Tag Archives: “Carder Bee”

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.

 

Return to Spring

Anyone following this blog will realise it has been on hiatus since early March. Why so? Because although it looked like spring was breaking through, the winter became very long and drawn out. We had the coldest March since records began in 1882, and it was only two weeks ago that the temperatures suddenly became normal. Only the Monday before last ( a week and a day ago) did the temperatures rise above 15 degrees Celsius. All of this was caused by an easterly wind from Siberia, and then from the Arctic. This easterly lasted almost two months without stopping, which is extremely bizarre. Anyhow, things are now returning to normal and today was a balmy 18 degrees Celsius.

I have only seen three butterflies so far this year, two were Small Tortoiseshells and one was a Peacock (Inachis io) and both are species which hibernate. The Peacock is below.

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Most importantly, many of the spring flowers are now blooming and the hardiest, the daffodils and crocuses, have already lost their blooms – the first phase of spring is over, despite the cold. However, now it is the turn of the trees to get their blossoms, and the first I saw since temperatures warmed up was the Red Currant (Ribes rubrum), a plant of the hedgerows, beloved by bees.

The Red Currant has a very distinctive scent which to many people is the scent of spring.
The Red Currant has a very distinctive scent which to many people is the scent of spring.

You know it is getting warmer when you see the Nursery-web Spider sunbathing. This spider loves sunlight, and has a very distinctive pose, which I have mentioned many times before as resembling Leonardo Da Vinci’s Universal Man, which also has eight legs…

A Nursery-web Spider sunbathing on the rim of a tub containing flowers. It's not so big in real life as it appears in this photo.
A Nursery-web Spider sunbathing on the rim of a tub containing flowers. It’s not so big in real life as it appears in this photo.

However, for me the most exciting of all has been the appearance of the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) and other species of solitary bee. You might remember reading, earlier in the blog, of how my garden became the first known established colony of this bee species in Ireland. That doesn’t mean they were not already here, just not known to be for certain. This week another colony was discovered in Co. Kilkenny and there are bound to be more of this handsome bee. I use the term “colony” lightly, because although the bees have appeared in large numbers, there is no single nest and each female bee takes care of her own nest and young. The males appeared first, and then the larger females, which they had to wait for to emerge from their underground chambers. The males are much smaller, and look almost like a totally different species. I will be doing a lot more about these bees in the next instalment… but you will not have to wait months for it. Tomorrow, if possible.

The male Tawny Mining Bee... actually quite small, and fast-moving when not at rest.
The male Tawny Mining Bee… actually quite small, and fast-moving when not at rest.

 

The female Tawny Mining Bee, which looks like a cuddly toy, and has the appearance of a flying ruby. She looks like a small bumblebee but has a very red bosy and a black head.
The female Tawny Mining Bee, which looks like a cuddly toy, and has the appearance of a flying ruby. She looks like a small bumblebee but has a very red body and a black head.

Finally, there are also plenty of bumblebees around. Usually the last to show up in gardens is the Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) and this for me puts the seal on spring. To the uninitiated the Carder Bee could be confused with the Tawny Mining Bee, except for one very clear difference – she is much larger. Here is the first Carder Bee I have seen this year, and have not seen too many since, but it takes a while for a hive to get going.

My first Carder Bee of the year, and a handsome one at that. Almost certainly a queen bee, as they overwinter and establish the new colonies each spring.
My first Carder Bee of the year, and a handsome one at that. Almost certainly a queen bee, as they are the ones that overwinter and establish each new colony in the spring.