For anyone that loves watching wildlife, I would highly recommend a visit to the Argaty Red Kites. I’ve always been passionate about wildlife. It’s only been recently that I’ve merged it with my passion for photography. I was lucky enough to book a space at the Argaty Red Kites for their re-opening day and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, so much so that I re-booked only a few days later! I wanted to learn more about the Red Kites so that I could share the experience with you. It’s my hope that you’ll visit and fall in love with these birds as I have.
An Introduction To Red Kites
The story of the Red Kite is a sad one. Back in the middle-ages, the Red Kite was a valued member of society. As scavenger birds they helped keep the streets clean. As a result, They were protected by Royal decree. Killing one resulted in capital punishment. Death. Unfortunately however, this all changed in the 16th Century. A series of vermin acts saw the protection reversed.
Over the next few centuries, game-keepers wrongly accused Red Kites of hunting and taking their game. Sharp beaks and talons made them the culprit. However, the Red Kite would struggle to hunt anything larger than a small rabbit. They mainly eat carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals) which makes sense as they are scavengers. Despite having a wing-span of approximately 5 feet, adult Red Kites can actually weigh less than one kilogram! Can you imagine such a light bird trying to carry game away? Something I found quite interesting about these beautiful raptors is that they don’t always take their food back to a perch in the trees. They sometimes ‘feed on the wing’ by lifting their talons up and eating mid-flight!
As Red Kites became rarer, they became a target for taxidermists and egg collectors. This ultimately sped up their extinction and by 1871 they had became extinct in England and by 1879 in Scotland. Protection efforts started in 1903. Unfortunately, only a handful of breeding pairs remained in remote parts of Wales.
Reintroduction started in Scotland in 1989 on the Black Isle, near Inverness. Between 1989-1994, 93 Red Kites of Swedish origin were released there. Then between 1996-2001, 103 Red Kites of Eastern German origin were released near Doune, Stirling. Between 2001-2005 more Kites were released in Dumfries and Galloway and then finally between 2007-2009 they were reintroduced on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
About The Argaty Red Kites
The Red Kites were originally released on a neighbouring farm but made the Lerrocks Farm their own. The Kites adopted the farm, and in turn, the farm adopted the Kites. This thirteen-hundred acre working farm has sheep and beef cattle but unlike farmers and game-keepers in the past, they love their raptor neighbours. They aim to help support wildlife and educate people like you and I on how farming and wildlife conservation can go hand-in-hand. There’s also a chance to see many other bird species on the farm with a recent survey recording over a hundred species there! They are known internationally as a great success for conservation. How amazing is that? Although the population of Red Kites is still small and vulnerable, with the help of sites like the Lerrocks Farm, they are expanding steadily.
Feeding & Viewing
This site is Central Scotland’s only Red Kite feeding station. The feeding is only a token gesture and not necessary for the birds survival. After all they are still wild birds! However it is part of the re-introduction programme and it allows guests to view these mesmerising birds in flight. The feedings are minimal, they don’t put out a lot of food, so that the Kites still have to hunt and scavenge for themselves. It’s a helping hand of sorts. So it’s actually viewed as a good sign if the Kites don’t come down straight away as it shows they are not starving. They are quite seasonal birds, the best time to see them is between October and March. During the other months, they can be quite secretive whilst breeding but that’s not to say there won’t still be a chance to see them!
Booking & Hides Available
If you would like to visit the Red Kites, you MUST pre book due to Covid restrictions. Due to social distancing measures, the large hide is currently not being used. Alternatively, there is an outside standing area which still provides an excellent viewing experience. Please see their website for all details: Argaty Red Kites. Price of admission for adults is £7, and for children between the age of 6 and 16 is £3. You can also book a small, 3 hatched photography hide that has an excellent view of the hill where the feeding takes place. If you wish to spend the full day there, there are also 2 woodland photography hides to see Red Squirrels. Again, all this information is on the website and MUST be pre-booked. I’m hoping to get up and spend a morning with the squirrels soon!
By no means am I in a place to advise on the best photography settings. However, I’ll share the settings that I used. Starting with the shutter speed, I had it set to around 1/1250 – 1/1600 to capture the birds in motion. They are extremely fast and can change direction at any second. To be honest, I would have tried 1/2000 if there was better lighting (both visits were mostly overcast). I had my aperture set to f/8 to allow sufficient depth of field. Due to the overcast skies, I had set my ISO to ‘auto ISO’ but capped it at 1600. This saved me from trying to turn it up or down when the light changed. However, one thing you should look out for is the higher the ISO, the more grainy your photos will become. I hope this helps in some way.
I’m hoping that further down the line, I can invest in a better camera. I might wait until I’ve sold more photography prints before doing so… it can be such an expensive hobby! if you want to check out my prints, please see Alan Kerr Photography. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this experience and I truly hope you go to view the Red Kites. Even if it’s not for the photography aspect, just to stand and watch them is spectacular. As always, I’ve included a wee gallery below for you to check out. Let me know what you think in the comments below! Will you go see them for yourself? My pictures don’t do them justice.
Thanks for reading,