…Red Kite feeding station, farm and our home. As we go about our daily routines here each day is different: the wildlife on the farm, the farm seasons and our pets all give us endless sources of interest and subjects for musing on. There is also, of course, the great British topic of the weather….
Thought it might be time for a wee Gill update. Gill had her first impromptu public appearance on Sunday and it was extremely enjoyed by all! There has been a lot of interest in her progress, so Niall is planning public training session this Sunday (23rd Nov). For anyone interested, please turn up early for the kite viewing, as Jill will be unleashed at 1 pm, with kites at 1.30 as usual. Please see below Niall’s latest report: “Young Gill is turning out to be a real character! Her passion is taking shoes out of the house into the yard and removing the insoles. Why? We have no idea. She has also taken to arranging clothes pegs out in the yard too. As for work, she is keen as mustard. We have moved from working small groups of ewes to practising on much larger numbers and also working with lambs, which are much more challenging, not being so accustomed to being dogged. We lost about 60 of them on the road one day when Gill wasn’t quite bold enough to go past the whole flock to turn them into the field. We were saved by a lorry which chased the escapees back down for us. We have to tackle these challenges with a young dog to help them gain experience and confidence. It is all too easy to take the old dog for the hard tasks. We are now starting to work on whistle as well as voice commands. Whistles seem to work best for Gill. Some dogs are like that. We do have one major issue, however. She really will have to learn that she is not welcome on the kitchen table! Muddy paws in the mince and tatties is not a good idea.” – Niall
We have a new member of staff on the farm.
She is called Jill, which is quite confusing as she replaces another Jill. Little Jill is 18 months old and comes to us from a farm near Cumnock in Ayrshire. She is of course our new Border Collie. Old Jill is still on the go, but at 13 years old can no longer manage to gather the sheep in the long grass and tussocks on the hill without tripping up.
Old Jill can still help out in the fields but replaces speed now with guile. Little Jill on the other hand is keen as mustard. She is still only partly trained but is showing huge potential. Niall is getting to know her and equally she is getting to know him. Like human beings all dogs are individuals and have to be treated as such. A training regime for one does not necessarily suit another. Jill is quite a sensitive character so it is important not to over train her as this could risk stifling her natural potential. We have to establish a balance between Jill working naturally and confidently and Niall getting the work done the way he wants.
She has a lovely style to her work, although she will have to learn to stand well up rather than creep on her tummy, otherwise she won’t be able to see her sheep in the long grass and rushes on the hill.
She also has the most charming character and loves people, relishing the chance to chase a ball or any thing else for that matter.
She would like to share her training experiences with visitors to the Red Kites and we plan to have monthly sessions when you can come and see what is involved in training a working sheep dog. You will be able to monitor her progress on the Word-press blog and Facebook page, plus come to events on the farm to see her working once a month to see how she is getting on.
With both lambing time and nesting season fast approaching, now seems a good opportunity to give you an update on the red kites.
We had a better winter, weather-wise than in previous years and we enjoyed views of a great many kites each day. In addition there were a few unexpected visitors. Several buzzards, most likely juveniles searching for a territory, moved into the area a couple of months ago and were coming in for the feed. The territorial pair that nest in the feeding zone tolerated the interlopers for a while but have now chased them off to clear the way for their own chicks this year.
Prior to their ejection, our resident photographer Dean Bricknell got the attached picture of two of the buzzards feeding. (See link to Facebook photos at bottom of page.)
We have also been visited by a Canada goose which came down to the food a couple of weeks ago. Whether the kites would be pleased if the goose became a regular visitor remains to be seen. This story, which hit the news last year would suggest not:
The largest visitor by far has been a sea eagle. This juvenile male has returned to the farm on several occasions. We could tell it was him each time by looking at his wing-tags – both are red and have the letter T upon them. As you can see from the final picture below, of him flying alongside a buzzard, he fairly dwarves the other birds in the area! (See link to Facebook photos at bottom of page.)
While it appears that we may be set for a late-Spring this year, many of the Red Kites in central Scotland have been busy nest-building and some are already incubating their eggs. Soon all of the breeding pairs will disperse to their own nest sites, leaving only those that nest locally and any juvenile kites that are in the area coming in to our daily feed. Although this means that over Spring and Summer we don’t see the same large numbers of kites that we do in Autumn and Winter, there are several reasons to look forward to this time of year.
The kites that nest locally have to be very pro-active in finding food to take back to the chicks in the nest. This means that we get to see these birds coming and going with food throughout the afternoon – not only to collect meat to feed their young with but also returning to fill their own stomachs.
