This was a surprise. Three Bee-eaters were reported from a quarry just over the county border in East Leake in Notts, late on Sunday night (the 25th). As they were there at dusk it was assumed they roosted and if you needed Bee-eater this seemed to be a sure fire tick. Sure enough they were still there this am. However when day broke there were more than three present. In fact the numbers actually grew through the day with up to seven birds being seen together. Now, we had a really busy week ahead but decided to give it a go in the evening as it was probably going to be our only chance to see them and of course they might go especially as rain was forecast overnight! Only about a 40minute drive round Derby and just over the border we arrived at the gate to the quarry to find a small group of birders watching over the gate. They were looking off across the quarry site to where a large Ash tree was standing in the hedge line and sure enough, through the heat haze, up to three Bee-eaters could be seen flying up and perching in some bare branches. They were very distant though and the haze made it a nightmare.
Suddenly a “cronk-cronk” over head sounded and we looked up to see seven Ravens were circling above us. It is a mark of this species recovery that we could see this presumed family group in the flatlands of south Nottinghamshire.
Three of the seven Raven, the last image seems to show the wrong tail shape, but it was one!
The air over the ash tree and pits was also teeming with hirundines, Sand and House Martin and Swallow in abundance.
When we returned to watching the Bee-eaters we noticed birders standing much closer in the distance and discovered this was a bridle track off the main road a bit further on. We set off to walk. It is not pleasant walking on verges that close to speeding traffic! However we reached the bridleway and walked up alongside some of the pits. The path actually ran up to a reasonable spot before turning away and this conveniently offered an excellent viewing spot for the Ash tree.
The Ash Tree.
Here we could hear the birds calling incessantly, the liquid “prrrrut-prrrrut”. They seem to almost throw their voice at times and this can make it hard to locate the caller. You could see them watching the insects flying past, they would launch out of the tree and swoop quite a distance to catch prey then loop back to perch and bash the insect before swallowing it. They seemed to be catching quite a lot of bees and the like but one caught a Brown Hawker and swallowed it whole, with even the wings still attached. Their bouncy agile flight is really distinctive along with their rather triangular wing silhouette. The colours are the thing though, the blue, red, yellow and green making them true harlequins. The copper orange under wings flashed as they swooped in to land in the branches.
Even here they were a bit distant for my camera, I think digiscoping might be better or a better resolution camera.
Watching them closely you could see the slightly duller plumage of the females when compared to the males. The blue on the underparts seemed greener and a little more faded in particular. Some birds would disappear for a while before coming back and preening actively… this lead me to wonder seriously if they were tunneling, and indeed we could see at least two pairs and mating even occurred up in the Ash. This looked good for a breeding attempt. It was very difficult to see just how many birds were actually present due to their constant coming and going. Up to five birds were seen at one time perched up in the bare branches of the tree.
A male I think, the blue is very intense.
On our way back to the car we passed the RSPB already on the ball and setting up parking and wardening. We walked along the main road and just after the lay by before we turned up the lane to our car we heard one call seemingly close overhead, but could we see it? Of cause not. It brings it home to you how so many records are heard only.
Edit:- They are proving popular! A couple of thousand folk have seen them by now! It does look like they are nesting at the moment so we may get another chance to go and see them and perhaps get better photo’s. It is just a pity they missed Derbyshire by a few miles. Still we can but hope…