Yesterday was World Bee Day, and as anyone who regularly reads our blogs will know, we like our bees at Minsmere. Not just honeybees and bumblebees, either.
I've personally always had an affinity with bees as my maternal grandad was a bee-keeper, so I was brought up on home-produced Worcestershire honey. I still insist on buying locally produced honey to spread on my bread for breakfast every day. Yet honeybees, like so many other insects, are in serious decline due to the loss of native flowers and increasing use of chemicals.
Although these losses are likely to be impacting on many of our native bee populations, here at Minsmere we've been finding more and more species of bees in recent years. In some cases this will be due to a genuine increase or colonisation as species with more southerly distributions increase their range northwards due to global warming. In other cases it may simply be a result of increased observer effort.
The latter is almost certainly the case with the yellow-shouldered nomad bee which was only found at Minsmere for the first time last month. Since that initial sighting by one eagle-eyed visitor, our volunteer guides have found several more of these small, wasp-like bees. In fact, we've reported more sightings of yellow-shouldered nomad bee to the Suffolk bee-recorder in the past month than he's previously received for the whole county!
A Nomad bee, probably either Nomada flava or N. panzeri
This is only one of several types of nomad bee that we've found in recent weeks. As their name suggests, this group of bees don't build their own nests. Instead, they're nomadic and visit the nests of other bees, laying their eggs in those nests in much the same way as a cuckoo lays its eggs in a reed warbler nest. This behaviour is known as kleptoparasitism, where one species steals resources collected by another. One of the best known examples of this in the bird world is skuas stealing fish from other seabirds.
Given this nomadic lifestyle, it's not a surprise that the nomad bees are found in close company with mining bees. There are also several species of the latter here at Minsmere, where our loose sandy soils on south-facing slopes make an ideal substrate in which to excavate their nesting chambers. Already this spring we've found colonies of cliff mining-bees and Clark's mining-bees around the sand martin colony and ashy mining-bees at the car park entrance, as well as several other species. One of our favourites is the chocolate mining-bee. If only bees really could mine chocolate. Wouldn't that be great?
Chocolate mining-bee by Matt Parrott
As well as nomad bees, mining-bees and honeybees, there are various species of carder bees and bumblebees around the reserve, plus the wonderfully named hairy-legged flower bee. The hawthorn blossom seems particularly attractive to many of them at the moment, so if you are visiting this week it's worth finding a sheltered hawthorn in a sunny spot and spending time with our bees. You might find various other insects too, including hoverflies, wasps, beetles and butterflies - as you can read about in my last blog. The first Norfolk hawker dragonflies of the sprng were seen near the Rhododendron Tunnel today, too.
Although it's a bit early for the best of the action in Digger Alley, there are already signs that some species are active here, and it won't be long before the first pantaloon bees (AKA hairy-legged mining bees) and beewolves are seen. Then you'll find Whistling Joe and Mrs WJ ensconced on Digger Alley for the rest of the summer as they attempt to identify yet more species of mining-bee, digger wasp and hangers on. My wife and I were enthralled watching several ants carrying an unfortunate earwig back to their burrow here on Saturday.
A pantaloon bee - it's a bit early to see these, but it won't long till they emerge
Of course, there's much more than just insects at Minsmere, and May is always a good month to spot a great variety of birds. Many of these will be busy feasting on the numerous insects and their larvae. Some, such as swifts, swallows, sand martins and hobbies, catch these insects on the wing, barely breaking their flight to do so. Others, like flycatchers and many warblers, will dart out from a perch to catch an insect. Stonechats and wheatears will drop to the ground in pursuit of a tasty grasshopper or beetle, while tits, finches and some warblers will pick insects off the surface of leaves. Robins and blackbirds will probe in the soil for food and woodpeckers and treecreepers will probe into tree bark. Many of the insect larvae are aquatic, and they'll form the diet of our ducks, waders and gulls.
Finally, a couple more ID mysteries that I'd like your help with from my lunchtime walk today. The first was a tiny bush-cricket on Whin Hill. I'm guessing speckled bush-cricket, but please correct me if the photo provides enough detail.
The second was a very distinctive fly resting on a rope near Island Mere. Apologies for the quality of the photo. I hope it's clear enough to identify.
I'm told the fly is a noon fly - Mesembrina meridiana. It's not a rare species, but is very distinctive. How have I missed them before?
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