Hungary’s Summer trinity

As a teenager obsessively looking through my bird guides, I looked longingly at the colourful summer migrants of central and eastern Europe. Although I have visited many times to work with them since turning pro all those years ago, they still draw me in and my visit to Hungary to guide our Natures Images regular trip there was just as highly anticipated on my part and some good old fashioned bird photography was going to be a welcome break from what has been a very challenging 6 months at a personal level too. Getting the timing right to work with the Roller, Hoopoe and Bee-eater trilogy is always hard but luckily this year it all just worked.

The European Rollers had, as anticipated, not long arrived and seeing this beautiful bird in the first light of the day was as magical as it always is, especially they were already pairing up and it wasn’t long before her partner arrived to accompany her here.

It wasn’t too long before he started the process of collecting food offerings to hand over to her – beetles mostly but other insects as well, and she soon appreciated the gifts and their bond for this season was once again sealed. I love how she hangs onto the key gift all the way through the mating – it really is a key part of their ritual.

It will only be a matter of days after this that she disappears into their chosen nest site, egg laying starts and photographic opportunities for the two birds together disappear for a number of weeks so it was great to get enjoy these stunningly colourful birds at their best – the colours under the raised wings are usually just glimpsed in flight so seeing them sparkle in this morning light was extra special.

Hoopoe are equally as striking a bird – less showy in terms of colour but the vibrant stripes on their wings and incredibly elegant crest are more than impressive characteristics. They are by far the earliest nesters of the trinity as I call them, and so often an early start for them has meant all is over by the time Rollers and Bee-eaters have even begun. This year they were on the later side though and so this adult was one of two birds whizzing in and out of their nest site with food for the growing brood inside.

A few days later I was able to spend an afternoon with another pair who were even later and the female was still sitting inside with eggs. The location was really conducive to working with the male as he flew in to feed his mate – the best way to appreciate the stripes on the wings to best effect.

At one point she decided that it was getting a bit hot in her tree home and after briefly sticking her head out suddenly popped out to stretch her own wings.

You can almost see the look of surprise on her partners face when re returned to find the nest apparently abandoned! Mind you it did mean his raising his crest to the absolute best as he landed and found her gone so all was not lost photographically and a couple of minutes pf panic later they met up on a nearby fence post, he handed over his latest grub and she returned to her incubating tasks again.

The final bird of the three species is the European Bee-eater and I have always tried to time my travels here with their arrival. I’ve been caught out only the once (and even then they arrived durning the course of the week) but this year they were bang on schedule and so with a smile on my face I started with attempting to capture those daintily raised feet and focussed eyes as they landed on a perch near to the sandbank full of holes that they were were in the process of claiming as nest sites once again.

They too were pairing off though and so combining this with a potential partner already waiting on a perch – which represents a courting ground as much as a resting place – was my next focus: it almost looks like he’s putting his wing around her as I look at this next image!

She clearly didn’t mind his presence and so following in the footsteps of the Rollers he began a process of courtship by catching food for her and proving he was an expert at catching bees on the wing: the sound of his snapping beak as he caught them was only matched by the wonderful trilling of other birds in the colony: something that is a sound synonymous with summer in this part of the world for me. After arranging it carefully he would pass it over for her approval and consumption before it eventually had the same bonding end result.

All of this was just the tonic I needed at a personal level: it’s always rewarding to spend time with beautiful subjects, watch behaviour that you understand and appreciate and try your best to simply capture as well as enjoy the moments as they unfold. Teenage me would have been more than happy after all!

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