11 Jun 2013

A Visit to Gigrin Farm in Wales

Red Kite

It seems at present the main excuse to go over to Britain is birthday parties and last weekend was no exception. We headed over to a 50th birthday party in Wales. Arriving late on the friday night we then woke up to an incredibly bright and sunny saturday morning in the Welsh borders. Our hosts have a twenty acre farm with about 5 acres of which is deciduous woodland. So my first thing to do was take a walk round the farm. There were Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff singing everywhere with the occasional Blackcap. In the woods there was the chip chip of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and its very noisy young calling from a nest. I saw my first Grass Snake in the wild just lying in the sun on one of the paths running through the woods.
Grass Snake
Walking round the fields I came across a beautiful male Redstart which was too far to photograph properly. I mentioned the bird to other people who were camping in the fields and they told me both the male and female had been feeding young nearby. It was an idyllic day and a great party with pig roast in the garden. I sat most of the day drinking Tawny Owl Perry from the local cider mill

watching House Martin coming to their nests.

The following morning we said our good byes, we were sad to hear that our friends were selling the house: so if you want a small holding in Wales the details are here , and headed on an hour and a half drive to Rhyader in central Wales where Gigrin Farm is situated. Gigrin Farm is The Red Kite Feeding and Rehabilitation Centre.
Gigrin Farm

Gigrin Farm

It became a feeding centre about twenty years ago when the Kites used to roost at Gigrin in the winter. At first there were about twelve kites that used it whereas in the very cold winter spell a couple of years ago as many as 600 birds came to the site.
Track to the Hides at Gigrin Farm

Just before you get to Rhyader you turn up a track past a small hotel to the farm itself on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below. They feed the birds at 2pm in the winter and 3pm in the summer. We arrived about an hour early and bought tickets to one of the photography hides. At this point there were quite a few Red Kites in the air and in trees around the feeding site. We made our way down the track above to the hides.
The Hides at Gigrin Farm

The photographer hides are open and are elevated and you look out on to the feeding area.
Feeding Ground Gigrin Farm

As we are sitting waiting in the open hide a female Redstart lands on the corner of the hide less than three feet from me.
Female Redstart

Redstart with grub

She then flies up to her nest in the corner of the hide.
Redstart at Nest at Gigrin Farm Hide

Amazing to be so close.

At 3pm a tractor comes into the feeding area and the farmer forks the meat out of the link box onto the site. By this time there are 100- 200 Red Kites in the air along with a few buzzards.
Red Kite

Red Kite

Red Kite and Buzzard


The Kites swoop down and grab the meat whereas the Buzzards just land and gorge themselves. The noise is amazing. It is an extraordinary sight. There is even a leucistic kite amongst them.
Leucistic Red Kite

Forty minutes later and it is all over with most birds having disappeared and only a few remaining. But what an afternoon.
Red Kite diving

10 Jun 2013

A 21st Birthday and A Few Days Birding in Scotland

Black Grouse
It was Charlie my youngest son's 21st Birthday. As he was just about to start his exams he didn't want a big party so Penny and I headed over to Edinburgh to take him out to dinner with his girlfriend Jess, elder brother Jeremy and Tyrella his aunt. We had a lovely evening at a restaurant I would highly recommend called Bia Bistrot. After dinner we took him to a bar where about twenty of his friends had gathered unbeknown to him for a few drinks.

The following day with slightly sore head I headed up to Dalguise near Pitlochry to stay with my sister.
On arrival I noticed her nyjer seed feeder was being besieged by Siskins. I counted as many as eighteen queuing up to use the feeder. I love Siskins such a small and beautifully coloured bird. I see them rarely on my own feeders so the ability to sit and listen and watch them fighting over the seed was a real treat.

Male Siskin

Male Siskin
Male Siskin
Female Siskin

As I entered the house I noticed a Chaffinch collecting feathers to line a nest it had made in the cotoneaster right beside the front door.
Female Chaffinch with nesting material
We decided before supper to head down to the Loch of the Lowes to see the Ospreys. As we were driving over the River Tay into Dunkeld there was an Osprey fishing right beside the bridge.
I am a great fan of the Scottish Wildlife Trust's reserve at the Loch of the Lowes with their star attraction being the pair of breeding Ospreys. They have great hides where you can look over to the nest site. When we arrived one was already on the nest and the other was just coming in with nest material. At this point she had laid four eggs. There are very good webcams both in the hides and in the visitor centre.
Breeding Osprey at Loch of the Lowes

The following morning I looked out of the kitchen window and there was Red Squirrel on the feeders.

 We then headed off to see if we could find any Black Grouse which would be a lifer for me. I have tried on a few occasions but to no avail. My sister rang the local gamekeeper to see if he knew of any good lekking sites. He rang another keeper and we headed off up the A9 to see what we could find. We found this track and headed for miles deep into the countryside. There were Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Hares and Deer but no Black Grouse. When we had run out of likely habitat for the Black Grouse we headed back and as we were driving along I caught a glimpse out of the side of my eye of a bird dropping to the ground and at first thought was it a Kestrel. I got out of the car and headed towards where I thought I had seen it when a female Hen Harrier flew up. It made my day to see a Hen Harrier on a Scottish estate.
Hen Harrier
Scottish Estate

We continued on our hunt, at one point passing a Red Grouse calling but not from a very photogenic perch,
Red Grouse

to various lekking sites where my sister had seen birds previously. It wasn't until the last place only about 14 miles from my sister's house that we saw a couple of birds a hundred yards off the roadside. 
I was able to get a few shots of them. What fabulous birds.
Black Grouse

I went back to my sister's house on a high. The following morning I went up the hill behind her house in the hope of finding a Capercaillie but to no avail. There were however lots of Tree Pipits around
Tree pipit

Tree Pipit

Displaying Tree Pipit