“I was just dive-bombed by a Tern in Feltham!” I said, on my return home the other Sunday morning.
“Did you see my Facebook post?” I looked perplexed. This wasn’t the response I was expecting following the announcement that I had just seen a rather out of place bird.
“Err no, I was in church” was my hesitant reply.
“Red kite!” said John, “circulating out the back here!” He duly produced his mobile phone and showed me the photos he had taken earlier in the morning of this extraordinary, and once rare, bird of prey circling over the unlikely territory of Hampton! The Red Kite has been brought back from near extinction in the UK by a comprehensive breeding programme and is now deemed to be of ‘green’ status by the RSPB. In fact there is now thought to be around 1600 breeding pairs.
Someone I told this story to wondered how John knew that it was a Red Kite but I pointed out that they are quite distinctive. Even if you’re not close enough to see the deep, rusty brown of their plumage, their distinctive deeply forked tail makes them stand out from other birds of prey. (Not that we have that many bird of prey flying over Hampton!) We are also very used to spotting them driving back along the M40 from Oxfordshire. The M40 corridor is one of their main nesting areas in the South East and was one of the regions where between 1989 and 1994, birds imported from Spain were encouraged to settle. Driving through the Chilterns on New Year’s Day I had started counting them as they soared above and along the side of the motorway. I gave up once I’d gone past fifty!
Interestingly, exactly a week prior to spotting our Hampton Kite, a colleague had seen one flying over Cobham, so clearly they are extending their territory in this direction. Both of these sightings occurred during March which is when breeding birds start to look for potential nesting sites and, generally speaking, they will return to these nests year on year. Whilst it is extraordinary to think of one of these birds flying over this way, I’m not entirely sure that I fancy having them nesting on my doorstep. The occasional passing Sparrowhawk is enough to frighten away small birds without the help of a Red Kite as well!
All of this meant that my Tern was quickly forgotten. I think it was only a Common Tern and, having now looked them up on the RSPB website as well, I have discovered that they are not that uncommon inland in this South East of England as they are rather partial to gravel pits and reservoirs! A few over winter in the UK but most return during March and April. The one I saw was with a mixed flock of gulls so I guess that all makes sense.
Being a Common Tern, I also felt more kindly disposed towards it. I have unpleasant memories of being dive-bombed by Arctic Terns in Iceland which, I can assure you, is not a nice experience! Although on the basis of all things being relative, it wasn’t as unpleasant as being dive-bombed by a Skua which is a particularly painful experience! If you have ever stepped anywhere near the nest of a Skua you will know exactly what I mean. They just fly directly at your head with their sharp, pointy beaks and they are quite large birds! We have learnt to avoid Skuas wherever possible but the attack by the Arctic Terns a few years’ back took us by surprise. All we wanted was a scenic photograph but a step too far onto a shoreline caused them to rise up from their nests, squawking loudly and soaring towards our heads!
Whilst it’s lovely to see an unusual bird in the locality, I have to say that I get more pleasure looking outside the back door at the regular visitors, especially those returning for the Spring. This week the lawn has been covered in Starlings and yet we’ve hardly seen one all winter. There is something deep down in our grass that they are clearly enjoying at the moment as they are working their way methodically across the ground, pecking constantly. We also have a pair of squabbling / courting Robins and I thought I heard a trilling Chaffinch the other day, confirming that we are now well into Spring and Summer is only around the corner.