We have some April showers at the moment, but since the Equinox on the 21 March the days have been pretty nice and warming up well. Spring moves from the ground upwards into the canopies of the trees, so that the undergrowth blooms earliest and then the insects begin appearing, feeding on the nectar and pollen that is available.
Keep an eye out on the flowers for the insects, especially different species of bees. Spring is the time of the Mining Bees, and there are a number of different species, but the most commonly seen in Wicklow is probably the Mining Bee – Andrena haemorrhoa.
At this time of year the larger trees and bushes begin to blossom and their fragrances are now beginning to fill the air, and they contribute very much to the distinctive fragrance of the spring air. One of the most impressive of these bushes is the Flowering Currant – Ribes sanguineum – which is found throughout Wicklow in lowland areas and has beautiful flowing tresses of pink flowers.
Now that there is nectar to be had, keep an eye out for moths at the windows at night time. More and more are showing up, day-by-day, and one of the most common is the Hebrew Character – Orthosia gothica.
As promised, a few words and photos about the Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva. The first time this species was recorded in Ireland was 1927, in Kilkenny. But last year another, also an individual bee, was found in the same area, and it became only the second recorded in Ireland. But this species has been in my garden here in Wicklow for at least a number of years, I just didn’t know it was so rare in Ireland. And furthermore, there were loads of them, and they had dug hundreds of nests all over an aerated area of the lawn.
Only two weeks ago nesting Tawny Mining Bees were discovered in Kilkenny, so it is definitely a resident species. At the moment the National Biodiversity Data Centre is looking for any reports they can get of this bee, especially of nests. So here is a little bit about them.
Firstly, look out for their mines. There are a number of different species of mining bee found throughout Europe, and in Ireland, but none looks quite like the Tawny, and none builds nests exactly like it either. Firstly, the female bee is like a very small bumblebee, and her nest is basically a 2 cm high by 4 or 5 cm wide cone like a miniature volcano. The hole at the top is 1 cm wide. Most other mining bees are much smaller as are their nests.
If you have Berberus in your garden you are especially likely to have these bees, as they love Berberus blossom, which is due to open soon. Now, there are a number of mining bee species around, and another that also makes a volcano-like cone is the closely-related Andrena haemorrhoa. This bee is smaller than the Tawny Mining Bee, and the female has special hairs on her hind legs for collecting pollen, but which look like cowboy chaps.
One of the most interesting things about solitary bees (bees that don’t live in colonies) is that almost every species is targeted by a special parasite, a “cuckoo bee”. There are many different species and types of cuckoo bee, and like the cuckoo bird, they lay their eggs in the nests of their host species. But, most importantly, the larvae of the cuckoo bee eat the larvae of the hosts. Mining bees are usually parasitised by very small, wasp-like bees of the Nomada family. These bees are becoming rare across Europe due to pesticide use, but they are still thriving in Wicklow.