What a strange experience you get when you visit Gigrin Farm, a Red Kite feeding station in the Welsh Hills. Hundreds of them swirling overhead, hundreds of Kite, a bird which a sighting of a single specimen would set the heart pumping anywhere else. We get occasional glimpses of one passing over our heads when gardening and we regularly see an odd one or two as we drive around Shropshire. There are now signs that they are breeding in our county, but until recently we had to travel into the hills of mid-Wales to enjoy them.
When our children were young, a few decades ago now, we would drive for a few hours into the hill country of Mid-Wales, along a pretty inaccessible road into a valley where we knew we could find the Red Kite. Half a dozen were beginning to get established there and we revelled in watching them soaring in the thermals on the steep hillsides and feeding on the slopes. They came back from the brink, a handful of individuals, to a healthy and spreading population in the hundreds.
Visit the feeding station at Gilgrin, where the farmer feeds beef from the back of his tractor, and you will be able to watch them feed right in front of the hides. they are fed at the same time each day and know when that is. Travelling for miles to get here they stack up in the thermals on warm days or sit in trees and hedges and even on the ground in anticipation.
There is a definite hierarchy with the oldest birds coming in first as the others wait their turn in the pecking order. The youngest and most inexperienced wait patiently for three quarters of an hour or so for their food.
Buzzards come too, but they seem wiser. As the kite expend energy diving and swooping for a morsel of meat, never landing to grasp it in their talons, the Buzzards settle themselves on the grass amongst the meat and feed effortlessly, taking no notice whatsoever of the melee of feeding Kite around them. The odd Raven, Magpie, Crow and Jackdaw also grab an opportunistic lunch.
In flight above the feeding ground the colous of the Kites’ plumage becomes apparent, rich russets, browns, fawns and black. We were treated to a sight of an all-white individual.
With such close views we appreciated the graceful nature of their flight, we watch as wings and tails curled and constantly re-shaped themselves to aid manoevrability. They appeared to have fingers to give the finesse needed when flying in such large groups.