We may not live on the Isles of Scilly or Fair Isle in the far north, both hot spots for rare birds, but there is a sand quarry near East Leake which boasts a home for seven Bee-eaters. These birds are usually found in the southern Mediterranean and North Africa but the noticeable change in our climate has resulted in serious breeding attempts in the UK in three out of the last four years. Bee-eaters are a scarce visitor in the UK and they are classed as a schedule 1 bird which means that intentional or reckless disturbance of their nests is a criminal offence.
These beautiful birds were first spotted at the Cemex quarry outside East Leake on 25th June and hundreds of birdwatchers have flocked to see them since that date. It has become so popular that the RSPB, which is in partnership with Cemex nationally, has arranged parking facilities and have a 24 hour guard at the quarry. The birds have been seen mating and are often viewed catching bees, hence their name. It seems ironic to me that we are trying to save our bees and yet these beautiful birds have come along to feast on them. That’s nature, I suppose. It is now very likely they will breed at the sand quarry and should stay until August.
They are incredibly colourful birds (see photograph) and both sexes are fairly similar although the female sometimes has a greenish coloured back unlike the male who has a golden back. They have a slightly down-curved bill which is perfect for catching and killing bees and other large flying insects. They will normally perch on a branch and fly out to catch an insect. They then return to the perch, kill the insect by bashing it against the perch and disarm the sting by squeezing it out from the abdomen.
Quarries such as the one in East Leake are ideal habitats for the Bee-eater as they usually nest in tunnels in sandbanks, many of which are near rivers. The tunnels are normally a metre long but some have been known to be three metres long. They usually lay clutches of four to nine eggs. When feeding their young, they need to catch about 225 bees and wasps a day. They will also catch large dragonflies.
Interestingly, these wonderful birds have established themselves in the constituency of a well-known MP who goes by the name of Ken Clarke, himself a keen birdwatcher.
Will we see them nest here in Nottinghamshire again? There is no guarantee but these days the chances are becoming more likely. In the meantime, let’s hope the birds at East Leake have a successful breeding season.
Jean is a voluntary Ambassador for the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch scheme in Nottinghamshire. If you enjoy watching birds and other wildlife which visit your garden, Garden BirdWatch may be perfect for you. If you would like a free information pack about the scheme, contact Jean at email@example.com or visit www.bto.org/gbw