News of the first Irish Red Kite chicks in well over two hundred years got good media coverage when the story broke back in May. So there will be no surprises when I say the project has had a fantastic year. At least 12 Irish chicks fledged and we imported and released a further 26 young Welsh kite chicks. 38 new Kites for the skies of Wicklow :)
By late spring we had located nine kite nests, one had failed at the laying stage but the rest seemed to be doing well. Unfortunately during the incubation period a few other pairs deserted their nests for unknown reasons. It was more than a little worrying for a while as I began to fear it would end up like last year, eggs but no chicks, but that wasn't to be. So when my friend Mark Lewis climbed up to a nest and announced there were chicks in it, I was both madly envious that he would see Irish Kite chicks before me but also greatly relieved and excited.
During the course of the breeding season I at some point got greedy and decided I wanted to find ten nests and get at least ten young fledged from them. Nest checks had revealed two nests had three chicks, two had two and there were also one single. Four of the nests located had failed. When we returned later in the breeding season the three chicks had both reduced down two, so I ringed and tagged nine chicks. So close to the double figures I had decided would be a good start. Luckily one night late in the season I noticed a kite laden down with prey making a beeline for a copse of trees. Early the following morning I was knocking on the farmer's door to enquire about Kites and permission to go look for them. The farmer took me out to a field pointed to a group of trees and said "they're in there somewhere". One look through my binoculars revealed the nest, number ten, with Kite chick number ten sitting on top. In the last few months I have spotted two untagged juveniles in Wicklow, I clearly missed a nest or two, perhaps I should have been greedier.
The ringing of the Irish Kites took place in a five day break between our first and second weeks collecting in Wales, so a busy few weeks for all involved. This year I was accompanied to Wales by Tony Nagle, a director of the Golden Eagle Trust, in week one and Mark Lewis, tree climber extraordinaire, in week two. As usual the weather was great, when I think of Wales I think of hot sunny weather! We got our 53 birds fairly easily this year, half for Wicklow and half for Down. Thanks once again to all the Kite Watchers and landowners for their assistance. As always apart from collecting our chicks we all had a great time in Wales. I think Tony Nagle is still telling stories about ringing Nightjars and Goshawks in Wales to anyone who will listen.
The last four years in Wales collecting chicks for Ireland has been amazing. It has been hard work but a great experience and I have especially loved meeting the landowners and seeing how much their Red Kites mean to them. I have since year one looked forward to the day when I would be standing on an Irish farm ringing Kites with the farmer and this year it happened. Just like I've seen in Wales so many times, the ringing of the chicks was an event the whole family attended. I know there are more than one landowner looking forward to see if next year will bring them another nest and some more young.
On a personal note it is with great disappointment that I tell you that I am no longer the Red Kite Project Manager. My secondment from the Irish Department of the Environment ended and in July I returned to my post as a Wildlife Ranger in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. It has genuinely been a wonderful experience and I am more than a little envious of the new Project Manager, Dr. Marc Ruddock. Marc is Ireland's leading Peregrine Falcon expert, a Hen Harrier nut, Buzzard enthusiast, Kite lover, etc. You get the picture, the project is in safe hands, so best of luck to you buddy.
Once again a big thanks to all that have helped over the last four years, especially all the Kite Watchers and Chris Powell at Gigrin Farm. Special thanks must go to Tony Cross and his family for how generous and welcoming they have been to me and all the Irish team over the last few years. Don't worry, we'll be back.