As a volunteer looking for some work experience, I really wasn?t sure what to expect when I arrived in Wicklow, or what the next week might hold in store for me in terms of sightings, work and of course the weather.
However, after a night in the Woodenbridge Hotel, Marc Ruddock and I quickly established how my time would play out and (once I?d got to grips with the observation form) I quickly found myself hidden in a gorse bush, binoculars and scope in hand, staring out at a patch of trees some 500m or so away. The way these situations unfold is as such: Marc has several years? worth of nesting, survival and pairing information locked up in his head; he uses this to try and work out where certain pairs may be nesting (a difficult problem when you consider that Wicklow is the most forested county in Ireland) and which kites are nesting with whom. This memory-based information is then supplemented by reports from local farmers and people interested in the kites, who may call in to say that a pair has been spotted circling above a certain patch of trees or a certain area. At this point an observer will go and survey the area and keep their eyes peeled for any sightings of kites, all noted down along with time and location, and will watch their behaviours for any evidence of territorial displays or nest building behaviour. In a perfect world this observer will also note the birds? wing tags, but kites are anything but helpful in this regard, and trying to read tags from a kite on the wing is next to impossible without a camera.
While sat in my gorse bush the beauty of the area slowly sinks in. I come from a little village nestled in the Cotswolds, an area of famously rolling fields and beautiful views in the centre of southern England. However, I find the mountainous nature of Co. Wicklow is amazing, a kind of more rugged version of my Cotswolds. While mulling all this over in my bush a fox pops his head out from not three metres along and turns to face me. We?re then locked in an agonizingly slow battle to see if I can get to my camera before my movement becomes too much: I lose and he annoyingly bolts.
When the kites did come in they come in quick and sharp to their tree. These birds that can spend hours lazily soaring without so much as a wing beat have a surprising turn of speed in landing and are very difficult to track using the telescope Marc has kindly lent to me. All I got from my position is a movement in your periphery and then about six seconds of flight before it disappears, lost in the branches somewhere. However, I am happy, my first recorded kite sighting! Nothing more occurs in the air for a further twenty minutes until I happen to glance down the ?scope aimed at their tree and catch a bird sitting in perfect view, perched up on a branch.
It?s a gorgeous bird, (light) blue / pink Q as its wing tags name it and a local as the light blue left wing tag records. Its mate (blue / blue t) joins it in a few minutes and the pair sit and eat together, and spend about fifteen minutes just enjoying each other's company it seems, before taking flight again and I lose them in the bushes.
This program of me taking up a viewing point and watching a stand of trees or area becomes the routine for the next four days, with varying success in our hunt for kites.
During this time I endured some kite droughts, when an area had to be ruled off as a nest site based on the apparent absence of any activity. But, I also enjoyed the greatest views I?ve ever seen of the majestic birds, such as on my final day when blue / purple F spent the best part of an hour posing for us and our telescopes, and the close-ups that Avoca?s inner-village bird brown / black V provided us on its lazy circles just overhead.
I hugely enjoyed myself and am ever thankful to Ronan Hannigan and Lorcan O?Toole who arranged my visit, and to Marc Ruddock for putting up with five days of inane questions about the habits of kites.
Written by Hugo Palejowski, May 2012