Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Raw Nature in the Suburbs

I was driving through one of the posher Leeds suburbs today, on my way to visit Silverback for a cuppa.

Suddenly, right ahead of me, I saw a Squashed Dead Thing by the edge of the road. I couldn't work out what it was - perhaps a squirrel that had been run over.

Next to it was a large crow, happily pecking away at this free lunch.

I slowed down to watch the crow - and then something amazing happened.

Out of nowhere, a huge bird of prey dropped like a stone onto the crow, which never saw what hit it, but nevertheless staggered clumsily for a couple of steps and then flew off, chased by the much bigger bird. The crow was very unsteady in the air - it was clearly thinking "WTF?" And in fact the bigger bird had droppped so fast that I hadn't seen it coming either.

I recognised the big bird: it was a red kite. I have occasionally seen them in the area as there is a breeding colony at nearby Eccup Reservoir.

They have very wide wings - a five-foot wingspan! - and a forked tail and this makes their shape very easy to identify. Once I saw one above the parade of shops at Moortown Corner - it looked very incongruous, this huge bird of prey gliding above Marks and Spencer's!

But today, the red kite was just a few feet in front of me as it swooped down on the crow: I've never seen one up so close and it looked absolutely huge. Of course, when you just see the silhouette in the sky it's hard to tell the scale. I knew they were big but it made the crow look like a sparrow in comparison.

I had stopped the car - I was going slowly anyway but don't remember stopping so it's a good job there wasn't anything behind me! As the red kite took off again after landing on the crow I could see its forked tail and the red on its wings very clearly.

Once it had made quite sure the crow wasn't coming back - - and believe me, the crow certainly had no intentions of ever coming back, in fact it's probably still flying in the general direction of AWAY - then the red kite did a rather fancy turn in the air, came back, landed on the Squashed Dead Thing, took a large beakful and then flew away.

The whole incident took much less than a minute - - perhaps only thirty seconds.

What is it about birds of prey? They always give me a little frisson of excitement. And the suddenness of it all, coupled with the size of the red kite and its closeness to my car made it a thrilling thing to have seen in a Leeds suburb on a Tuesday afternoon. All over in less than a minute - and yet I know I'll always remember it.



Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

What is it about birds of prey? Probably reminded you of early discos and dances when the young menfolk hovered at the other side of the hall like peregrine falcons.

12:10 am  
Blogger Silverback said...

I spend a fortune putting on a nature show for visitors and all I get is this lousy blog post !?!

Glad no one was close behind you, Daffy, as I can imagine their insurance claim form : "the woman in front of me stopped suddenly when she saw a kite."

12:12 am  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

I love red kites, and we're lucky that they spend a lot of time over our back garden. They are improbably huge, aren't they?

12:45 am  
Blogger Helsie said...

It's nice to know that fantastic birds like this are still around so near big cities.What a treat to see one so close.

11:13 am  
Anonymous Milo said...

Always loved red kites, saw them in Wales 25 years ago when we used to stay there visiting family in the midst of nowhere during the holidays. They were much rarer back then and only in rural Wales in very low numbers.

In Egypt last week we saw ospreys above the Nile. Hadn't seen one before but had always wanted to.

My favourite bird of prey (I think) is the vulture. Have seen them in Africa. They have an enormous wingspan and there is something about them that is mesmerising but fairly sinister at the same time.

12:33 am  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

I would have a better appreciation of birds of prey if I didn't raise chickens and pigeons. Still, it's exciting to watch them at work, and as usual your writing had me sitting in the front seat next to you, watching it all.

6:00 pm  

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