A visit to the Red kites of Gigrin Farm, near Rhyader in WalesGigrin Farm is tucked away in a fold of a valley in Mid-Wales, though not at all difficult to find. (Head for Rhyader and follow the signs.) Gigrin Farm is a working farm that has become synonymous with red kites, but there is a great deal more to see and do than just the kites. Mid-Wales has the widest diversity of birds in southern Britain, and you can see plenty of them on and around Gigrin Farm. Several buzzards have learned that they can get a free meal alongside the kites, and magpies and crows will be there too.
There is a trail around the farm that will easily take an hour, so either try to arrive at least 1 hour 15 minutes before the kite feeding, or leave time afterwards to walk about. (Feeding happens at 14.00 GMT, NB in British summer time that is 3PM, but 2PM the rest of the year.) Like any good sporting event it is good to get into the grandstands 10-15 minutes before kick off to get a decent seat and soak up the atmosphere. The meat being fed to the kites is beef, all fit for human consumption. As much as 1/4 tonne of meat is needed every week, and that is where much of the entrance fee goes.
Details of how to visit Gigrin Farm Red kite feeding station.
500 red kites.
The kites start gathering before the appointed time and numbers build up as the hour approaches. Once you hear the sound of the tractor approaching, there will usually be anything up to 200 kites in summer, and as many as 500 in winter.
Wildlife trail around the farm
The trail leads past the top of the kite feeding station to a rudimentary hide overlooking a small wetland. Thence across a field or two to some high level ponds, where a path branches off to up onto the moorland. You then wind back across a couple of fields and down through a small dingle to the kite feeding hides. There is a badger sett on the farm, and polecats and otters have both been seen recently.
While on the farm, aside from kites and buzzards, you may see birds such as Goshawk, black cap, dipper, hen harriers, redpoll, skylark, kestrel, woodcock, curlew, merlin and many more.
Once the tractor has arrived on site, a large quantity of beef chunks get thrown around the feeding site. The kites are incredibly acrobatic, and their flight pattern has just been revealed by the BBC's super high quality and high speed cameras, which showed previously unseen (they were way too fast for the naked eye) wing movements. The show lasts 20-30 minutes as the kites swoop and squirm down to collect the chunks of beef, or steal it from one of the crows already on the ground. The sky is just full of the birds and it is easy to be blasé, but we shouldn't forget that in the 1960's there were just 30 red kites in the whole of Britain, all resident in Mid Wales.
Once you have had your fill wander up and have an ice-cream and cup of tea from the shop, or have a quick look around the red kite museum/info centre.
Best kite photos
The kites make for some spectacular photography, but the best time to go to get photos is when the ground is covered in snow, providing a huge light reflector and thus lighting the undersides of the kites, which is what you see most of. To this end Gigrin Farm have created a ‘Snow Alert', click here.
Red kite history
Red kite numbers in the UK probably reached an all-time low in the 1930s when the population was less than 20 birds, and most of these were unable to rear young. In fact recent work on kite genetics has suggested that during the low-point only a single female's offspring survived to raise young. Not surprisingly, numbers increased very slowly in the 1940s and 1950s, helped no doubt by the reduction of persecution during the war years, so that by 1960 there were some 30 or so kites resident in Wales.
In about 1970, an immigrant female Red Kite from central Europe joined the Welsh breeding population - detected by genetic research on blood samples taken from Welsh kite chicks - and added a new bloodline. With further protection and invaluable help from the farmers on whose land the kites nested, numbers continued to recover so that by 1993, after experiencing a dramatic increase in breeding success over the preceding 4 or 5 years, the Welsh breeding population exceeded 100 breeding pairs.
In fact the red kites in Mid Wales are now so numerous, that they are being used as a seed population for other reintroduction schemes across the UK and Ireland, and it is possible, and indeed very easy in some places, to see red kites in many places across the country.
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