European bee-eater closeup

The returning colours

It has been a strange month. First, we have our State of Emergency making it difficult for many nature lovers, but also the weather has been cool and wet. Of course, I’m not complaining about the wet as we really need the water. However, the cool weather delayed the return of two species that I wait for patiently – okay, not very patiently if I’m honest. These two species are what I name the “colours” as they are very colourful summer visitors.

European bee-eaters
If you haven’t yet been lucky enough to spot these amazing birds, then I always suggest that people go looking for them. Of course, it is difficult for some with the current situation, but they are here until September, so plenty of opportunity once things hopefully return to normal.

European bee-eaters spend the winter in the warmer climate of southern Africa and usually return within a day each side of April 1. This year, however, they returned almost two weeks later, probably due to the cooler weather. Locally, the numbers are very low, so I am keeping watch for any more late-returners.

As the name suggests, they catch bees plus anything else they can catch in flight. Watching them swooping and chasing insects is a fantastic display. Once heard, their calls are unmistakably sounding, almost electronic. They are stunning with a mixture of yellow, blue, red and browns. Males and females are very similar, but usually the female has less and sometimes lacks the brown colouring on the wing shoulders.

They nest in tunnels which they dig freshly every year and are usually found near a source of water. At this time of year, it’s great to see the courtships of the males catching an insect and bringing it back for the female. You will often see them sitting on cables knocking any stinger off on the cable before being consumed. I will be keeping watch of these amazing birds and reporting back in my blog on my website.

Golden orioles
My second “colour” bird is the fantastic but shy golden oriole. I’ve had to put up with a starling mimicking the golden oriole all winter this year, but a few days ago (at time of writing), I heard a song that was too good to be a starling. On investigation, I spotted a male sitting in a tree. As with the European bee-eaters, they have returned from their winter grounds of southern Africa.

The golden oriole has a flute-like call like no other, apart from the pesky starlings mimicking them! The male is bright yellow with contrasting black wings and red beak; the female is a duller green but equally as beautiful. They are shy birds and, even with their colouring, they blend well amongst the leaves.

You can often be stood near a tree with them singing and still find it difficult to spot them. They build incredible deep-cup nests hung in the fork of high branches and, in my experience, they seem to like eucalyptus trees as the branches are perfect for these nests.

The Portuguese name is papa-figos, which is derived from their favourite food, figs. If you have a fig tree, keep an eye open, as you may find them taking a fruit or two. I am lucky to have a few pairs nesting every year in nearby eucalyptus trees that sit on a natural terrace which overlooks them.

Although I have this amazing vantage point, over the years my luck hasn’t been too great getting the perfect shot. This year, I will be concentrating my efforts in photographing them and spending a lot of time on my “oriole terrace”. Again, please see my blog for updates.

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit
www.craigrogers.photography

Female (left) and male (right) European bee-eaters
European bee-eater closeup
Male golden oriole amongst the branches
Male golden oriole in full view