When you work at RSPB HQ as I do, a lot of the exciting events going on around our nature reserves and our species protection work are followed through a computer screen, so it’s great to get out to see it for myself when I can.
Bank Holiday provided me with an opportunity to see what has been one of the most exciting avian events of the summer for me – the nesting bee-eaters in Cumbria that have been under close guard for several weeks.
Although I have seen two of the previous nesting attempts by bee-eaters in the UK (County Durham in 2002 and Herefordshire in 2005), plus a migrant flock of five birds in Norfolk, the chance to see this most dazzling of species in the north of England was too much. Staying in North Yorkshire with the in-laws provided me with a chance to make a shorter journey (still over two hours each way) to see the action for myself.
Bee-eaters excavate their own tunnel in a cliff face or bank - image by Andy Hay
I knew that the birds in the remaining successful nest would be close to fledging and deep down I had a hope that I might be extra jammy and watch the youngsters leaving their burrow in the cliff face...
Late risersI headed north just after 6am on a cold, wet an rainy morning, not the sort of weather I associate with bee-eaters. I was so keen that I even arrived before the RSPB team had set up the watchpoint!
One thing I hadn’t accounted for was the fact that bee-eaters can be late risers, waiting for the temperature to warm up so they can do what they do best as insects take to the wing. It was a long wait of an hour and a half of staring at some quarry machinery, a high bank and straining my ears for the “Quelp” call before one of the adults finally appeared.
It was worth the wait because the pair, plus their “helper” male gave superb views through my telescope and were feeding well. As things warmed up, they started to take food to the next tunnel but I couldn’t see anything in the hole.
One of the bee-eaters from the 2002 nesting attempt in County Durham - image by Andy Hay
I’m hoping that the young will fledge either today or tomorrow and fingers crossed they make their way safely to Africa for winter. Great work by Hanson, the RSPB staff in the field and the many volunteers who have given up their time to look after the bee-eaters. Thank you for the opportunity to see these wonderful birds.
Ripples in the river
My other Bank Holiday treat was walking with the family and chatting about trout when we watched as ripple from what we thought was the creature in question, only to see it was an otter fishing in the River Wharfe. We followed it up and down the river, but it was always one dive ahead of us!
The Bank Holiday excitement started with an otter - image by Ben Andrew
With Nature's Home October issue signed off yesterday, it's been a busy few days, but where wildlife is involved (and there aren't many parts of my life where it isn't!) there's never a dull moment.