Monday, 24 May 2010

Kite weather

It was a gorgeous and hot day, and after an exhausting morning of basho training in Bromley, we were delighted to have the opportunity to sit in a sweaty traffic jam in Croydon over lunchtime. Eventually we made it to the M25 and headed clockwise to junction 16 and the M40, a.k.a. 'Red Kite Highway'. Rob has only seen Red Kites in Scotland, when we were going through Inverness on our way to Wester Ross, and there was no time for pics. I hoped that Aston Rowant, in Oxfordshire, would prove as great for the species as I'd remembered.

The original Chilterns reintroduction site is nearby, and has proved extremely successful, with birds now breeding in a wide swathe across Oxon, Bucks and beyond. We saw our first kite at junction 2 of the motorway, but by junction 5 where we turned off, we'd seen two groups of about five birds plus several singletons.

From the reserve car park we followed a trail through a short stretch of woodland and out onto the escarpment. The hill falls away sharply down to the motorway, which provides a constant noisy soundtrack but doesn't seem to bother the kites at all. Rob was soon happily clicking away at them as they wafted overhead.

That outline and pattern makes Milvus milvus one of the most easily recognised raptors in Britain, though the odd Black Kite wandering here from the continent may cause problems. With a view like this there's no confusion though - deeply forked tail, strongly contrasting ginger, black and white plumage and five clear 'fingers' are all Red Kite hallmarks.

The kites were as happy to go around in gangs as to fly solo, and few seemed busy with any pressing engagements. These two weren't as close to us as we'd have liked but provided great entertainment as they chased each other over the treetops.

Aston Rowant used to be a lovely National Nature Reserve with lots of flowery downland and no motorway slicing it in half. That description is no longer wholly accurate, but at least the M40 affords thousands of people the opportunity for close views of Red Kites every day.

I'd hoped to see some butterflies and so we did - Common Blue, Brown Argus, Brimstone and Small Heath to name some of the more interesting ones - but the weather was so hot that they were barely pausing for breath as they swept over the slopes. One that did sit down was the best of the bunch - this Green Hairstreak. Sadly its cute face is obscured by a leaf but you can at least see how very, very green its undersides are, and also that it has no trace of a white 'hair streak'. Looking at some photos on line, I see that the extent of the streak is variable, and streakless individuals are quite common.

Besides kites and butterflies, we also saw one Buzzard and there were assorted warblers in the wood and scrub. I'm hoping to do a return visit in midsummer when there should be goodies like Dark Green Fritillary and Silver-spotted Skipper on the wing. And it would be great for Rob to have another go at photographing those wonderful kites.

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