It's not every day that you can go for a pleasant train journey on a Heritage Railway and along the journey find a rarity. That is exactly what happened when I went with my dad to the Wensleydale Railway in Yorkshire.
We set off from Leeming Bar and just after we went through Bedale I noticed a bird on a telegraph wire down a farm track. My heart started going immediately as it was very enolgated with a long tail, slim body and long curved bill. It screamed Bee-eater! Not being in 'bird mode' I had left my Binoculars in the car so had to do my best to confirm it with the naked eye. Sadly this could not be done, so I nervously lost the bird to view and had to get off at the next station. 25 minutes later, I was on the return journey and looking at the telegraph wire. The bird had moved but I did see a bird above the sycamore which was the size of a thrush and was circling with a 'flap flap flap glide' flight. This had to be the same bird!
I finally got back to Leeming Bar and by 13.00, I was in the car with binoculars and found the farm track. Getting out of the car, I couldn't see anything but within 5 minutes, I heard (personally) the most reminiscently mediterranean of all calls. A lovely 'purring' Bee-eater! It was very high up and I could just see a circling black dot very high up. I lost it to view without seeing what direction it went, but the call was enough to fully confirm my first Bee-eater in Britain!
Description - Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Jizz (perched) - elongated 'thrush sized' bird with slim body, long tail and a medium lengthed down-curved bill. (Bird generally in silhouette, but pale throat/chin observed with naked eye from moving train)
Jizz in flight - slow circling bird with a 'flap flap flap glide' flight. Bird had relatively broad pointed wings appeared rather dusky underneath. Long fanned tail with longer central tail feathers (pointed), giving a generally slim appearance contrasting with broader wings. (Pale throat also evident in flight views)
Call - classic Bee-eater call with 3 energetic 'purring' calls heard overhead whilst circling high up.
Photo above - [NOT TAKEN IN BRITAIN!!] Bee-eater seen in Nort-east Spain, August 2008
A truly fantastic find and one species I really dreamed about seeing in 2011 at the start of the year. It's a great shame I wasn't able to get a record shot (mainly to help my case when I come to submit it!) but it shouldn't mask the joy a truly superb bird to see from a train!