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Sun26th Feb 2012

Since December 2011, the RSPB Red Kite Officer, Adam McClure, had picked up the radio signal and had several sightings from an unusual visitor - one of the Dublin kites - to my embarrassment the kite was less than two miles from my house on the Ards Peninsula, Co Down.

Last Tuesday, Andrew Murray and I had a work experience student, Phillip Patton from Regent House, Newtownards working in the office and helping with some of the fieldwork. We all decided to head out and see if we could get a closer look and a photograph and Phillip wrote down his experiences of the day:

"I arrived at Dr. Marc Ruddock's house early on Tuesday morning for work experience and was given a great opportunity to radio track the red kite which had found its way from its Dublin release site, in Donabate, to within just two miles from the project manager's house over a hundred miles away! It was a great experience for the three of us involved and it's one I won't forget. We began the radio tracking at Marc's house and first travelled to the area they had last spotted the bird just a week before and RSPB had told us the birds were usually seen but there appeared to be no sign. So from there we began to scour the whole of the Ards Peninsula up and down listening closely to the radio for any sign of a beeping noise. Time went by and it felt as if we were searching for a needle in a hay stack and might never find it but just as we were giving up hope we heard it...

We followed the beeping noise down countless country lanes, eyes peeled for anything moving in the skies. We had a few false alarms, most notably a peregrine falcon and several buzzards. We first found the bird soaring across a farmer's field too far away to get a decent view or picture so in attempt to get a better view we drove down a narrow lane but it came to a dead end and we were forced to turn back and try another route.

The second time we spotted the kite we were driving down another very narrow lane surrounded by high hedges which made spotting it much more difficult. Luckily Marc saw the red kite taking off from a fence post and he quickly jumped out onto the roof of his car and began taking photos. It was a spectacular sight, very striking even on such a miserable day. It was flying low over a field and just as it was about to disappear out of sight over the brow of the hill, the bird turned to show its unmistakable wing tags, blue and white with the clear 'B1' markings on both wings.

This kite is not alone on the Ards peninsula and is in fact one of two spotted in the area, we got a brief glimpse of another kite with brown and white wing-tags heading along the shore edge, but were not able to confirm the codes".

Since the trip out with Phillip and Andrew; Adam McClure, RSPB, has confirmed that Blue White B1 is usually seen together with Brown White 39. This was bird fledged from a nest of two young near Downpatrick by two adults which were released in 2008 and known by their wing tags Brown Black A and Brown Black T and named affectionately Caelum and Troy.

Back in the office, we searched the database and discovered that Blue White B1 was collected in Wales on the 12th June 2011 by Tony Cross from the Welsh Kite Trust and my good friend Dr George Henderson. This kite came from a very special brood of chicks being part of a nest with four young, the first ever brood of four discovered by the Welsh Kite Trust. Blue White B1 was released from Newbridge Demesne along with the other kites in July 2011 and prior to release had wing tags and the radio-transmitter fitted by Dr Allan Mee, the white-tailed eagle project manager who came up from Co. Kerry to help with the tagging. From measurements made in the cages it is estimated that Blue White B1 is a male.

Great to see the kites doing well across the island of Ireland and utilising new areas and amazing to think that one of the Dublin kites appeared to have followed me home!

A day out kiting...
Mon25th May 2009

I probably should have posted this a little earlier as I'm sure people have been waiting to hear about the nest and how it's doing. Unfortunately it's not. We believed hatching would take place in early May, but at some point at this stage the female deserted the nest. We can't know why she would do this but I suspect the male was involved with another female and polygmy and kites doesn't usually have a happy ending. Presumably if the male had another female both would be getting less care from him than needed to successfully breed.

A day or two before our first nest failed we discovered a second nest, also in an oak tree. This nest had two eggs in it, but again was deserted within a couple of weeks of discovery. Very disappointing to say the least. However we should keep in mind that these birds are still only young and not much in breeding terms should be expected from them. The weather has also been terrible and is taking its toll on many bird of prey nests that I have visited, so presumably didn'd help the kites cause either. Anyway now that they have had a little practice hopefully next year will go better.

On the plus side we'll be going to Wales shortly and hope to import another 26 kites for Wicklow. If we reach our quota that will bring the number released in Wicklow up to 82! Lets hope the Welsh Kites are doing better than our own.


