Tag Archives: Bombus pascuorum

April Adventures

Spring has been a little slow to take off – I only saw my first Swallow yesterday, and we only had our first reasonably warm and sunny weather over the last three days. There might not be swallows but the sunny weather has brought out some very impressive birds, most notably Buzzards (Buteo buteo). These birds are best described as either very large hawks or small eagles and should not be confused with vultures which are a very different kind of bird. Here are two photos I got of one bird recently:

Buzzards like bright, sunny days because they can use the sun to hide their approach. Their favourite prey are rabbits, especially in spring when there are abundant young rabbits around which lack the experience of older rabbits and can be easily caught. Buzzards will also eat rats and will scavenge roadkill. The famous cry of the hawk in American western movies is the same as the cry of the Buzzard.

Because it’s April I would like to remind you to keep an eye out for Ireland’s rarest known species of solitary bee, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). These bees make small volcano-like burrows on lawns and the female is stunningly beautiful. They have no sting and although you might see a number of bees in one area they are not working together as a colony but living single lives. Here is a photo of a female, and the yellow on her hind legs is not the bees colour but, in fact, pollen collected on special hairs:

The male is much less handsome and harder to tell apart from the males of other mining bee species, of which there are a few in Ireland. And here is a photo of a female in her mine. They often like to watch from the entrance and will duck their heads in if they think they’ve been spotted.

The female is about the size of a small worker bumblebee, but is large as mining bees go. There is a very similar bee species which is more common and not quite so red in colour, the Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) which is more robust-looking, and I here is a photo of that species so you can tell them apart:

Common Carder Bee feeding on vinca.

If you see a Tawny Mining Bee and especially if you find nests the National Biodiversity Data Centre will want to hear from you, and they can be contacted at this website which allows you to submit records, coordinates and photographs of anything and everything in the natural world, but rare creatures especially:

www.biodiversityireland.ie

 

April Transformation

We had a very cold and somewhat wet March, and April has been somewhat similar, bright and sunny but often windy and chilly at the very same time. However, a huge change is underway and spring is unfolding by the day and the hour. Only a few days ago I was delighted to see a queen Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) sunbathing on some bare ground among the violets.

A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.
A furry queen Carder Bee, which usually appears later in spring than the much larger Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens. This is very much the spring bumblebee.

Particularly delightful is the sight of Tawny Mining Bees (Andrena fulva) on the wing.  Usually males appear first, but this year I spotted a big furry female days before the first male. This is officially our rarest species of solitary bee, and as a result the National Biodiversity Data Centre are looking for recorded sightings from the public.  Here is a link to the record sheet, which is easy to follow and make submissions on: http://records.biodiversityireland.ie/submit_records.php?fk=SolitaryBeesStandard&caching=cache

And here is a photo I got two days ago of a female Tawny Mining Bee:

25689979503_90c1d788e2And here is a photo of a male Tawny Mining Bee from the same day:

The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white 'beard'.
The male Tawny Mining Bee has a distinctive white ‘beard’.

There is a similar but smaller species of mining bee also appearing right now, the Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa). The males are very similar to the Tawny Mining Bee males, but much smaller and lack the white beard. The female is very beautiful, and here is a photo of a female from the same day as the Tawny Mining Bee photos:

A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.
A pretty female Early Mining Bee. She is much smaller then the female Tawny Mining Bee, and about the size of a male of that species.

Also buzzing around the lawn, feeding on dandelion flowerheads is a small and somewhat sinister-looking wasp. This is in fact yet another bee, but for the mining bees it is indeed sinister, as it’s a parasitic bee which lays its eggs in the nests of mining bees, its grubs killing and eating the mining bee grubs. This particular species of cuckoo bee is Panzer’s Nomada (Nomada panzeri):

Panzer's Nomada
Panzer’s Nomada. There are many similar Nomada Bee species.

But it hasn’t all been bees. Despite the cold some sunny days have warmed up sheltered areas enough for migrating butterfly species to begin flying about. So far I have only seen two butterfly species, and this one is the second, a Peacock (Inachis io):

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The March of Early Spring

Forgive the title pun, but this year it really has felt as though March began the spring properly. With just one hour to 1 March I spotted my first moth of the year by the rear window, a Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria), a species which can be easily identified by the row of minute dots along the edges of its wings.

A Dotted Border moth.
A Dotted Border moth. Note the tiny dots along the wing edges.

The Dotted Border is an early spring moth, flying from February until April.

In the last few days I have seen quite a few bees around, mainly big queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and so far one male of the species sunning itself on an old white-painted board.

The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She is immense.
The male Buff-tailed Bumblebee is very similar to the female but far smaller. She, by contrast, is immense, almost thumb-sized.

Last year’s Buff-tailed Bumblebees  were still around in late December and early January, collecting pollen from flowering exotic garden shrubs such as Mahonia. The bees then disappeared for the two months of the coldest part of winter and are now re-emerging to start new colonies. Buff-tailed Bumblebees are  not the only ones around, I was very surprised to find a handsome queen Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) two days ago, drowsily collecting pollen from the newly blooming dandelions.

A Common Carder Bee from the side. These bees normally don't show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.
A Common Carder Bee on dandelion. These bees normally don’t show up until very late March or early April, and even stranger is that this has been a colder year than last year by a long way.

Like the bees the birds have already begun their spring activities too. I was very impressed by the display a Magpie was putting on for his intended, flying high into the air and hovering like a kite before dropping suddenly and swooping to where she was perched at the top of a huge Ash tree.

A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.
A male Magpie displaying to a female as part of a courtship ritual.They are certainly very beautiful birds.

I was also delighted to observe some other creatures enjoying the recent sun, such as this very distinctive spider, the Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which almost always rests in a pose similar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Universal Man’.

Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don't make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring.
Nursery-web Spiders love to sunbathe. They don’t make webs to hunt with, only for protecting their young, and only in late spring. They are a medium-sized spider.

I saw all of these creatures in the last few days, but today alone (the best spring day so far) I saw even more spring wildlife, and I will post those images later tonight.