I had to make a trip to Birmingham today, so thinking ahead I packed the camera in the car. Heading up the M1 I spied a Red Kite, hanging in the thermals above the motorway, an appetizer for what I hoped would be more encounters later in the day.
Heading back down the M40 later in the day I pulled off at the Stokenchurch junction and followed the A40 south. A few miles down the road I came across a cloud of magnificent kites wheeling around in the sky. As I came closer I realised I was witnessing what looked to be a regular spectacle as I saw chicken scraps being spread out in the car park of Chris’ Cafe and the birds were already starting to swoop down. Parked up I was then witness to a good half an hour’s aerial artistry as the kites spun and weaved through the air, at least 20 in number and swooped down to grab their prize.
Whilst a road cafe car park might not be the most picturesque of settings, it reminded me so obviously that these birds were scavengers at heart and have had a historic association with human habitation, prior to their persecution.
From Two Men in a Canoe – Day 2, The Badger’s Eye
Five or six Red Kites swooped above the water meadows to our right. One of the most beautiful british birds to watch in flight, their re-introduction to the Chiltern Hills north west of London has been one of the great success stories of wildlife conservation in the UK. Twenty years ago in 1989, ninety birds were introduced from Spain to the area and with great local support numbers have now risen to 500.
Historically Red Kites were a common site above towns and cities in the UK and were welcomed as scavengers who cleaned stinking refuge from Britain’s Medieval streets, but in the 16th Century a series of Government Acts classified the kite as vermin. Its extermination followed until in the late 18th Century the last birds had raised young in England. They were constant and majestic companions on our journey, always providing a good reason to stop paddling and watch their twisting acrobatic flight as they scanned fields and hedgerows for carrion, worms and small mammals.