With family visiting from England last week and glorious weather forecast it was the perfect time to take a visit to a place that has been on my bucket list for some time now, Gigrin Farm famous for it’s spectacular gatherings of Wales’ iconic bird, the red kite.
Gigrin farm was first established as a feeding station for the then critically endangered red kite back in 1993 when there were just 6 birds visiting the farm and only a small, fragile population clinging to survival across the UK after decades of persecution.
With the help of various reintroduction programs, supplementary feeding and other conservation efforts the red kite is now slowly recovering, and Wales is a particular stronghold for these magnificent birds with around 800 breeding pairs recorded. Gigrin farm now supports a population of between 300 and 600 kites depending on the time of year and availability of natural food.
Whilst we do have another, smaller feeding station closer to home at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, views are somewhat limited from across the lake to the small island where these birds are fed and although there access to a hide, it makes for very restricted (and rather uncomfortable) viewing. Gigrin Farm however offers an unrivalled experience of these magnificent birds feeding up close thanks to it’s specialist viewing hides. Our visit certainly didn’t disappoint!
Arriving shortly before 3pm when the feeding was due to take place, we settled down inside the hides overlooking the field and waited for the action to begin. I had booked in to one of the dedicated photography hides to get the most from the experience however even the general public hides provided a thrilling view of the feeding area.
As the tractor laden with offcuts of beef from the local butcher trundled into the field, kites gather in increasing numbers in the skies above and in the distant tree line, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their afternoon buffet. Some of these red kites may travel from as far as 40 miles away to take advantage of this supplementary feeding.
Despite their impressive size the red kite is not a powerful hunter. The majority of it’s diet consists of scavenged carrion and surprisingly earthworms, although they will occasionally catch small mammals such as mice and rabbits.
As the meat is scattered throughout the field the kites at Gigrin begin a spectacular aerial display circling closer to the feeding ground, uttering their distinctive whistling calls to establish their pecking order before feeding.
Occasionally a couple of birds will engage in a brief scuffle in flight, twisting and turning to avoid a collision or a strike from another’s talons. Assisted by their distinctive forked tail, the red kite is extremely manoeuvrable, able to change direction rapidly and perform impressive acrobatics in the sky.
Once one bird makes a break and dives for the food, the rest soon follow and soon kites are falling from the sky like rain!
Wings tucked close to the body, they hurtle towards the ground before pulling up just in time to avoid a crash landing, extending their talons to seize a piece of food before sweeping back up into the air.
The dive itself is thrilling to watch but far from easy to capture on camera as it occurs with very little warning and it is tricky to pick out an individual among the hundreds of birds and avoid missing that crucial moment. My reactions and focusing skills just aren’t speedy enough and most of my attempts fell short, although I did at least get one reasonable shot.
Unlike many other birds of prey, the red kite rarely lands on the ground to feed, preferred to eat their catches in safety on the wing. Food is gripped in the talons with pieces torn off and swallowed whole whilst the kite is still in flight. Fortunately this behaviour was somewhat easier to capture, but no less rewarding and resulting in some of my favourite images of the day.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing these birds of prey up close, hearing the rustle of wing feathers and clack of talons as the kites slowly clear the field of the meat scraps.
As they grow in confidence the red kites fly closer and closer to the viewing hides, often passing just meters away, so close you can see the glint in their piercing yellow eyes and every detail of their beautiful russet feathers. Simply breathtaking!
To read more about this fascinating place visit www.gigrin.uk
All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2021
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