Catching insects by the beakful

Redstart at the Gilfach Farm reserve

Redstart at the Gilfach Farm reserve

Walking around the Gilfach Farm nature reserve near Rhayader feels a bit like walking along a 19th century valley. Birds species which are elusive in other woodlands are quite showy there.

My main aim was to photograph redstarts. The first one I saw, which was lower in the valley than expected, ended up providing the best pictures. There were several others in the field above the farm, which moved far too quickly for my camera skills…

Shortly after, I wanted to get a good picture of the stream running through the valley (which soon flows into the upper reaches of the River Wye). As I waded through the undergrowth to get the edge of the stream, I noticed a dipper perched on a rock in the middle of the stream, doing lots of odd bobs up-and-down (hence the name). It was ideally situated – and for me it was quite by chance.

Dipper on the Afon Marteg, flowing through the Gilfach Farm reserve.

Dipper on the Afon Marteg, flowing through the Gilfach Farm reserve.

Male pied flycatcher

Male pied flycatcher

The reserve is a great location for pied flycatchers, because there’s a hide just next to some nestboxes which they use. While I was there they were feeding their young: the female seemed to do more trips and probably collected from closer by, while the male appeared to fly further. It would be interesting to know if there was a difference in the kind of prey they were collecting.

Pied flycatcher female at Gilfach Farm.

Pied flycatcher female at Gilfach Farm.

Pied flycatcher with a beakful of insects

Pied flycatcher with a beakful of insects

Gilfach Farm is an easy place to romaticise, but the disused industrial workings – such as a 30-yard railway tunnel which now hosts five species of bat – show that the 19th century scene would have been rather different. However the lack of insecticides then would at least have been far better for the flycatchers and redstarts.

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