Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – A Welsh Day Trip

Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – well I hope I spelled them right (now I’m also worrying that I’ve spelled “spelled” wrong – should it have been spelt?) – or in English, red kites and the Elan Valley for a fantastic day out. We headed over to the Elan Valley first as several friends had recommended it as being well worth a visit. We somewhat underestimated how much was there and only had time to drive around about half of it, but the half we did see was amazing. The Elan & Claerwen valleys have been dammed in 6 places and the result is beautiful reservoirs set in even more beautiful countryside.

Our visit was on a bit of a dreary day weather-wise, but it had the advantage of giving everything a beautiful misty (bordering on foggy) atmosphere.

There was snow on some of the highest peaks, but nothing to hamper our exploration. In places the road was lined by avenues of tall trees, but elsewhere the views were pretty breath taking.

None of the dams were actually flowing on our visit, but hopefully next time we go back they might be. We found a well-kept (and surprisingly empty) bird hide, from which we could just about make out some ducks in the distance – too far away to get decent photos, but just close enough to identify them as a male (bottom) and female (top) goldeneye.

After the dams, we headed back through the small town of Rhayader to go to the Red Kite Feeding Station at Gigrin Farm. We’d pre-booked spaces in their photographic hide and had to be there by 2pm for the feeding. Gigrin Farm have been feeding red kites since the early 1990s. Having started with just a few pairs, they now regularly have over 300 red kites coming to the feeding station. So we were expecting a lot of kites, but have honestly never seen anything quite like it.

As we approached the hides, we spotted a huge white bird in the distance across the field.  Turned out it was a leucistic red kite; leucistic birds are not the same as albinos as they still have pigment in their eyes. Apparently up to 1% of the Welsh red kites are actually white or partially white.

As 2pm drew closer we could see more birds amassing in the surrounding trees. They clearly all knew what time the food was due.

2pm on the dot and a tractor appeared to dish out the meat for the birds. Within seconds the sky was full of swirling kites – literally hundreds of them. Chris took a video just with his phone which gives some idea of the sheer number of birds filling the sky.

Red kite phone video

I then tried to film them as they swooped down to pick up the meat. They are so fast it looks as if the film has been speeded up, which it hasn’t.

Red kites at Gigrin

Initially we thought this was great and we were going to get loads of amazing photos as they were all so close. Then we discovered the problem – there were so many and they moved so fast, it was impossible to focus on just one and get a nice sharp photo. We can now understand why small birds flock together in large numbers to confuse predators; this massive flock of kites had the same effect confusing us photographers. So although we took over 750 photos between us, I don’t think a single one is as crisp and clear as we would have liked. In our defence we weren’t helped by the dull overcast weather and it may have been better on a sunny day.

Having said all of that, it was still an absolutely stunning spectacle. Once we stopped worrying about the photos and just stood back and watched, it was just incredible. We have seen red kites before of course, but never so close up. I hadn’t realised how huge they are; their wingspan is pushing 2 metres!

The numbers swooping down at any one time were incredible.

This next photo looks like it is a composite shot of 4 birds, but is actually 4 in a row, all swooping down and off again one after another.

When viewed in the sky they almost formed an abstract pattern silhouetted against the sky, wings pointing in every conceivable direction.

Their aerial acrobatics were phenomenal, twisting and turning as they dived. They’d scoop up a piece of meat in their talons, then bend over to transfer the prize to their mouths to eat.

Here are a few more photos of them for no other reason other than they are really photogenic birds.

The white kite that we’d seen as we arrived put in several appearances, easy to spot amongst the more usual coloured ones. He/she appeared to have a number tag on his wing, so may be part of some study.

Red kites of course weren’t the only birds of prey making the most of the meaty picnic. We saw several buzzards watching from the trees. Perhaps because they are slightly smaller than the red kites, they are content to wait their turn.

We didn’t see any come down while we were there (although to be honest there may have been some amongst the melee of red kites), but we did see this one glide beautifully into the tree, displaying its gorgeous fan shaped tail.

And of course there were large members of the crow family making the most of the opportunity too. Initially we thought they were all carrion crows, but I think there were a few rooks lurking in there too – distinguishable by their paler beaks and pointier looking heads.

Final treat of the day – a heron flew lazily (in comparison to the kites at least) across the field and landed in a tree.

Hopefully we can go back to see the kites again in the summer when the light should be better and we can perhaps get crisper photos. But in the meantime we’ve got the memories of one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles we’ve ever seen.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 28 – Cruising down the Severn

It’s Day 28 of 30 Days Wild and I tried something totally different today. We have a friend staying, so decided to do one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for the 10 years we’ve been living here. My friend and I took a waterbus from Upton on Severn down to Tewkesbury (and back obviously). The trip is just over an hour each way, with a couple of hours to explore Tewkesbury in the middle.

As usual with any of our trips I set out with certain expectations, some but not all of which came to fruition, but then we saw other things that were total surprises. My friend and I sat at the back of the boat so we could look out for the wildlife. This was when I realised that being too lazy to check your camera bag was not a good thing. I must have still been in insect mode this morning when I packed, so took a macro lens instead of something for far away birds. So apologies for the following set of blurry photos – I could blame the camera, but really it is the numpty who forgot to change the lens.

