Thursday, 21 March 2013

Red kite on A34

Route: Yard - Southampton - DIRFT - Poole - Yard
KM travelled: 514
Hours: 11.55-23.35
Birds spotted: Corvids (rooks, crows, jackdaws), magpies, buzzards (2 flying, 1 in tree), kestrels and a red kite.
Other wildlife: Fox, cat on route. Deer and badger on way home

I saw a red kite beside the A34 today.

I am very much a novice birdwatcher but I am enjoying learning. Normally my rule of thumb for roadside birds of prey is that if it is small, it is a kestrel and if it is big, it's a buzzard. This was big but it wasn't a buzzard.

It was circling round and round on thermals which is something I have never seen a buzzard do. Buzzards swoop around looking for prey, soaring across the dual carriageways, unconcerned by the traffic. Grass verges at the side of roads are excellent spots for hunting. The ground is warmer than in open fields, so small mammals are more active than they would be otherwise. They are also more captive since it is a smaller area with fewer places to run to. Roadside verges are also fairly dangerous for land predators like foxes, as the nightly roadkill tally testifies. But for the more brazen birds of prey they are ideal.

It also had a forked tail - the telltale red kite sign. No other British bird of prey has one so even if you only see a silhouette, which is the standard sighting for any bird from the driving seat of a truck, you can still recognise one.

My bird book states that the red kite is, "A rare bird for which a journey to Wales must be made". My bird book was written in 1988, one of my favourite charity shop purchases, to commemorate the 100th birthday of the RSPB. Since that time red kites have made a dramatic return to the British countryside, largely due to reintroduction programmes but also due to countryside management and working with farmers. They are a conservation success story, although I still wouldn't have expected to see one beside the A34 northbound between the M4 and the M40 if I hadn't been listening to a Simon Barnes audiobook last week which told me that they are now a familiar sight in the Chilterns.

The wonderful thing about watching birds is that they just do their own thing wherever they are. We, as humans, think that we own everything, we make the natural world into what we need it to be, building cities and roads across migration paths and destroying habitats. But still the natural world adapts and carries on doing what it has always done, using whatever new architecture we have provided for it.

Roads in the daytime are full of people rushing about going to work, talking on handsfree kits, racing the cars around them, desperate to get from A to B as fast as possible, hoping to beat their personal best for that journey. It gives the roads a frantic, competitive edge, which sucks you in and you find yourself looking in the mirror for your next adversary. But if you look up and to the fields and verges to the side, you are reminded that there is another way.

You can just soar on thermals, letting the earth's warmth save you the effort of flapping.

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