Media and Testimonials
A showcase of Red Kite Tours NI's television appearances.
“Thanks Shelagh for a very enjoyable afternoon, despite the cold. The lemon drizzle was delicious !!"
David Nixon, January 2018
Wild Inishowen Club, 2021
A BLUE SKY AND RED KITE DAY FOR WILD INISHOWEN!
On a breath-stoppingly cold but beautiful February blue sky day, two intrepid members of Wild Inishowen, Christine Cassidy and Lindsay Hodges, travelled to the stunning surroundings of the Mourne and Dromara Mountain ranges, to meet with Shelagh Henry and go on one of her amazing Red Kite Tours. These Tours have been featured recently on BBC Newsline and UTV’s Lesser Spotted Ulster.
As well as being Red Kite Information Officer, Shelagh is also Environmental Education Guide at Enspire and an Environmenal Education Guide at Ulster Wildlife and is a hugely passionate and knowledgeable advocate for wildlife protection and conservation. She has been running her own small business, Red Kite Tours NI, for the last year, offering guided birdwatching tours in the beautiful County Down countryside and in particular to watch the extra special and rare Red Kites soaring against the glorious backdrop of the Mourne Mountains.
The magnificent birds Shelagh promised us are part of a reintroduction project that began in 2008, to help return to Ireland a bird that is under serious persecution and depopulation. Red Kite chicks were brought over to Ireland from donor stock in Wales and released at two sites, one in Wicklow and the other in County Down.
As Shelagh guided us through gorgeous landscape, we learnt more about these majestic raptors and their struggle for survival. In 2010, the first wild Red Kite chicks to be born in Northern Ireland for over 200 years graced the skies of County Down and they continue to breed each year, despite continued threat and danger. All known Northern Ireland Red Kites are fitted with a brown tag on their left wing and the right wing tag is has a colour denoting the year it was born with lettering unique to each bird.
When we first saw one rising over the horizon, and then a second and third, it was a spine-tingling moment of realising just how remarkable it is to witness one in Northern Ireland at all. Their beautiful reddish brown colouring and distinctive forked tail mark them out from the closely compared Buzzard and their languid wingbeat pattern and use of the tail as a rudder allow them to handle the thermals with expert ease.
One of Christine’s photographs detected a wing tag from a 2013 bird and later we were to see a different tagged Red Kite from 2012. We learnt about their roosting patterns and their searches for territory across the area and the importance of all Red Kite sightings to be reported to allow monitoring of their presence and progress.
When dusk finally fell, we were sorry to leave, but as we said goodbye to the Mournes the next day, we saw what we initially thought was a Buzzard circling high over the Nature Reserve at Murlough. But all we had learnt from Shelagh made us study the patterns again and we realised with absolute joy that we were watching a Red Kite! Stopping to take photographs, we then saw a second Red Kite being harried by a Grey Crow and it was a moment of pure magic to see these birds for ourselves as a farewell to our County Down adventure. Huge thanks to Shelagh for her expert guidance, hospitality and great company. We would thoroughly recommend that all bird lovers and wildlife enthusiasts take this tour for the sheer thrill of seeing a Northern Ireland Red Kite in its own spectacular habitat. A wonderful day that will live long in the memory.
Trek NI, 2019
INTERVIEW WITH RED KITE TOURS NI
Tell us about yourself, Shelagh.
I grew up on a dairy farm outside Rathfriland in a beautiful rural setting with the Mourne Mountains in the background. I went to school in Banbridge and then the University of Ulster to study Hotel Catering and Institutional Management and went to work in London after I graduated.
Having worked in the Catering industry first as a Catering Manager at The City University, London for several years, then later as a Lecturer in Southern Regional College for 10 years, I took a career break and then one day, back on 2006, a friend told me about a job advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph. Ulster Wildlife Trust were looking for Environmental Education Guides, so I applied and got the job and that began my interest or near obsession with wildlife and conservation.
Have you always been interested in birds of prey?
I have not always had an interest in Birds of Prey, simply because when I was growing up, there were very few raptors of any sort in the countryside, so they were not a feature of my life, growing up on a farm. How I got into Red Kites was back in 2008, when the RSPB set up their re-introduction programme and I got a job with them as Red Kite Information Officer and then, when that contract ended, I continued as a volunteer Red Kite Monitor, on the Red Kite project.
How did Red Kite Tours come about?
I started Red Kite Tours back in the winter of 2014. The spectacle of large groups of Red Kites gathering and displaying together with the background of the Mourne Mountains as the sun was setting, for me, was absolutely stunning and I thought that it would be a great idea, not only to showcase the birds but also our beautiful landscape. I wanted to share the wonderful experience with like minded people who also love the outdoors and have a special interest in wildlife spectacles.
Are there many Red Kites in Northern Ireland?
The Red Kite population here is still relatively small compared to Scotland, Wales and England.
Where’s the best place to see raptors?
You can see raptors anywhere around the countryside. Buzzards, Red Kites and Ravens if you can put them in this category, all love open farmland, a rural landscape, but Buzzards can be seen more and more along roadsides, perched on top of Telegraph poles waiting for a small mammal or frog or looking out for roadkill. They have become quite common now. Sparrowhawks flit in and out of gardens or low along hedgerows. Merlins can be spotted on higher ground, they like marshy areas, heathland, like the foothills of the Mournes. They are more rare, so a treat to see, as well as the Kestrel which used to be common but now, their numbers have plummeted.
Do you have a personal favourite type of bird?
I don’t have one personal favourite bird but several. Of course, I love Red Kites, they are a very special bird, but also I have a thing for Lapwing, Brent Geese, the call of the male Snipe drumming over a bog, in the early summer months is a joy to hear, the Skylark calling high up in the Mournes is a very special sound and in my own back garden I love to see and hear the Wren, Dunnock and Treecreeper and then in summer I get excited when I find Spotted Flycatchers.
Do you get up into the Mournes much?
Not as often as I’d like.
What’s your favourite spot in Northern Ireland?
I love Murlough NNR. I can spend hours there either bird watching around the Bay, or plodding about the dunes looking for rare butterflies, moths or interesting wildflowers that I can never remember the name of, or just trekking up the beach picking up shells or seal spotting. I love the trail past the Cypress Pond at Castlewellan Forest and the arboretum. And I have a soft spot, of course for Tollymore where I walk regularly.
Give us your golden rule for spotting Red Kites?
Patience. Constantly look to the skies and if you see something beautiful ‘in a rust coloured waistcoat and a starched white shirt, with taloned wings outstretched embracing the sky’ then that’s a Red Kite! Truly majestic.