18 February 2020

61. Rainbows in the Rain

Swarms of bees, wasps, hornets and ants surrounded the house last month. Looking to move their hives or nests closer to water, they sent me gaga. 

Filling the birdbath in a heatwave, I fished out hundreds of bees that drowned.

I also dodged wasps intent on stinging and ants crawling up my legs and biting.

After three years of dry weather, the whole ecosystem was breaking down. Because wildlife, birds and insects had run out of groundwater, they moved to my house.

On top of two bushfires alight nearby, I didn’t need an insect invasion. It was an ecological nightmare until Rainbow Bee-eaters came back. The birds saved us from infestation.

Bee-eaters are communal; more than twenty squashing in to roost together. 

An old digital image from a 2003 book has the birds huddling.

Travelling long distances in an annual migration; they’re aerodynamic and fly overnight. Constantly calling one another in the dark, no bird is separated from the travelling flock.

A Rainbow Bee-eater resting on an exposed branch after sunset.
In two weeks it will be our Autumn. Some Rainbows will move to northern Queensland, while others fly to Indonesia or New Guinea. The Bee-eaters pass over Torres Strait in their thousands at the start of March.

The birds’ winter in the tropical north and the islands beyond. They move from central Australia and their southern breeding grounds, where they dig out burrows with strange deformed feet.   

I rarely see Bee-eaters. Theres only an occasional glimpse of gold because they didn’t nest at our house. In November they were scouting out nest spots, but the ground must have been too hard. With the entire state in drought, they flew further south to Victoria. 


The birds are elegant in flight, but inelegant on a perch where they can only sit, rest or eat. These beauties turn into brutes when they beat up a bee though.

Bee-eaters swallow hundreds of bees daily, especially bulking up in summer.

Migratory birds put on an extra 70% of their own body weight beforehand.

When the Rainbows land they’ll be almost back to their starting weight.

 It takes extreme dieting to a whole new level.

Rain started a month ago. Smoke-haze cleared and our bushfires petered out. 

Twenty km from my home some places received a seven inch downpour in little over an hour; roads were closed due to flash flooding. 
Not so much fell here, but the rain was a huge relief.   
Looking over my backyard to the valley below 18/02/2020.
It has rained at least four days in each week since it began.
Theres been incredible new growth after dry weather for so long.

I saw a Rainbow Bee-eater perching, silhouetted against the setting sun the day after being stung by a bee at the bath. The birds return had me celebrating. 
Through the drought years, I visualised it raining. Imagined it tickling my arms and coating my hair in a halo of mist. 

Rain clouds  low in the valley around my house on the hill.
When I went out two weeks ago, Rainbow Bee-eaters were in the rain shower too;  flying with ease as they hunted insects emerging from the lawn. 

There are fifteen birds here most nights.  They glide confidently through a darkening sky. 

My wish came true: drenching rain and birds to solve my wee bee problem. 

The birds don’t look as spectacular when wet. 
Their metallic head feathers don’t shine like spun gold, but that is okay.

Watching them sweep past on long, triangular wings, snatching anything that moves on the grass was breathtaking. I was happy to fatten them with as many bees and wasps as they could catch.  
Solving insect woes eating at me, the birds were worth their weight in gold.

I went to dance in the rain

 to smile at the clouds

to spin with eyes closed 

and the birds 

and the mist 

granted me healing 

Somewhere in this saddest of Australian summer-times

Rainbow Bee-eaters were a balm to quiet my disquiet

I forgot nature finds a way to solve any crisis


Always rain after drought and fire

Birds needing insects to sustain migration

Its the way the universe has always worked.


  1. Beautiful, Thérèse. The bees, wasps, hornets and ants do all have a job to do - we would be stuffed without any of them. I had to write that, I know you'd be disappointed if I hadn't.

    1. I know Steve, I appreciate the amazing job the insects of the world do, I just don't love them crawling up my legs and biting my arse, or stinging my arms or buzzing in my face and making the dog petrified and deranged. Everything has its place, but the place is not in or around my home. Thanks Steve, you are wonderful.