We’d joked that it would be great to see a kingfisher, but didn’t really expect one. So when my friend said she’d spotted one I thought she was joking! But it was real! So here’s a blurry wrong lens photo from a great distance (since I was so slow to react thinking she was having a laugh).

I could have gone home happy after that, but of course we were on a boat! Fortunately the wildlife kept on coming. Next up was a couple of herons.

Also great to see another member of the heron family – a Little Egret.

The river banks were lined with lots of willows drooping into the water decorously. Really nice to see lots of Yellow Water Lilies in flower along the edges where it was relatively slow flowing.

We also saw some Common Reed Mace when we got to the dock at Tewkesbury. Not sure I’d ever seen them close up like this.

We saw several birds of prey, a kestrel, sparrowhawk and a buzzard; the only one of which I managed to get even a rubbish photo of was the buzzard.

Shock bird of the day was a cuckoo! I’ve heard them before but never seen one, today we saw but didn’t hear it! If only I’d had the right lens on.

The day was completed with lunch in a really old pub in Tewkesbury – nice pie and a ploughmans.

It was a really relaxing way to spend the day, pootling down the River Severn (and up a bit of the River Avon), bit of bird watching and a pub lunch. Shame that most of today’s photos are blurry due to the lens issue, but it didn’t spoil the enjoyment at the time. We weren’t the only ones to enjoy it – my friend’s dog seems to have found her river legs. She was the star of the boat, everyone loved her and why wouldn’t they?

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 6

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_06

I am very lucky in that not only do I work on a farm, but it is an organic farm in an area of beautiful countryside – Upton-on-Severn to be precise. Despite having worked there nearly 5 years now, I’m ashamed to say I’d never actually gone for a walk to explore it. It took Day 6 of 30 Days Wild to get me up from my desk and out with my camera. With hindsight I maybe shouldn’t have picked the hottest day of the year to venture out – I did look a bit like a boiled lobster by the time I got back (much to the amusement of the other staff), but I had a lovely walk. I didn’t get as far as I intended, mainly due to the excessive heat, but I can explore other bits another day – I really should of course get down to the River Severn itself!

We have lovely views at work across the Severn towards the Malvern Hills, which were looking a bit hazy in the heat today.

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As you might expect on an organic farm, the fields and hedgerows are full of wildflowers and insects.

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A lot of the flowers I was familiar with like the Cow Parsley and this Red Campion.

Red Campion

But others were new to me like this Hedge Woundwort and Black Medick – the power of Google and the good people of i-Spot were needed to identify these.

Hedge Woundwort

Black Medick

It was great to see so many bees making the most of the sunshine too. There were lots of different species about, but I only managed to get photos of 3 (what can I say, the bees were very quick and I was very slow in the heat!) The honey bees were fairly easy to identify straight off (famous last words, someone will probably tell me this is something else!)

Honey Bee

The cute little male Early Bumblebee I also managed to ID myself too. I love the second photo of him – I know the bee isn’t in focus, but somehow he’s got attitude as he flies off!

Early Bumblebee male 2

Early Bumblebee male

The final bee is a Grey Patched Mining Bee (Andrena nitida), which I needed the ever helpful Bee and Wasp Facebook group to identify for me.

Andrena nitida Grey patched mining bee

Butterflies were abundant too, although like the bees too fast to get many photos. Pretty sure though I saw Speckled Woods, Brimstones, Painted Lady and some really small Common Blues. I was particularly chuffed with the Common Blues as they’re the first I’ve seen this year. Again apologies for poor photo, I couldn’t get close enough to get a better one.

Common Blue (1)

Although birds were abundant everywhere, the most obvious ones were the large members of the Crow family. Not being very good at bird ID, I snapped some photos with the plan of identifying them when I got home. Turns out I got three for the price of one in this photo. On the right hand side, there appears to be from top to bottom, a Jackdaw, a Carrion Crow and a Rook!

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While I was watching the crows/rooks/jackdaws, a Buzzard flew into the field, much to the annoyance of the other birds. I’m not sure which of the 3 species it was, but several of them chased the Buzzard until it flew off. They were really going for it, although they are clearly much smaller than the Buzzard.

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Finally as I headed back to the office, the Swallows were flying round the farm buildings and swooping over the field. Fortunately a couple of them landed on the roof long enough to get a snap.

Swallows

So Swallows in the farmyard and sunburn all over my face – can only mean summer is here! Really enjoyed my walk out and about on the farm and will definitely try and do it again soon. The farm has hares and foxes too, so maybe I’ll get up early and go for a walk before I start work next time, as more chance of seeing them that way – cooler too hopefully!

Teasel 30 WEEDS

And finally the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – The Teasel. Undoubtedly the largest weed we get in the garden (easily taller than my paltry 5 foot 1!) The teasel has to be one of the best things in the garden for wildlife – the bees love them in the summer and the birds love the seeds through the winter and I love them all year round. They do take up a lot of room though, so perhaps only for serious weed fiends like us at Too Lazy To Weed!