Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bee-eaters, Brampton, Cumbria

There was never any doubt where we would be going today following the exciting news yesterday that two pairs of bee-eaters have hatched young in a quarry near Brampton in Cumbria and that the RSPB had set up a viewing point. Six adults are in the area, the two sets of parents and two extra male "helpers". So we headed north with great anticipation.

However on arrival it transpired that things were not going to be quite as they seemed from the messages on the various information services, or perhaps our expectations had been unrealistically high. First of all it soon became obvious that the birds were not going to be as easy as expected. Ignoring the first obstacle which was the 400m, mainly uphill walk from the car park, which didn't worry me but did seem to worry quite a few other people on the way up, when we arrived at the viewpoint we found that one nest hole was about 200m away on the other side of the quarry, whilst the second was a similar distance and out of view. We didn't see any activity in the vicinity of this nest during the entirety of our visit.

We spent a long two hours staring at the barren quarry which was devoid of life except for the constant stream of nesting sand martins, with no sign of any bee-eaters. Not even a blade of grass in the quarry, just sand, and as a result of this, the birds were not hawking for insects in front of us as we'd imagined in our dreams the night before, they were in fact  elsewhere in the wider countryside seeking prey, only returning to the quarry to change over at the nest and / or feed the offspring which were out of view and 3m down inside the nest hole. After two hours we experienced the first change over and it was ominously quick, too quick for me in fact and I missed it. A bird swooped in from nowhere and went straight into the nest hole as another came out and disappeared over the top of the quarry. All over in a matter of seconds. Then we had another wait of 45 minutes. I was beginning to think I might leave having not seen them. Imagine that.... dipping on bee-eaters at the nest with an RSPB viewpoint in operation. Several people did in fact leave without seeing them. One bloke made it to the viewpoint gasping for breath, announced that this was his first twitch and then 15 minutes later headed off back to car park having not seen the birds. Top tip: don't take up twitching if you're only going to give it 15 minutes! But I knew that if we waited long enough, I would inevitably see the birds. So we waited and waited.

Finally I saw a bird flying above the quarry. It flew around for a few seconds, before calling briefly and hurtling into the hole. No bird came out, so there were now two adults in the hole. Ten minutes later another bird appeared, and this time it landed on a fence post, giving good scope views. A bit distant for photography but the sun was right on it and through the scope it looked good and was seen to be carrying a bee. After a minute or two, it too went into the hole. Now there were three adults inside. A minute later I had what I would consider to be my best view; a bee-eaters head poking out of the hole for a few seconds before flying out and away. Excellent!

We made our way back to the car park, well satisfied. Yes they had been a bit distant for photography, yes they had made us wait and given us relatively short views, but what a great sight to see bee-eaters at the nest in Cumbria - and still we hadn't finished. On arrival back at the car park, we saw some birders looking through scopes at another bee-eater on a dead tree in the distance. After a few minutes it flew and began hawking for insects over the field. Again a reasonable scope view, but more distant still than the birds at the nest site.

So in total I reckon we saw four birds, but never more than one at any one time. In the first photo below you can see a bee-eater on the left, with the nest hole in the bottom right. It's NOT the obvious round looking hole, it's the squarish looking hole just above it partially in shadow.

Year: 241 (bee-eater)

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