Gilfach Farm: Redstarts, Dippers and Voles

The Marteg rushes off the Cambrian Mountains, twisting and turning down through the valley that bears its name, through oak woodland and hay meadow until it joins the great sweep of the Wye above Rhayader.

Gilfach Farm occupies much of the Marteg Valley and surrounding hillsides; it has remained unimproved since the 1960’s. Now owned and managed by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, who purchased the farm in 1988, it has become a wildlife sanctuary. We managed to spend two wet half days there recently and despite the awful weather and the lateness of Spring still managed to see and photograph some beautiful wildlife. There is a link to Gilfrach Farm Nature Reserve at the bottom of the post.


Dipper Cinclidae. One of a pair hunting in the Marteg. This one is about to fly back to its nest, under a nearby bridge. These are not dull birds despite their brown colouring; take a close look at the glorious patterns across its wings, back and tail. (Click on the image to enlarge.) Dippers get their name from their habit of bobbing up and down when on land. But what makes them remarkable is their method of walking into and under water in search of aquatic invertebrates (mayfly and caddisfly larvae in particular) and fish. They have a nictitating membrane or third white eye-lid which protects their eyes when submerged, nasal flaps to prevent water from entering their nostrils and a high haemoglobin concentration, giving them greater oxygen storage, which increases the time that they can spend underwater.

300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.5 @ 1/2000, ISO 900, heavily overcast.


Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. We saw a lot of these dapper little birds in Wales where there is a population concentration. Sadly they are in decline in most of the UK and Europe. Gilfach with its oak woodlands, properly laid hedgerows and fast running streams is the perfect habitat for these handsome little birds.



The female is not as showy as the male. From our limited observations the female seemed to be doing all the nest rebuilding and repairs whilst the male occasionally brought her a tit bit. I’m trying not to find analogies with another species here.

All 300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.0 @ 1/2000, ISO 360, overcast.


Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. To say that these little birds, slightly smaller than a house sparrow, were difficult to photograph would be a massive understatement. This male was busily establishing his territory along the bank of the Marteg and stopped his patrolling just long enough.


300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.4.0 @ 1/1600, ISO 900, heavily overcast.


Field Vole Microtus agrestis. Also known as the Short-tailed Vole. The very nice couple who live in the farmhouse will make you a pot of tea, so long as you make a donation towards the upkeep of the reserve. So we were sitting at the picnic table in what had once been the farm yard, drinking tea out of proper mugs and trying to pretend that it was springtime once again and not a return to winter, when we realised that our sandwiches were being watched……



300mm f2.8 + 1.4xTC handheld: f.5.6 @ 1/640, ISO 1400, overcast.

Here is the link to the Gilfach Reserve web site:


Author: Hares on the Hill

I am a designer and photographer. I live with my wife and our two dogs in the Welsh Marches, a land full of history, legends, mountains, rivers and dragon's breath; a place where animism thrives. To our north are the Cambrian Mountains, the Elenydd, a vast plateau so ancient that its mountains now have the appearance of steeply rounded moorland hills; to the east is England; to the south stand the Black Mountains and in the west the Brecon Beacons rise around the twin summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, the highest mountain in West Wales.

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