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Bumblebees

Eye Brook, February 2014

Eye Brook, February 2014

Last Sunday’s count was very quiet: none of the usual species was present in significant numbers. The most notable birds were the three Little Egrets all present and correct, and a Willow Tit.

Today by the bridge there were two Kingfishers and five Lesser Redpolls, but no sign of the Bittern or Cetti’s Warbler which have been reported during the past week.

Winter has now almost passed, with hardly a frost to speak of. A bumblebee (perhaps Buff-tailed) was already on the wing in the sunshine.

White-tailed Bumblebee, Lerwick

White-tailed Bumblebee, Lerwick

Moss Carder, Aith

Moss Carder, Aith

Shetland is poor for butterflies: during our first week we saw none. As the temperature has risen to around 20 degrees during the last few days, we have seen small numbers of Large White and Red Admiral.

Bees are more numerous, though only four species are involved. White-tailed Bumblebee and Moss Carder (subspecies agricolae) are both quite easy to find around where we have been staying near Aith. Small Heath Bumblebee (endemic subspecies vogti) is present in the heather along the path by the Burn of Lunklet. The one we haven’t seen (for want of trying) is Garden Bumblebee.

 

Vestal Cuckoo-bee, Clipsham

Vestal Cuckoo-bee, Clipsham

We spent this weekend looking at orchids yesterday in overcast conditions, and butterflies in this morning’s sunshine. Dingy Skippers are now in double figures at Clipsham, where we recorded eight species including Green Hairstreak and my first Small Copper of the year.

This photo was a fluke, but seems worth sharing. Vestal Cuckoo-bee is probably our commonest cuckoo-bee, and is a parasite in nests of the common and widespread Buff-tailed Bumblebee. It visits a variety of flowers of which Ground-ivy is a favourite.

Common Carder, Ketton

Common Carder, Ketton

The humble bee has recently been in the news following the EU decision to ban three neonicotinoids. Like butterflies and some birds, populations of bees have fallen significantly in terms of geographical range and numerical strength in the last 40 years. Changes in land use and the removal of hedgerows have played a significant part.

As far as I know, Essex is the only English county which has its own book on Bumblebees. In Rutland there have been recent records of eight of Britain’s 25 (or 27, depending on your taxonomy) species of Bumblebee. Some species still haven’t got agreed English names, which are useful at local level and have more popular appeal than scientific names. They are difficult to photograph and identify because they seldom settle for long, but with patience it is often possible to obtain images which are useful for identification purposes.

Now we have Dave Goulson’s ‘A Sting in the Tale’, which as well as being a plea for the bee describes the reintroduction of Short-haired Bumblebees to Kent. As he observes, if we can save a bee today there is hope that we may save other things which both keep us alive and make life worth living tomorrow.

The following are all worth reading:

Benton 2000. The Bumblebees of Essex.

Edwards & Jenner 2009. Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland.

Goulson 2013. A Sting in the Tale.

Prys-Jones & Corbet 2011. Bumblebees.