Red letter day as kite Rio soars back into the wild
Her name is Rio - and she's one of the stars of the RSPB's drive to reintroduce the red kite to Northern Ireland.
But the six-year-old bird of prey came close to disaster when she was found injured on a Co Down farm several weeks ago.
Now Rio has been nursed back to health and released back into the skies near Castlewellan, close to the forest park where she was first released in 2009.
Between 2008 and 2010, the RSPB helped to co-ordinate the release of around 90 red kites in Co Down as part of Northern Ireland's first ever species reintroduction. The species had been persecuted to extinction here 200 years ago.
The population now stands at around 14 breeding pairs, but to be sustainable this needs to rise to around 50 pairs. In the meantime 12 birds have been confirmed poisoned, 12 dead birds showed inconclusive results and three were shot.
Rio has bred successfully every year since 2012, fledging five chicks - making her important for the future of the species here.
She was found on a rocky hillside on a farm between Castlewellan and Dromara several weeks ago, lethargic and unable to take off.
Genevieve Morrison, a veterinary nurse at Down Veterinary Clinic, said her brother-in- law had noticed Rio resting in the field for more than 12 hours. They brought Rio back to the house where she was checked over by Genevieve, and given water and a refuge in a meal bag in an outhouse.
"It had an infection in its foot, so it couldn't take off," Genevieve said.
The bird was collected by the RSPB and treated by Michael Griffith of Jubilee Veterinary Centre in Newtownards.
"I took an X-ray and a blood sample. She had a bit of an infection but there didn't seem to be anything broken," he said.
The injury doesn't appear to be related to persecution, he said.
"She has probably just caught and twisted the foot," he added.
Once the door of her cage was open, Rio didn't hesitate, taking off straight into the sky and soaring into a nearby stand of trees where she perched to get her bearings. Then she took off, circling the spire of Leitrim Chapel, before wheeling off.
Claire Barnett from RSPB NI said: "We are working hard to monitor the small NI population but the more 'eyes on the skies' the better. To report a sighting, please email email@example.com."
Rio was 'adopted' by Omagh County Primary School back in 2012 and staff and pupils from the school's Eco-Club attended the re-release.