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Mon2nd Nov 2009

Kite Movements

In the early part of the year the kites were mainly tracked in and around their communal roosts. This allows for those kites that have now dropped their radios, the 2007 birds, to be monitored visually by sighting their wing tags. By February, 21 of the original 30 kites released, in 2007, had been identified at a roost site at some point over the winter. This gives a minimum first year survival rate of 70%, a very respectable figure. At the same time the 2008 birds were also monitored through a combination of radio tracking and sighting of wing tags at the roost. By the end of February a minimum of 19 of the 26 birds released in July 2008 were still present in the general Avoca area.

There were no confirmed sightings of live wing tagged kites from the Wicklow release outside of Co. Wicklow during this time. One kite was recovered dead in Co. Limerick, this is covered in detail below. There have been a number of reliable sightings of kites in various parts of the country but without wing tag readings it is impossible to say whether these were Wicklow, Down, Scottish or Welsh birds.

Two of the kites released in 2008 were fitted with satellite back packs and these allow the birds to be monitored without the requirement for the bird to be seen or being in range to be picked up the radio receiver. The tags fitted on these two birds operate on a different system than the normal GPS system used in Sat Nav in cars etc. These smaller, lighter tags can not deliver the level of accuracy a GPS tag can, nor can they be forced to record data at regular intervals, hence the somewhat patchy data coming in on them. Never the less to date they have given us an interesting look at the movements of these two juvenile kites. The individual locations can be viewed on the website in the “Maps & GPS Tracking Section”. A brief summary of the movements follows.

Female Black T was fitted with a slightly smaller 9.5 g tag than the other female, Black K. During this six month period this tag provided more data than the larger 12g tag, a total of 84 usable fixes, compared to 27. Both birds have been fairly sedentary, the locations provided by the tags and sightings of the two birds confirms that the vast majority of their time has been spent in the general Avoca area. Black K was only recorded outside of Wicklow once, on the 2nd February it was recorded at Ballindangan, Co. Wexford. In comparison Black T has made two long dispersive movements from the core area, but both these have been for short durations only, with the bird quickly returning to Co. Wicklow.

On May 6th, Black T was recorded in Wicklow, the next location recorded was on May 11th when it was Co. Clare, three days later it was in Co. Tipperary and by the 16th May it was back in Co. Wicklow. This bird undertook another exploratory flight in June. On June 13th this bird was moving north and was recorded in Dublin, Meath and Armagh all in the one day. It then took up residence in Co. Down for four days and during this time it is difficult to imagine that it would not have encountered the Northern Ireland kites. By the 20th of June it was on its way south again and by the 23rd was back on its usual grounds in Co. Wicklow.


Breeding

From early March the focus of monitoring switched to looking for potential breeders. As there were now at least 21 mature kites in the area it was expected there would be a number of breeding attempts. Some pairs had formed in spring 2008 and most of these were still obvious in 2009. Early on in the breeding season the signs were all very positive and a minimum of five territorial pairs were recorded.

All five territorial pairs gave strong indications that they would attempt to breed. Three of the pairs were seen engaged in stick carrying. Two of the pairs was seen mating on a number of occasions. Ultimately two pairs were recorded attempting breeding and one other pair built a rudimentary nest.

On April 2nd the first nest was located. On this date the female was sitting, apparently already incubating a clutch of eggs. It was later confirmed that this nest contained three eggs. The second nest was located on the 28th April and this nest contained two eggs. Unfortunately both pairs deserted their nests prior to hatching. The ultimate cause of failure is not known, but inexperience of the young pairs and a particularly wet spring may well have been contributory factors. It is also suspected that the male of one of the pairs was involved in a polygamous pairing with another female. Polygamy has been occasionally recorded in kites elsewhere but rarely results in successful breeding.


Kite Collection

The collection of the 2009 young began on the 7th June, when a team from the Golden Eagle Trust and RSPB Northern Ireland travelled to Wales to meet up with the Welsh Kite Trust. Our target this year was to collect 53 birds, the same as in 2008. Within a few days of collecting we became aware that it had been a particularly bad breeding season in Wales and the number of broods of two or more was well down on last year.

Unlike previous years where the collection had been completed with a day or two to spare, this season we still looking for young on the last day of the two week collection period. In total 52 young kites were collected, 26 each for the Golden Eagle Trust and RSPB NI. It was a real effort to get those 52 birds and that we were able to get such a number of young in a poor breeding season is a real testament to the dedication of the Welsh Kite Trust. Thanks in particular are owed to Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust, Chris Powell at Gigrin farm and all the Welsh farmers and landowners that allowed us collect our donor stock on their lands.


