In fact the setting was the Isle of Wight, on Saturday, but to these birds, a pair and a charitable third 'helper', it is home - marking only the fifth time Bee-eaters have bred in Britain, beyond their southern European range, and, with the news that they were feeding young in the nest, only the third successful attempt.
I’d been hoping for a chance to see the birds since the news was released recently of a pair at the National Trust’s Wydcombe Estate in the south of the island. With a plan hatched to make it a weekend trip given the girlfriend stamp-of-approval, we headed over after work on Friday, arriving to pitch our tents near enough under the ramparts of Carisbrooke Castle as dusk fell as quickly as the rain. The campsite was excellent and gets my recommendation over the numerous caravan sites that dominate on the island. At some point in the early hours of the morning a willow warbler made it's way along the hedgerow behind the tent calling, in doing so, it filtered into my sleep...or perhaps I dreamed it? I'm not sure, but we woke to blue skies and a warm breeze at least.
We took the bus down the quiet, winding roads to Whitwell and walked the short distance cross-country to the site, accompanied by a birder from Hampshire who’d had the same idea. It wasn't difficult to find the site:
The National Trust and RSPB have done a great job in setting up a public viewing area for the birds and showed us over straight away, keen for everyone to see them. The views at distance were good and clearly no impact was had on the birds which hunted actively over their favoured area for the two hours we stayed. Three adults were seen, with at least one on show most of the time. A couple of aerial forays bought them close to our viewpoint as a nearby sparrowhawk made a few fleeting appearances. The birds regularly hunted from a telegraph wire and I had great scope views of a bird demolishing various bees and a dragonfly by banging them on the wire to remove stinging parts. Sometimes they disappeared with their prey, presumably to the nest site, but I watched one consume a brown butterfly, a Comma perhaps, itself.
|Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) nr Whitwell, Isle of Wight, 9/8/14|
Ok, my attempts to record it in photographic form are laughable so here’s one from Spain in April this year:
Stunning! Let's hope these birds are successful.
Mission accomplished and Bertha-related tent-mishaps just about averted, the rest of the weekend unfolded nicely too.
|Wall butterfly (Lasiommata megara) Chillerton Downs, Isle of Wight, 9/8/14|
|Grayling (Hipparchia semele) Chillerton Downs, 9/8/14|