At first Mills thought it was a grouse sitting partially hidden but it didn’t move as she made her way carefully through the thick heather. The bird had clearly been dead for some time, its large wings spread gracefully, exposing the almost white chest feathers. Her walk above Gunnerside had been a bird-watching expedition but this was not how she’d expected to see this impressive raptor. She assumed it was a buzzard but reached for her identification manual. The size was right, it must be at least sixty centimetres in length, but the photograph certainly didn’t do justice to the beautiful red-brown plumage that was just visible at the shoulders. She took a close-up shot then stood admiring the bird, thinking that she would much rather have seen it circling overhead, silhouetted against the early morning sun.
Instinctively she bent down to touch the soft feathers at its neck, and felt a plastic tag attached to its wing. Very gently she turned the bird over, releasing it carefully from the tiny twigs of heather that clung to the feathers. She knew that the numbered tag could mean only one thing. Looking at the long forked tail feathers and the damage to its back confirmed her fears: this was a red kite that had been shot. She, of all people, had just disturbed a crime scene. She took more photographs then hurried back down to Mossy Bank; uncertain who would be available at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning but anxious to inform the authorities as soon as possible.
Earl, impatient for his breakfast, stared up at her, whining