Captive Period

The kites were housed in the release cages until July 22nd. Unfortunately this year one of the kites died during the captive period. This kite had been collected during the first week of collection in Wales and died after two days of captivity in Ireland. This year due to an apparent change in Department of Agriculture policy the kites were under a thirty day quarantine. Because of the quarantine the dead kite was sent for testing to the Dept. of Agriculture labs in Celbridge where it was screened for a range of diseases. Nothing was detected and the cause of death was not determined. The bird may well have suffered some trauma during the collection period or earlier in the nest.

During the period in captivity the kites are fed a diet that closes matches what they might be given in the wild. The diet they are fed on is primarily rabbit, with some birds and venison. Importantly all food given to the kites is lead free.


Mortality

Prior to 2009 the last recorded mortality of a released kite was November 2007. Disappointingly in March this year two dead kites were reported, both in the same week. The first bird, a 2008 bird “Black n”, was recovered on the 16th March near Tiglin, Ashford, Co. Wicklow. The body was in excellent condition and it was suspected the bird had been poisoned. On the 20th March a second 2008 bird was recovered dead, “Black e”, this time from Patrickswell, Co. Limerick. Again the kite looked in excellent condition and poisoning was suspected.

Both birds were sent to the State lab in Celbridge for testing. Black n was quickly confirmed as having high concentrations of alphachloralose in its system and this was determined to having been the cause of death. Nothing was detected in the samples tested from “Black e”. For further testing of this bird, samples were sent to SASA ( Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture). This organisation has a lot of expertise in toxicology. Again nothing was detected in the samples and the cause of death remains unknown.

Pre-roost Kites
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Mon26th Oct 2009

Kite Movements

There have been no confirmed reports of red kites outside of Co. Wicklow in this three month period, although Kite “Black g” has been missing since the 1st October.

One 2008 bird, “Black P”, that had been missing during August & September was recorded in the release area on the 1st October. It’s whereabouts during the months it was missing are unknown. A number of 2007 birds that were known to have occupied territories outside of the core area since early 2008, were recorded a number of times at the communal roost.

On the 5th November a Northern Ireland kite was spotted in the Wicklow roost. The brown tag and yellow letter identified it as a bird released in Co. Down by the RSPB in 2008. The kite’s identity was confirmed by radio signal. At that time it was one of only two birds that were missing from the release area in Co. Down. The kite, “Brown V” is currently still in Wicklow and is regularly recorded at the roost.

By the end of December a minimum of twenty-four of the 2008 kites were still present in the release area. “Black b” had dropped his radio at this point and so its location is unknown. Twenty of the 2007 kites were recorded in the release area. These were primarily identified at the roost.


Kite Diet

No supplementary feeding of the kites was carried out during this period. Pellets were collected from the roost but have yet to be analysed. From a quick inspection of the pellets, it is clear that the kites are feeding on some small mammals and some sheep carrion as evidenced by the amount of fur and occasional white pellet. Based on sightings of kites hunting and feeding, invertebrates are still an important part of the diet. Favoured hunting areas continue to be largely open areas, such as grassland, recently ploughed lands and stubble fields. Most hunting I’ve witnessed involves flying low over fields making occasional quick drops to the ground to snatch up small prey. Occasionally birds are seen foraging on the ground for extended periods.


Kite Roosting

During October and November two roosts were still regularly in use. One in farmland and the other in a forest plantation. The farmland roost allowed for good viewing of the kites as they flew in and when they initially perch up pre- roost. Both roosts contain a mix of 2007 and 2008 birds. Up to thirty birds were seen at the farm roost on two occasions.

During December the roosting pattern changed. The farmland roost moved a few hundred metres to the same trees that were used in early 2008. The number of birds using this roost began to drop and the forestry roost also fell out of use. In late December both of these roosts largely fell out of use. The favoured roost now is broadleaf woodland that was last used in December 2007. Unfortunately it is hard to view roosting birds from afar, so wing tag reading is quite difficult at this roost. As the roost is situated on a hillside, it does however offer excellent viewing of kites in the pre-roost flocking.


Kite Sexing

Results came in from the DNA sexing of the kites. It confirmed that the 2008 kites comprised 15 females and 11 males. On the basis of the biometrics of the kites we had previously assumed we had an even 13 of each sex.


Kite Incidents

No serious incidents recorded during this two month period. A radio tag and broken tail feather belonging to kite “Black b” were recovered. “Black b” hasn’t been recorded since dropping its tail feather but there is no reason to suspect there is anything wrong with the bird, unfortunately some of the tail feathers break off occasionally.

