Yesterday was one of those deceptive early spring days – lovely and sunny but with a bite to the wind. Warm enough for bumblebees to be out foraging though..
It’s a new year’s resolution of mine to gain a better understanding of bees. Dare I say it? I have a bee in my bonnet about it! Seriously. I often read about, and observe, which plants are “good for bees”, but last year it occurred to me to ask, which bees? The catch-all phrase good for bees was suddenly unsatisfactory. I know the difference between bumblebees and ‘skinny bees’ as I think of them i.e. honey bees and the solitary types. But I don’t really know how to distinguish between those skinny bees, or the various species of bumblebees. So I have begun a curve: a Learning Curve. And last morning provided a perfect opportunity..
I was working in a client’s garden, pruning roses, and doing the general tidying up typical of winter’s close. I was putting the garden waste in bags to be collected by the council (there is a compost bin atop an old Anderson shelter which is a bit precarious to get to, and I didn’t fancy that particular excitement today!) when I noticed buzzing emanating deep from within the bag I was using. Oh no! I’d accidentally buried a bee under a pile of cuttings. Having managed to rescue the bee in distress, I then wondered where to put it to recover. To begin with, I thought of the Mahonia aquifolium flowers, but these were mostly still in bud, and the nearby Viburnum tinus didn’t seem to provide any appeal when I tried depositing the bee on the open flowers there. Next to try were the butter yellow crocus onto which the bee did crawl, but didn’t act enthusiastic about.
Maybe it was in shock! Finally, I tried the flowers of Bergenia cordifolia, and thankfully the bee perked up on these. I was then able to take photos so that I could try and identify it. Not that I took great pictures as the bee kept moving! But I took enough for spotting distinguishing features; namely, the ginger bum (quite easy to miss as this band of colour wasn’t prominent) and the yellow stripe on the abdomen and thorax. So my guess is that this was the Early Bumblebee, Bombus pratorum.
Further investigation tells me that this is a short-tongued bee, and while they cannot access vetches, they are able to forage on allium, lavender, sage, white clover, thistles and other flowers of the daisy (composite) type.
Today is grey and wet; mild but with the kind of chill a damp day brings. I doubt I’ll see any bees.
Chinery, Michael, Complete British Insects (Collins: 2005)