Thursday, 31 May 2012

Coming into land....near a man-made surface!

Whilst sampling the other day, on our man-made surface, we came across these two insects - the White-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus lucorum and the Maybug (Cockchafer) Melolontha melolontha. We team thought the man-made surfaces would produce little in terms of insect specimens - we stand to be corrected!

Gardening for gold!

Belated well done to everyone involved in the Chelsea garden entry - sounds like you all had a great time, shame we lowly workers were unable to come down and see it in all its glory (well, someone has to keep things ticking over ;) ).  Bill's hat is inspiring, and we plan to make our own, as soon as this darned rain stops.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sampling with 13 ducklings

In one of our gardens we were amazed to find 13 little ducklings and their mom swimming happily in the little garden pond. On our arrival all 13 ducklings came running towards us as they expected to be fed.
Luckily all ducklings soon returned to the pond and we could start our sampling.

But it turned out that we had to compete with the ducklings for pollinators as they took great interest in catching flies and other insect.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Return to the graveyard bees, and more B. hypnorum action

We returned to the scene of the Andrena nest today, hoping to follow up that sighting of so many little Andrena bees queueing up to emerge from an underground void in a graveyard in north Leeds.  What we found was a distinct lack of Andrena - only one was seen around the nest entrance, over the whole time we were on site.  What we did see in relative abundance, again, was more Nomada bees - several quartered the ground around the entrance to the underground void, and seemed to be investigating small round holes around the edge of the slab, as well as descending into the void itself (though not staying long!)

Nomada descending into communal Andrena nest (look really, really hard!)

A further group were spotted hawking around a memorial stone at the other end of the cemetery - small, brown and yellow, and far too fast on the wing to capture on film! 

And following on from yesterday's woodland coupling, we were lucky enough to spot yet another  B. hypnorum queen with piggybacking regent flying outside the nest up in the corner of the Bio Sciences building on campus.  They made a few victory fly-pasts, then disappeared into a nearby alder tree.  It must just be that time of year, I guess!

Comings and goings at the front door
Back in the entrance (a hole in the concrete above the doorway), others were queueing up to come out, or maybe just to watch the goings-on outdoors. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Some bee-haviour observations #2

And this is a snippet of what it's all about! 

Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum) just hanging about in a wood in Leeds this afternoon - well spotted, Kirsty!

Some bee-haviour observations #1

This has been the second day of seriously scorching weather - 23 degrees today in the shade, in Leeds - a far cry from the wet and gloomy start to the season, and the heat resulted in some super-charged and speedy pollinators!  We've been out in gardens and parks today, and have seen a lot of little Nomada bees.  These are parasites on other bee species - they lay their eggs inside the nests of species like Andrena fulva.  Though they sport warning colours of yellow and dark brown, they weren't interested in us at all, and we were able to get quite up close and personal with some.  They were mostly flying low, and showing a lot of interest in the cracks in the paving in this very urban garden...

The reason came obvious when a dark brown Andrena flew in and disappeared down a nest hole on the edge of a spread of ornamental gravel - to be swiftly followed by one of the Nomadas.

Later, as we idled about on a grassy hillside enjoying some dappled shade, we spotted two more Nomada bees quartering the ground - perhaps they were looking for the nest of one of the silver-ruffed Ashy Mining Bees that was repeatedly returning to a nearby grassy tussock...

It occurs to me, that I must have been seeing at least some of these bees pretty much every Spring and Summer, for as long as I've been rambling about under sunny skies - but not realised what was in front of my eyes.  It seems you only need to start looking, and once you've seen one, you might just be lucky, and see many more :)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Busy Beetles

We don`t really know what all these little beetles did in this one Ranunculus flower but probably they were warming up as it was still quite cold. They probably also have pollen for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The weather is getting better now and tomorrow promises a fine and warm day. Good for pollinator sampling!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Things to do this weekend....

If the weather's good, go out and look at bees - lovely article by Kate Bradbury in The Guardian on the delights of solitary (and other) bees, and the watching thereof:

Spot the butterfly

Perfect, unchallenging puzzle for a Friday afternoon :)

Female Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) resting on cow parsley.  Nice illustration of cryptic colouring on the underside of the wing.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Two beauties to brighten up the grey leaden sky!

