It's been a long time, but a new blog post!

14th April 2015

Well, it's been nearly eight months since I added a new post to my Blog. I do have an excuse though. During that time, we have sold out Warwickshire home and moved to Staffordshire. We have had months of completing improvements to the new property and it has also been winter! Things are settling down now though and it's time to get back to some serious photography and for a long overdue update to the website.

I did manage some Collembola (springtail) photography during the autumn/winter. I'll write about that later. My first post for 2015 though, will be about Staffordshire bees.

One of the reasons we moved house was to have a larger garden. My wife also wanted a greenhouse. We have both of these now and I'm enjoying exploring the Staffordshire countryside and seeing what solitary bee species (and other invertebrates) the county has in store for us. I do miss Warwickshire though, because I'd learned where some of the good "bee spots" were. I'm going to have to repeat that process here. Spring seemed to be getting under way very slowly in Staffordshire, but I was pleased (and relieved) when I found my first solitary bee male of 2015 in the garden on 21st March.

This was a very small bee and I guessed it was a male Andrena bicolor; Gwynne's Mining Bee. Some checking in my books and help from Twitter and Flickr soon confirmed it. This was promising because I hadn't seen this species in our previous garden. I hoped that it wouldn't be long before I started seeing the attractive little females.

I had to wait until early April to start seeing females in the garden, and got my first picture of one on the 6th. I've seen quite a few since and there's several nesting in the garden. I've read that there's not a lot known about this species' nesting behaviour, so I'll keep a close eye on that.

Note the colouration of the female with black hairs on the face and on the sides of the abdomen. The top of the thorax has reddish/orange hairs. The pollen-collecting hairs are similar in colour (but paler); together with some black hairs. Looks a bit like a miniature Andrena clarkella!

Our last house had an old stone wall on the east side and this hosted the nests of Red Mason Bees and of the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). These are both early bees and it meant that I didn't have to travel at all to see these. I've regularly found Anthophora bees in old church walls in the past, so I visited a local Staffordshire church to see what I could find. I headed for the east side (facing the morning sun) and found several holes with females looking out. They tend to do this in the morning; waiting for the temperature to rise before setting off. Females are mainly black (like little bumblebees) with orange pollen-collecting hairs. The males are very different, with white markings on the face. Both sexes have "attitude". They fly fast and have a characteristic strident buzz. Always a pleasure to see and one of the harbingers of spring.

One more bit of interesting bee behaviour for this first post of 2015. We have some tallish conifers in our new front garden and I could see lots of largish bees flying in their dozens around the top. I knew that many species of solitary bee males form "leks"; areas around trees and hedges where they congregate in large numbers. I've seen hundreds of Andrena chrysosceles males doing this in the past.

These were larger and I managed to catch one in a pot. I don't take "specimens" of bees but catching them in a pot allows closer examination with a hand-lens. I then let them go. Sometimes though, I put the pot in the shade for several minutes. The bees become less active and I then remove them with a soft watercolour brush onto a piece of white card. I've found that you have around 10 seconds to get a shot before they fly off. This is what I did here. Again with the help from Twitter and Flickr users, this has been confirmed as a male Andrena nigroaenea. I haven't seen any females yet.

Well, I think that's about it for my first 2015 post. For my next one (I won't leave it eight months this time) I'll give an update on my bee-hotels and on the other solitary bee species that I've been seeing in the garden this spring.

[Click on any small image for a larger version]


Photo comment By Africa Gomez: Hi Ed, Lovely to see a post again. Even without moving house it feels like it has been a poor, long winter for invertebrates, far too windy! Looking forward to more on your new Staffodshire bees and all the best with your new house Africa

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