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Filming kites at Gigrin

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 07:56 UK time, Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The weather was definitely against us as we drove into dark clouds and torrential rain on our way down to Gigrin Farm, so not ideal kite flying weather! Around an hour and half later we arrived at the farm and the skies were beginning to clear.

The farm is fantastic initiative set up by the Powell family who had already developed a nature trail here, but were approached in 1994 by the Kite Country Project with a proposal for a feeding station.

Since then the site has not only grown in kite numbers but also in visitor numbers as more and more people come here to gaze in awe at the hundreds of kites that now visit each day at 3pm on the dot.

simon_kites.jpg

After a quick recce of the hides and deciding where the cameras should be set up, we were good to go. Simon had had a 'crash' course in driving the farm's tractor courtesy of Chris the owner and was also given one of Chris' trademark bushman/cowboy hats.

Change is never good and kites are smart birds so with any luck, a carefully placed hat would keep the birds in blissful ignorance as to who was actually feeding them.

First things first - MEAT.

These birds eat a staggering £60 of meat per day, which is carefully stored in a giant fridge, big enough to park a small family car in. Once loaded, there's enough Aberdeen Angus beef on the tractor trailer to keep a student digs in full bbq mode for at least a week.

To give you an idea of how many birds there were, we spotted around 15 initially. The birds were obviously watching us like hawks, as by the time the meat was loaded, the numbers had already swelled to around 30, 40, 100, then 200...

Apparently in winter time, there can be as many as 500 kites here feeding.

The high speed slo-mo cam was making another appearance and we also recorded the action on two other cameras so the footage will be amazing, with all angles covered.

The tractor drove down and came to a halt in the feeding zone while Simon began to shovel the meat out into three key areas.

meat.jpg

The scene before us was quite staggering - imagine Hitchcock's The Birds and multiply it by 100 and you're gettng close.

If you half closed your eyes, you'd be forgiven for mistaking them for crows following a farmer's newly ploughed field. But these crows were tinged with red and grey and had forked tails, lining up their targets with astonishing accuracy.

Each kite would make a quick fly by before swooping into a high speed vertical drop, corkscrewing at the last second to make minor adjustments before snatching the meat up on the wing and disappearing.

Interestingly, not one kite landed on the ground to devour its dinner. In stark contrast, buzzards, rooks and ravens hopped greedily along the ground, keen to share in the free buffet.

Some of the ravens were enormous, and actually bullied the buzzards for their share of the spoils.

kites.jpg

The kites appeared to have definite feeding cycles with the older, more mature birds feeding first, eventually giving way to the younger birds, further down the pecking order (no pun intended).

Some of these birds have flown from as far afield as Scotland for this event and tagged birds from all over the UK have turned up here in the past, so word has defintely got out about Chris' chicken... it must be his marinade.

How do they know to arrive each day at 3pm? Chris seemed to think it was something to do with the how high the sun was in the sky. If anyone has any other ideas, feel free to leave a comment.

kite.jpg

As the meat supply dwindled, the competition grew more fierce as kite fought kite in aerial combat over the remaining scraps.

Considering how short a normal wild encounter lasts with one of these magnificent creatures, it was lovely to be able to spend some quality time watching so many of them at close quarters in their natural environment.

The only difficulty was knowing which one to watch!

Gull

Links:

Gigrin Farm on BBC Wales Nature
Gigrin Farm
Kite Country Project

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi All, We all went on a day trip to Gigrin farm to see the red kites. What an awesome sight! Weather was a little better for us. Got some nice pics of the birds. Posted a coulple into the flickr group as andi-spen. My boys Stuart and Ewan really enjoyed it and are looking forward to seeing the Spring watch episode with the kites feature. Every one should have a look at this spectacle...

    All the best
    Andrea, Spencer, Stuart and Ewan.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi

    I have paid many visits over many years to Gigrin Farm to see the red kites daily feeding. It has always been a real joy at all times of the year... and to see upwards of 300 being fed at a time. It is really one of nature's phenomenon..

    The project has come on a lot since my ex-wife and I stayed at the farm house on BandB some 20 years plus ago when the original pioneer to our disbelief said he had red kites nesting on his land and was thinking of starting a conservation project ... and as they say.. the rest is history... !!

