European Bee Eaters are a species I have always been fascinated by and have wanted to record them for many years. In the summer of 2020 I spent ten days with friends in the Lazio region of Italy and a week or so before leaving, one of my friends who was local to the area told me he had found a Bee Eater colony not far from where we were going to stay.
I was delighted that I would have the opportunity to observe a colony and hopefully record their calls. Using binoculars we were able to watch the colony from the outdoor terrace of our holiday home and I spent many hours over the first few days observing from a safe distance. The birds seemed to have nested in the banks of the river Fiora at a section where the river curved around. The time spent observing with binoculars allowed me to understand when they were most active, which was generally shortly after sunrise. This was presumably when the insects became more abundant with the sun warming the surrounding fields, making perfect hunting grounds for the Bee Eaters to gather food for their young.
After these few days observing, my friend and I headed over towards the colony early one morning. We carefully planned our route to avoid scaring the birds and found an old oak tree not far from the banks of the river where we could lay low. About 30 mins after we had settled into our position the Bee Eaters returned to the colony, swooping low over the banks and into their nests. There were around a dozen birds in total, and they appeared to be working together to alert each other of any approaching danger. They were very vocal but the wind was high which made recording impossible. It was fascinating to observe their behaviour as they busily flew in and around the nests to feed their young.
Later that day, after returning back to our holiday home, I began checking the weather forecast for wind speeds to see when I could attempt a recording session. It wasn’t looking promising and I would have to wait at least two days before the wind died down. The next morning however, the wind appeared much calmer than had been predicted so I decided to take a chance. I headed back to the spot where we had been the day before and setup my mics on the edge of the river bank. Again I took cover under the oak tree and exactly as had happened the day before, around thirty minutes later the birds returned. The wind remained low so I left the mics and recorder over a long period so not to disturb the birds by going back too soon.
The recording features the moments when the Bee Eaters were the most active, often swooping down close to my mics and calling whilst in flight. In the background we hear a Golden Oriole at the start of the recording as well as Blackcaps. I feel lucky to have had this opportunity to not only record the Bee Eater colony, but also to have spent a long time observing their behaviour.