The chicks inside the burrow hadn’t been fed for over an hour, and I just knew the adults were due back any minute. Then I heard the call: “Drrr-drrr-drrr”, a high-pitched repetitive trill. I could see a bee-eater perched on the power lines just down the street with a large insect in its bill. I poised my finger on the shutter button. Suddenly, a myriad of birds flew overhead - doves, swallows, honeyeaters... the bee-eater... and a sinister Brown Goshawk appeared, gliding slowly past the tree-tops and over the roofs, flushing the droves of wary birds away from its gaze. Somewhere out there was an unwary one. But not the bee-eaters. The two adults fluttered away trilling constantly in alarm, taking their single newly-fledged young away and into hiding. The second chick at the front of the burrow had disappeared... as did my last photograph opportunity. It was time to go, and be happy with what I’d got.
The magnificent Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) migrates from northern Australia to the south-west to breed every year around October, usually returning to the same site each season. The adults work at tunnelling a long burrow into the ground and laying eggs in a nest chamber at the end, sometimes more than a metre in. A pair of birds had done this very thing on the front lawn of a friend’s house in Bayswater, and much to my delight, Adrienne had emailed me with the news that I stood a good chance of getting some shots.
I spent about 3 hours in the most deluxe wildlife hide that I’ve ever worked in (inside the front door of Adrienne’s house, complete with a cup of fresh tea!) and watched the adult bee-eaters brings butterflies and dragonflies to feed the chicks which remained inside the burrow, ready to fledge at any minute. It was incredible to see how quickly the birds shot in with food and shot out again! And their efforts were often thwarted by the comings and goings of tradesmen working on a new house on the block next door. Adrienne told me that some men tried to deliver some concrete pipes to her house (instead of the place next door) and nearly drove their bloody truck over the bee-eater burrow. Bloody humans!
The male can be distinguished from the female by his longer tail shafts and more vibrant colours. The photo at the top of the page shows the female leaving the burrow and in this shot her ‘duller’ appearance is more obvious.
Once again, here is another example of a native species adapting to the urban environment and carrying on its busy lifestyle among humans: nature in culture. And this epitomises my philosophy of ‘conservation’. While it clearly does not work for all local native species, there are still many animals which can thrive in the presence of humans. Our role in this relationship is to ensure that our movements and developments fit in to the ways of nature with the lowest possible impacts. If we can make it easy for the local nature of the Perth region to carry on, by planting native trees and shrubs, recycling, minimising landfill waste, looking, listening and learning to the world around us, we can all become “conservationists”. National Parks and Wilderness Areas still serve a huge purpose too. But what we see and learn about in our backyards on a daily basis has the most impact on our thinking.Remember, we as human beings have the intelligence and the capability to recognise and minimise our impacts. And we should. Because it’s interesting, it’s good for our mental and physical health, it’s FUN... and it’s the right thing to do.