Journal Entry: The forest extends its branches and soars away | Author Nic Wilson
The meadow is engulfed by darkness, enveloping the frost that sparkles on the ground. Despite the cold, I dare not move, as I am not the only one observing in the dim light. Perched on a bare ash tree at the edge of the forest, I spot nine birds of prey outlined against a pale pink sky. Their stillness is unsettling, and their sorrowful cries echo through the frigid atmosphere. How many others are hidden, watching from the trees?
Flying with wings that stretch almost 2 meters, a group of red kites gracefully soar above the woods, patiently waiting for their turn to land. As soon as one bird begins its descent, another takes its place, all drawn to this secluded area by a mutual need for companionship. Many of these birds are young, not yet old enough to mate, and may be here to search for potential partners or scavenge together in the future.
Since 2019, red kites have been observed gathering at this shared resting place located in an old forest. However, these birds have a rich past in this area. They used to commonly breed here, and were known as “puttocks” or “crotchet-tailed puddocks” by the locals. Unfortunately, they disappeared from Hertfordshire over 200 years ago. The only traces of their past abundance can be found in the names of places like Puttockhill, Puttockdean, and Puttocksoak.
Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of reintroduced bird descendants in the county. The most heartwarming sight is their presence at a winter roost. I am delighted to have witnessed such a large gathering, but I initially thought it was over when the birds took flight and filled the sky with kites. After a quick count, I observed 64 birds, but there are still some stragglers arriving and others waiting in the trees.
As the puttock ash watchers depart from their pre-roost flock to partake in a joyous sky dance, I observe that only eight of them are red kites. The ninth, a buzzard, flies steadily northward. The wood settles back into its peaceful state, with the evening’s roosting activities coming to an end. I feel fortunate to witness the return of the red kites, not just from their day’s hunt, but from the richness of their untamed history.