We will also have our CCTV nest-camera up and running soon, relaying live footage of a nearby kite nest to our visitor centre. (This will be the third year we’ve been filming this breeding pair of kites. Each of the previous two years, they have built their nests in different trees, forcing us to shift the camera. We hope that this year they will stay put but with kites nothing is guaranteed… The problems of working with nature!) Still, we very much look forward to following the progress of the young kites from the moment they hatch to the point where they’ll fledge their nests. If you happen to be in the area over Spring/Summertime, we highly recommend that you come and see the footage!
Oddly, the latest and most exciting project that we have been working on has nothing to do with the kites. In the last month we built two artificial osprey nests on the farm. Experts from the RSPB advised us that although there are no large bodies of water on the farm itself, we are sufficiently close to a few that, were we to build these nests, we may have reasonable hope of attracting the birds in the future.
he process of building an osprey platform involves a lot of hard work. First the canopy of a suitable tree has to be sawn off. (The pictures in the link at the foot of the page will give you some idea of how hard this is, given that the trees were roughly 30 metres tall!)
Next either a wooden pallet or mesh basket was placed at the top of the tree. Finally, our tree climbers had to cover these with both turf and sticks. In the final link below are some pictures of Keith in action, and of the finished nests:
It would be overly hopeful to expect the ospreys to find the nests this year, so soon after they’ve been built, however you never can tell what will happen!
Well that’s about all the major news from here. All that remains to be said is we hope to see you in the near future, either during nesting season or when the chicks fledge the nest at the end of the Summer. Last year was a record year for our chick numbers (101 fledged in central Scotland) so we very much hope for another great season and many excellent days’ kite viewing at Argaty.
Lynn, Niall, Mike and Tom.
More regular updates on the Red Kites can be found on our Facebook page:
We had a brilliant day on sunday, when a white-tailed eagle turned up a the hide and hung around for over 2 hours, despite being mobbed by 30 red kites!! He’s a 2011 youngster from the East coast re-introduction and had wingtags “Red T”. After speaking to the East Coast project officer we can now give you all a few extra details about our special visitor! He was the smallest male released from Fife in August last year and has had a few adventures since then!
Shortly after release he made his way to Wemyss and Methil hill in southern Fife where he was filmed sat on chimney pots in a council estate being mobbed by crows and gulls!
Sadly after this encounter he became grounded and was observed hunting beetles in a field. This diet alone wasn’t really sufficient to sustain a raptor with 8ft wingspan!! He was clearly pretty weak and losing body condition, so he was captured with the help of SSPCA. Between September-OctoberI he was housed back in the release cages until he had regained condition and his weight back to normal. At the end of October he was successfully released back into the wild, with sightings around that area up until the end of the year. Since January he has been observed at various locations across Perthshire, before he finally made an appearance at Argaty!
After this crazy start to life, we wish this bird well for the future…..fingers crossed he reappears at Argaty!!
It’s been a few months since I last posted and seeing as it’s a miserable day here, I think I should remedy that.
It’s been a strange year in terms of weather but in the last few weeks we’ve had some very good news on the Red Kite front.
As many of you will know, the various storms that hit Scotland over the last year have had a pretty devastating impact upon the Kites. Last Spring we lost around 30% of our nests to the May storms. If a breeding pair of Kites usually has two to three chicks then we estimate that we might have lost anywhere between 20 and 60 chicks through the storm damage. The gales that came in the months that followed, felled a lot more of the Kites’ nesting trees, meaning that many pairs will have to find new trees to nest in this year.
We’ve been pretty worried that the Kites that had previously nested on or around the farm would move decide to nest elsewhere this year but there are encouraging signs to suggest that this might not happen. Several pairs of Kites have been spotted “displaying” over nearby woodland areas in the last fortnight. “Displaying” is basically the Kites’ form of courtship. A male and female will often fly towards each other, sometimes swerving away just before collision, sometimes locking talons and falling spinning down through the sky. It’s a pretty dramatic sight although it does leave you with your heart in your mouth worrying that the birds are going to hit the ground!
It’s great to see the birds displaying again. The other exciting news we had was that a Kite was spotted flying over another woodland area carrying twigs in its beak. Kites usually build up their nests about a month before having chicks.
Both of these things suggest that there are a few pairs looking to establish nests in the nearby area this year. Now all we need is a few months of nice weather and with any luck we’ll have a lot of chicks fledging the nests this year!
We’ll keep you posted.
Just a quick update on the CentraI Scotland kite in Gateshead. Red/Purple T2 was ringed/tagged on 17th June 2007and was last observed at Argaty on 22nd December 2008, although we had a sighting from Welsh Kite Trust who had her at Gigrin Farm on 5th February 2009, with about 300+ others including birds from Gateshead, Inverness and the Chilterns! Since leaving Wales she never quite made it back North of the border and paired up with a North East England Kite and has successfully bred in Gateshead for the last two years! We are glad to hear she’s doing well and may well be adopted by Friends of Red Kites team, who run a “Befriend a Kite scheme” with local schools.
