I was out delivering leaflets for our Community Lunch when I spotted it circling over the centre of Hounslow – a red kite! No, I don’t’ mean the sort that a child might try playing with on a breezy day. I mean the feathered, flying variety which, prior to the start of a re-introduction programme in 1989, was almost extinct in the UK. The red kite reintroduction programme is one of nature conservations greatest successes to date. Anyone who has driven along the M40 in recent years will be aware of just how strong the numbers have become. I once counted 75 kites between the M25 junction and Junction 9 in Oxfordshire. I hasten to add that I wasn’t driving at the time. During the first Lockdown in 2020, I became aware of red kites soaring overhead above our garden and surrounding area. Quite often they are being mobbed by crows which is what alerted me to their presence. More recently I have become accustomed to seeing them on a regular basis as I drive over to church, usually soaring over Hounslow Heath near the cemetery. Until last autumn I was trying to work out whether I was seeing the same bird or whether there was a pair. However, a local RSPB post told me that there are at least three in the area. Apparently they can often be spotted sitting near the entrance to Crane Park. It’s a good reminder to always look up – you never know what you might see! When it comes to a red kite, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, they are reddish brown in colour with white wing patches and, as they soar, their tail feathers fork which makes them relatively easy to spot.
Another bird of prey you might see locally is a sparrowhawk. We’ve had a very welcome resurgence of sparrows in Hampton but, with sparrows, inevitably comes one of their key predators – the sparrowhawk. Relatively small for a bird of prey, they have steely grey back and wings with a browny/pink breast. One morning in January there was the most tremendous cheeping commotion coming from our front garden that put all our cats on high alert. When I looked outside, there was a sparrowhawk sat right in the middle of our euonymus hedge! The moment it moved, the sparrows all fell silent. I don’t think it succeeded in catching one but I was torn between losing a sparrow or the hawk not getting its breakfast!
The third bird of prey I want to mention is another that you can almost be guaranteed to see locally in south west London and that’s the kestrel. Even if you’re not a great bird-spotter, I suspect you know how to recognise a kestrel. They are the birds that you often seen hovering at the side of a motorway with their eye firmly fixed on their prey; their wings beating furiously whilst their head remains totally stationary. They are fascinating to watch and if you want to see one locally, head out for a walk in Bushy Park. They particularly seem to like the grassland area as you enter the park from the Hampton side at the end of Duke’s Head Passage although I’ve also seen them just beyond the ponds, again over the rough grassland where they are hoping to spot mice and other small mammals.
We’ve also seen one very local to us in Hatherop Park in Hampton but, to our surprise, we saw one hovering over our own garden last summer!