What’s Bee-Eating Gilbert Grape

In the last blog entry, I revealed that I had temporarily become a bit of a twitcher and consequently threatened to travel to the Isle of Wight to calculatingly add a specific plus-one to my 2014 bird list.

Well, guess what?  Yep, I actually gave it a go – My journey to the dark side complete (at least for one more day)

I found myself getting up at a ridiculously early 4.30am in order to drive to Portsmouth to catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight with the aim of seeing the European Bee-Eaters that had nested and raised a number of offspring on the south of the island.  This was significant for a few reasons: –

  • This was only the third time a pair of Bee-Eaters had successfully bred in the UK for more than a century.
  • This was only the second time I had got up before 5am this year – The other was for International Dawn Chorus Day back in May.
  • This would be the first time I would have ever seen a Bee-Eater.

I had decided to make the journey after (the usual) excessive thought and deliberation (I am, by nature, a ridiculous procrastinator) because I considered it one of my best ever chances to see the species in the UK.  Bee-Eaters usually reside in southern Europe during the breeding season, but an incredibly small number overshoot on their journeys from Southern Africa (their winter home) and turn up in this country.  As a result, to see one in the UK would take an outrageously large amount of good fortune…  Unless, of course, a pair nested – and somebody advertised where and when and how many.  Consequently, I was fairly confident of a sighting as the parents would still be in the area feeding the juveniles, whilst teaching them aerobatic skills, manners and how not to get bee-stings lodged in their throats.

The signage at the port made me a little uneasy!

The signage at the port made me a little uneasy!


Today’s bird -stalking venue

On arrival, I was greeted with the sight of a large field with some trees at the end, a rope fence (assumedly to keep the masses a safe distance away), and a solitary telescope-wielding man at the far end.  It wasn’t what I had expected – mainly because I don’t ever seem to have any expectations about anything.  A helpful woman from the RSPB furnished me with a leaflet full of Bee-Eater factoids and walked me towards the best place to see them.  As we approached, the telescoped chap started gesturing.  I don’t know bird-watcher sign language, but this man either had the overwhelming urge to dance… or had his scope pointed at a Bee-Eater somewhere in the distance.

It turns out it was the latter (although, he looked like he knew how to throw some crazy shapes) and he kindly let me have a look at my first ever Bee-Eater through his magnification equipment.  Within five minutes of turning up, I had added a new tick to my 2014 list – How efficient was that?!

Although distant, I could make out the bird’s particularly vibrant plumage, with almost one of every colour imaginable.  In the same tree, there was a Spotted Flycatcher – similarly threatening to insects, but at the total opposite of the colour spectrum.  The Bee-Eater then flew off out of view.

European Bee-Eater (Taken at 200x zoom, making it look more like a watercolour painting than a photograph)

European Bee-Eater (Taken at 200x zoom, making it look more like a watercolour painting than a photograph)

And then, from no-where, a dilemma appeared…

How long should I stay to justify my early start, drive and ferry trip?  I had got my plus-one, so I could conceivably bugger off to the beach for the rest of the day, couldn’t I?

These quizzical thoughts raised an interesting question (and a few interesting sub-questions) about the phenomenon of twitching and roaming around the country with the specific aim of adding birds to a list – How long should you stay and watch before you move on?  Do you see the bird, put a tick in your I-Spy Birds book and then promptly set off in search of the next one?  Do you see the bird and watch it for a pre-determined time period before setting off?  If so, how long is long enough?  Five minutes?  Half an hour? A whole morning?

Because there are no definitive answers to this barrage of questions and I wanted to learn as much as I could about these birds, I decided to hang around (for an undetermined time period) to see if I could get a better look…

Every now and then, a solitary Bee-Eater would pop into view distantly and perform a bit of a fly past, before disappearing again.  After a while, however, the assembled few onlookers (safely behind the rope cordon, of course) were treated to the amazing spectacle of seven Bee-Eaters gliding across the sky.  Not long ago, I had a feeling that I would never see one in the UK and there I was, ogling at SEVEN in a solitary eyeful.  Wow, three hours well-spent!

The Bee-Eater by Claude Monet

The Bee-Eater by Claude Monet                    (As imagined by me!)

As fatigue from the early start (and, perhaps, all the excitement) was setting in, I decided to grab some lunch and found a beach to fall asleep on.  Unless, I was still asleep, and strangely dreaming about wading birds, I also managed to add a Sanderling to my 2014 list.






About mixaeljones

Hello! I try to undertake a yearly challenge and write about it in a semi-witty manner. I often use twenty words when three will do. I am also a big fan of terrible puns and taking unintentionally blurry photographs of wildlife. In 2013 I tried to eat a food I hadn't eaten before each week (I got to 28!), in 2014 I attempted to seek out as many species of bird as I could in the year (I got to 201!) and in 2015 I delved head first into the world of butterflies and tried to see as many different types as possible (44!)... I've also done some belly dancing, been Father Christmas and nearly played tennis against Bjorn Borg. If any of this seems like it might be of interest, feel free to check out my blogs... Comments encouraged! Have a nice day :)
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