Forked Tails and Knobbly Knees

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

As we drove back from Newport last week, taking the back lanes home, a grey heron flew over only a few feet above the car. I find these unexpected encounters with birds such a thrill. Grey herons are remarkable looking creatures, mini pterodactyls whose bodily bits and pieces – enormous wings, skinny little legs with knobbly knees, a vicious looking beak that dwarfs its head – appear as if they have been constructed from the oddments box of the gods. Despite such a seemingly peculiar and humorous design, I find them strikingly beautiful too. Impressive in flight, the measured flap of those great wings, that u bend neck and the relaxed dangling of their outsized, comical feet hanging loosely from ridiculously stick thin legs, makes them instantly recognisable from a distance. Watch them hunting and you learn a thing or two about focus and patience too. They are canny birds. I once watched a grey heron torment a bunch of geese on a lake in Cornwall. The lake had a tiny island. The geese were bothered by the heron’s presence swimming on mass towards him on the bank. As soon as they came within a goose feather of reaching him, the heron casually took flight and landed on the island, the geese turning on mass and swimming frantically towards it, complaining. As soon as they reached the island, the heron would take off and fly back to the bank. This went on for ages and I got the distinct feeling that the heron was rather enjoying it! The poor old geese must have been exhausted.

Laurie’s new work colleague Sarah lives just a mile from us down the cycle path at Alverstone. Her father runs the Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve, a place I have written about here before. It is a much loved haunt of mine. She informed Laurie that a red kite had been spotted on the Island at Newtown Marshes. This news is incredibly exciting. I have only ever seen one in Wales, three years ago. These wonderful birds of prey came close to extinction but now their numbers are gradually rising again, not only in Wales but in certain parts of England and Scotland too. It would be so exciting if they have made it to the Isle of Wight!

Like buzzards, red kites are supremely good at coasting, their wingspan measuring about five feet across. They have the most gorgeous colouring, particular their under wing patterning and a distinctive forked tail. I find birds of prey deeply moving and never fail to get that surge of excitement when I encounter one in the wild. I must now keep my eyes peeled and pray (excuse pun) to get lucky; hopefully the Newtown sighting was not a one off and I will be blessed with another thrilling bird encounter.

Red Kite

Red Kite

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