I am in the middle of a business trip to the United Kingdom. After spending the first week in London, I am now in uncharted waters and working in the Bristol area. Prior to my trip, I learned from one of my Orillia Farmers Market friends that I would be fairly close to an area of Wales where Red Kites are fed every day and have become a tourist attraction in their own right.
According to the Welsh Kite Trust, the Red Kite was voted ‘Bird of the 20th Century’ and Wales’ favourite bird, the story of the Red Kite in Britain is a remarkable one, and rightly celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest conservation successes. In mediaeval times the kite was abundant in towns and cities. In London, it was protected by Royal decree, in recognition of its service in removing refuse and dead animals that could otherwise harbour diseases. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Red Kite was probably the most numerous and familiar bird of prey in Britain. All this was to change. In the mid 16th century a series of parliamentary Acts were invoked aimed at controlling ‘vermyn’ since they were believed to be negatively impacting the expanding agriculture industry. As a result, over the following three hundred years, the unfortunate kite was systematically slaughtered. By the turn of the century a mere handful of pairs survived in the remoter valleys of mid-Wales. The subsequent recovery of the kite in Wales was not simply a matter of luck: a huge amount of time, money and effort have been invested in the past and so, in 1996, the Welsh Kite Trust was set up to ensure that the success already achieved was continued. Through the dedicated work of a small band of volunteers, and latter by the combined efforts of the statutory bodies and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the population was saved.
My contact in Bristol was a fellow naturalist and bird watcher so he offered to take me to the area so I did not have to rent a car which was my original intention. I have driven in the UK before and driving on the left side of the road has its own challenges and I was ok with that. By the time we got to the more rural parts of Wales the roads were very narrow barely enough room for two cars to pass and required the friendly cooperation on the part of both drivers. I was thankful that I wasn’t driving.
When we left the Bristol area, it was raining and the weather got progressively worse as we got closer to our destination which was The Red Kite Feeding Station. It is located in the village of Llanddeusant at the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Carmarthenshire, Wales. The rain thankfully stopped by the time we arrived. We joined 6 other observers in the hides and waited as did the 50 Red Kites that were gathering overhead. The proprietor distributed a small quantity of meat a short distance from the hides and as soon as he left the dive-bombing began. I thought I was prepared to take pictures with my Canon 1D Mark IV combined with my 70-200mm lens and the 2x teleconverter. I had the zoom I needed for a variety of distances plus the Mark IV would give me 10 frames a second and a high ISO for optimum shutter speed and wing stopping action. What I wasn’t prepared for was how fast the Red Kites swooped down to grab a morsel. I had to be content with trying to capture them soaring and getting ready to dive as they glided effortless in the wind. I fired off many, many frames hoping to score at least a few useable images. It didn’t help that the sky was white with clouds, blue would have been preferable but I was pretty content just to be there. When I wasn’t shooting, I was admiring the beauty and gracefulness of these wonderful creatures.
If you ever get the chance to get to Wales, take a trip to the Red Kite feeding station for 90 minutes of sheer pleasure and the fantastic scenery in the area. Here are a few shots that we took after leaving for our journey home, we even saw some wild welsh ponies!