By David EP Dennis BA (Hons) FCIPD LCGI RAF
If you love Wales and are interested in poetry, you may have heard of the early Welsh poet Dafydd-ap-Gwilym. He flourished from around 1320 to 1370 AD. He was born at Brogynin and died probably from the Black Death.
He is said to be buried in Strata Florida Abbey in West Wales although in the 1600s, another place 20 miles away, tried to claim his body.
Many years ago, my wife and I set out to find Strata Florida Abbey and see his grave, as his poetry was so beautiful – and also fun – because much of it was about chasing girls. We drove up from Bexhill towards Shrewsbury and then travelled into Wales on narrow winding roads – across mid-Wales, and as we did so we saw our very first Red Kite. These lovely birds nearly became extinct. They were hunted to death because they were scavengers. A small set of breeding pairs remained in this remote part of Wales. Then they were introduced into other parts of Britain – for example, the Grizedale Forest.
Now you can see Red Kites (Milvus milvus) in Combe Valley. The last sighting was 6 June 2019, so I am told by someone who lives near the Valley. I have seen three flying in circles above Three Bridges on the 1066 Trail a few months ago (2020). The RSPB state that there are so many that they cannot be counted in population surveys. The UK is the only country where the population is increasing. In some countries they have been reduced by 50% or more.
However, If you travel up the M40 to Oxford Services you will see them on many parts of the route in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and when you get to the service area to park they will probably be scavenging in the bins.
It has to be said that the fact that we have buzzards, kestrels, marsh harriers, hobbies, sparrowhawks and hunting owls as well as Red Kites in the Valley is a great sign that these animals at the top of the food chain can all find enough to eat.
So what do they eat? The answer is just about anything edible: mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, weasels, mink, young hares, fox and badger carcasses, earthworms and your sandwiches! So please try to find out when watching them, what sorts of foodstuffs they have in their beaks. We don’t often see any voles or shrews when walking. There is a population of weasels in Fore Wood, Crowhurst but they have not yet spread to the Valley.
Red Kites bond for life and start breeding at around two years old or slightly younger. They make their nests in the forks of big trees and lay between one and three eggs. So please also look out for possible breeding nests – or let us know if you think they come into the Valley from elsewhere.
Red Kites are very capable of aerobatics. They are lighter and more manouevrable than a harrier. The RSPB have reported frequent groups of ten hunting and up to 40 feeding naturally. On some Welsh farms, they feed the birds each day and hundreds can be seen circling and landing.
It is an exciting time in Combe Valley, with all sorts of new wildlife discoveries. Pete Hunnisett and Combe Valley Nature colleagues are doing an outstanding job of tracking down a wide variety of plants and insects and I am doing my best, too. The results we find show that the Valley is pretty healthy – but there is some fly tipping and the Combe Haven river is in a poor state in parts being blocked by fallen trees and rubbish. It could be a lot healthier and the better it is as a river so the more wildlife it can support and then hopefully more Red Kites and other creatures will be able to feed successfully.
The 25,000 breeding pairs to be seen in Europe at present represents 95% of the total world population. If we could start to see breeding pairs in our Valley, we’d be delighted but maybe the other raptors would not be!
I watched a pair of wheeling crows attacking a buzzard over the ‘Tip’ area last Thursday. The crows won – so too much competition is not good when food is scarce. Please keep a sharp eye out for these lovely Red Kites and drop me a line if you see one – photos? Even better!
One of Dafydd’s poems is about the wind – but it could equally be about the Red Kite – here’s the last verse of the Poem ‘Wind’:
Go up high, see the one who’s white,
Go down below, sky’s favorite.
Go to Morfudd Llwyd the fair,
Come back safe, wealth of the air.
Keeping track of local raptor sightings in Combe Valley
Last sighting 6 June 2019
Previous photos – long range telephoto – 22 May 2018
Copyright 2021 David EP Dennis BA (Hons) FCIPD LCGI RAF