After weeks of persistent rain (with little flying about us), we finally began sampling on Friday and came across these two beauties!  A Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus and a Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata. We are keeping are fingers crossed that good weather will arrive soon and bring with it more fascinating insects.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Le quadrateur formidable

Sunshine has been rare this week in Edinburgh, but we have been keeping busy ground-truthing the last of our candidate survey sites. Last week however, a burst of fair weather had Pierre skipping with joy during a trial survey of a Morningside park.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Live on Five Live

Dr Mark Goddard of the Leeds team was featured as the "And finally..." slot on tonight's BBC 5Live Drive programme -

Scroll on to 2:56:16 to hear his comments on gardening for bees, and a quick plug for the bee-friendly garden design that's going to Chelsea.  Nice one, Mark!

What a beauty!

We found this beautiful Golden Longhorn Moth sitting on the outside of our car this morning. The golden wings were shimmering (even without sunlight) and it didn`t move even when photographed with three different cameras.
We put it onto a flower before we drove off so that it didn`t get hurt.
Lot`s of rain expected in Reading overnight. Hope we don`t get another flooding.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The birds and the bees

I know we're mainly concerned with pollinators, but they are only a part of the bigger picture.  Today, that picture has had the most fabulous soundtrack, provided this morning by a male blackcap singing from the willows in a scrubby bit of flytipped woodland in the middle of the 'burbs of Leeds - an unexpected gem that caused us to pause a while, and look upwards instead of groundwards.  Further cameos by smartly blue and white magpies, and a glossy crow, ink-black among the golden dandelions, made up for a surprising lack of other winged things,

..or is this a young rook? Appears to have a rook's bare face... 

... but it was the sight of a red kite soaring lazy circles over the regimented streets and houses that really made us stop and smile.  Unmistakable, and quite thrilling to see. 

I spy with my little eye......a bee in the wall!

On the way to our allotment and cemetery sites in Sonning, Berkshire, we noticed some very dark looking bees flying back and forth to a crevice in a stone wall. The crevice was bathed in early morning sunshine (what little we had last week!), and the bees (particularly the one in this picture) was happily digging, what looked like, a tunnel further into the wall. We believe the bees were Anthophora plumipes, which are known to build their nests in the ground or in the soft mortar of walls.

Friday, 4 May 2012

...and so to bed

We've been posting a lot about the weather this week, it seems, and understandably so when you consider how much it impacts on our ability to do some fieldwork.  Though it's frustrating waiting for the weather to warm up, this slow start has actually been very useful for me (being the newest member of the team), as it's given me the chance to practice some of the more unfamiliar techniques, and to make some necessary improvements to some of the equipment (my patent collapsible quadrat will no doubt feature in some photos at some point!).

But it's the little things that are the stars of this week, and today's little star was a long-faced, long-tongued Bombus hortorum.... and yes, just for a change, that's not a dandelion!

B. hortorum and brunch companion

And nor is this, with what was definitely the shiniest, most golden moth we've yet seen!

(it's a fairy longhorn - what a fab (and fitting) name!)

Friday night is movie night...

...and I thought some of you might like to curl up with some popcorn and enjoy this footage of yesterday's Andrena sighting...

Shame I didn't get more, but even so, that's a nice little bit of behaviour on record there - they're none too chummy (not morning people, perhaps?) and some seemed to actively be trying to discourage others from climbing onto the top stone there.  Hopefully we'll get the chance to catch up with them as the summer goes on. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

How solitary is a bee?

Not very, judging by these Andrena we stumbled upon today!

They were warming up and emerging from an underground stone-lined void, one at a time climbing out onto the stone surface, taking a minute to finish warming up before taking off for a late breakfast.  What a treat to see :) this made being out in the rather wintry-feeling wind completely worth it. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

How big is a bee?

About 4 inches!

Preliminaries underway

After a lot of planning, and a lot of sitting in the office watching the rain on the windows, we got out today to start the first round of preliminary surveys.  A useful exercise, helping last year's field staff to brush up on old techniques, and new staff to get to grips with different ways of surveying to what they've done in the past. 

We started in some allotments in north Leeds, where we laid and walked our first transect.  It was breezy, but the sun was warm, and there were some lovely little bees out and about. Plantlife have famously said that dandelions are massive this year - they're certainly abundant, and the pollinators have been taking full advantage of their hefty pollen stores.

Getting stuck in!

 So, finally we're underway, and I for one welcome the chance to be out and about again.  It's going to be a busy summer season, but hopefully interesting and useful, too, which is what makes it all worthwhile. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why we love dandelions!

Those of you following us on Twitter may have already seen these, but we think it's worth repeating just why we love 'em! 

1.  Because the bees love 'em

2.  Because the butterflies love 'em

3.  And because the rather handsome hoverflies love 'em!