I always thought that the phrase “one swallow does not a summer make” was one of those wise old British sayings which came from the fact that if you see a single swallow in late March, you can expect a similar chilly weather period to the “Beast From The East” which we went through recently here in Blighty. It turns out however that the phrase was coined by Aristotle, and I bet he didn’t see 4 feet of snow in ancient Greece during March.
The phrase doesn’t work in Gran Alacant, the swallows have been around since the middle of February, or even earlier, so is there another bird which you can say is the Spanish harbinger of much better weather? Yes there is, and it will be turning up in mid April – all the local birders will be keeping an eye out for the first ones over the next few weeks.
It is the very gaudy Bee-eater, one of the most distinctive and colourful birds we have in our area. The two shown here in my photograph were in the Clot last year, they were with a flock of about 15-20 birds which spent the whole summer here and could usually be seen during the late afternoon coming down to the main pool for a drink and a natter with each other.
They do have a habit of chatting away non-stop – once you have heard the very distinctive sound of the bee-eater you will be able to identify these birds even when you can’t see them. It is a far-carrying liquid mellow “quillip” sound (look up “European Bee-eater Song” on Google to hear plenty of examples), and often the first sign that they have arrived is from high-flying flocks as they migrate along the coast northwards during spring.
In more than ten years of birdwatching in the Clot, I have noticed that the population of local Bee-eaters varies from year to year. Last year was an average year with the 20 or so birds present, a few years ago it was very hard to find any in the Clot, then the following year
you could hardly move without tripping over one. If this year proves to be poor for the birds in the Clot, fear not – you will still be able to see them in the surrounding countryside, usually perched on telephone wires as they survey their surroundings for prey.
As the name suggests, their main victims are bees and wasps. If you are able to get
near a feeding bee-eater (find one on a wire, stay in your car and watch) you will be able to see how they wallop a bee on a hard surface – the telephone wire will do – in order to remove the sting, then toss it in the air before swallowing it.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com