Tag Archives: endangered

Red Kites at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Wales

30 years ago Wales had a mere handful of breeding pairs of Red Kites (Milvus Milvus), a fact that’s hard to believe when you spend the afternoon at Gigrin Farm with a spiralling mass of over 400 (can be less or a lot more depending on the weather and time of year) of these beautiful raptors filling the sky at feeding time.

Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Feeding stations have become an important element in the RSPB’s Red Kite conservation programme and ever since 1992 when Gigrin Farm was first approached, it’s been playing its very important role extremely successfully.

Now a true Welsh tourist attraction, Gigrin Farm is owned and run by Chris and Lena Powell and consists of 200 acres of land starting at 700 feet and rising to 1200 above sea level located in Rhayader in the Wye and Elan valleys in mid-Wales.

Gigrin is also the Red Kite Rehabilitation Centre in conjunction with The Welsh Kite Trust.

Admission to the feeding station for adults costs £5.00, for O.A.P £4.00 and for Children £3.00 (with 4yrs and under allowed in Free)

There are a number of conveniently located hides specifically aimed at photographers and film makers with costs starting at £12pp for ground level (accessible by wheelchair), rising to £22pp for the Big Tower Hide. The Big Tower hide can accomodate 6 photographers with tripods or 8 without, so reserving your spot with Chris Powell in advance is advisable, as it’s very popular.

(Prices correct as of 10 Mar 2014)

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK, Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kites are instantly recognisable in flight with their distinctive forked tails (fanned when diving) and striking colour, which is predominantly chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head. It’s a medium-large bird of prey (females being slightly larger then the males) in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. Vagrant Red Kites have even reached north to Finland and south to Israel, Libya and Gambia.

When the feeding starts there is definitely a pecking order with the older birds going first followed by the younger and then juvenile birds. You’ll witness some spectacular aerial acrobatics with amazing displays of twists, turns, diving and feeding on the wing.

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite twisting and diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite feeding over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Frequent visitors to the station are a pair of White or Leucistic (reduced pigment) Red Kites. Normally at a distinct disadvantage in the wild but they’ve been accepted here by the other raptors.

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Expect to also see Carrion Crows, Ravens, Common Buzzard and Heron as they also frequent the station.

Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Gigrin’s kite feeding – using prime beef – takes place at 2pm GMT or 3pm BST every day.

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Water Voles – Are things looking up for Ratty?

Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding, Kent, England, UK

It was August 2009 when I last photographed European water voles in their natural environment, so when the opportunity came along recently to photograph them again, I jumped at the chance.

When Kenneth Grahame put pen to paper at the turn of the last century to capture the exploits of Ratty, Mole and Toad in The Wind In The Willows, water voles were a regular sight in our country’s streams and waterways.

Driven to the brink of extinction in the 1980s and 1990s from pollution, habitat destruction and predation by the North American mink, the water vole had the unenviable title of the “UK’s fastest declining native animal”.

Water vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding on watercress, Kent, UK

Photo of an adult water vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding on watercress, Kent, UK

With populations having dropped by an incredible 95 percent from the 1960s and conservationists warning of total extinction, plans were put in place to protect this much-loved animal.

With the North American mink seen as the main threat, reserves, local councils and conservationists alike have been controlling mink numbers whilst at the same time creating and improving water vole habitat. There has also been the deployment of a number of successful captive breeding and reintroduction schemes (although disease has hampered efforts). The cumulative result (as well as improved protection under the revised Wildlife and Countryside Act) has seen “Ratty” return with a vengeance to many rivers across the country.

One WWT centre even reported colonies of 2,000 earlier this year when the same spots in 2007 yielded fewer then 10 animals!

Some water vole facts . . .

  • The term  – Ratty – was derived from confusion over similarities with the brown rat (it’s often informally called the Water Rat). However, the water vole is very different and can be distinguished by its blunt nose, neat fur covered ears and a furry tail (and it’s cuter of course!)
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) adult, Kent, UK

Photo of a water vole (Arvicola terrestris) with its distinctive fur covered ears, Kent, UK.

Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris), Kent, England, UK

Photo of a Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) with its distinctive blunt nose, Kent, England, UK

  • On average, water voles live for less then 1 year in the wild, but have been known to live for up to two and half years in captivity.
  • Water voles reach 140–220 millimetres in length (excl tail) and have to eat at least 80% of their body weight (which is 60 – 360gms) a day just to survive.
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris), Kent, England, UK

Photo of a Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris), adults weigh from 160–360 grams, Kent, England, UK

  • Water voles are expert swimmers and divers.
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris), Kent, UK

Photo of a Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris). They are expert swimmers and divers, Kent, UK.

  • They live in, and excavate, complex multi-story burrows often on the banks of rivers and streams, normally located adjacent to slow moving, calm water. The burrows normally contain numerous nesting chambers just in case of flooding as well as a food store for long winters.
Water vole (Arvicola terrestris) Kent, UK

Photo of a water vole (Arvicola terrestris) at a typical stone walled river bank entrance.

Water vole (Arvicola terrestris) Kent, UK

Photo of a young water vole (Arvicola terrestris) eating watercress at its river bank burrow entrance.

  • With several litters possible, water voles can produce up to 30 young in one summer.
Water vole young (Arvicola terrestris) 4-5 weeks old, Kent, UK

Photo of three young water voles (Arvicola terrestris) 4-5 weeks old, Kent, UK

Water voles (Arvicola terrestris) 4-5 weeks old, Kent, UK

Photo of two young water voles (Arvicola terrestris) 4-5 weeks old, Kent, UK

  • Sadly, 70 percent of young water voles die before their first winter, as a result of predation from domestic cats, North American Mink, weasels, foxes, owls, herons, stoats, snakes and more.
  • Despite their cute appearance both male and female water voles are often aggressive if another invades their territory. During fights, often with high-pitched squeals, chunks of fur can be ripped off.
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) squabbling, Kent, England, UK

Photo of two water voles (Arvicola terrestris) squabbling, Kent, England, UK

Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding on watercress, Kent, UK

Male water vole (Arvicola terrestris) with a chunk of fur missing on its left flank. Evidence of some territorial rivalry.

  • Unfortunately, in most of Europe water voles are seen as an agricultural pest, and in some parts of Russia they are killed for their fur.
Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding amongst reeds, Kent, England, UK

Photo of a Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding amongst reeds, Kent, England, UK

The Environmental Agency’s 2010 survey showed new strongholds in Wales, Scotland, Cumbria and the Norfolk Broads and this year saw comebacks at sites in the Midlands, Gloucestershire and North Yorkshire.

So, things do seem to be looking up for “Ratty”, but we mustn’t get complacent, they still need a lot of help. The life of a water vole is an extremely fragile one and no matter how successful the various protection schemes are, I find it hard to imagine that we will ever return to the pre 1960’s population figures of 8 million. But you never know!