Monday, 28 March 2011

A Red Kite Day

A walk along part of the Derwent this weekend I had hoped to see, amongst others, some Red Kites, which seem to have been a bit few and far between recently.  Since their re-introduction back into the Gateshead area in 2004, this has been a popular place to see these amazing birds of prey, which is almost a guaranteed place to spot them circling in the skies with their high pitched shrill.  My first stop was the Nine Arches Viaduct which gives a good high view over the valley. 

The air was full of the sound of a couple of  Red Kites calling to each other, but were staying hidden amongst trees, calling from opposite ends of viaduct.  As I approached one of the calls, which involved climbing up a steep bank, it stopped, so I returned back to my original location, only for them to start again.  Suddenly I spotted one of them in the distance and whilst keeping my eye on it, I felt inside my camera bag to get my camera out (already attached with a 1x4 converter).  Unfortunately, it was still just a small image in the viewfinder, when a shriek above alerted me to the other one almost right on top.  Despite dialling in some exposure compensation, the bird still ended up quite dark plus the shutter speed was lower than ideal for hand holding such a lens on a moving subject.  No sooner had they appeared, they both drifted off into the distance, so I tried a few other locations where I have regularly seen them.

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With no luck at my second spot, I moved to the last one which, as I approached, I again heard their unmistakable call, but again couldn’t see anything.  Eventually I could see the Kite making all the noise in some trees about 150 - 200 metres away being mobbed by a crow.  Also noticeable was the numbered tag on its shoulder – 76.  Going to Northern Kites website (http://www.northernkites.org.uk/)  I could identify this particular bird as a male Kite released in 2006. 

From a distance, I just sat and watched when another photographer approached after having recently driving past me and had walked back, presumably curious as to what I was photographing.  Courteously he checked to see that he wasn’t disturbing anything, he pointed out in the field, what looked like a dead pigeon and another bird, which must have been put there deliberately, possibly by another photographer trying to bait them for a better picture, though he didn’t hang around long.  It also occurred to me someone had put out some poison bait – a number of these beautiful birds have been deliberately killed by this means in the area. 

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Overhead I could see what No. 76 was making all the noise about – another Kite but with no tag suggesting a previous years hatchling.  My guess was that 76 was not happy about the arrival of another Kite after this easy meal and went up to ‘greet’ it.  After a few aerobatics, they both disappeared as did my fellow photographer.

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Not long after 76 and the other Kite returned and it looked like they were going to make a grab for meal in the field, when suddenly six people complete with cameras long lenses strolled out of nowhere and stood up taking pictures of the Kites, shutter blazing.  The other photographer must have been originally heading for the hide further down the road and when he found out what was happening, told the photographers in the hide who then came out on mass.  Unfortunately, their presence must have spooked both birds as they drifted back up away from the commotion.

When I first started wildlife photography back in the days of film, I never saw another photographer.  Since digital became popular there has been a massive increase in others taking pictures of wildlife.  Maybe from a selfish point of view, I don’t think this is such a good thing, but I have also noticed that the etiquette, general understanding and wellbeing of the animal they are photographing is often not there.  My worry is that my hobby and interest in photographing and watching wildlife that I love, will not be possible in the future because of the damage done by photographers whose only interest is to ‘get the picture’.  I’m not saying that these half a dozen people are in that bracket or have any less right to enjoy photographing this subject, but I would have thought that a bird of prey such as a Red Kite which relies on having such a keen eyesight, that can find a small dead animal from high up in the sky, will probably be a bit nervous of a group of people standing out in the open, noisily talking to each other and so would unlikely come down a hundred metres in front of them to feed.  So would they have also realised this and at least taken precautions?

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76 and rival in some aerial sparing

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I figured the Kites would return and the group would loose interest and return back to the hide so waited it out, which, after much discussion about camera equipment amongst themselves, did.  After about an hours wait the Kites did return, slowly circling at first, then flying down to tree level, 76 again, making a run but pulled up, this time the arrival of a family walking down the lane, presumably to the hide, as it is otherwise a dead end.  What a time for a usually empty, largely unused hide to be popular I thought!  I decided, or more over my rear end did, that it was time to get up and call it a day.  I could have happily waited another few hours for the inevitable snatch and grab that probably 76 would have made, but with all the disturbance, it may have been late in the evening or the next day before that happened. 

I left with mixed feelings.  On the one hand I managed to get some of the best views I have yet had of Kites, but I was disappointed with my own images considering the opportunity.  Technically, they weren’t great and I most definitely need to practice more hand holding a 500mm lens with a converter on both in relation to focusing and exposure as well as preventing camera shake.  Hopefully I will get more opportunities such as this one.

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76 making a run at the food

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