I have just returned from a very enjoyable trip to South & Mid Wales, primarily to see family but with some birding thrown in for good measure!
On Thursday 21st January, Mum's feeder hosted a range of birds including a couple of Marsh Tits which regularly perched on the fence before using the feeders. Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit and 3 dominant Great Tit would also use these feeders. A female Sparrowhawk flashed by, scaring all the small birds & she perched in the trees at the back for a while before flying off. A Treecreeper scurried up the branch of a nearby tree. A Jay briefly visited feeding on the ground.
3 Blackbird, a male and 2 females were seeing off a lot of birds, like a playground bully seeing off Robin & Dunnock.
The walk down the hill to Llanddarog stream was initially very disappointing . But by the first stream I heard a harsh "Tit-like" call followed by "tear tear tear". Raising my bins I saw a black- capped very white-cheeked & bull-necked Tit with an extensive white panel on the wing, an excellent Willow Tit. It was perched in a bush but quickly flew off. Meanwhile a Treecreeper crept at the back of a bush, whilst a Buzzard flew overhead. Walking back past the road to the return uphill route past the bridge, a 100 Redwing flew out of a tree and over fields perching in other trees whilst a Buzzard also flew by.
On Friday 22nd January, as I walked down the hill I heard the chattering of a Nuthatch from the wood to the right. By the Bridges past LLanddarog stream, a Dipper flew west overhead calling a harsh"tszchik" call. It later flew east over the bridge and past me showing its bi-coloured white-brown underparts.
A rasping call from the dead weeds by the bridge, revealed an excellent Lesser Redpoll that flew up to a large bush where it perched briefly before flying off. A Raven flew east in the distance.
It took 1 1/2 hours to travel to the mid Wales site of Gigrin Farm, a Red Kite feeding station, with several very steep hills (10% gradient or more!) negotiated on the journey! Turning off, through a farm and paying the princely sum of £15 for a spot for the best photography spot from the Tower Hide, I walked over to the hides, 3 in a semi-circle and one raised up by around 30 foot, the aforementioned Tower Hide. I joined 2 other birder/ photographers and we overlooked a few fields bordered by large trees at the back. Just after 2 pm the tractor chugged over the field cuts of meat were shovelled out onto the field right in front of us. Initially it took some time for the raptors to take the bait, Red Kites were perched in trees at the back including a very white looking leucistic individual, a White Red Kite no less! Leucism stops the normal colouration of the pigmentation of the feathers, in this case the red feathers were mostly white. First up were 5 Buzzard, which flew down and started eating their afternoon meal. no sooner had they done so, when the Kites, eventually up to 200 Red Kites wheeled and circled overhead and they dived down to scoop up individual cuts of meat without landing.
I spotted the bird I had travelled to see, that resembled a Black- eared Kite. The Asiatic form of the ubiquitous Black Kite widespread on the continent. It was a slightly, smaller and darker more compact bird with more wedge shaped rather than forked tail, compared with the Red Kite. Its pale head contrasted with a chocolate brown area around the eye. It had pale cream tipped wing coverts proving it was an immature bird. It flew around for a while circling before snatching some meat. Fortunately, after 20 minutes it returned and this time with much better lighting, the cloudy skies having been lifted and being replaced by sunshine which lit the wheeling Red and Black Kites beautifully. The Black Kite scooped up some more meat and flew off once more. My attention switched to the Red Kites and several soared right over the Tower Hide! The Kites had several feeding spurts, during the hour and a half observation, I witnessed 3 such spurts when the gathered and circled over the field for some 10-15 minutes before most disappeared until the process was repeated some 15-20 minutes later!
A Raven, Rook and Grey Heron was also seen in the field.
Finally I met the owner of the Farm and he said when they first started feeding the Kites in the early 1980's they were only attracting 6 Red Kites! Now with around 200 present they have put out every day (365 days a year) a grand total of 80 kilo's weight of meat costing 60p a kilo therefore costing £48 daily, taken in that context the £15 charge doesn't seem quite so steep!
I was very pleased with the pictures I obtained of the Black Kite (see above.)
UPDATE 5/2/10 Dick Forsmann, a world authority on raptors; has seen the pictures and has pronounced the Kite cannot be a Black- eared Kite and is therefore a Black Kite, because the white "windows" by the carpal joints on the underwing are too small and not large enough for Black- eared Kite.
On Saturday 23rd January, during the local Llanddarog walk I heard several Redwings calling in the wood opposite Mum's house, one Redwing was seen perched in a tree. By the first bridge a Nuthatch fed at the base of a nearby tree near the river. A Buzzard was heard mewing too.
A very pleasant walk with the family along the Sustrans cycle track near Llannon revealed a Marsh Tit and Robin by the bird table and a Dipper flying away down a distant stream on the right.
My final walk down the hill on Sunday 24th January revealed a marvelous Red Fox in the field to right, which trotted along the field and briefly turned around to look at me! Carrying along the Llanddarog stream, it finally revealed 2 excellent Dipper feeding at the point where the stream diverted away from the road. 2 further Dipper seen at the Bridges, one right underneath the Bridge that sadly flew on approach and another singing Dipper that could not be seen and that also flew. By the trees and bushes by the second bridge, 2 calling Willow Tits were seen again and were photographed.
Back at Mum's feeders, the 2 Marsh Tits were joined by a feeding immature male Reed Bunting on the deck, brief visits by the Jay again and overflying Mistle Thrush, Redwings and Long-tailed Tits