Friday, 16 January 2009

A visit to Wales finally leads to a vist to Gigrin Farm

The countless times I have driven along the Rhayader road in wonderful Wales, and of course the many times I have gone straight past Gigrin Farm (the Kite feeding station). I had never gone to have a look in all the years it has been open, but finally at the beginning of the week I went.
I was gobsmacked to say the least by the whole set up. OK so I have seen Red Kites before, in fact I have seen them here in the Gordano Valley and on the Mendip Hills and those sightings are increasing all the time. However I had never seen anything quite like this. It was nice to meet the people behind the scenes, very friendly indeed, and the little Spaniel Dog was great fun making me throw objects for him, constantly. Its not just seeing the Red Kites, but the whole set up at Gigrin farm is very special, the farm has a very good exhibition which goes beyond Kites and looks at other wildlife as well, there is also an excellent nature reserve, which takes you above the Kite feeding station, it consists of a mix of wetland, hill scrub and grassland areas, I must return to walk this reserve properly in the Spring.
Just before 1400 hrs the Red Kites began to gather in the fields close to the feeding area, very few were perched in trees, most were in the air. Indeed as I scanned the background hills I could see even more Red Kites heading towards the farm.

Count the Kites, and no that's not dust on the sensor in the background its Kites!

I did try counting them, but they were moving at such speed and constantly changing position, however the reliable figure for that day was around 400 Red Kites . At 1400 hrs the food appeared from the bucket of a tractor, which apparently had been changed a few days before, so the new tractor was making the Kites more nervous (honestly I did not notice). Other Birds joined in for the free meat. A Heron, Common Buzzard were around already and flew straight on to the ground whilst interestingly the Carrion Crows, Ravens and Rooks were much more nervous than I would have thought. The cheeky ones were three Starling who got out before any of them grabbed the meat and flew off. Back to the Buzzards, with only one Red Kite coming to ground to feed and the others all swooping in grabbing a bit of meat, eating it in the air, and then coming back for more. Where ever a Buzzard was sat quite happily munching on the ground, the Kites would gang up and quite deliberately dive bomb and snatch the pieces of meat that was the closest to any Buzzard that waas sat on the ground, this seemed to be planned with Kites working together to try and put the Buzzards off.

Buzzard tries to defend itself, obviously it will need an aspirin in the morning for this headache

Three Kites dive past two Buzzards, note Buzzards stay put for now

Do you sometimes get that feeling your being watched?

The spectacle went on for nearly 2 hours before the Birds started to disperse away from the feeding area. In that time I had seen many Red Kites and really close. Some interesting behaviour between Red Kites and Buzzards, and of course one of my favourite group of Birds the Corvides who also did not let me down with their presence, and I nearly forgot the one Heron who joined in as well. Gigrin Farm is really well worth a visit if you have not been, indeed now seeing this for myself, I can't wait to return and see this great spectacle again. I did have the camera with me as you can see, however it was quite a dull day so the ISO is running quite high on my Canon EOS 30D this to keep the shutter speed high enough for the flying birds. However may I suggest to people who go to take pictures, to go twice, once to enjoy it, and the other time to take pictures. I found it extremely difficult to do both, hence there are not many pictures.

Red Kite at Gigrin Farm note the wing tags


Gill B said...

Green with envy - I've been wanting to go there for years!

Gaina said...

Hi Chris, I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago after I saw the article about the Bristol Eagle Owl in a local magazine :).

When I was in Germany a few years ago I was flabbergasted to see how common Red Kites were - I spent four days with my eyes glued to the sky and my German friend couldn't understand what I was so excited about! Haha.

I saw my first English kite last Summer, just one flew over my garden in North Somerset and I've never seen it again (I suspect it was female due to the size). They are my favourite BoP next to Harriers, I think.

What's Gigrin like for wheelchair access?

Chris Sperring said...

Hi Gaina, The path leading to the hides would be wheelchair friendly, but I would say to make sure of their wheelchair access just follow the links I have created on the blog, and give them ring or send an e mail. They are really very nice people that run the farm, also they have holiday cottages at the farm (2, I think?)so you could be swamped in Kites for days. BTW Germany is now also very good for Eagle Owl, conservationist in Gemany have done some outstanding work getting this Owl back. Thanks for the comment. Chris

Chris Sperring said...

