureka, I was sure I had found a nest site, either an old nest or a new site. I drove to the nearest farm to the woodland to speak with the landowner. When I told the tenant farmer the purpose of my visit he offered a wry smile that told me I was correct.

He informed me the birds had been there for several years and produced a number of young, he has not told anyone of their presence. Full access to the area was granted with a number of small conditions attached.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Checking one of my sites I saw a pair, both with nest material, visiting their nest of 4 years. One had wool and one had muddy strands of grass, typical nest lining. About 100m into the wood however, I was dismayed to find this adult suspended on a few twigs, freshly deceased( no, don't do the parrot thing).
Tony came to collect it and found a full crop and no obvious wounds;probably a female. Bit of a mystery.
Today,Philip Ellis and I found a new nest site of a (probably) known pair and the land-owner said"oh, there's hundreds of them now". Well that's true but it's still one of the rarest birds in Europe having to face unknown hazards.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A close run thing!

Today I investigated a report of a new kite nest on my patch in a wooded valley north of Machynlleth. I saw a kite gliding across the valley from the reported nest site. I became aware of a 'droning' noise which was familiar to me and it seemed to be getting louder it was that characteristic sound made by the engines of an army 'Chinook' helicopter. It seemed to be getting closer and suddenly there it was it appeared around the corner so to speak just a couple of hundred feet above me and I could clearly see the aircraft crew within. The kite had been crossing its flightpath only seconds earlier and it could well have fallen victim to the aircraft's rotor blades! As Wellington declared at Waterloo that sure was 'a close-run thing'!
Kite monitoring is never boring!

Montgomeryshire Kites

I was travelling on the A.458 between Mallwyd and Welshpool yesterday afternoon and saw 6 kites in total between Mallwyd and Llanfair Caereinion. It is so pleasing to see this number of kites in our fair County!
The other day I was watching one of my local pairs of kites at their nest site in the Machynlleth area and saw one of the birds carry a morsel of carrion onto a branch high up a mature larch tree. It tore away with relish at the piece of carrion and when I zoomed in with my scope to watch the bird I was surprised to see that it was devouring the head of a badger! I could clearly see the distinctive head markings of the badger which was draped over the branch and held firmly in the kites' talons. This is an obvious illustration that kites do obtain some of their sustenance from road kills. Well it will never find a shortage of supply from that source will it? The numbers of badgers killed on the UK roads each year must be phenomenal. The poor old badger now even the kites are turning against them! (Mm... can kites get bovine TB from badgers?!)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Pembrokeshire born and bred

Two years ago one of the first kites to be born in Pembs since their extinction c150 years ago, a female yellow 'right arrow', paired with a 2 year-old male (green p1) and built a nest which unfortunately failed. Last year, the male moved c 2 miles north to pair with an untagged female but I couldn't find a nest and it almost certainly failed early on. Yellow right arrow stayed and nested very close to her first nest with an untagged male and also failed again last year, but after a very good tip off from Janet Atkinson, a very keen observer in the north of pembs, we found the original pair back together where the male hung about last year. This isn't just kite gossip - if they nest successfully this year it will be the first known Pembs chicks to be born from kites born in the county.
Despite tagging nearly all the chicks known to be born in the county, the vast majority of nesting birds are untagged. This means that they either move in from an area which isn't well monitored eg parts of Carms or I miss loads of nests!

It didn't get as far talon grappling but an established pair of kites put considerable effort into hammering a buzzard a few days ago. One of the birds, male orange '!', actually hit the buzzard and it eventually had to flee. I think Orange '!' was tagged by Gwyn in a nest c40km away and is one of the few breeding adults of known origin within the county.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


At 1041 this morning, I observed Black Yellow 23 stripping a fox tail on a branch of a tree near Hundred House. Whilst this was happening an untagged bird arrived and took advantage of the lady! After taking a moment or two to compose herself she continued preparing lunch.

Black Yellow 23 was hatched in 2004 at Halfway, Llandovery and was seen regularly at Gigrin feeding station but has not been seen since 2008. This bird was seen about forty kilometres from the natal nest, where I believe there may have been a nest last year; it would now appear my suspicions were correct.

Kite Helicopters

At a site south of Rhayader today I watched three pairs of kites fighting over a group of trees and knocking the stuffing out of each other for well over an hour. At least twice during the proceedings two birds grabbed hold of each other by the talons and spiraled out of the sky like giant sycamore helicopters, once to crash into the tops of some nearby hawthorns. They both emerged soon after seemingly undamaged.

The (apparently) resident pair consisted a white-tagged female from a nest near Rhandirmwyn in 2002 and a male with a BTO ring only.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Black (eared?)kite

Showing well at Gigrin feeding station on Tues 9th. More the colour of the buzzards than our red kites. The leucistic kite was there also.

A Colour Ringed Bird

Mid afternoon today, I located a red kite perched in an Ash tree in the vicinity of a nest at Rhulen, Radnorshire. This bird was wearing a black colour ring FF.

Following a conversation with Tony I established the bird was ringed as one of three chicks in a nest close to the Eppynt Ranges west of Erwood in 1998. This being fifteen kilometres from the location it was observed today.
The details of the ring have not been recorded since ringing.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Patience is Rewarded

This afternoon I located six red kite in an area where I have never seen them before, Clyro Hill, less than two miles from Hay on Wye. There was a single adult bird plus five first winter birds one of which was tagged.

The weather was cold with bright sunlight but, I was always looking towards the sun as the birds quartered the fields paying particular attention to a field that had recently been used for free range pigs. The birds would frequently land in the fields but, the awful light conditions; it was like looking into slightly milky water, made the visibility poor. The tagged bird landed a number of times usually facing towards me so that I could not read the tags. On the few occasions it landed when I could see the tags, it took to the wing before I could focus my telescope. After much frustration and over two and a half hours of continual observation with binoculars and telescope, my patience was finally rewarded when I recorded black pink 29. I was pleased to identify the bird but, I was slightly disappointed as I had seen this bird previously.
This is the very same bird that I observed last Friday on the slopes of The Begwyns, about five kilometres to the south west. See my entry below.

This incident has posed a few questions:-

Was the adult bird from a nest that I have not located or was it from a known nest several miles from this location?

Are the first winter birds from unknown local nests or are they wanderers?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Two Youngsters Have Survived the Harsh Winter.

This afternoon I observed two tagged first winter birds (black pink) with an untagged adult quartering the fields on the north western slopes of The Begwyns (East Radnorshire). The birds were frequently landing in the fields and would take to the wing again before I could focus on the tags. Eventually, after much patience I was able to read the tag details.

Black pink E2 is a youngster from one of my nests located some five miles away whilst the other black pink 29 is from a nest not monitored by me.
I have now received information from Tony that Pink 29 is coincidentally from the same nest as Black/Black A in a wood near Craven Arms, Shropshire. I observed Black/Black A, a few days previous in Herefordshire, see below.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Black A in Herefordshire

Yesterday afternoon whilst looking for a breeding pair of kites in Herefordshire, I found a single sub adult bird perched in an oak tree not far from the first successful nest in the county for over one hundred and fifty years.

This bird was tagged black black A, it hatched in 2008 near Craven Arms, Shropshire.

If black A finds a mate it may build a nest in the area but, I doubt they will be successful this year.