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Wed6th May 2009

Well it's all out in the open now. Red Kites are breeding in Co. Wicklow. In early April I made the discovery of a kite nest in an oak tree. What a day that was.

I really hadn't expected to find a nest on the day it happened and was just checking out an area where I had previously seen a number of birds interacting. As I walked through the trees trying to get my bearings I noticed a pile of sticks that could have been a nest, of course I couldn't pass by without examining it. When I but my binoculars up I really was'nt expecting to see a long forked tail sticking over the edge. Absolutely amazing. Obviously I wanted to shout and cheer in delight but that isn't advisable below a fresh kite nest so I had to wait till I got some distance away. It's a strange feeling knowing you're the first person to see such an event in over two hundred years. It was genuinely a privilege.

A few weeks later I went back in to inspect the nest. I had a few people involved with the project along to help. We used a mirror mounted on poles to see in to the nest bowl. I've seen this technique used before but its far trickier that it looks. Twelve meters of aluminium pole is heavy and difficult to direct. Still the results were worth it. Looking up into the mirror from the ground there they were for all to see, three kite eggs. It was all done in five minutes and shortly after we left "Purple e", the breeding female, was back on her nest.

Hatching will hopefully take place this week. The first few weeks after hatching will be critical to the young kites so hopefully the weather will be kind to them. I'll upload the photo of the nest shortly and keep you posted on further developments,


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Thu2nd Oct 2008

Kites nest in the spring time, that much I do know. What I don't know is why a kite would be carrying a nice big stick in late September.

I was out checking up on the kites last week and went to a spot where a local gamekeeper told me he had seen kites on a few occasions. As it was a lovely sunny day I set up my scope and decided to wait for some kites to arrive. My radio receiver was picking up a few signals, but I couldn't see any birds. One bird "Black W" was worrying me a little as for the last few weeks the signal constantly indicated the bird was perched and I hadn't had any visuals on it. Eventually the kites decided to show themselves and two of them were soaring out in front of me. I was more than a little relieved when I managed to read the "W" on the tag of the young kite.

As I watched the kites for a bit, a third kite arrived. Its bright red tail instantly identified it as a 2007 bird and I was keen to try and read it's tag to get an ID on the bird. Unfortunately it was too far off and never came close to me. It disappeared out of view and next when it appeared it had a fine big stick in it's talons. It soared around for a little bit carrying it's stick in plain view of the younger birds, then it disappeared in the direction of the nearest forest.

Obviously when you see a bird carrying a stick you think of nest building, but kite nest building happens in early spring. So what was the kite up to? Perhaps it was advertising it's territory to the younger kites, perhaps it was merely playing (kites are known to do this with sticks and leaves) or perhaps it actually was getting a head start on it's nest. Only time will tell.


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Tue16th Sep 2008

Today I had the opportunity to see a 2007 and a 2008 bird side by side. I had seen the 2007 bird earlier in the day but had not recognised it as one of the older birds. I was trying with some difficulty to see which of the 2008 radio frequencies it matched, the problem was of course it was a 2007 bird. As the the bird was face on and I couldn't see it's wing tags I drove to a different postion and tried to creep up on it. Just as I reached my intended vantage point the bird flew off, I followed it in my bins and watched it land in the distance, on a fence post next to another kite.

I made my way back to the van and got my scope out to see if I could read the tags. I still thought both birds were 2008 birds. Seperating adult and juvenile kites isn't too difficult according to the books, but in fairness these are our first adult kites. Side by side I could see that there were differences, but as both birds were again face on the differences were kind of subtle. I couldn't figure out at that point whether what I was seeing was just individial variation of the plumage or age related difference. Both birds were left wing to me, so they were both blue tags, there is a colour bar at the bottom to indicate year, but a small purple bar and a small black bar look very similar at a distance.

The deciding factor that one bird was a 2007 bird was the eye colour. Even at 300+ meters, through the scope the paler eye colour of the older bird was apparent, its head also looked somewhat bigger and more contoured. The bird from this years release had a much blacker and to appearance "beadier" eye! As I walked closer and closer to get better views, the birds eventually flew off and then the difference in plumage is readily apparent. The 2007 bird, now sporting its second tail, has a beautiful "rooster red" tail, while the first year birds have a more subtle brown tail.

I guess the long and the short of it is if you want to age kites look at their tails, not their eyes.


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