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|Location||Parking at Bennan Viewpoint car park. Walk to cages is off the Bennan Walk.|
The Secret Cages
These formerly made the largest single site of release cages used for the red kite reintroduction project in Galloway but now feature as a piece of conservation archaeology. It was of utmost importance to ensure that the location of these cages was kept secret, to minimise disturbance to the birds and safeguard them from harm. A variety of hidden walkways allowed the RSPB Red Kite Project Officer to access the cages. The young kites released from here came from Inverness-shire, southern England and even Germany. At 4-5 weeks old, they were collected and brought to this undisclosed destination. The materials used to build the cages were dropped into this forest clearing by helicopter, and the cages were then built by the Dumfries and Galloway Raptor Study Group. The design of the cages ensured that the red kites did not come into contact with humans. All the feeding and monitoring hatches were positioned on the back of each cage. This reduced both disturbance to the birds, and prevented them from becoming tame.
Life in the Cages
An artificial nest was constructed and placed in each of the cages. The kites were fed twice a day by the RSPB Red Kite Project Officer. A variety of food was provided for the young birds, although it was found that the preferred food was rabbit meat and venison. The food was provided via hatches. Hatch doors were kept closed between feeds and had trouser legs attached inside the cages to avoid birds from seeing the officer and hence the hand that fed them. As the kites developed, they would begin to branch out onto perches and practiced using their flight muscles.
Young red kites almost ready to be released, in 2004.
Releasing the kites
As the kites developed a full set of adult flight feathers, a very light radio transmitter was attached on to the birds' tail, and wing tags were fixed to both wings. At about 10-12 weeks old, around the beginning of August, the front hatch of each cage was opened and the kites were free to fly into the wild. The radio transmitter and wing tags enabled fieldworkers to track the movements of individual kites throughout the region.
How to get there
The Secret Cages are located at the Bennan Viewpoint. Bennan Viewpoint car park is sign-posted off the A762 5km north of Mossdale. From the car park there is a choice of routes to the viewpoint. The lower and less steep route is 2.5km and initially descends from the car park before following a forestry track uphill; the Secret Cages (c 1km) are best reached from this lower route. The shorter, steeper path and the viewpoint is reached after 1km. From the viewpoint, the Secret Cages are most easily reached by taking the longer route back to the car park.
The path from the forestry track leading down to the cages now has a series of story boards to give a very brief history on the decline and reintroduction of kites. There is also an activity for children and adults to take part in to make the short walk more intriguing. Recently, a sound-box system was installed to provide a four minute long commentary on the story of these cages.