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 8

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_08Day 8 and I’m still ploughing my way through the IDs from the weekend’s bioblitz – maybe shouldn’t have taken quite so many photos! But it’s all good and discovering some new species for the garden list. It being Wednesday though, I dragged myself from the computer and headed over to take my Dad out for our weekly pub lunch – no hardship there!

Dad by riverAs it was a lovely hot day we decided to head to one of our favourite pubs The Riverside at Aymestrey in North Herefordshire – the pub is by the river Lugg and you can sit outside right next to it for your lunch. Today they had Herefordshire snails on the menu, so I went for those (with a big pile of chips of course!), while Dad went for some smoked salmon.

It is a fantastic spot and we go there quite often in the summer to watch the dragonflies, butterflies and once a kingfisher that darted down the river under the bridge and away. Sadly today all you get is a photo of the bridge!

River

The little river has fish and lots of insects, which in turn attract plenty of birds. Today we saw nuthatches and yellow wagtails, plus lots of sparrows chirping non-stop. Today’s real prize was the Beautiful Demoiselles. Having chased them around for ages on Sunday at Knapp & Papermill reserve, here they were landing within feet of me, while I tucked happily into my snails. Not only that but there were mating pairs (the Demoiselles, not my snails!)

Beautiful Demoiselles Aymestrey

Feeling full and happy after lunch, I took Dad home, then decided to stretch my legs to work off those snails! I headed to Bodenham Lakes, which are about a mile from where I grew up, but once again I’m ashamed to say this is somewhere I’d never visited. Funny how you often don’t visit the things that are on your own doorstep! That’s one of the great things I’m finding about 30 Days Wild, that it’s getting me to do some of these things – finally!

Lake

Bodenham Lakes are actually old gravel pits that have been flooded and are now managed by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. They are apparently very good for bird spotting and even have otters – not that I saw any of those today. I did though hear my first cuckoo not only of the year, but probably the first one I’d heard for about 30 years! I then managed to find the bird hide which has splendid views, in this case of the Canada Geese.

Geese

The meadows by the lake were full of flowers including these beautiful Common Spotted Orchids and the whole place was buzzing with bees, most notably these Red Tailed Bumblebees.

Orchid

Red tailed Bumblebee

But the stars for me today of Bodenham Lakes were the damselflies and demoiselles. They were everywhere! It felt like I could hardly take a step without disturbing them – I kept seeing flashes of blue all around me. As at Aymestrey there were even mating pairs. I thought all of these below were Common Blue Damselflies, but I’ve already found out from the very helpful people on iSpot that the bottom ones are Blue-tailed Damselflies instead!

Common Blue Damselfly

Mating Damselflies 2

Mating Damselflies 1

Not only damselflies, but I also saw Banded Demoiselles (thereby completing the set of Demoiselles in one day – I think there are only 2 species – Beautiful and Banded). Didn’t manage to get a brilliant photo – I need to drag Chris back to Bodenham with his steadier hand for photography, but hopefully it is at least recognisable.

Banded Demoiselle

There weren’t that many butterflies around today, although I did see another Painted Lady, some speckled woods, what can only be described as a “brown one” and some Common Blues. The Common Blues were flighty as ever, but I did pursue one long enough to get this just about identifiable shot.

Common Blue Butterfly

So all in all a particularly good day today. I shall definitely be heading back to Bodenham Lakes soon and also no doubt back to the pub too!

 

Ladys MantleAnd finally as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Weeds from our garden – Lady’s Mantle. I like the subtlety of this gentle looking plant. I love the soft wavy pleated leaves, especially the way they catch droplets of water like this. They provide lots of ground cover and are quite happy in the shade as well as in sunnier spots, so suit pretty much any garden. Time to give room to less showy plants like Lady’s Mantle!