Nesting season this year proved to be something of a roller-coaster ride for central Scotland’s Red Kites and visitors to the Argaty feeding station were able to watch all the action on our new nest camera.
From the moment that the CCTV camera was installed on 5th May, the highs and lows of a young Kite’s life could be seen.
The process of deciding upon a suitable location for the camera to be installed in began on 11th April when a female Kite was spotted incubating eggs on a nest near to the feeding station. The nest, as we would later discover, contained two eggs, which is a fairly common number for a breeding pair of Kites to lay.
Having identified the nest location, it was essential to allow the female Kite some time to settle before installing the camera. This was necessary as we did not want to risk scaring the female for fear she might abandon the nest. We therefore waited 23 days before we set the camera up.
The installation was done by a team of expert tree climbers from the forestry commission, who set up the device in the neighbouring tree to the Kites’ nest. Once the camera was in place we then waited for just under a month until, a few days ahead of schedule, the two chicks hatched.
For the first ten days of the chicks’ lives, things were going very well. Both looked healthy and were regularly fed by the adult male and protected by the female. Then, disaster struck. Over a twenty-four hour period on 23rd May, Scotland was battered by 100 mph winds.
For a few hours we watched the CCTV footage of the young Kites clinging to the nest for dear life; it looked as though they could be blown from the tree at any point. Then falling trees in the area hit the electricity lines and we lost power until late the next day. The uncertainty about what was going on was unbearable, all that we could do was hope that the Kites had survived the storms.
As luck would have it our prayers were answered. The nest and camera trees stayed standing, even while firs all around them had come crashing down; both of the chicks had survived too. Unfortunately many other Kite chicks were not as lucky. In total we lost 30 percent of our Kite nests – either through them being blown from the tree or from the whole tree coming down. If Kites usually have up to three chicks in their breeding season then we can estimate that anything between 20 and 60 chicks were lost, all in a twenty-four hour period.
Once the storms had passed we began to repair the damage that had been caused. A falling tree had struck the camera, knocking it off-centre. We therefore had to scale the tree once more and reposition the camera. We did that and then we were back in business.
Back on Track
When Red Kite chicks are around five weeks old, the staff at Argaty and RSPB employees begin the process of tagging their wings and ringing their legs.
A lot can be discovered about a Kite, simply by spotting these wing-tags. Each Kite chick hatched in central Scotland is fitted with a red tag upon their left wing. (The colour of this tag denotes the fact that the bird is from this part of Britain. Every area of Britain in which the birds have been reintroduced has a different left-wing tag colour). As well as being able to see where a Kite was hatched, the wing-tags also help the viewer to know when the bird hatched. This year’s chicks were fitted with white tags upon their right wing. Every year the right wing-tag colour changes. Chicks hatched in 2010, for example, were fitted with blue tags on their right wing.
Each Red Kite is given an individual identity number, which is printed upon their tags. On 19th June, the nest camera chicks were fitted with tags reading “S3” and “S4”.
Once the ringing and tagging process was completed, we foolishly believed that the remaining weeks that the chicks spent in the nest would be quiet ones. It didn’t quite turn out that way. On 26th June, we noticed that one of the chicks – “S4” as we now referred to it – was missing from the nest. We hurried up to the nest area to see whether the chick had fallen to the ground but there was no sign of it anywhere around the base of the tree. It was only when the professional tree-climber arrived that we discovered what had happened. The chick was found in a rather precarious position. It had fallen from the nest and was now perched on a somewhat shaky branch below. The youngster was returned to the nest and early in July, both chicks fledged the nest.
In the end, 76 chicks fledged the nest in central Scotland. Although many nests failed, 40 were successful and we now have around 300 Red Kites in the area. Had the weather been better, we may have seen a higher number of chicks taking to the skies however it was hugely rewarding to see the two from the CCTV nest successfully fledge.
Thanks to the camera, we are looking forward to following the Kites closely again next year, whatever the weather brings!
Our swallows and house martins have started to gather on the wires around the farm. It’s a stark reminder that Autumn is on its way and our favourite summer visitors will soon be migrating back to southern Africa……a 5,000 mile journey is particularly impressive, given the size of the birds involved! They generally begin their mammoth journey in October, although this seems to be getting increasingly late, with some birds not migrating at all! The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) confirmed last year that a swallow had successfully stayed and survived a winter in the UK!!
Sorry for the delay getting this information out. It’s been a mixed year for the kites, with 40 successful pairs in Central Scotland fledging 76 chicks. The fact that we’ve had so many chicks is amazing, as we lost 30% of our kite nests in the storms that battered the area back in May…..the fact that any nests survived the 100 mph winds is a miracle! The above picture shows how one lucky chick clung on when it’s nest was half hanging out the tree – thankfully keith was on hand to do some major repairs! The 2011 wing-tag colour is White, with some of the young are starting to appear at the feeding station.