Monday, 21 March 2016

Gigrin, Revisited With Friends

Mid-Wales is a great spot for wildlife and I frequently head out there, usually from Spring until the migrants, such as the flycatchers, whinchats and redstarts head off south again late Summer. It is also of course, one of the very best places to see red kites mainly on account of Gigrin Farm's feeding station.

I have to admit to being guilty in recent years of driving past the farm to focus on the other wildlife in the area, believing I'd been there, done that. But when my friends from Inverness (Andy and Lyndsey Howard) were down south and had a day free, I offered to take them there as it is one of the best sights in wildlife in the whole of the UK. And while there is a red kite feeding station near Inverness, the numbers of birds are minute compared to those in Wales.

With no rush to get there, we slowly followed the winding A-roads to mid-Wales taking in the pretty scenery along the route. Both Andy and Lyndsey were getting increasingly excited as they saw more and more of the kites the closer we got to Rhayader. With one of the specialist hides booked, we arrived at the initial opening time, grabbed a bite to eat and then made the short walk from the farm to the Tower Hide, which overlooks the majority of the other hides there.

The open-fronted hide allows photographers to stand with tripods to try to track the birds as they come in, and as before, as soon as the tractor trundled into view, the kites that had amassed overhead, started to drop from the sky in a hurried, high-speed frenzy. I had suggested that it was best to watch the kites at the first instance, and then as the mass starts to thin out, try for shots of the individual birds.

Having never seen such a sight, Andy had grabbed his wide-angle lens and captured images of the sky filled with the birds. I just stood there wondering what on earth I was thinking in past trips, to ignore such a place, and the photo opportunities it provides. Speaking of which, I had decided before going, to try for shots where the top-side of the bird was showing, as the feather patterns and colours are so very rich.
Shooting with the 1DX and straight 500mm, I soon got in tune with the birds, though the easterly wind direction didn't help us, with the birds taking the food whilst flying away from us.

Regardless, as they circled, twisted and then dived for the food, they were possible to isolate and capture.

The trees, fields and hills behind also made for a lovely backdrop to the images, instead of just the sky.

With clear skies and bright sunshine, the settings needed to get sharp images of the kites in flight were easy to obtain, and at ISO 800, the lack of noise from the shots from the 1DX meant details in the shadows could be brought out, post-processing, without fear of any grain being introduced. As with previous visits, I found the expanded centre focus point the best for picking up the birds, and tracking them.

As if the sight of the kites hurtling down in their hundreds wasn't mad enough, we found ourselves giggling at the audacity of a pair of domestic cats, who ignored the diving raptors to carry off pieces of the beef for themselves, looking most pleased as they did so. And to add to the spectacle, the farm's peacocks strode in for a walk around, with one bird choosing to stroll along the tops of the hides, strutting right past us! It was all rather surreal and amusing.

Both buzzards and corvids joined in the feeding session, with the latter ensuring any scraps were picked off before the remaining kites had chance to swoop. There didn't seem to be as many ravens around as I remembered, with the majority being carrion crows and rooks. Lyndsey was still fascinated by the magpies though, as they're not around Inverness-shire.

With the beef all taken, we repacked the car, swapped the telephoto lenses for those suitable for scenes, and went for a tour of the Elan Valley. It was beautiful on such a clear, bright sunny afternoon, and Lyndsey did her best to capture the many views along the way.

Then it was back home, calling into a garage along the way so Andy could get his fix of icecream! A fantastic day out with friends, enjoying both wonderful scenery and wildlife, and a good reminder to me that I should never overlook places like Gigrin ever again.

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