Chicken Soup

Tollie Red Kites

Tollie Red Kites
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Tollie Red Kites - Blog

Chicken Soup

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Fact 1- Volunteering is good for you.  It has only positive outcomes for all involved, for the giver and for the receiver. Barack Obama famously said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” And I agree. It feels great to give up your time and energy to a worthwhile cause, to do something positive because you can.

Fact 2 -.  It has been proven that getting out into nature and wrapping yourself up in what Mother Nature has to offer can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses.  So, in effect volunteering for the RSPB has a double-whammy effect of feelgoodness (yes, I made that word up!)...twice the benefits you might say.

When I began my foray into volunteering just last year little did I know just how life-changing it would be.  Not life-changing in a physical or geographical sense, but moreover a spiritual sense.  It quite literally lifts my soul.  I love being at Tollie.  I love the tranquillity of the place, the fact that at only 5 miles from my door it feels like another world, that each visit is unique, the sheer variety of bird species and of visitors, and of course I love the kites.


 Tollie building - by Brad Chappell

Volunteers at Tollie are on a rota to come along and feed the kites each day, stay for a while and talk/inform any visitors about the centre and about kites in general.  I tend to be mostly available at weekends, so it is usually a quiet weekend morning that I pack my Tollie things into the car and anticipate the day ahead.  Sometimes I’ll go for a run before-hand, down the Dingwall canal and along the river Conon to observe the wildlife as I’m jogging (slowly) past – indeed there’s no better excuse to stop for a breather than to watch an osprey fishing for his breakfast!  Driving up to Tollie after lunch gives me the opportunity to see if there are any kites hanging around the centre, waiting patiently for their own lunch.  Eager eyes tend to spot me emerging from the car in my RSPB fleece and badge.  Not the birds, but visitors who have come to hopefully observe the spectacle of the kites feeding, and who are hovering in the car park watching the skies and the woods with their binoculars and state-of-the-art telescopic cameras.

After greeting any visitors I walk down to the table to put out -and in effect display- the meat for the birds from my bucket, subconsciously noting whether I can hear or see any kites watching me, or whether I ‘just know’ that they are around!  Sometimes a kite will circle low over me as I’m at the table, which is always a thrill.  After quickly retreating into the sanctuary of the centre it’s then time to wait – sometimes not for long!- and chat some more to the visitors.

First more often than not you’ll see a crow fly over and recce the table. Then a crow will land on the fence next to the table.  Then, when the kites can’t resist any longer they come!  It’s a wonderful moment when I just know the kites are coming and the visitor’s eyes light up with glee, cameras raised to take the shot, binoculars poised.  It’s a scene I’ve seen again and again, but it never fails to fill me with the wonder of nature.  The sheer elegance and manoeuvrability of the kites just blows me away, they’re a real contradiction of grace and greed, beautiful ballerina pirates.  They fly over the table, check and dive, swooping up at the last moment to grab some meat and twist away, bringing their feet up as they bank away to take a look and a nibble at what they managed to get. Buzzards often get involved, although they will land on the table to feed.  Interactions between the two raptor species are minimal surprisingly, as they are neither a threat or prey to one-another, both are top of the food chain, and there’s plenty for everyone.  After this frenetic frenzy of feeding the table is just about emptied and the crows chance it for some slim pickings and scraps on the ground, and the show is over, as quickly as it began.  Visitors eye’s wide, their grins wide too. 

Red kite and buzzard at Tollie

Red kite and buzzard at the feeding table at Tollie - by John Brierley

After staying as long as is needed, and after filling up the feeders, filling in the days log and message book and checking the whiteboards I head off home.  A little warm glow heats my chest as I drive down the road with my smelly empty bucket, and I know that I could never get that feeling from working behind a desk, or from meticulously cleaning the house every day.

It’s official, its proven. Fact 3 – Volunteering at Tollie is chicken soup for the soul.

For your own bowl of chicken soup you can check out volunteering opportunities on the RSPB website.

  • I'd seen one a couple of weeks ago close by but not from the centre it'self. I was so excited to see it I called everyone outside, though I don't think our English visitors were that impressed!!  They were more impressed by the sheer number of woodpeckers at the edge of the wood.  I think the jay disturbed them and they were alarm calling.

  • I'm glad someone else has seen it, I was starting to think I was seeing things.

  • Thanks Liz! Myself and some visitors saw the jay on Saturday flying into the woods - what a beautiful bird!

  • I like and  I agree! Liz