Monday, November 11, 2013

Prime Time Kites

I remember a couple of years back, after visiting the Red Kite feeding station at Gigrin Farm in August when all the birds were in moult and looking fairly tatty, calling to ask when was the best time visit to catch the birds looking at their best.  The answer came back as November when the birds have their fresh set of post moult feathers. The other good feature about visiting in November is that you can get some autumnal colours in the backdrop from the trees along the right hand side of the feeding area.
So with it being that very month a visit was due and I headed into the middle of Wales with some good weather  in prospect.

A visit to Gigrin is always a wonderful experience not just to see the spectacle of so many wild birds of prey congregated but as a photographer you also know that you are virtually guaranteed a few images. Red kites rarely land and tend to swoop down to grab the free offerings from the ground and therefore nearly all the photography is of birds in flight. Therefore for any visit weather is key and the need for some good light to get enough shutter speed to freeze the action and also preferably with a blue sky. The red hues of the kites are certainly set off well against a blue backdrop.

For those of you who have not visited Gigrin, firstly you should and secondly for photographers there are three specially built hides to chose from. A ground level hide, a mid-level hide and a tower hide. On my previous visits I have always used the ground level one but realised the advantage offered by the tower for capturing those photographs of the birds twisting in flight before plunging towards the ground.

As I climbed the stairs of the tower, the Red Kites could be seen to be gathering in the air above, together with Buzzards and an onlooking of audience of Rooks, Ravens and Crows in the trees on the right hand side of the field. The stage was set. Nothing can really prepare you for what happens when the free feed is scattered around the field. In fact it is often better just to watch and take in the spectacle as there is just too much going on for  photography as a couple of hundred kite swirl in front of you and plunge dive towards the field. The photography becomes easier once the initial feeding frenzy subsides and lower numbers of birds pick off the remaining offering at a slightly more leisurely pace.

I had two particular photographs that I was looking for the dorsal view of the bird (as above) and the turn and diving photos. The latter being the more tricky of the two due to the speed of the action. I was also keen to take some better photographs than my previous visit of the 'ghostly' form of the leucistic red kite. I always find the best approach is just to pick out a particular bird that looks interested in making a dive and following round with the lens. Often as the action is fairly intense you tend not to know what is on the memory card until you get home and download the images, expect for the occasional image checked for exposure during the session. The are always some nice surprises when you arrive home.

Red Kites are such masters of the air, gliding in and making adjustments to their flight with subtle twists of the large forked tail.
The kites performed beautifully,  the low autumn sun shone, the wind was even in the right direction for once and the leucistic kite put in several appearances. Interestingly the plumage on this bird did not appear as pristine as the normal coloured birds. (Please note that this particular bird has two plastic wing tags (No.51) which I have removed in Photoshop for aesthetic purposes. It seems a shame that the appearance of this unusually beautiful bird has been spoilt by these tags).

Overall it was another very memorable couple of hours at Gigrin and no doubt will not be last visit. If you have not visited yet then I urge you to do so to soak up one of the most amazing avian spectacles of the UK.


The happy wanderer. said...

It certainly sounds like a great place for photography, and you have some very pleasing images to show for it. Thanks for sharing them

JR said...

Amazing set of pictures.
The 4th is simply superb.

Rich Steel said...

Many thanks. Gigrin is a great place for photography as you know you will always come away with something on the memory card. Good weather obviously helps a lot during a visit.




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