|One of the breeding European Bee-eaters in Cumbria, a county not usually known for its Mediterranean climate.|
After an excellent week in Edinburgh, it was time for the long drive south back to London. I usually take the slightly longer scenic route on the A1, through East Lothian, Borders and along the beautiful north Northumberland coast, but this time we headed home via Cumbria, calling in at Lower Gelt Quarry to see Britain's only breeding European Bee-eaters.
|European Bee-eater with prey at the quarry. Two adults showed well, but distantly, hence this record shot.|
|Lower Gelt Quarry, from the RSPB viewpoint: the bee-eaters show on the far ridge.|
With a long day on the road and a family eager to get home time was tight, but the site is only a six-mile detour from Junction 43 of the M6 at Carlisle, and it would have been remiss not to give it a try. Nicole Khan, Warden at my local patch of Rainham RSPB, initially made the suggestion, her boyfriend Jason Moule being on the wardening team at the quarry. Jason was there to give us a warm welcome, and after a 10-minute walk involving plenty of Eurasian Siskins and quite a few butterflies (six species), my daughter Ava and I were treated to great scope views (and more distant photo opportunities) of two adults busily catching insects and taking them to the burrow. It's exactly 30 years since I last saw this species in Britain, that occasion involving a long-staying juvenile on Tresco, Scilly, in October 1985.
|Chasing prey in the quarry.|
More significantly, it is just the fourth British breeding record. Initially there were two pairs at Lower Gelt Quarry, and also two 'helpers', but the other birds disappeared to leave these two individuals busily catching insects for their growing offspring, which we were told were likely to fledge shortly. Although hard to extrapolate a meaningful pattern from four breeding records, the increased frequency in recent years suggests that - perhaps in a warming climate - British breeding attempts are likely to become more commonplace. The other records are as follows:
- 1955: Streat, Sussex - three pairs attempted to breed, two successfully, fledging seven young.
- 2002: Bishop Middleham, County Durham - one pair fledged three young.
- 2014: Niton, Isle of Wight - two pairs fledged eight young (see National Trust video below).