Autumn on red alert
This week I have been seeing red.
However, the red I have been seeing is not reflecting any sense of anger but is clearly manifested in the trees, birds and animals which are now very much in autumnal mood.
As the year plunges towards its end the landscape is transformed. This green and pleasant landscape now draws a breath and the leaves surrender to the inevitable passage of time. Red has been especially noticeable lately in the blazing foliage of the horse chestnuts and, with advancing autumn days bathing the landscape with a golden sheen, yellow, gold and red are rapidly taking over from green.
I encountered a lone red kite patrolling nearby fields, dancing, pirouetting and floating on the air as only kites can. It prescribed wide circles as its incredibly sharp eyes focused on the ground below in its search for a meal.
Within minutes I found myself able to strike an almost instant comparison between the delicate flight of the kite and that of a buzzard which traced rather more contained circles over a field on the other side of the track.
In comparison with the lissom kite the buzzard suddenly seemed bulky and almost clumsy. The kite is so much more slender, which somehow seems to accentuate its size, especially in flight when the voluminous wings are at full stretch. There is unquestionably something much more graceful about the more buoyant flight of the kite.
The circling kite has become an increasingly familiar sight all over Britain in recent years and I suspect most welcome it as a natural enhancement to our landscape. There are even those in the south who actively feed kites in their gardens.
Yet there are also people who do not like them simply because they have hooked beaks. The claim that kites – and buzzards for that matter – are apt to take young game birds is not justification for killing these truly beautiful birds, especially when you consider that every year some 50 million pheasants are released into the British countryside. Surely the impact of kites and buzzards, both mainly scavengers, is infinitesimal. I roundly applaud the decision to restore red kites to our landscape. Anyone who wants to see kites at their best really should take the opportunity to visit Argaty. The sight of dozens of kites coming in to feed is truly breathtaking.
There was another flash of russet red when I delighted in watching a male kestrel flaunting his fantastic hovering skills high above a field margin. It is a matter of great sadness to me that such a sighting is a rarity compared with just a few years ago. In a sense I was brought up on kestrels. I could occasionally watch one from my childhood bedroom window and, even better, if I went down to “my secret field” I could lie on my back and watch them endlessly. What has happened to our kestrels? I long to see that shade of red on a more regular basis again.
Another flash of red excited me when a red squirrel scampered across the road in front of me, disappearing through a hedge into a neighbourhood garden. Twenty years ago the colour of any squirrel sighted there would have been grey, not red.
The transformation over recent years has been remarkable. The spread of pine marten has had a remarkable impact on grey squirrel numbers and the vacuum is slowly being filled by red squirrels.
The decision to introduce grey squirrels to the British landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an act perpetrated by both private landowners and local authorities, would have been made without any concept of the consequences their actions might have on our native red squirrels. In short, the aggressive nature of the larger grey squirrels in competing for food saw red squirrel populations plummet.
As pine marten have broken out from the Highlands they have targeted the greys which, because they are heavier and thus far less agile than reds, are much easier to catch.
Red squirrels were thought to have become extinct during the early 19th century and were reintroduced to Perthshire from Scandinavia. The rising population was such that squirrel clubs were formed to control their numbers because of the damage they were causing to trees in the new forests of the time.
Now everything is being done to restore them to areas where once they were common. Seeing red more often is therefore good news.
Recovering Red squirrel