Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gigrin Kites

The Red Kite feeding station at Gigrin Farm in mid-Wales is a superb place for the bird photographer. This long established site, with excellent hides, can attract up to 300 birds during the daily afternoon feeding. Other species are also drawn in by the free meat handout including good numbers of both Buzzard and Raven.

I have only visited twice before and both times have been very brief for various reasons. Looking back into my photo archive, my last visit was back in the summer of 2008, and definitely far too long ago. On that visit the skies were grey, the light was poor and the birds looked rather tatty as they were in mid-moult.  So with a day off work booked last Friday and the forecast looking reasonably good, I set off with my friend Steve on the twisting and fairly tortuous journey down in to mid-Wales.
For Gigrin to be at its best the ideal conditions are clear skies and a light southerly wind. Red Kites do not look good against a white sky and a blue sky or one with dark grey clouds is better. Sunlight is also needed to show the colours of the birds off to the best. As Red Kites rarely land, most of the photography is of birds in flight. As with all birds, the kites tend to fly into the wind so a northerly breeze tends to have them pointing in the wrong direction and away from the hides and the direction of light. When photographing birds in flight the ideal is for light and wind to be in the same direction.  The forecast was for sunny spells and a very cold brisk northerly wind.
We arrived early at opening time at 1pm and made our way down the track to the pre-booked photography hide. There are three specialist photography hides, one at ground level known as the 'Gateway hide' and two tower hides. We were booked in to the ground level one. Feeding time was at 3pm (it changes today to 2pm for the winter months) so we had a couple of hours to wait.
The Kites were  already starting to gather. They really are superb fliers and soar around with very little effort using that broad forked tail as a rudder to make adjustments in direction. As we waited the clear blue skies overhead started to cloud up. We could see in front of us what was coming and in the distance a layer of grey cloud was building rapidly. Sunlight and blue skies were going to be limited.
A few minutes before 3pm and we could hear the engine of the tractor approaching down the track with a trailer of meat to put out for the birds. The birds started descending as soon as the meat was scattered and before the tractor had left the feeding area. We estimated around 250 birds, surely one of the most spectacular raptor sights in the UK. However, during the initial frenzy there tends to be actually just too many birds to photograph. The best actions tends to come later on as the birds have settled down a bit and it becomes easier to target individual birds with the camera.

One of the two unusual leucistic birds that visit the site, soaring past the autumn coloured trees .

In total we had about 20 minutes of sunshine and so tried to make the most of the brief sunny spells. I was keen to try and get some diving photos during this session. Typically the birds will drift over the food before turning in mid-air and plunging to the ground to grab a bit of meat off the ground.

The majority of the Kites looked brilliant with their new feathers, having recently moulted. Another advantage of timing our visit when we did was that some of the surrounding trees were showing their autumn colours providing some really attractive coloured backgrounds to the photographs. I am a big fan of the dorsal view for birds in flight, particularly Red Kites as the show great colours and patterns across their backs and the upper side of the wings.
After 90 minutes it was all over. The birds were still feeding but we had lost the light to the advancing unbroken blanket of cloud. Needless to say it was a very enjoyable session and I will return once more this year when hopefully the conditions with be a bit more favourable.


holdingmoments said...

Superb set Rich.

All my visits to Wales recently, and I've never visited Gigrin. Have to put that right soon.

Noushka said...

Just brilliant!
Those photos are superb and the birds look great indeed!
I hope to see them back where I live this winter!
Cheers Rich!

Kristina said...

Thank you for a inspiring time in your blog! Fantastic pictures!

Linda said...

Oh my! Your photos are remarkable!

joanca bs said...

Wowww very nice shots

Barbara G said...

Witam.., jestem pod wrażeniem tych fot..., gratuluję!!!!!!!!!

Rich Steel said...

Many thanks for your kind words. I am always surprised how few have visited Gigrin as it really is up there with the best wildlife spectacles in the UK.




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