Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Good, Good Day

Every so often you get a day that just ticks all the boxes, and last Saturday was one.

Having been given the day off for good behaviour, I arranged to meet up with Chris Grady in Powys. The county emblem is the Barcud - a red kite - and Chris promised he could show me kites like I had never seen them before.

I've seen a few in my time; spiralling above roads on the Black Isle, or en masse at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader (which is in Powys). Gigrin is worth seeing - the spectacle of dozens of kites, intermingled with buzzards, raven and other corvids, even herons and sparrows coming in to feed on the beef put out for them is a jaw dropper, but it does seem artificial.

Some of the kites have large labels attached,

and although it is fun it is a bit like a trip to a safri park, even though these are wild birds. Go, take your camera and enjoy, but it will leave you wanting something more.
And that was what Chris delivered. Watching a pair of perfectly conditioned red kite soaring, feeding and, to cap it all, mating, was a mesmerising experience. In terms of pictures the range was just a little on the edge for my kit, although if you look on Chris' website - see links - you can see shots that really do the views justice. I get carried away with photographs at times and it does you good to remember the pleasure of just watching birds for their own sake.

I did get some pictures I was happy enough with, especially when one bird had the good grace to perch in a nearby tree.

I tried a few digiscoped shots, but as usual pushed the magnification too hard, and spoilt the optics - never mind, they still give a flavour of what I could see through the scope.

This last one was particularly odd - at first it seemed the male had flown in with some food, but it turned out just to be a talon-full of wool. He fluffed up a few times, then flew swiftly to the nearby female, and without any pleasantries mounted her. Chris has a cracking shot of the act, if you are so inclined!

Later we toured the Elan Valley, where spring was also in the air.

A mix of upland moor that reminded me of picnics from my Scottish childhood,

reservoirs with crows and wagtails

and towering crags,

complete with peregrines we later saw mating - a somewhat aggressive looking affair conducted down on the valley floor. How often do you get to see red kite and peregrine mating on the same day. I told you it was good.
Dave Slater describes how to photograph upland birds on his website:
'One of the best places to photograph these upland birds is along moorland roads with roadside fences. Beanbag on the car window with a close eye on the traffic, a slow roll up to them is often the trick.'
We tried just that, and I did get a nice shot of this meadow pipit, but the stonechat were still very flighty, with males in constant runnning battles for territiory, meaning they rarely settled. Still plenty time later in the year when the wheatear and whinchat will be there as well.

To finish we spotted a pair of goosander on one ofthe rivers, drifting with the current, often with their heads in the water. Nipping ahead we tried for some closer shots but as always they were very nervous, meaning that the best I managed was this shot of the female.

Who cares .......................... it had been a good, good day.

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