European Bee-eaters in Bulgaria

European Bee-eater at branchI am just back from a trip to Bulgaria. The purpose was to photograph European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) during a busy young feeding period. Honestly this was one of the main target of the trip. The birds had arrived in Bulgaria for quite a while. Thus feeding of the young were almost finished. Now the parents were feeding the young outside their breeding tube. First I was a bit disappointed, but found new challenges and still had good photo opportunities of these incredibly adorable birds.

I decided to spent at least four days with these colourful birds. Thanks to the help and advice of a friend who worked in the area as a nature conservation ranger one year ago, I easily found a good site and decided to pitch a tented hide. This on top of an escarpment of a sand pit. There were also sandbanks next to the Bee-eaters colony. But the perspective on top was best. To my delight 2 or sometimes even 3,4,5 birds were landing on a perch, flying away, landing again. What a spectacle. There was plenty of action.

As the Bee-eaters are more active feeding early in the morning, I decided to come back at dawn. This time I set – up my hide before the sunrise and to my big relieve birds started to turn up again with the first light. As the name suggests bees are on the top of the menu for bee – eaters, but they are chasing dragonflies, butterflies, moths, too. In general just anything that flies. Smaller insects are eaten while still airborne, but bees are brought back to the perch in order to remove a stinger for a venom free meal. That’s why Bee-eaters toss it into the air, catch it with its bill tip and bash it repeatedly against a hard surface so the stinger is removed. Only then the food is swallowed safely.

After a good meal, preening and stretching activities followed. This had to be photographed as well. As it gets very hot in Bulgaria during the day, my morning photo sessions used to finish around 10 am. The sun was getting too harsh for the photography, contrast became to high. With the rising temperature Bee- eaters seemed to be less active and preferred to perch with bills open.

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