The Euroepan Bee-eater, (part of the near-passerine family Meropidae that holds three genera and 27 species), was once a rarity to the British Isles. However, as have many species from the Mediterranean region it has increased its rate of occurrence in Britain and the rest of northern Europe. To the point that in 1991 it was removed by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) as a national rarity and the species was demoted to a scarce migrant. This increase, resulting in the removal of it as a ‘BBRC Species’ is also reflected in the rate which the species has bred in Britain.
Breeding attempts of European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) in Britain:
- Lothian (1920): One pair attempted to breed. The female was captured by a gardener and the single egg failed.
- Sussex (1955): Three pairs, only two successful with seven young fledged after one burrow was accidentally destroyed by machinery.
- County Durham (2002): One pair, five chicks hatched though one died in nest, another before fledgling and a third went missing.
- Hertfordshire (2005): One pair, chicks were hatched but a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) predated nest site.
- Dorset (2006): A pair created a breeding burrow, failed.
- Isle of Wight in 2014 – Two pairs, both successful with eight chicks fledged. Most successful nest in British history.
- Cumbria in 2015 – Two pairs, one successful with one young fledged.
- Nottinghamshire in 2017 – Three pairs, all failed.
Waking up from my beauty sleep on the 6th of October for my first eBird ‘Global Big Day’, I done the usual routine of checking social media, doing the Snapchat streaks and then getting checking BirdGuides to see what was around. Given how Cumbria isn’t the county you think of for rarities, its neighbor Northumberland is quite the opposite. Getting changed I caught sight that a European Bee-eater was in Northumberland, nice – but even better instead of hugging the east coast, making it hard to access via public transport. The rainbow birb was well and truly lost, it had found its self in Haltwhistle.
A couple of quid later and a half hour train journey I found myself in the company of Steve Holiday and for the next two hours we and several other observers watched in joy as the bird which I aged as a 1cy (juvenile), whizzed over our heads delighting the small crowd of observers and photographers.
Features of a 1cy European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster):
- Pastel blue mantle.
- Small rufous patch on inner wing.
- Absence of black collar.
- Small tail spikes.
My encounter with a European Bee-eater since I was fortunate to witness them breeding in Cumbria back in 2015 and despite observing them when I visit family in the Iberian peninsula, the 6th was my closest and most well documented record of this species. Which, given how I was free of University work and had the day off with the bird still present, be rude not to head east for seconds. Even more of an excuse to go when some old friends would be visiting as well: Louis Driver, Sophie Bagshaw, Ashly Bines and old twitching bud Austin Morley. Being a little home sick (missing Luke and not feeling totally comfortable in a 110% new environment), it was nice to see a fellow Merseyside Birder just for comfort. Even better seeing familiar faces, some new and some old. Guess that my favorite part of being on the twitching, the socialisation aspect.
A good eight hours was spent with the bird in good company, which all ended when a Eurasian Sparrowhawk almost got a gasp of the little bugger before it was lost never to be seen again. A quality bird, with quality company in a mint location. The next 4 years are going to be great!
Blogs & Checklists:
- eBird checklist: 13 Stoney Rigg Close, Haltwhistle, Northumberland, England, GB, (54.964-2.472).
- Louis Driver’s blog: Louis Wild Northumberland
- Austin Morley’s blog: Austin’s Bird Blog
- Wikipedia, 2018, ‘Bee-eaters in Britain’, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 08/10/2018 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee-eaters_in_Britain].
- BirdGuides, 2017, ‘Bee-eater breeding attempt fails’, BirdGuides, 08/10/2018 [https://www.birdguides.com/news/bee-eater-breeding-attempt-fails/].
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 2014, ‘Isle of Wight bee-eaters rewrite the record books’, The RSPB: News, 08/10/2018, [http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/news/381539-isle-of-wight-beeeaters-rewrite-the-record-books].