257/365 – Blue Skies Red Kites

A couple of times a year I have to visit our office in Berkshire which although a bit of a trek from Yorkshire does mean I can meander on my way there or back and stop off on the Downs to watch the red kites.

This is where I first began to notice the kites after their re-introduction and they always captured my imagination effortlessly soaring on the thermals over the countryside. Being able to spend a couple of hours watching and photographing them is always an amazing experience.

Soaring red kite

Soaring red kite

On this particular occasion a farmer was mowing a field and this had attracted the attention of at least a dozen kites who were on the lookout for anything disturbed by the tractor. It also meant they were very close to the roadside making photography so much easier.

Red kite

I think he’s seen me

They were so intent on looking for prey they weren’t bothered by my presence in the slightest and flew close and low.

Low flying kite

Low flying kite

I dread to think how much time I would spend watching these majestic bird if I still lived on their doorstep!!

Red kite

On the hunt

209-365 – It Pays to Talk

When I was out recently watching the kingfishers I got chatting to a couple of  fisherman who were getting ready in the car park. They asked what I was photographing and we got talking about the wild life we’d all seen recently. One fisherman told me he’d been cycling on the local moors a few days earlier and had seen a short eared owl hunting! At this my ears pricked up as I’d never seen one before and was interested in trying to track down a location. He told me where he’d seen it and I thanked him before setting off to see if I could spot it.

Now the moors are huge and I was under no illusion that I would see an owl but there would be curlew and golden plover around so I was sure it wouldn’t be a wasted day. I found a parking spot and decided to walk onto the moor, find a comfy spot and just sit and see what happened. The sun was out and the call of curlews filled the air. A pair of roe deer wandered across my view before slowly disappearing among the cotton grass.

Roe deer among the cotton grass

Roe deer among the cotton grass

I had been sat about twenty minutes when the curlew began a strident call which alerted me to the presence of the owl. It appeared in front of me, gliding silently on the hunt for voles or juvenile birds.

Short eared owl

Short eared owl

Within seconds it became aware of my presence, turned and disappeared across the moor. I managed to fire off a few grabbed shots but it’s sudden appearance had given me no time to check or change any settings on my camera.

Disappearing short eared owl.

Disappearing short eared owl.

I was amazed that I’d managed to see it, never mind get a few shots. Across the huge expanse of moorland I’d managed to sit in its chosen hunting ground for that moment in time. A spectacular bird and one which I hope to spend more time photographing, however I’ve returned a few times since and not seen it again.

185/365 – Meet Aries

“I’m afraid we have an infestation” are not the first words you want to hear when you check into your hotel on holiday, but this happened to us recently in Portugal.

“What of?” I asked.

“Seagulls” replied the manager, “we us an eagle to scare them away”!!!

At this my ears pricked up and I scanned the information leaflet he gave me, and I quote “In order to be able to control in an effective and ecological way we use the method of astonishment with the use of birds of prey where there is no physical damage to the invading birds.”

Now bear in mind the hotel is built on a cliff above the ocean and they are claiming an invasion of seabirds, I’m pretty sure the seagulls have been nesting here way before the hotel was built.

The next morning I was stood on the balcony when I noticed a man wandering the grounds by the swimming pool with a hawk on his arm. I grabbed my camera and rushed down to have a look and watch the “astonishment method” in action.

This is Aries a Harris Hawk who’s job is to basically intimidate yellow legged gulls and scare them away.

Harris hawk profile

Aries

I chatted with his keeper who introduced me to Aries. They visit this hotel and others twice a day and basically, from what I witnessed, they mildly irritate the gulls while they are there and then it’s back to normal.

Harris hawk with keeper

Harris hawk with keeper

The gulls would make a bit of a fuss with a few dives at Aries and would vacate their usual spots while he was in the grounds. As soon as he was gone they would return.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the hotel facilities.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the facilities.

From my perspective I loved seeing Aries up close and personal but as to his role in “astonishing” the gulls I wasn’t convinced, they just seemed slightly put out that he was there, before quickly returning to business as usual.

I didn’t find them invasive or a problem and after all the hotel has been built on their natural home. I’ve a feeling they’ll still be there long after the hotel has gone. However I do like the method, I’m sure there are some places where the gulls may be killed and their nests destroyed in order to clear the “infestation” so just pissing them off for an hour gets my vote.

Harris hawk portrait

Harris hawk portrait