THERE ARE THREE softbill species that encapsulate, for many bird enthusiasts in grey old Britain, the sun and azure skies of the Mediterranean: the bee-eater, the roller and the hoopoe. Apart from the jay, with its pink and blue bits, none of our familiar British favourites gets close to the vivid colour scheme of that sunshine trio. And, just as the sight of your first hooded crow signals that you’re entering the real Highlands, the first bee-eaters on the roadside wires as you drive down for your holiday mean that you’re entering a new country: the true south, the land of oranges and olive groves.

Hoopoes are a bit different, since they happen to have colonised some of temperate Europe too, but that’s an outpost: essentially they belong to the hot-weather cultures, from Greece across the desert kingdoms and the parched plains of the Subcontinent. They love (it has to be said) a dunghill, and your working dunghill tends to flourish where there are working mules and camels. Their languid hup-hup-hup… hup-hup, often from more than one direction, blends nicely into the soundtrack to a siesta. Not that they are sleepy birds themselves: in spring and summer nearly all that you see are hurrying floppily along with a beakload of leggy protein for their well-hidden brood.

I’ve enjoyed the contrast between this happy-go-lucky sunlover and the cool, methodical expertise of leading German softbill man Thomas Wendt, who writes in depth on the species this week (page 14). There’s something deeply impressive about Thomas’s patient research before he made his first move to acquire a hoopoe – and if you want attention to detail, check out his softfood dry mix! What a fantastic breeding species to aspire to.

■ Coming to Kent? Sunday 26th is the day of our joint event with Maidstone & SECAS at the Lockmeadow Hall – and I’m delighted to confirm that talented bird photographer Luke Stephenson will be on official C&AB duty to portray the winning birds in his distinctive style. Come and be part of it – and don’t forget those incredible Skygold prices that you can read about on page 3.

Rob Innes

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