Capturing Red Kites

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Image: Red Kite looking back, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

During our stay in Bridlington, England, we were guided generously by Mike Poole, a local photographer from Manchester, England. He had been showing us the best spots on Bempton Cliffs and where to go each time of day.  One afternoon, however, he told us about the Red Kites, a type of hawk in the UK that came back from the brink of extinction with a successful re-introduction program starting in 1989. 

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Image: Red Kite spreading his wings, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Mike knew about a location in Harewood, England where we could possibly photograph these raptors. We drove an hour and a half through rolling countryside to get to a small town where it was known that an elderly lady used to throw raw chicken on top of a garage shed to watch the kites swoop down to feed. The local story goes that she did it precisely at 2:30pm each day and built quite a following of kites. 

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Image: Red Kite grabbing food from the roof of a garage shed, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Unfortunately, the lady feeding the birds passed away this past January so there was some concern about the kites being able to survive since they had come to depend on this source of food. Luckily, they have adjusted, and for better or worse, still get fed raw meat from locals or photographers. While I much prefer photographing wildlife without baiting using human food, the kites are scavengers and were flourishing from this system that has been in place for years. 

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Image: Red Kite soaring, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

When we arrived, many kites were soaring overhead with occasional dives onto the shed for food scraps that people from the cafe next door had already thrown onto the roof. It was a bright sunny day which made it very hard to get a shot with a good exposure, especially since these birds had both light and dark feathers.

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Image: Red Kite soaring, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

As we began photographing and observing, we noticed some patterns. The hawks did not swoop down immediately upon seeing the food. They flew overhead in large circular patterns, slowly getting closer and closer to the shed. More and more birds joined this stalking behavior. Soon one bird did a vertical twirl and dove down with great speed towards the shed to grab some meat. Within a millisecond, a second, third and fourth kite dove down in a flurry. See the below video for an idea of what happens. 

These conditions made it extremely difficult to capture these birds in the frame, let alone get a good shot. The light was harsh and we played with the exposure a bit. We started with f/6.3, ISO 1000 and shutter speed of 1/3200 and adjusted as necessary. We went with a higher ISO instead of the typical 400 under sunny conditions since we wanted to expose for the dark feathers on the underside of the bird that were in shade. We needed a fast shutter speed since the background was so bright and the birds were fast. 

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Image: Red Kite banking to the right, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

We spent 3.5 hours there trying to photograph them. When they dove at such high speeds and in such a flurry, it was incredibly difficult to get one in focus. I tried a couple strategies. I watched the bird closest to the ground and when it started to twirl, I hit the shutter and tried to follow it down. Its speed was faster than I could follow initially but I got into a rhythm. It was hard to capture the birds that followed the initial quick dive, but sometimes 5-10 birds dove in sequence and I could capture the last one and follow it as it twirled and dove.  As the day progressed, the light softened slightly and I was lucky to capture a couple shots with one side of the hawk lit up nicely.

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Image: Red Kite diving vertically for food, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

I tried photographing from various angles, and even though most of my images came out with high contrast on the birds, I enjoyed the fun of focusing on a fast moving animal.

More information: Red Kite Website

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Dr. Amy Novotny founded the PABR® Institute with the mission to provide pain, stress and anxiety relief to those who seek a naturalistic form of treatment when other treatment methods have fallen short. Her unique approach comes from her experience treating in a variety of settings and with a wide range of patient populations over the past 12 years. Her background in orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, balance disorders, nerve injuries, and most recently, chronic pain; and influences from coursework at the Postural Restoration Institute gave her the foundation to develop this treatment method to address a wide variety of painful and restrictive conditions. Her methods have helped countless people reduce and eliminate pain, stress, anxiety, orthopedic surgeries, sleep issues and the need for medications. She co-authored two Amazon #1 Best-Selling books Don’t Quit: Stories of Persistence, Courage and Faith and Success Habits of Super Achievers, which share her journey on how and why she developed the PABR® Method. Her ability to speak French and Spanish has allowed her to communicate with and help various clients from all around the world, including France, Mexico, Central America and South America. She has a variety of interests including running 40+ marathons, running 10 ultra marathons (including two 100 milers), completing an Ironman triathlon, photographing wildlife and landscapes all over the world that has led to several of her images being chosen as Photos of the Day, most notably National Geographic Your Shot World Top Photo of the Day. Visit her photography portfolio here!

28 thoughts on “Capturing Red Kites”

  1. In my Orinthology class today we were studying the feathers and their colors…loving the wing spans to see the details 😊…what beautiful birds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These photos are amazing. You have really captured these kites.
    Looks like you are having a fun time at this.
    Keep them coming.
    Phil Fox

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The camera settings your descriptive approach to getting the shots is really helpful – but the video really gives us an idea of how fast these birds are going. Wonderful job!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jeff! I think you would love it! It was so funny trying to capture them. I just had to laugh at myself every time I missed a whole group of them diving. 🙂


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