Hi Gill B, Don't forget what I said in the blog. I know you will take the Camera with you, so take a couple days. Go twice once to enjoy and the second time to take hundreds of pictures.
My poor old 30D struggled with the cloudy day, the ISO was so high that a lot of the pictures are really grainy.
Looking forward to seeing your pics.

PS Gill. Don't forget the North Somerset Hawk and Owl Trust meeting on Monday night at the Ship Inn Portishead, its "Wildlife of the Falkland" Islands, should be a good talk.

Mary Colwell said...

Hi Chris, we sent there too on holiday a few years ago, it really is a great show. If the farmers suddenly stopped this daily en=vent what effect would it have? I wonder if other farmers could do something similar - make some money by giving us a wildlife spectacle. love pictures.

Gaina said...

Mary has just given me a thought with regards to feeding that I wonder if you could shed some light on, Chris?

Farmers are often complaining about Ravens attacking their lambs and I wonder if providing them with food at stations like Gigrin has any effect - negative or positive - on the affect the Ravens have on lambs and if this is a positive (less attacks) then maybe this could be a solution that keeps the farmers, the Ravens and the people like me who love Ravens happy?

Chris Sperring said...

Mary and Gaina.
I'm sure these questions have been asked many times, and it would be very difficult to be sure of what effect the feeding actually has on natural behaviour. The meat is actually distributed in small chunks and with the sheer number of large birds taking it, it would be very unlikely to fully support any of them, meaning that they must still be hunting and scavenging in between - they just know that at 2 o'clock each day they can get a free supplement at Gigrin. As for other farmers doing the same, the leaving out of meat is strictly controlled now, and licences are required. Not to mention the cost (£1000 per month at Gigrin).
Although there were hundreds of Kites, there were only actually a handful of Ravens and Buzzards on site, maybe 10 of each. So, the effect on their populations is obviously minimal, but may indeed reduce their likelihood of attacking weak animals elsewhere? Of course, in times gone by carrion feeders like corvids, Kites and Buzzards would have done very well on remote hill farms, but now carcasses must be removed by law, so alternatives will be saught.
In farming of course diversification is increasingly essential for survival, and I am all for showing people such an amazing spectacle that may ultimately lead to them wanting to help these special birds. It is also highlighting a conservation success story, where just a few decades ago there were only a handfull of Red Kites in the UK, now you can go to such places and see hundreds in the sky at once!

KatySarah said...

Hi Chris, what an amazing place! Never knew it existed, but now I do I'll be sure to pay it a visit, (twice), as I'll be taking my camera as well!

I visited a similar place in Scotland, and that was the first time I'd seen a red kite, but there were no where near as many of them.

Great pictures, especially if the conditions weren't perfect.

Dave Newton said...

Great pics. Know you thoroughly enjoyed it; cause i would.. (don't sound jealous do i?). I've got to go there, but i doubt my car would make it to the bridge! Are they very vocal at feeding time??

Jenny Holden said...

Great photo of the kite attacking the buzzard Chris :o)

Chris and I really enjoyed our visit to one of these feeding stations in Scotland a couple of years ago. How is the research into how these feeding stations affect the ecology of the birds coming along?

Chris Sperring said...

Hi Jen, good to hear from you.
Its a good point. The answer to which I don't know. I think there is a big difference between this and say feeding RK's in the garden in somewhere like the Chilterns, which is a real problem because of whats being fed to them.
The RK's I watched were still nervous and we were all in hides. The welfare was thought out and taken care off, and indeed the information on the natural history and conservatuion programme was the tops. People around me (in the hides)were in awe, so as far as general wildlife conservation was concerned it was a great way to give people an instant hit, visually and with superb information. Education and conservation in one area, a great combination!
Are you both ready for the move to Scotland? I hear there are some Beavers waiting for you, and that they need liberating. Regards to Chris and of course his new venture leading great wildlife walks in Scotland.. Keep the fire hot and the beer fresh. I will be in Scotland as soon as you have both sorted the new house out.

Good Luck to you both on your new venture! Beavers in Somerset next!!!