In Wicklow many people in the last week many people have been somewhat alarmed by the sight of strange holes in the their laws, on top of small volcano-like hills of earth. These hills vary from about three centimetres to 5 centimetres wide and about the same height.
If you take the time to wait and calmly watch these little burrows you will eventually see the black furry heads of insects appear at the tops, and these insects will suddenly fly out of the holes, revealing ruby-red velvet-like bodies. These insects are Tawny Mining Bees, each a beautiful female. Although the holes (or mines) are currently appearing in clusters, due to breeding success in a remarkably warm and dry spring, the bees are actually solitary and only nest near each other due to convenient soil conditions.
Speaking of bees, I was walking from Wicklow Town along the coast on Saturday afternoon and after three miles came across two biologists surveying bumblebees on the Murrough (the expanisve meadow that runs north from Wicklow along the coast). Aoife O’Rourke and Myles Newman are two PhD students from Trinity College, Dublin, and were carrying out a survey of bumblebees. They took my interruption of their work very kindly and we had an interesting chat. Aoife was telling me that there are actually about 80 known species of solitary bee in Ireland, and there is a lot of surveying still to do, which they were doing on behalf of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, located in Waterford. This institution is relatively new and is the first concerted effort in Ireland to unite all records of our natural heritage and make them available to the public. The Data Centre is looking for volunteer surveyors all across Ireland, and is studying a wide range of species and types of plant and animal. All records are welcome. I personally do an annual survey of butterflies for them from April until September. It’s great fun, and they provide plenty of support and training.