Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky,
Above the oaks, in easy sail,
On stilly wings and forked tail.
John Clare (c. 1820)
Paddock is an old English name for the Red Kite
Red kites, coasting lazily across the skies on gentle thermals – floating, free-wheeling, gliding – command our instant attention. When we spot them as we’re walking, we can’t help but stand and stare, and relish their easy command of an immense sky. It’s that forked tail that gives them away.
And yet these noble-seeming creatures exist mainly on carrion. They’ll swoop quickly down to snatch roadkill – after the crows have helped themselves – and take it off to perch on some quiet tree to dismember and eat. Sometimes we’ll watch numbers of them wheeling above just-ploughed fields, questing for worms and small mammals.
They used to be a very rare sight indeed. But about twenty years ago, and thirty miles from here, some red kites were released onto the Harewood Estate as part of a conservation initiative. We lived in Harrogate at the time, and got so excited if we were near Harewood, by very occasional sighting.
Fast forward a few years, and the kites reached the outskirts of Harrogate: we’d even spot them above the town centre. Later still, they spread onwards and outwards – north, south, east and west.
And this week, just this week, for the very first time, this is what I saw, above the house, keeping an eye on me as I hung out the washing. I’m very excited by our new neighbour.