After our most successful summer breeding for five years, when 33 chicks were known to have fledged, there was a sense that the kite population was on the increase and we were optimistic that the roost counts in the autumn would also reflect this.
By the end of September these hopes were being realised as 18 kites were counted going into roost near Hamsterley Hall. A roost also formed in the Gibside area as well and by mid- October a total of 49 kites were counted in the two roosts, 32 at Gibside and 17 at Hamsterley Hall.
No joint kite count has been made since but individual counts suggest that numbers remain high with 25 kites being recorded one evening in early November at Hamsterley Hall and 13 -16 kites being noted at Gibside. This suggests that kites are moving between the two roosts as numbers have fluctuated.
Also, during October, new sites and old sites, which were known to have held kites in previous years, were checked but held no significant kite activity. Kites were noted at Lintzford Garden Centre at pre-roost one evening but this was thought to be a staging post for kites making their way up to the Hamsterley Hall roost as they appeared to move on up the valley.
Numbers continued to increase at the Hamsterley Hall site, 27 were noted in November, whilst the Gibside roost remaied steady and expectations of counting best ever numbers of roosting kites in January were high.
These expectations were buoyed when, in early December, the highest number of kites for three years, fifty-eight kites from two locations, were recorded. On that evening the Pontburn Wood roost, near Hamsterley Hall, held thirty-eight kites, with thirty-four being seen in the air together, and twenty kites dropped into the Gibside Estate roost.
The FoRK monitoring teams took part in the the National Roost Count on the 12th of January and this was set to be the defining event of the winter for us as this month is traditionally the month when the highest roost counts are made. Sixteen enthusiastic volunteers covered five locations in the Derwent Valley.
The survey produced a fantastic result, a record best ever count of eighty-five kites was achieved, providing further optimism that the fortunes of red kites in the north east are changing for the better. The majority of the kites were noted at the two main roost sites: Forty at Pontburn Wood and forty at Gibside. The UK numbers will be collated and contributed to the European Roost Count held on the same weekend.
The following week, on the 19th, another annual event took place. Our Thursday monitoring team, led by Tim Watson, hosted another successful roost watch from the Nine Arches Viaduct on the Derwent Walk. Twenty-seven members of the Northumbria Natural History Society attended the event which has been running for several years now. They got more distant views than they've had in previous years but still had three kites showing well near the viaduct. With a fabulous sunset building they had circa twenty kites and 2 buzzards circling around the Monument on the Gibside Estate. Feedback from the group suggested that everyone had had a good time.
Of the eight juveniles that were wing tagged during the the previous breeding season five were identified at pre-roost during this winter.