Gigrin Re-visited

21st April 2012
Having not been back to Gigrin Farm for a few years I decided it was time for another visit. Most of my previous visits have been during the summer months and although pleasant, it isn't really the best time of year as winter is a far better time to go in my opinion.
I'll explain my reasons - in the summer the sun is very high in the sky when the feeding begins. This can cause harsh shadows on the underneath of the birds and as the birds have just been through their nesting and rearing of young period which takes it's toll on their plumage, most are very tatty by this time.

During the winter months, particularly from December to the end of March, the sun is much lower in the sky which gives you even light over the bird and they are also in their best condition at this time of year. The downside is the weather is very unpredictable and it's a long way to travel for dark sky's and rain..

Thankfully the last week of March was unbelievably warm and sunny so I checked the Gigrin farm website ( http://www.gigrin.co.uk/gigrin_farm.php ) for the feeding times so I could plan what time to leave for the journey. I also noticed whilst checking the site that they had built a new tower hide, they already had one but this new one was higher and situated at the end of all the other hides. It looked good and I would normally pre book it but for some reason I didn't bother this time. If you're thinking of making a visit I would suggest a tower hide and its best to pre book it before turning up.
I gave my good friend Phil a call to see if he fancied a day out photographing Red Kites and after checking with his boss (The Mrs) it was all systems go. I picked Phil up and started the long journey across to Gigrin. On arriving Phil paid for the tower hide and thankfully there was 2 places left but it could have been fully booked and that would have been a disaster. Hence why I suggest booking it before you go just to make sure because we were lucky!
Tickets brought and gear loaded up we started the short walk to the hides and after setting up it was only a short wait before the farmer and the food tractor turned up to feed the Kites....let the action begin..

I took a few sky shots to get my eye in as it can be a bit overwhelming if you haven't experienced it before as there is a massive amount of Kites in the sky. I would suggest picking out one bird that looks in good condition and follow that bird around.
You'll have a much better success rate this way - yes you might miss some action but it's much better than chasing different birds all over the place, trust me...





The light was great and in fact it was the best I've ever had at Gigrin but I still needed to set my camera up. I normally shoot with the exposure at +1 when the birds are against a bright sky background as this helps to keep more detail in the shadow areas and stops the birds becoming silhouettes against the bright sky. Problem with this is,if you follow a bird that suddenly dives down and your background goes from the sky to the land, you will more than likely blow the highlights. Especially so if your shooting with a Canon pro body like my 1Ds,I'm not sure why but they seem very sensitive and a 7D or 60D seem to cope much better with the switch from sky to land which is amazing really when there's about a £2500 price difference between them.

To combat this I switched my camera setting to manual, set my desired aperture and then pointed the lens at the sky and set the shutter speed until the exposure was at +1. Once it's set up for the sky, when you move the lens to the land the camera will automatically compensate by under exposing. You do need constant light for this method though and it can still be a bit hit and miss on land backgrounds that have varying areas of shadow but it can be a useful little trick.

Anyway, lets get on with the images! I was really concentrating on getting more images of the Red Kites diving, for me this is the best type of Red Kite image as they twist and turn in so many different positions and all this happens in a split second too which makes it a good challenge.





The new tower hide was giving us great views and great backgrounds. Being winter there wasn't any leaves on the trees so some of the back drops were a lovely dark brown which complimented the Red Kites plumage.







They come pretty close at times too.. :-)





I ended up shooting over 30 gig during the day and got by far my best Red Kite images to date.







This one was holding on tight to it's food..



because sometimes they get mugged by other Kites.



The great light also helped the success rate with sharp images, I couldn't believe how many I kept.. :-)







The last one and one of my favourites from a great day out..



That's it for now, I'm still working on the Great Crested Grebes at the moment but I had a mini disaster the other day.. :-( I'll tell you more in the next update..

Thanks for looking..