The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday 17 September 2009

Kites. Red Ones. Lots of.

For the last six months I have travelled up and down the M40 an average of once per week.

As many will know, the immediate vicinity of the M40 in the Stokenchurch area is the home of a large number of Red Kites*. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of journeys I’ve completed without seeing a single one and on a sunny day can easily see a dozen or more. They can be quite distracting too – a truly magnificent bird soaring high over you deserves a glance – but sometimes they swoop low over you too and it’s difficult to keep your eyes on the road when they’re right there in front of you with fantastic colouring and the constant balancing-wiggle of that tail.

This afternoon I could have had a real treat if there had been somewhere for me to pull over to observe (tsk – why do the hold ups occur at inconvenient times, rather than when there’s interesting stuff to look at**?), for there off to the west of the carriageway was a ‘swarm***’. I couldn’t do an accurate head count, passing at speed as I was, but I would say that there were at least 15, if not 20, of them gliding around together.

Only once before have I seen that many playing together. On the other side of the carriageway was a singleton. I wonder what that one had done to be ostracised? Or maybe it just hadn’t noticed that there was a party going on a hundred yards away?

A couple of miles further on and another singleton was spotted. Single amongst other Kites that is, as it was being mobbed by crows****. Unlike the displays of crows versus buzzards, which I’ve always witnessed to involve much ducking and diving (plus the occasional bit of retribution when the buzzard gets fed up with the attack), the Red Kite just continued soaring, apparently unmoved (or at least that’s how he appeared in the few seconds he was in my view).

The Kites do seem to have made a remarkably successful comeback, particularly in around that bit of the M40. Let’s hope that they spread further afield too, so that more people can enjoy them.

Red KiteA photo shamelessly stolen from t’internet

* For anyone who is not familiar with the bird the foolproof recognition tip that my late father (who was a bit of a birder) passed on to me was that it’s the only bird of prey with a forked tail. The ‘fingers’ of the wing feathers are also quite distinctive.

** Not entirely true. During a ‘trapped in motorway hell’ sitting-with-engine-off-for-hours incident a few weeks ago I did have a Hercules circle me quite a few times before, right in front of me, throwing half a dozen chaps out of the back who duly activated their parachutes to drift gracefully down to ground. Then I twiddled my thumbs for another hour and a half.

*** Swarm?! What is the correct collective noun for Red Kites anyway?

**** To me a ‘crow’ is anything that’s big and black. I have no clue about distinguishing a crow from a jackdaw, raven or such. Similarly birds of prey are generally BBJs***** and anything like a sparrow is a LBJ******.

*****BBJ = Big Brown Job

******* You can work LBJ out for yourself can’t you?


  1. Hi Gayle, as you may have seen in my blog Red Kites are a common occurrence here in the flatlands. This year seems to have been an extremely good year for them and we have seen a rapid increase in numbers. The flocking you saw is fairly common at this time of the year and often consists of this years birds congregating for the winter. Their 'play' is anything is a way of establishing a 'pecking order'. The lone birds and often more adult birds taking the role of lookout. Mobbing by Crows does not seem to bother them unless they are hunting to feed chicks, then it is a very unwise Crow that ventures anywhere near. Although they don't appear so in their flight they are quite large birds and easily outweigh a Crow in the aggression stakes.
    It is nice to seem them re-establishing growing colonies.
    Keep an eye open for their aerobatic antics!

  2. Hi!

    Collective nouns (or collective terms as Wikepedia puts it): a brood of kites, an eyrie of kites, a roost of kites, a kettle of kites, a stooping of kites, a soar of kites or a string of kites.

    Kettle of kites sounds good to me but I'd go with what you think since it was you that shared them with us.

  3. Red Kites are extremely beautiful and I look forward to seeing dozens of them each year as we cross the Kessock Bridge on the A9 on our way to Gairloch. I know we've started our holiday when we've seen our first Kite of the year. They are spectacular to watch, how incongruous a sight from a busy motorway!

  4. Hi Gayle. The Gigrin Farm red kite feeding station at Rhayader is well worth a visit. I called in at feeding time on my way to the Pumlumon challenge last weekend. The hides were full when I arrived, but the kites know when the hides empty and come back for seconds an hour or so after offical feeding time!