Released Kite
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Sat11th Oct 2008

Kite Movements

By the 1st of August a number of the newly released kites had started to leave the immediate area surrounding the release pens. Their absences were generally only for short periods, and they would be recorded in the release area a day or two later. One bird however, “Black P”, had left by the 2nd of August and was not seen again during this period.

During August I began to see more of last years birds in the release area. This may have been due to the new kites drawing them in, the food that I was placing out, but was also a direct result of increased time spent watching kites on my behalf. A number of ‘07 birds were identified, namely “Purple G”, “Purple H” and “Purple g”. “Purple G” was occasionally seen at the feeding site and I suspect it may have established a territory in this area. Other “Purple” kites were seen but went unidentified. The ‘07 kites were obvious due to the changes in plumage and the fact that they were moulting. Reading tags on flying kites is difficult unfortunately, and all the ’07 birds have now dropped their radios.

The general pattern of the kite’s movements has mirrored last years fairly closely. The kites slowly moved from the release area into the wider countryside. By the end of September a large number of kites were using a fairly well defined area. This area also hosts a number of the ’07 birds, and was the area most heavily favoured area last year. The move to this area was somewhat slower than last year. The area is largely dominated by cereal fields, which are not useful to the kites until they are cut. Harvesting was delayed by the heavy rains during the summer.

During September twenty five of the newly released kites were still present in the release area.


Kite Diet

Food was placed out for the kites for a month after release. After this time no birds were seen in attendance at the feeding sites. Watches of the feeding site were carried out in early morning and evening to ensure that the kites had actually stopped coming to feed.

Very few sighting of kites with identifiable prey have been made. Two of the ’08 kites were watched side by side in a stubble field. The birds were walking around scanning the ground beneath them. They occasionally seemed to snap up items from the ground, presumably invertebrates of some kind. Another ’08 kite was watched soaring around with an unidentified rodent in its talons. It eventually drew the attention of another kite that chased after it in attempt to rob its prey. The outcome of the chase was unseen.


Kite Roosting

A small kite roost was located on the 16th September. Eight of the ’08 release birds were present. The roost is located in a group of mature trees surrounded by a large area of young forestry. No ’07 birds have been seen at this site. In October, the main roost was located, but a number of birds continue using the smaller site.


Satellite Tags

Two birds from this year, “Black K” and “Black T”, are carrying back mounted, solar powered, satellite tags. Both birds are doing well, and the satellite packs have been functioning without problem despite the weather. Maps of the current locations of these two kites will soon be available to view on the Golden Eagle Trust’s website.


Kite Incidents

No serious incidents recorded during this two month period. One kite, “Black M” dropped its radio shortly after release, another radio has apparently ceased to work, that of “Black d”.

Kite in flight
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Sun31st Aug 2008

Kite Movements

During the months of March and April the number of kites recorded in the release area reduced significantly. The highest daily count for the month of March was twenty kites, while the highest daily count for April was thirteen. This reduction in the number of birds recorded probably reflects some dispersal from the release area, but it is also exaggerated by the kites moulting the tail feathers that the radios are mounted on and a number of radios ceasing to work.

Kite Purple “e” who had been resident in Kildare for a number of months returned to the communal roost on the 27th March.

Kites were reported in a number of areas outside of the release area including, Killiney, Marlay Park, Dublin City Centre and Co. Louth.

A number of pairs formed during the months of April and March. There appears to be at least three distinct pairs. Some displaying was noted, but there were no recorded attempts at nest building.


Kite Diet

At present no formal analysis of kite pellets collected at the roost has been carried out, but a number of prey items are readily identifiable in the pellets from a cursory examination. Sheep carrion and docked tails are being taken as evidenced by sheep wool and docking rings in the pellets. A number of pellets contain crow remains, including feathers, a beak and a crow foot. Small mammal bones are present in a large number of pellets. Grasses, straw and soil are also present in large quantities in a number of pellets; these are presumably ingested while foraging for insects and earthworms.

Kites have also been seen feeding on rabbit and pigeon on a number of occasions. In all instances as the catching of the prey wasn’t witnessed it is impossible to say whether the prey was taken live or as carrion.


Kite Collection

The collection of the donor stock was carried out in Wales by the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust, assisted by staff of RSPB Northern Ireland. While in Wales the chicks were held in aviaries at Gigrin Farm, courtesy of Chris Powell.

With RSPB NI starting their project this year, we had a target of fifty three chicks to collect as the chicks collected would be split between the Wicklow and Co. Down releases. This figure was twenty three up on what we collected last year.

