While spending a week up North in Nairn we decided to have a day of wildlife watching. Before going to Chanonry Point to see the dolphins of the Moray Firth we made our way to see the Red Kites being fed, not far from Dingwall.
The Red Kite is an ongoing conservation success story. Persecuted by hunters and egg collectors they were on the brink of disappearing from Britain by the start of 1980’s. They were given the highest legal protection by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981 and a reintroduction project was started by a combination of groups in 1986 which led to 93 birds being released at various suitable locations across the UK between 1989 and 1994. Today thanks to the ongoing work of groups like the RSPB there is estimated to be 1,800 breeding pairs in Britain with about half residing in Wales and the rest in Scotland and England.
Turning off the A835 you follow a single lane road which turns into a dirt track before arriving at an old farmhouse which the RSPB has turned into a small visitor centre.
Red Kites are mostly scavangers, they do not have the strength or power of other birds of prey such that their diet consists mostly of things that are already dead, so to ensure the kites get enough food to successfully breed they are fed daily by staff and volunteers at 2:30pm in the summer and 1:30pm in the winter.
We arrived early so we could explore the centre before getting set up to watch them feed. The centre is packed full of information about the kites and the surronding area which is well worth a read.
There is also a glass viewing area which would be fantastic to watch the raptors from had it not been so hot!
Lucky there is a viewing area outside next to the farmhouse where everyone including us decided to watch from.
While waiting we took some shots of what else we could see.
A Southern Hawker dragonfly also decided to take a break on the fence right across from us.
Before we knew it it was 2:30pm and lunch was being served!
Almost instantly the table was surronded by gulls looking for an easy meal and three beautifully red raptors could be seen flying overhead.
The kites are very wary of landing to feed, especially around a busy area so they prefer to dive down snatching their food off the table and eating it on the wing or perching somewhere they consider safe first.
It was amazing to watch these aerial acrobats dive, swoop and twist again and again.
They would also have a nibble at one another mid-flight when they got in each others way.
They would even try to steal food off each mid-flight occaisonally but I wasn’t able to get that on camera.
Just as the last few scraps of food were being finished off a couple of buzzards appeared hassling the kites right above our heads!
It allowed us to get some really good shots of the kites.
Before they all flew up on the thermals out of sight having been fed for the day.
Unfortunately these colourful raptors are still illegally persecuted by land owners across Britain, particulary in Scotland, who see them as a ‘pest’, which has prevented signifficant expected population growth and has meant groups like the RSPB have had to continue to monitor kite populations in certain areas to ensure the birds safety and prevent further re-introductions having to occur in the future.
Our tips for a visit;
1.) Arrive early to give yourself enough time to fully explore the centre and find out more about the kites from the displays and volunteers (we found out that the day before a Golden Eagle came by and took some food!) and also to explore the surronding gardens for various garden birds, dragonflys and butterflys.
2.) To get the best photos shoot handheld rather than from a tripod. The kites move extremely quickly and fly around you at all angles which would be extremely hard to capture from a tripod. I felt for a gentleman next to us who was swivelling all over the place trying to keep up with the birds.
3.) About 20 minutes drive away is Chanonry Point which is known as the best place to see the Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins feeding if you want to make it a day of wildlife watching.Also, before you arrive at the centre you pass a farm which sells delicious freshly picked berries and jams which is well worth a visit for a tasty snack to eat while watching the kites.
4.) Another cool place to see Red Kites in Scotland is Argaty Red Kites nearby Stirling. The birds here are also fed at a feeding station allowing a good opportunity to take pictures or just watch.
Hope you enjoyed this post!
Elliot & Kirsten.