June 9th   Leave a comment

I was out surveying for corn bunting territories along the old railway line between Crail and Kingsbarns this morning when my dog, Nutty, saw a hare. Her usual good sense and loyalty leaves her completely when confronted by a rabbit, roe deer or hare and off she went. It’s a fair fight – Nutty is a small border terrier the same size as a hare and hares can run twice as fast. This one didn’t take her seriously and ran off half-heartedly giving Nutty a false sense of hope. I lost sight of both of them a field away with Nutty still chasing even though the hare was now far ahead. There was nothing to do but to wait for her to come back. I sat down at the edge of a field and poured a cup of coffee, not minding much because it was a lovely morning and a nice view to the west up towards Kippo. There were three buzzards over the wood on top of the ridge and one was harassing the other two which looked a bit bigger. I looked through my binoculars and saw two red kites with the buzzard. I have been waiting for a red kite around Crail for years! 

A red kite (JA)

Red kites were a very rare bird in the UK when I started birding 40 years ago. There were a few pairs in remote Welsh valleys and they were not doing very well. They used to be a very common bird of prey, happy in towns and farmlands, behaving a lot like gulls and crows – more like scavengers than birds of prey. But they were still persecuted as a bird of prey and they were wiped out from England and Scotland as were white-tailed eagles and goshawks. Birds of prey were protected properly after the second world war and many species, like buzzards, started increasing and spreading back across the UK. But not red kites. Their last strongholds in the Welsh valleys, although remote, were not very good habitat and they produced few chicks. So, it was decided to reintroduce red kites back into England in 1989 to help them recolonise. Chicks from Sweden and Spain (which have populations that were producing more chicks each year than there was habitat for them) were brought over, kept and fed in big aviaries in their new future habitat in the north of Scotland and south of England until they were ready to fledge and then released. The rest is history. The young kites survived well – helped with supplemental feeding, which is easy to do with scavengers – and started breeding successfully in a couple of years. With this success other releases in central Scotland and northern England followed. Thirty years on there are now perhaps 2000 red kite pairs breeding all over the UK but centred around their original release sites and gradually spreading to fill in the gaps in between. Like Fife. There are now regular sightings of red kites in Fife and even one up by the Secret Bunker a couple of years ago: and head north up the A9, or down to Dumfries they can be easily seen. A fantastic success story and a great example of what we can do if everyone gets behind a conservation program (although a few kites are still illegally killed each year, so not quite everyone). Red kites are very charismatic and even if you aren’t that bothered by birds it’s hard not to be impressed when you see such a big bird of prey soaring about just above your head.

Red kite (JA)

The farmland in Fife, particularly between Crail and Cupar, is perfect for kites. They only need small stands of trees for a nest site and seem to be fairly happy in even intensive farmland. They are not fussy, eating more or less anything, even earthworms. If the habitat works for buzzards then it will work for red kites, and kites are happy even to forage over towns and gardens, coming to bird tables if things like chicken bones are left out. As long as they are not actively hunted or poisoned, they do very well. And sooner or later they will start to breed around Crail. Today it felt like that might be any day soon, although my pair drifted from woodland patch to woodland patch (upsetting the resident buzzards each time) from Crail to Boarhills, steadily, but slowly heading northwards. I think they were just passing through, but perhaps they are young birds (one was moulting) looking for somewhere to start breeding next year.

Two red kites and a buzzard (left) near Crail this morning (WC)

Nutty, by the way, came back a few minutes later, looking very pleased with herself although exhausted. And for once I was pleased with her running off – a very fortuitous place to sit down with time to spare to look at those “buzzards”. I heard a corn bunting singing while I was there as well!

Posted June 9, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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