The Nikon/Chris Gomersall-organised trip to Gigrin Farm in Wales to give six photographers an excellent opportunity to photograph red kite and benefit from the experiences of a true professional wildlife photographer, now seems like a distant memory, due to my family helping to de-clutter the place and create a new bathroom in our house has kept me more than a little busy since that time, and all I did mange very quickly was to mention the day prior to the official day and put up a selection of images without too much culling from that afternoon and evening.
I am now hoping to devote some time to process the following days’ images and write a description of the day, before so much time passes that my memory fails to put together a meaningful narrative. A break has occurred whilst the paint I had applied earlier on the bathroom door and skirting is drying…
The evening of Monday was spent in the nearby Brynafon Hotel, a former workhouse where Chris and I joined one of the following day’s fellow delegates, Daan and his wife for a splendid dinner – I was very impressed by my choice of lamb chops; it is many years since I have seen what I remembered as full-size chops, and my plate was graced with three, and beautifully tasty they were too! There was no good reason to order a sweet as my appetite was sated, so we got engrossed in conversation with these two fascinating South Africans, and sharing reminiscences that we learned would qualify us in SA as the ‘WhenWes’ - conversations between elder adults who would preface stories with the opening: “When we…” That evening was a great success and rounded off a full and long day.
Breakfast the following morning found me catching up on emails courtesy of the WiFi available in the small lounge, before spotting Chris head for the dining area, I joined him and we sat down and were soon offered the choices of cooked food before we selected cereals and tea or coffee. We did not linger, but soon parted for our rooms to gather our gear for the short trip to Gigrin Farm where we began setting the stable area for Chris’ presentation. Although we were somewhat later than scheduled, we waited for everyone to arrive and chatted amongst ourselves with the earliest arrivals and helped Chris to get his laptop and screen up and running. With everyone present Chris got each one of us to introduce ourselves and tell the others something of our work and interests with Chris apologising that there was a Canon user (myself) amongst us; fortunately everyone seemed to be camera system agnostic and my experience of testing Lightroom and Photoshop meant I was made welcome.
Chris explained a bit of the history behind the re-establishment of a healthy population of kites in Wales and a bit about Gigrin Farm, the feeding times they established and the hides that had been built to take advantage of these events for photographers. We were to be using the high hide with a beautiful backdrop, and we were given guidance as to what to expect and how best to maximise the value of what we would be witnessing, and how it might be best initially to be using a moderately short focal length lens to capture the initially large number of swooping birds, before considering getting shots of individual birds.
We also learned that we could expect other birds than the red kites, such as buzzards, ravens and crows, and whereas the kites would rarely land, the others which would each have their specific times to arrive, may well spend some time on the ground.
Before the allotted time for feeding we all made our way up the hill, and eventually up some extremely slippery steps to the high hide, overlooking the feeding arena. As we began setting up tripods, cameras and lenses, the birds slowly began filling the sky in anticipation of the daily event, and soon we could hear the sound of a tractor that heralded the arrival of food. A note: the food provided was always of fresh beef that had to be ‘fit for human consumption”!
The tractor soon unhurriedly came into sight making its arcing way around the arena, before coming to a stop and the man took shovelfuls of fresh meat and placed them in three separate areas to give the photographers as wide a spread as possible when shooting. The sky was full of swirling, diving and swooping birds. Of particular note were a leucistic buzzard and a couple of wing-tagged kites, number 51 and the buzzard spent some time on the ground as did many of the crows and ravens, whereas the kites would twitch, go into a near vertical dive then swoop in just above the ground pick up the meant in its talons, then as it climbed would bring its beak down to the meat before once again return to circling or heading off elsewhere away from the crowd to eat in peace.
It was all too soon over, and somehow seemed even shorter than the previous day before the sky was returned to peace and the ground was now mainly populated by groups of ravens or crows and the occasional buzzard. Prior to the arrival of the tractor and food I had noted a couple of cats and a peacock strolled into the field.
During all this Chris was going around ensuring we goth the most out of the kit we were using, offering suggestions and asking questions in order to ensure we made full advantage of the short time the birds were present and giving us every assistance. We did have very occasional glimpses of milky sunshine, but it was never as bright as it had been on the Monday, but everyone seemed delighted and really grateful for all the guidance that Chris provided, and we all stayed till there was barely a bird on the wing!
We all headed back to the stable, saying our fond farewells where Chris and I gathered all the kit into the car and headed back. I now had a mammoth amount of images to go through, and little did I know then how long it would be till the images saw the light of day on the Web! The Official Day's Images are now finally up.