Some while ago, I was chatting with another birder who waxed lyrical about a nature reserve near Rhayader: “You even get redstarts coming to the feeders there” he said. So on Friday I made my way to Gilfach Farm, wondering whether it would live up to expectations.
Arriving at the car park I spotted another birder so I assumed he must be the fount of all wisdom for the site. He only partially disabused me of that notion: “For me also it is ze first time, but I hef seen ze pied flycatcher from zis hide, and ze redstarts are along ze river here” – which was exactly the information I needed.
Wandering along the side of the stream I was surprised how little birdlife there appeared to be, but assumed this was because it was mid-day. Eventually I caught sight of one bird that I could look at through binoculars – and it was a male redstart!
It was less obliging for the camera though, but there were other birds that soon grabbed my attention, such as a treecreeper which was rapidly picking its way around the mossy branches.
At the Otter Hide, a pair of pied flycatchers was using one of the nest boxes there. I soon discovered that trying to photograph them entering or leaving the box wasn’t particularly successful or interesting; however, they tended to perch on a nearby branch first, which proved to be much more satisfactory. They moved quickly though so focussing was a problem – until one landed exactly where the camera was pointed!
The old farmhouse was a short distance away, and I arrived just as some live food was being put out for the insect-eaters. Sure enough, a pair of redstarts were among those that visited. The female generally lingered, but the male was very quick and my photographic efforts were rather futile.
The main building is an old fifteenth century longhouse: the family had lived at one end, with the animals in the byre at the other. It remained like this until it was abandoned in the 1960s. The Radnorshire Wildlife Trust bought it in 1988 as a nature reserve and organic farm.
On my way back I stopped off where I had seen the redstarts before, and realised that they were posing really nicely for the camera – but not where I had expected. Oddly enough there was a gazebo nearby, which would serve as a partial hide, and as I approached the male landed on one of the posts that supported the gazebo!
I then watched over the next hour, as both the male and female made frequent trips to a patch of long grass which seemed to yield plenty of prey, often perching on one of the nearby fence-posts.
Gilfach Farm fully lived up to expectations, and indeed exceeded them: it’s a beautiful reserve with a timeless air. Being able to see and photograph both pied flycatchers and redstarts was a real treat – and I was fortunate enough to end up with much better shots than I expected.