Friday, 7 July 2017

Climate change! What climate change?

Despite the increasing bad news about the decline in many breeding birds in the UK - turtle doves, corn buntings, red-backed shrike, skylarks to name just 4 - there are other species that are gaining ground, mainly coming across from Europe (don't tell Nigel Farage). Lets ignore escapes like the parakeets, but little egrets are now common, great white egrets and cattle egrets, spoonbills and glossy ibis and even little bittern have jumped the channel and breed in increasing numbers.One that has been on the list of "next" has been bee-eaters. These exotic-looking birds are found on the near continent and every year small numbers come across, but are normally just "fly-bys". Two years ago though a pair nested on the Isle of Wight following 5 previous attempts going back to the start of the last century. With the climate warming though, there is a pronounced movement of our resident birds moving north and continental warm-weather birds moving in so they were mooted as a likely next candidate. So, when 2 weeks ago a group of bee-eaters were spotted at a gravel pit in Nottinghamshire it was not a surprise though it did create quite a stir.
The site is a working quarry, so strictly out of bounds. The RSPB though stepped up to the mark and very quickly set up a car-park (£5) and a viewing area. Last weekend over two thousand people visited them, prompted by national news coverage in papers and on the TV!!
My first chance came this week, with a work meeting in Warwick, about an hours drive away, at 11am. So, I had to plan on getting the birds first, which meant a 4.15 alarm call and on the road by 4.40. A blast up the A1 (the M1 was closed for smart motorway works!!) got me to the village of East Leake by just before 7. The nice RSPB man took my £5 and pointed me in the right direction.

This is the site as you walk in from the car park. It looks like a typical old gravel working, lots of disturbed soil and smallish lakes. To get your bearings, on the left side of this photo above is a solitary ash tree, which is the bee eaters preferred perch, and, though hard to make out, on the far right are about 8 twitchers/ birders/ curious tourists already on site.

This was the viewing area - the ash tree in the distance and a lake to left and right where the birds, along with lots of sad martins, were feeding.
Straight away I got onto the birds, sitting in their favoured ash tree. As the first shot below shows, it was still some distance away - this was 500mm lens uncropped!

You can see why they are so popular - exotic, colourful and full of character. There were 7 originally, but we could only see 4. Last week there was frequent copulation, so it is presumed that the other 3 are females who are now on eggs. They nest in holes in sandy banks, and are again presumed to have requisitioned old sand martin burrows.

For the first 30 minutes or so, they were flitting on and off the tree catching insects, in this case a rather juicy looking dragon fly. All are caught on the wing, with a languorous, almost lazy action in the air unlike the frantic flight of hirundines. You can also see them in this short video.

Bee-eater video

They then decided that the feeding over the gravel pit wasn't good enough, so they all decided to firstly have a fly past us. Thy never got that close but it did give a chance to see them in the air.

Most of these are pretty large crops, so not the best quality, but you can hopefully get an idea of the graceful flight pattern and those stunning Mediterranean colours.

The top one of these three actually shows on of them "lightening its load" which is an unusual shot!
They then spent half an hour in a tree on the far bank, having a bit of a groom and a general chat.

Finally they seemed to decide to split up and three headed off to a field to feed, out of our sight, whilst one came back to the ash tree and tried his luck on the gravel pit again.

By this time it was getting on to being past 9 and I had to move on to get to my meeting in Warwick. There were still cars pulling up into the car park as I left. If they do breed and raise young this will be one popular attraction over the Summer. Really great day, a superb year tick to take me to 238 and back to 16 ahead of Martin again, who saw them last week. What could be better?