The fifty three chicks were collected in two weeks. While the first week started slowly, primarily due to a relatively poor breeding season in Wales, we were on a number of occasions able to break up into two groups for collecting which meant on occasion we collected up to eight chicks in a day. The last bird was collected on the 21st July, leaving us a day to spare before returning to Ireland on the 22nd. The birds were split on the basis of age and sex between the two projects, the Wicklow project got twenty six birds, while RSPB NI got twenty seven.

The collection of fifty three kite chicks was a huge undertaking, made possible primarily by the outstanding efforts of the Welsh Kite Trust and the generosity of the Welsh landowners and farmers. Thanks in particular to Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust and Ann Fitzpatrick and Mark Lewis for their assistance to the GET in collecting the young.


Pre release period

Prior to placing the kites in the release aviaries, all the aviaries were cleaned and disinfected. The new kites were placed on freshly built nest ledges. The first batch of kites arrived on the 13th June and the second batch on the 22nd.

During the captive phase the kites were fed as last year on a mixed diet, primarily of rabbit and crow, but some duck, fox and squirrel were also fed to the birds. Blood samples were taken to confirm the sexes of the birds and wing tags were fitted prior to release. This year the right wing has a black tag with a white letter, while the left wing again has a pale blue tag with a black letter indicating a Wicklow bird. RSPB NI has an area colour code of brown on the left wing, with the right wing using the standard year code of black.

Tail mounted radios were fitted to all the birds and two birds were fitted with back mounted, solar powered satellite packs.

Thanks to Brian Etheridge, RSPB Scotland for providing assistance and training in fitting the tags and back packs.


Release

All twenty six birds were released on the 24th July. Food was provided on site after release. The birds have regularly been seen in attendance at the feeding stations post release.

Red Kite
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Fri14th Mar 2008

Kite Locations

The locations of the kites have not changed since the September - November report. The majority of the kites can still be located in and around one large farm. Kites not in the main group on this farm can be found in the surrounding area in smaller groups, they are rarely seen singly. Kites that frequent the main roost have been seen up to 9km away during the day.

One report of a sighting of a dispersed kite was confirmed. Kite “purple e” was reported near Naas in Co. Kildare. At least three individuals reported seeing the bird, when I went to investigate the reports I quickly located the bird. The bird has been seen by me on two occasions, both times it was on the one farm. The actual fields it was in were stubble fields, there were also two common buzzards present, so presumably there is a good supply of food in the area. The landowner reported the kite to BirdWatch Ireland and he is very pleased to have it there.


Kite Feeding

Very little supplementary feeding of the kites was carried out since November. The feeding platforms I was using were rarely visited by kites so I stopped placing food out on them. The occasional road kill was put out in the areas where the kites frequent and kites were seen in attendance at these, although on one occasion in particular a common buzzard and some hooded crows appeared to be dominant over the kites at the food, a rabbit.


Communal roost

The communal roosts are still active. During January it became evident that the location of the main roost had shifted slightly from one side of a valley to another. While watching the new roost twenty-one kites flushed out of a large tree in the vicinity of the roost. On this evening there were also three other kites in a smaller roost a few kilometres away, giving us a total of twenty-four kites in the release area.

During February the main group of kites shifted their roost site. They moved to a site that had been used by a small group of kites for some time. The new roost being in flat country was difficult to find as I couldn’t overlook the kites heading into roost. Eventually in the last few days of February I located the new roost by doing a dawn visit as opposed to the usual dusk visit. The new roost is quite unlike the previous ones, all previous roosts were in blocks of forestry, the new roost is in hedgerow trees on a farm.

I spoke with the landowners in question and they are quite happy to have the kites there and gave me access to visit the roost. The roost is particularly easy to get to and so is a good area for collecting kite pellets for diet analysis. On my first visit to the roost I collected 40+ pellets.

Kite Incidents

On the 23rd January I located the radio and central tail feather of kite “purple Q”. I had presumed this kite had dispersed as I had not picked up its signal in some time. The feather was located in a copse of trees in a small valley, hence the radio signal wasn’t travelling very far. The feather seems to have broken off or been bit off by the kite. There is no reason for me to suspect that anything has happened to “purple Q” but have not had a confirmed sighting of him since.


Welsh Kite Trust Meeting

On the 24th February I attended a meeting of the Welsh Kite Watchers Group. I updated the group on the progress of the Irish project to date. All in attendance were very pleased at how our project is getting on and were very impressed at the survival rates of the kites in Ireland to date. Collection of kites in July of 2008 will go ahead as planned.

Kite feeding in flight
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