I remember one day walking into my back yard at dusk and seeing an odd flash of blue in a tree – out of the corner of my eye. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was a group of 6 swallow-tailed bee-eaters huddled together for the night. I had seen photos of them and wondered how the photographers had managed to capture such a scene without scaring away the birds, and here was my chance.
So I grabbed some shots with a still camera. The next night, I went out again and they were in the very same spot! This got me thinking it might be fun to preposition a video camera on tripod and catch them settling in for the night. For the next few days, they came in regularly at 5:07 pm and I grabbed as much video as I could. Unfortunately, it was harder than I expected. For one, getting a good focus on birds in a tree (rather than the branches around them) – especially when the birds aren’t in place yet – is quite a challenge. Second – unless you’re using a ten-foot tripod, you’re filming into the sky, meaning backlighting becomes an issue. No amount of camera adjustment could fix that. Any closer and you risk the birds not coming in that night. Finally – and this was in some ways the most frustrating – the birds come in on the same branch every night, but there’s a 50-50 chance which way they’ll face. Secretly I think the birds knew I was filming, and they deliberately face away from the camera.
Anyway, here is the result. I think the footage is particularly cool because I caught some footage of the birds eating bees, which is interesting in and of itself. Using their long beaks, they catch bees in flight (never when stationary!) and then bash them repeatedly against a branch to remove the stinger and squeeze out the venom. You’ll see this early on. I also included a couple of stills so you can see what the birds actually look like in full color (without backlighting!)