Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dumfries & Red Kites with a Scottish Accent

16th Nov.  I was tucked up in bed this morning when I was suddenly woken by the doorbell.  For a few seconds I wondered why the postman was disturbing my peace so early in the day.  Looking at my clock and realising it was after 7:00am I suddenly remembered that I had told Sam that we ought to be off to Newcastle early in the morning as we were co leading an RSPB trip to Dumfries and I felt we ought to be there before others arrived.  My mobile rang and sure enough it was Sam at my door!  Fortunately I had prepared my gear the evening before, so hopefully I wasn’t too long getting ready.  I grabbed a banana and placed it in my pocket (for breakfast) as I left the house and was almost fully awake as we arrived in Newcastle for the off.  Everyone was on the coach, so we left pretty quickly without ceremony.  I’m still not sure what happened to the alarm clock!  Maybe it is cream crackered, or maybe that is just me.

We were heading initially for Loch Ken, Dumfries and hoping to find Greenland White Fronted Geese in great surroundings.  The morning was quite grey, but dry and pleasant enough. After a few problems with road works and diversions we were all soon watching Red Kites, Common Buzzards and a skein of Pink-footed Geese as we approached the car park at Loch Ken.  The late autumn fall meant that leaves of varying colours remained on the trees and the smell of pine at times filled the air as did the calls of the Red Kites.  The latter sound as I told others, being like my attempts at whistling.  I’ve never been able to whistle.  I can’t whistle, but I can appreciate wonderful habitat and Dumfries still has plenty of that.  Sadly I have to say that North Tyneside Council seems intent on destroying what green habitat we have left in our home area (see latest planning proposals), but my comments about that will be left to another post.

There was limited time at our disposal so the focus was at first on finding Greenland White Fronted Geese.  Unfortunately we failed in the attempt to do so.  Either these birds had moved to another area, possibly Threave as Sam suggested, or they were well hidden.  This is the first time in four attempts that I have failed to see these birds in the area.  The group had to content themselves with the large flocks of Greylag and Canada Geese, along with large numbers of Wigeon, smaller numbers of Teal and the odd Goldeneye.  A small flock of Whooper Swans added to the cast.  It looked like a family or two.

Sam and I along with others decided to leave the viewing platform and take the path into the wooded area.  Birds seen or heard included Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and a good number of Fieldfare were showing well, with the odd Redwing in amongst them.  Parties of Linnet were from time to time flying over the open areas as were Goldfinches.  The most numerous birds in the hedges and trees appeared to be Chaffinches, with only the odd Greenfinch showing.  Most of the time we had Red Kites and on occasion Common Buzzards showing.  A Kestrel hovered in front of us and on the return walk a Sparrowhawk was seen.  A flock of over one hundred Lapwings flew around the area and at times when flying above a Red Kite individual birds would drop from the flock so as to mob the raptor.  I understand some members of our group had found Red Squirrel.  Sam and I returned to the viewing platform hoping that we might find the White Fronted Geese before we left, but again we were not in luck.  We returned to the coach with the sound of gun shot from the shooting party echoing around the area.

Time had been limited at Loch Ken as we were aiming to be at the Red Kite feeding station at Bellymach Farm well before the feeding actually began and I’m pleased we managed the timings very well.  A few members had not been to the Loch Ken area and most had not visited Bellymach Farm.  In fact this was my first visit to Bellmach.  Sam and I are very much aware of the pros and cons of such feeding stations for the Red Kites.  I’m pleased to say that this brought some questions from one or two members and I was pleased to be able to express my views.   Over the centuries before health and hygiene took over our lives there would have been areas where waste products would have been left and this would have attracted large concentrations of Red Kites and other scavengers.  I would simply ask the question, are the feeding stations any different?  I also feel very strongly that anything that captures the public interest and manages to excite them about raptors and wildlife in general has to have many good points, and Bellmach Farm certainly does this.  I was pleased to hear the points raised however as these trips should not be simply a ‘coach trip out for the day’ but they should focus the minds of participants on  wildlife and conservation matters and that was what Sam and I had tried to achieve today.

On arriving I counted at least sixty/seventy Red Kites already circling the area, with one or two perched in the trees.  They were soon joined by a number of other kites and we estimated at least one hundred Red Kites were flying around us.  I have certainly not been surrounded by so many Red Kites before and found it a really great experience and I had the feeling that most of our members felt likewise.

The lighting conditions in general were not good for photography but I was reasonably happy with a few of my images.  The great benefit was just being amongst the birds and also watching the surrounding area as the light from a weak sun occasionally lit small areas on the hills, of what as a whole is a very picturesque place.

I’d like to think that no one was disappointed.  Hawkshead Photography was visiting with a group at the same time as our selves and I spoke with an old friend of mine J who I hadn’t seen for years.  J is very much involved with the Red Kites in our own area.     Sam and I also spoke at length to Callum who was representing the RSPB.  It was good to be able to talk about the needs of the Red Kites and about the problems that they have faced since re-introduction.  Callum was extremely positive about moving forward with regard to raptors in general and seemed to feel that the initial evidence is suggesting that the issue of vicarious liability is having a positive effect in parts of Scotland.  Let us hope that this will one day soon play a positive role in the rest of the UK!  I gained the impression that there are ongoing and amicable discussions amongst various groups and organisations.

Incidentally, 2013 is the 10th Anniversary of the Red Kite Trail in Dumfries and also the tenth anniversary of the first chick Red Kite being produced following the reintroduction programme which has been such a great success in the area, although as Callum informed me they did have there initial share of poisoned birds in the area. 

It was soon time to leave as darkness wasn’t far away, so I knocked back my Cappuccino.  Sam and I had really enjoyed our day and it had been good to visit an area that appeals greatly to both of us and have some interesting discussions along the way.  Our thanks go to everyone we had contact with on the day.  I’m sure we’ll be back to Dumfries soon.  The Red Kites and Whooper Swans were of course our star birds of the day.

By way of preparation for the day I’d re-read ‘The Red Kite’ by Ian Carter.  This book was published in 2001 so does not cover the re-introduction of Red Kites in either Tyneside or Dumfries.  It does discuss the introductions in southern England and northern Scotland and is a very informative read.  It’s a book that can be easily read in two or three days.  I often find books concerning ornithology/birds/nature are either aimed at the complete novice and therefore assuming the reader knows very little, or they are dry and scientific and therefore damned hard to sit down and read.  This book is published by Arlequin Press and I find in the main that their books meet an ideal compromise and are aimed at the likes of me.  I’ve now started to re-read ‘The Barn Owl’ Colin Shawyer which is from the same series of books.


  1. Yeah I think everyone enjoyed the day and it was magical watching the kites swoop down at feeding time!

    Nice pics, despite the light not being ideal.

  2. I'm pleased that you had a good day Mark.
    I was quite pleased with some of the images, especially the one with the washed out background which was in fact a bit of a fluke,:-) You learn from flukes though.
    Bellymach Farm was well worth a visit.

  3. Cheers Brian. yeah it was a very nice day. Bellymach Farm was probably my highlight.

    Yes you can probably make educated flukes, kind of thing. (The more you do, the more you learn to make your own luck).