Letter from Lundy - A kite on the moor

SOARING high above Acklands moor, Blue Purple D as we now know her to be called, was patrolling the heathland. Effortlessly gliding and completely unmistakable with her vast wingspan and that characteristic red forked tail, it was the first time I had

SOARING high above Acklands moor, Blue Purple D as we now know her to be called, was patrolling the heathland.

Effortlessly gliding and completely unmistakable with her vast wingspan and that characteristic red forked tail, it was the first time I had seen a red kite and I was completely spellbound.

Hardly beating her wings, she glided overhead for what seemed like an eternity, barely noticing myself glued to her every move and Lundy shop manager Nigel frantically clicking away on his camera.

We rarely see raptors on the island and so it was an incredible encounter and one which will remain with me for a long time. Very quickly she became the talk of the island.


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Fortunately that afternoon was a beautiful sunny spring day and the light was perfect for some great photos of her in flight.

Little did we know that from these few (hundred!) photos we would be able to trace her journey right back to the place where she hatched. This required a little detective work at first, but it wasn't long before we were in contact with the very person who was responsible for her release into the wilds of County Wicklow, Southern Ireland.

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Red kites became extinct in Ireland at the end of the 18th century, but a release programme saw a number of chicks collected from mid-Wales in June, 2007 and then released in July 2007 in an attempt to re-introduce the species.

This included Blue Purple D. She gets her name from the coloured tags that adorn her wings, a blue left wing tag and purple right with the letter 'd' printed on it.

All kites released from captivity throughout the British Isles are tagged with large coloured and lettered tags on their wings - all with unique letter colour combinations - this helps us identify them while in flight and it means we can track their movements. It obviously works, as when we looked up this particular tag combination we were led to Ireland and a relatively recent reintroduction programme.

Damian Clarke of the Wicklow Mountains National Park is the project officer responsible for red kite releases there. Three years ago in 2007, Blue Purple D hatched in Wales and at around six weeks old was taken to Ireland to be released by Damian along with 52 other red kites.

Once free she was thought to be one of only two pairs to find a mate and breed (albeit unsuccessfully) in 2009 - the first time in more than 200 years in Ireland! She really is quite a special bird.

But why come to Lundy? With a wingspan of just over five and a half feet, red kite wanderings can take them long distances with ease. Maybe she is doing just that - wandering, possibly looking for a mate or to return to Ireland one day after her visit to Devon.

She remained with us long enough for many people to get a sighting of her at some point over the past few weeks. But as I write this, it has been a few days since our last sighting and I suspect that she has taken flight and set her sights on another destination. Possibly further inland or even back to Wales or Ireland who knows from here?

Red kites were exterminated in England and Scotland towards the end of the 19th century, but now are making a steady comeback after years of successful captive breeding and release programmes.

You may be lucky enough to see them patrolling the moorlands or cliffs of North Devon, as I have been told they are regularly seen near Hartland.

Look out for coloured wing tags to help you identify the birds you see. You may even see Blue Purple D, our young wanderer from Ireland. If you want to know more about red kites there is a wealth of information on the world wide web. In particular, for Ireland's release programme visit www.goldeneagle.ie

Sophie Wheatley,

Assistant warden.

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