Jim Thomson | Those dazzling Bee Eaters

HOME DELIVERY: A Rainbow Bee Eater takes a dragonfly to the nest, a hole in the river bank.
HOME DELIVERY: A Rainbow Bee Eater takes a dragonfly to the nest, a hole in the river bank.

This is the time of year to view and capture some shots of the Bee Eaters which arrive in the south to breed about September-October.

They love to drill holes into sand banks and sometimes into grass covered edges.

Their colours are magnificent – I love photographing them – but they are high speed flyers and you need to be ready.

Because of their speed Bee Eaters catch their prey with ease on the wing … dragonflies and all kinds of insects, especially bees.

When feeding chicks they usually land on a limb close to the nest and then fly straight to the nesting hole at high speed.

This then was the situation I found when I visited a friend’s property with water frontage to the Hunter River. There were a few nests and I selected one in a sand bank in which the parents had just started to feed chicks.

The next decision was to decide how to stop them in flight as they reached the nest hole. The area was open to bright sunlight so I decided to use short duration flash in the early hours before the sun reached the bank. This meant a 6.30am start each day.

The short duration flash system only works in shady conditions or dull days, but given these conditions it can be very successful.

The camera was set about a metre from the subject, 2 flashes used one lithium power pack for instant recycling at 10 frames per second, Triggering the camera was done from my 4WD about 30 metres away with wireless control.

I triggered the camera just when the bird reached the left of the camera. The bird would reach the bank a quarter of a second later, which meant three shots each visit. I ended up with about 100 flight shots.

In southern Australia the arrival of flocks of Rainbow Bee Eaters heralds the spring for many people. The flocks are usually conspicuous as the birds will often sit on fences and telegraph wires in noisy groups, or wheel and swoop in search of flying insects.

Bee Eaters are so active that they must eat a great deal and a single bird can eat several hundred bees daily. Bee eaters live in many types of habitat but avoid dense rainforests.