Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All in all it's just another bee in the wall


I made another trip to the Ox Hovel in Nether Heyford, Northants on a sunny but frosty early morning.  The bees were warming up before setting off for the day and the two old boys in the photo above are faded male hairy-footed flower bees (Anthophora plumipes).  All the females will have mated by now so there is nothing for these two to do in the remainder of their short lives except sip nectar and sit in the sun.  When I first saw them one was asleep on his back.

Most of the Anthophora bees I saw were females.  They were also waiting to warm up so I had the unusual opportunity of photographing them at rest (normally they whizz in and out too fast for me to focus).




Also warming up were several cuckoo bees, Melecta albifrons, the cleptoparasite of Anthophora plumipes.



I saw a few female red mason bees (Osmia bicornis).  The photos show well the two horns on the face used for building the mud walls between the cells in the nest hole.



Because I was expecting solitary bees this bee puzzled me for a moment.  It is a tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) so they also have a nest in the wall.


I posted a few Anthophora plumipes photos on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook page recently and this lead to an amusing exchange, which went along the lines of:

We don't need no pollination,
We don't need no swarm control,
No dark Melecta in the mortar,
Keeper leave them bees alone,
Hey, Keeper, leave them bees alone,
All in all it's just another bee in the wall.

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Monday, 21 May 2018

The bilberry bumblebee


This is a bee I have been hoping to see for the past couple of years.  I eventually found one in Harwood Forest in Northumberland where I was doing my walk for the BTO Breeding Bird Survey.  It is a queen Bombus monticola, the bilberry bumblebee.  It is quite unmistakeable with its bright pink/orange tail.




Bombus monticola is found mainly in upland habitats but, despite its name, is not limited to bilberry.  This one was feeding on gorse.

I'll keep my eyes open on the next visit next month to look for more of these beautiful bees. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A walk round the pond - week 20


The season is progressing quickly after the recent warm weather.  This week there were dozens of large red damselflies including many mating pairs.

The common blue damselflies

and azure damselflies now have mature colouration.

There was another new species this week, the blue-tailed damselfly.  This is a mature male.

I think these are immature males.  Note the two-coloured wing spots.


Female blue-tailed damselflies come in five different colours.  I have seen all five at the pond in previous years so I'll try to find them again in coming weeks.

There were a lot more four-spotted chasers than last week, doing what chasers do - chasing and resting.  They are easier to photograph when they rest.


I can now see that the little grebes have four chicks.

It is interesting that they return to the nest.  The chicks are not yet able to fly or to feed themselves but they know to dive at the first sign of danger.


The Canada goslings are growing fast.

There are still eight of them but it is difficult to get them all in the same frame.  Here are seven.

Other birds I saw included coots and moorhens.  I don't know what this was all about but the moorhen came out the winner.



I saw a nomad cuckoo bee as I was leaving.  I am not sure which species it is as the tricoloured ones aren't so easy to separate.

I also saw this little beast which is probably a parasitic wasp of some kind.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Snipe nest

This is the 13th year that I have counted birds for the BTO Breeding Bird Survey on a km square in Northumberland near Wark Forest.  Despite the title, the survey looks for the presence of birds in the breeding season, rather than evidence of breeding, but I do occasionally stumble across a nest.  In the past I have seen meadow pipit and curlew nests and this time I flushed a snipe when I was almost on top of it.  The bird sat tight until  I was a metre away, relying on its camouflage.  I expect if I had been a couple of metres either side I would have walked straight past without it moving.  I took the opportunity of taking a few photos before walking on.  This is the nest from 0.5m so you can see how well it is hidden.

There were four beautifully camouflaged eggs.


I heard the tick-tock call of a snipe from the nest area once I had moved 100m or so away so I am sure the bird happily resumed incubation.  I heard another bird drumming in the sky a few 100 metres farther on.  You can hear both the tick-tock and the drumming here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

A new BBS square

I have been counting birds on a 1km square for the BTO Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) since 2006 and for this year I have taken on a second square.  My first square is 1km of unimproved grassland and bog with no trees or shrubs and the commonest birds are meadow pipit, skylark and curlew.  The new one couldn't be more different as it is all forest.

The two 1km transects are broken down into 200m sections and birds are counted in zones <25m, 25-100m, and >100m on two visits, one in May and one in June.

Although the transects mainly run along the tracks through the forest, with many tall trees on either side, there are areas where timber has been harvested or there is new plantation so there are some long distance views as well.



In other places the view is very limited and birds are mostly identified by their calls or song.


My first square has yielded a total of 29 species over 12 years, with an average of 11 per year (and probably about 9 per visit).  My new square has been surveyed three times in the past 12 years with a total 44 species -  21 per year (including 0 skylarks and 0 curlews).

The commonest birds in the new square on yesterday's visit were chaffinch, woodpigeon and mistle thrush.  Other highlights were cuckoo (several), jay, siskin, crossbill, redpoll, red grouse, willow warbler and chiffchaff.

Here is a very distant shot of a redpoll, a bird I usually see only in the winter.


And a siskin.

At the end of the first transect a more familiar bird was waiting.

The BBS also records mammals.  Near the end of the first transect this young roe buck popped out in front of me.


Because I was downwind and standing still he couldn't quite make me out and advanced down the track several times, sniffing the air.  It is a very remote spot so perhaps he had never seen a person before.  Eventually he lost interest and wandered off.



I'll be back for a second visit next month.  The latest BBS annual report - for 2017 - has just been published.  It, and all previous reports, can be accessed here.