Thursday, July 31, 2014

Breeding UK Bee-Eaters

On the 28th July, news broke that a pair of EUROPEAN BEE-EATER were breeding on the Isle of Wight.  This represented only the sixth attempted breeding record for the UK.  Of these, only two pairs have successfully fledged young with the last being back in 2002 when a pair nested in Durham.  A number of spring sightings had been recorded around coastal areas but despite their gaudy iridescent plumage, they can be notoriously difficult to pick up in flight. Having only seen Bee-Eaters abroad, I was keen to witness a piece of ornithological history here in the UK.

The breeding site is on National Trust land that has been heavily potected from the archaic, covert and idiotic threat of potential egg collectors.  To neutralise this risk, the NT in co-operation with the RSPB have established a watchpoint allowing the public to enjoy these enigmatic birds from a safe vantage point.

They are doing a great job.

The personal challenge was to negotiate an epic journey to the site by public transport, and this is how it went;

Hackney Downs to Liverpool Street - Train
Liverpool Street to Bank - Tube
Bank to Waterloo - Tube
Waterloo to Brockenhurst - Train
Brockenhurst to Lymington Pier - Train

Lymington to Yarmouth - Ferry

Yarmouth to Newport - Bus
Newport to Whitwell - Bus
Whitwell to Site - Walk

I was impressed with myself, but when I met a gentleman from Tottenham that had done pretty much the same thing, I felt like I had been the first person to conquer Everest only to find out that someone had summitted it five minutes before me.  Ok maybe not.

The key to this was the cost, a wapping £38.80 for a return trip.  Cheap at twice the price.  So off I went.

Just over six hours later, I was on site and immediately observed an adult sitting on wires devouring an unfortunate butterfly so adroitly captured.  The sun was strong but the breeze was relatively cool compared to what we have experienced here in London town over recent days.  The heat haze veiled a shimmering curtain across the middle distance, the bird itself was sat along wires viewed over the brow of a ridge bedecked with wild flowers.  The colours, profile, and behaviour were unmistakable.  This is such a beautiful bird.

A Bee-Eater (it's in the photo somewhere)

During the three hours spent on site, the pair of Bee-Eaters were regularly observed hunting for butterflies and dragonflies, they were most definitely feeding young.  How many is undetermined, but parenting nonetheless.  The aerial displays wowed the assembled crowd, soaring, twisting, darting for prey, hanging against the breeze, demonstrating the full repertoire of their hunting routines.  These were gold medal performances from a garish competitor.

Now here's an interesting theory I heard.  Apparently there are three adult birds on site, the pair and a helper considered to be a male bird.  This third individual is conceived to be a sibling of the male parent bird that helps to rear the young.  This is a rare occurrence in Bee-Eaters but not uncommon either.  This is unsubstantiated but interesting nonetheless.

So there we have it, a breeding pair of Bee-Eaters in the UK, on the lovely Isle of Wight, overseen by helpful staff.

I have everything crossed that this pair are successful.

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