Sunday, 10 August 2014

Colonists and Non-natives, Isle of Wight - August 2014

The news of a pair of breeding (European) Bee-eaters on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight has now been widely publicised and a steady stream of birders have been going to see the event. Living so close to the Isle of Wight, I was eager to go and get a glimpse of this colourful and spectacular species and so arranged to go over after bird ringing on the 9th August. This is the third time Bee-eaters have been recorded nesting in the UK, the first was back in 1955 when two pairs raised seven young and the second was in 2002 when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham. 

Initially this rare event was shrouded in secrecy because of the danger of egg thieves stealing the unhatched eggs, but the news was widely circulated once the chicks had hatched. The Bee-eaters have made their nest in a small sandy hill on the Wydcombe Estate and a public viewing area has been set up so that visitors can enjoy the birds, without disturbing them. Details of where to find it can be found here.

Bee-Eater Merops apaister - Wydcombe Estate, Isle of Wight

There are apparently four birds present at the site, the breeding pair and two helpers. We saw at least two birds, as we had two birds together at one point, but otherwise there were just single birds coming and going and hunting in the area. We did get some great views when birds were hunting nearby, on one occasion a large dragonfly was taken, or attempting the see off the local raptors, there were Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawks in the area, but the views were generally distant and so no good for photography (see above). The nest site is hidden from view for obvious reasons so one can only imagine what it is like, but it will certainly include soft sand that will enable the birds to burrow in and create a nest chamber. 

My best experiences of breeding Bee-eaters have been during my visits to south-eastern Turkey, where I visited a mixed Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eater colony. These birds were nesting in a mound (see below), maybe the Isle of Wight birds are in a similar location.

Bee-eater Merops apaister Colony South-eastern Turkey - 2012

Being such fantastic birds I couldn't publish a post about Bee-eaters with only the distant shot that I used at the start of this post and so I have included a couple of shots from my last Turkey trip. 

Bee-eater Merops apaister - South-eastern Turkey - 2012
Bee-eater Merops apaister - South-eastern Turkey - 2012

As we were leaving the Bee-eater site I noticed a Jersey Tiger moth settled on a concrete fence post, so of course we had to stop for a photo. Jersey Tiger was formerly a migratory species only but became established on the Isle of Wight during the 1990s, its range has now expanded onto the mainland. It is a day flying species and on warm days can be seen nectaring on the flowers of Buddlieas and thistles. 

Jersey Tiger Moth Euplagia quadripunctaria - Wydcombe Estate, Isle of Wight

As we had made the effort to come onto the Island our next destination was to visit Ventnor in search of Wall Lizards. Unlike the two previous species, which have naturally colonised the Island, the Wall Lizard is considered to be an introduction. The exact date of the first introduction in the town is not known, but there is information to suggest it was as early as 1841. However according to the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile (SARG) Group website, the first reliable published record dates back to 1960. Whatever the exact date is, the species is now well established on the south coast of the Isle of Wight, with a preference for walls and other rocky habitats that are well-exposed to the sun. The Wall Lizards at this site appears to occupy their own ecological niche and where they does come into contact with the native Viviparous Lizard Zootoca vivipara there is apparently no evidence to suggest a negative impact.

Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis - Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis - Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis - Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Juvenile Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis - Ventnor, Isle of Wight

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