The autumn roost appeared to be just as in other years, starting in mid-September with low numbers, roosts made up of failed breeders and juvenile birds at traditional sites at Lockhaugh Meadow and Gibside’s West Wood with a new roost site higher up the valley in Pontburn Wood. Numbers built up slowly over the following weeks and by the second week in October there were twenty kites roosting around the Nine Arches Viaduct area and sixteen kites roosting in the Lintzford Garden Centre area (the roost had moved down from beyond Hamsterley Hall). A feature of these roosts was that they were very “loose” in both locations i.e. birds would be spread out in small groups within the general roost area, perhaps an indication that they were unsettled and didn’t know where they wanted to be. More uncharacteristic behaviour became evident after that: On some evenings there would be very few kites (or none at all) at one of the locations, but circa thirty at the other. Total counts of kites from both locations when known roosts were used on the same evening had been fifty to sixty. And at the end of October, around sixty kites were noted at a pre-roost gathering over Chopwell Woods, opposite Lintzford Garden Centre; the most ever noted at a pre-roost gathering. During November, the focus was on finding additional roosting sites. This met with limited success when, on November 26th, twelve kites roosted in Strother Wood, half a mile south of Hamsterley Hall, returning to a site they had used in mid-September. The fact that it was a very still, misty, murky evening probably kept numbers low and the same could be said for the low count of eighteen at Gibside on the same evening.
It was hoped that a comprehensive roost count on 6th January, which contributed to the National Roost Count, would provide some explanation as to what was happening. On that evening seventeen members of the monitoring team covered all known locations which were known to hold roosting kites during the season. Disappointingly, only forty-four kites were counted on the night, despite excellent coverage. This compared with fifty-seven last year and sixty-six in 2017. Thanks to Paul Danielson, Assistant Kite Monitoring Officer for organising this event.
On the 20th January members of our Thursday team, headed by Tim Watson, hosted a Natural History Society of Northumbria roost watch from the Nine Arches Viaduct. The watch was severely affected by a noisy helicopter search close by and the 25 members who turned out, not surprisingly, only saw seven kites, but they did get reasonably good views. Other counts over Gibside during the month were circa twenty to twenty-five birds, which was fairly typical for this location.