Saturday, 3 November 2012

Red Kites at night, birder's delight


350 Red Kites in the air together, in one loose flock, is one hell of a sight. I didn't really want to go along to Gilgrin Farm, a feeding station for the kites at Rhayader in Powys. To me, it smacked of being a zoo, but my wife in particular wanted to go along. I am so glad that we did. Driving northbound along the picturesque A470 (is there a more stunning A-road in the UK?) I started to count the kites once we left Builth Wells. As we approached Rhayader I was staggered to see that the swirling mass of birds gathering over the lower slopes of the eastern hills were all Red Kites - maybe 40 in total. As we parked at the farm there were kites everywhere, 360 degrees of action. They were approaching from all directions of the compass, gathering to take the meat that was due to be put out for them by the farmer. I quickly estimated 150 birds, then recounted, 180. Another scan revealed more streaming in, 200+. magical.

There are hides provided for the close inspection of the birds taking the food, but after a few minutes of sitting in one, full of camera-toting tourists, I left, heading for the hill slope. I wanted to experience these birds in the open and without the constant whirr of camera motors. My wife and daughter Jessica joined me. For the next couple of hours these birds flooded into the valley, the image above showing at least 150 birds. Many swooped low over our heads as we hid in a light strip of woodland, the high mewing of the calling birds a constant presence.

These birds are apparently the truly wild descendents of the Welsh breeding population - I saw my first in March 1978 at Tregaron Bog, not far as the kite flies from where I was standing. As the light started to fade the numbers dwindled, small packs of them heading off, in all directions, to distant roosts. At least 350 birds were on show. If you get the chance, I urge you to visit. More information can be found here.

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