    I now live in Norfolk.. and altho it is a birdwatchers paradise. and we have marsh harriers.. they are not red kites.. !! Can't wait to go back to Gloucestershire for a visit later this summer.. and an excuse to go back to Gigrin. If you want to finish off a day there in style - pop down the road towards Builth Wells for tea at Llangoed Hall..

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi, I've had the great pleasure of two visits to the farm, both in 2007, and am hoping to go again this summer. It is the most amazing thing to witness. I took lots of photos and a couple of short video clips which have been up on YouTube for a while and have received some nice comments, although they were only very amateur! I am looking forward to seeing this on Springwatch, and can't wait to see Simon doing the feeding. Jan

  • Comment number 4.

    I spend a long holiday each year in my touring caravan at Llanidloes, approx. 15 miles from Gigrin, and visit from time to time. Whenever I have visited, they have fed beef fit for human consumption. Is the change to chicken economical or is there some other reason.

  • Comment number 5.

    I haven't been to Gigrin but have visited other feeding sites in Wales. It is a fantastic spectacle watching so many of these marvellous birds. Not only do they know when to gather but sink and circle lower and lower as the time for feeding approaches. I do have a concern however. By feeding them in this way are we altering their behaviour such that they no longer have the need to forage and hunt for food as they would do if they weren't fed? Or is the amount given so comparatively small compared to their total requirement that it makes no difference?

  • Comment number 6.

    Recently our small primary school (about 10 miles from Lake Vyrnwy) in Mid Wales, visited Gigrin Farm. We are a Green Flag Eco School and we have a fantastic nature and bird feeding area within the school grounds. The children have become really interested in their study of the birds of Wales. They were in awe during their visit and have never been so quiet for so long. The staff were very moved by the tears of joy falling down a seven year old little girl's cheeks as she exclaimed, "this is the best day of my life, it's like there are angels coming down from heaven". A visit to Gigrin is a truly wonderful day and every visit will bring new pleasures.

  • Comment number 7.

    I first went to Gilgrin Farm on my honeymoon two years ago! We married at Elan Valley just up the road. Gilgrin was an exceptional highlight of the holiday and I managed to get amazing photos and some film footage. What struck me was the noise, not only the cries from the different birds but the sound of the wings beating. It was amazing and a must for anyone.

  • Comment number 8.

    I would love to know the name of the beautiful music that Simon chose to play during the slow motion clip of the red kites which I saw in episode 5 of Springwatch.thankyou

  • Comment number 9.

    Myself and a friend stayed on Gigrin Farm for a week and left a few days before the film crew came in to do their first shoot. I nearly called in sick to work so I could stay and watch :)

    It's an amazing site. I strongly recommend putting down your camera or binoculars to just sit back and absorb the sight.

    There's loads in the area too. The site where Simon spent most of his time by the lake is only a few miles out of Rhayader. Even in bad weather (like it was for us) it's worth checking out.

    Well done to Chris, the family and the helpers on site. They're make everyone feel welcome and are happy to advise.

    I can't wait to return in the Autumn to get more of this: http://www.aidanfinnphoto.com/photo_3930798.html

  • Comment number 10.

    Can't help feeling that the sightings I get over my house here in Rutland of a lone red kite are far superior to the false groupings you get in Wales. In Rutland we have a healthy breeding pair who regularly grace our skies here. I love this bird - it is so magical to see in the sky.

  • Comment number 11.

    Whilst the Gigrin Farm kite feeding site is good for seeing Red Kites enmass, I think a mush better location is the excellent Forestry Commsion visitor centre Bwlch Nant yr Adrian about 10miles out of Aberystwyth on the A44. Well worth the extra 3/4 hours drive beyond the Gigrin Farm site at Rhayader. There you can get up close and personal with the kites as they ghost in across the crest from a deep valley to the west, passing across the veiw point next to the car park at head height. Often crossing and recossing several times , just to make sure you have got a really big eyefull! The birds begin to drift in from about 2 o'clock and soar above the lake waiting for their 3 o'clock feed. Several dozen birds are in sight by then. I have been several times and always had a good display.
    The other good thing about this location is its free (except for the car park), there there are good trails and interpretive material, children's facilities and a good quality visitor centre with cafe. It has a website -- www.forestry.gov.uk/bwlchnantyrarian.
    Well worth a visit. Pity it's too late for the springwatch team to include it.

 

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