I’ve got a few days away enjoying the beautiful Herefordshire and Brecon Beacons countryside. Flipping through the usual “things to do” I stumbled across something I’ve always wanted to see – one of the Welsh red kite feeding stations.
Bird watching tends to be a minority sport. I remember being taken to Titchwell RSPB when I was in my pre-teen years and seeing absolutely nothing. I took a few wonky distant photographs of lapwings with my Instamatic. I hindsight I don’t even remember looking at the scrapes or going in a hide; instead spending my time looking at miles of empty salt marsh.
In my much later years I found an interest in bird watching as a pastime: a great place to spend some peaceful time absolutely anywhere and to see things in close up detail which happen all around us. It gave me an understanding of seasons, migration, the food chain, the pecking order, the importance of habitats as well as some rudimentary identification skills that slowly become intuitive and even predictive. There are very few hobbies that you can do in your own back yard and carry out in exactly the same format around the world.
I wish there had been red kite feeding stations back in my younger days – a spectacle to enthuse the young mind rather than a bird watching trip. Over the years I have seen some similar sights – the Minsmere scrape in full summer breeding, high tides with armies of waders shuffling up the beach, skies full of hobbies, smelly and screeching cliffs with auks and gannets, and close up views of hundreds of nesting gulls.
And so to Mid-Wales on a beautiful spring day. The site is surrounded by beautiful countryside but the small Paddock is easy to find by scanning the skies. it looks like Heathrow on a busy day. The sound of lambs is all around and the skies full of waiting Kites and corvids. Minute by minute they ease their way closer along with an accompanying audience of magpies, buzzards and wagtails. The kites call to each other with that extended two-syllable screech. As soon as the farmer appears with his bucket of abattoir remnants the atmosphere changes. The air is full of around 50 wheeling kites like some WW1 dogfight. I’ve seen lots of red kites before but here you can hear the rustle of their wings and hear the crunch as they land in a wire fence as they misjudge an approach. They swoop to pick up scraps of meat like swallows skimming for mayfly with a one in three hit rate. Even if they are successful there are then wild chases as others try to steal. When the kites retire the corvids move in, much more relaxed. The buzzards land and walk over to the debris and pick away at it calmly, ignoring the odd harassing attack. Even blue tits land on some meat and tear pieces off. 30 minutes later there are still scraps to be had.
£3 admission for the greatest show on a grey Friday afternoon. And an excellent coffee and Bara brith in the Red Kite Cafe.