Photographing European Bee-eater: How and Where

BienenfresserA thin branch in the most beautiful evening light and on it a European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). This is an image many nature photographers want to shoot. This raises the question of course of what the Bee-eater’s habits and preferences are. If you take a closer look at Bee-eater photography, you ask yourself e.g. how a favorite habitat must look like, what a perfect breeding site must be like and which season is suitable at all.

Part of the solution to the problem is already solved by the food spectrum of the magnificent bird. Merops apiaster live a very flight-intensive life and feed exclusively on big  insects. The bird is specialized in the hunting of large and medium-sized flying insects. Bees, wasps, bumblebees, beetles, dragonflies and butterflies are among their main prey. In this respect, you will find more European Bee-eater where these main prey insects are found in large numbers. Furthermore, the Bee-eater is dependent on a warm climate due to its food source.

In order to be able to hunt the flying insects efficiently, European Bee-eaters need a “perch”, an elevated stig, from which it can start to hunt. Birds’ habitats therefore always include old trees with bare branches or tall shrubs.

Over the centuries, the Bee-eater has repeatedly expanded its area to the north. The European Bee-eater is currently on the rise again. Breeding pairs have even been observed in Denmark. In Germany, the area around the sunny Kaiserstuhl in Baden-Wuerttemberg with its loess soils offers the best conditions. Another large settlement of the species took place in the rain shadow of the Harz in Saxony-Anhalt.

Now it is fundamentally problematic to go “photo hunting” for rare species in the intensively managed landscape in Central Europe. Even more so, if it is necessary to stay at the breeding grounds – which fortunately are well protected deep in steep earth walls.

I would therefore like to draw your attention to some good, productive locations that should make responsible Bee-eater photography possible. In some places, the nature conservation authorities have also created appropriate residences and camouflage devices.

An example of this are hides for the observation of Bee-eaters on the slopes of the Ungerberg, on the border between the small villages of Weiden and Gols in the Burgenland in Austria. The area is – due to the proximity to Lake Neusiedl – a popular destinations for ornithologists. A well-developed colony drills its nesting sites in the loess from April to the end of July already for several years. Already from the far end of Weiden you can see the Ungerberg and the sand caves. The animals can be observed very well here. The beautifully designed camouflage device in a wooden hide on Hundsheimer Berg – also located in Austria – has unfortunately abandoned.

Otherwise, almost every southern country in Europe – be it Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Romania or  Cyprus – can be recommended. The problem is that you always have to reorient yourself. A good tip for the southeast, for Bulgaria, is the village of Kardam, a village in northeastern Bulgaria. The village is located in the Dobruja, in the Dobrich Oblast and has an important Bee-eater colony. It should only be visited with the appropriate support from local conservationists. This is advisable because contact with locals can only be sought and maintained in this way. The Bulgarian language is not easy and English is far from being spoken everywhere. Another advantage here is the possibility to photograph European Roller (Coracias garrulus) on their breeding areas .

I would also like to mention my experiences in the wintering areas in Africa or especially on migration along the east coast of Africa. The balcony of the Holiday Inn in Safaga on the coast of the Red Sea in Egypt was a perfect spot. I was able to take pictures of European Bee-eaters standing on palm fronds at a surprisingly short distance. So if you are primarily interested in format-filling images, you should consider a vacation in Egypt in May. Of course, action is more likely in a Bee-eater colony. In the winter quarters in Africa I have seen the species in Cameroon, as well as South Africa and especially in southern Malawi. Even in winter areas, the species can sometimes be photographed at an astonishing close distance during a rest.

In order to avoid stings from its defensive prey, the Bee-eater subjects its victims an intensive treatment. Before devouring the prey, the bird kills non-poisonous insects by knocking on a branch several times. Or he occasionally throws them in the air and catches them again. The bird always grabs “poison-biting” insects by the abdomen and hits them once or twice on a branch before rubbing the end of their abdomen on a branch. This is how the venom is drawn out from bees or wasps and is thereby removed. After a few more hits on the head, the insect is finally ready to eat. This always results in very rewarding photo series.

An advantage with photography is that the Bee-eater is not very suspicious. A camouflage tent, if it is necessary at all, does not have to be placed weeks in advance. However, it is beneficial to find a breeding wall that is not in the immediate vicinity of trees or other twigs and stigs and instead to place tempting twigs and branches near the breeding walls. Experience has shown that these temporary perches are all occupied quite quickly, and there are often quarrels among these birds about the best places. So you can nicely photograph some of these arguments between the birds. It is convenient to choose your own location so that you get a good view of the loess wall on the one hand and the photo twigs on the other. There are always several breeding pairs present. As a result, there is hardly a recovery phase for the photographer.

In order to meet the growing demand for top images of the rarer species of Palaearctic has specifically made trips to remote places. Additionally every chance is used, if a rare bird is around the homeground. This to do everything to ensure excellent photos of the Birds of the Western Palearctic . The yield of pictures also of rare Western Palaearctic birds is very good, as you can see with the picture of the blog. Other nice images of birds you will find behind the tab “Picture Shop“. Just give a notice if you need a picture of a bird which is not online.

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