A very early bee

A very early bee

Andrena 26.1.2016

We were out walking on Tuesday 26 January 2016, it was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon and I had not bothered to take my camera along.  Nevertheless, I can’t help keeping my eyes on dandelions, checking for bumble bees, but instead I spotted a solitary bee: an Andrena on a dandelion.  My husband came to my rescue and took a photograph for me.

I think it is an Andrena haemorrhoa – its common name being the Early Mining Bee but by early in the U.K. they mean you can see it usually starting in March.  I felt rather sorry for it as it was not moving but sheltering in the dandelion for warmth.

The exceptionally mild weather with temperatures peaking up to seventeen degrees centigrade with sunshine has obviously woken some wild bees from their winter dormancy.  Luckily the flowers are being fooled too but I hope she has enough strength to make it back to her tunnel.

Andrena agilissima colony

Andrena agilissima colony

Last May I saw Andrena agillisima for the first time (See my blog Andrena agillisima).  Now I have discovered a nesting place at the bottom of my garden.

IMG_9116

Some years ago a large Poplar tree fell down in a storm.  The tree was cut up and used for the fire in due course but the root was left as it had fallen in a part of the garden that was very overgrown at that time.  It has formed a very large well-drained mound and this year I spotted the holes and the Andrena agilissima.

However, despite seeing them flying too and fro, I have not been able to get a photograph very easily, as they do not hang about. However, my patience has been rewarded.

1.Andrena agilissima at entrance

I at last managed to get a shot of the black and white head surveying the world from the security of her burrow.

2.Antenna appears

Then I noticed another antenna appear.

3.Second antenna

Then a pair of antennas appeared.

5.Squeeze out

The second bee pushed herself under the first in her wish to exit the common hole.

6.Wings spread

I had not realised that the Andrena agillissima would share the entrance holes to the colony but inside she will build her own capsule for her egg to pass through the larval stages and overwinter as an adult.

The first bee only hesitated a few seconds before joining the second to search for flowers.  She shouldn’t have had far to go if she wanted to try my sprout plants which are flowering specially for her.  You can see her take flight in the slideshow below.

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Andrena agilissima, a bee that likes cabbage flowers

Andrena agilissima, a bee that likes cabbage flowers

Male Andrena agilissima

A slightly inaccurate title;  Andrena agilissima is an oligolectic bee gathering pollen from brassicacaea species.

I let my salad leaves left over from the autumn overgrow and produce flowers.  One particular plant produced very large leaves and tall bright yellow flowers.

Male Andrena agilissima

On the 3.5.14 I saw a bee on the flowers that I had never seen before.

Andrena agilissima

It was a male bee and so was not gathering pollen but the smoky wings and the white hairs made me think of Andrena agilissima.

A.agilissima blue tint

On the 8.5.14 I was able to get some photographs of a female.  The abdomen is smooth and shiny with a metallic, blue tinge and she has once again the smoky wings.

Front female A. agilissima

The tufts of white hairs on the sides of the eyes and on the sides of the thorax and the last abdominal tergites are distinctive.

Side A. agilissima

These are mining bees but they nest in communes that can have multiple entrances to a complex of tunnels used by several females.  Each female bee will have its own brood cells to lay down its eggs.  So a not totally solitary, solitary bee.

They would be very welcome to construct a commune in my garden but so far they have not been frequent visitors.

Under the plum tree again

Under the plum tree again

It was half past six in the evening and we had just returned from a walk when we decided to have a last look at the back garden.  Passing the plum tree we could see some bee activity where the Andrena flavipes is nesting.  I was wondering if she would come back!

13 April 2014

13 March 2014

I’ve already posted about Andrena cineraria in my post It’s in black and white and I took those pictures in the middle of April last year.

I saw several flying low around the grass and one quickly popped down a hole and once inside closed it over by moving the crumbly soil from the sides of the pile over the entrance.  A bit like closing the bedroom curtains in the evening.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

I followed one patiently who seemed to be having difficulty finding the hole.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

Now it becomes clearer.  This is the male Andrena cineraria.  He was still on the search for an unmated female.  The female only mates once and then becomes unreceptive and goes about nest building and egg laying.  The male’s function is to find a female and mate, not for him the task of burrowing tunnels.

Andrena cineraria male 13.3.14

This side shot shows up the difference between the male and the female.  The male is only very slightly smaller than the female but has more white hair.  There are white hairs present on his thorax and tufts of white hair at the top of his femurs.  He has larger tuft of white hair on his head than the female.

This is the first time I have seen the Andrena cineraria male.  I thought the female was beautiful but I think he might be even cuter.

Andrena under the plum tree

Andrena under the plum tree

I first noticed little mounds of soil under the plum tree in March 2013 and I saw my first mining bee pop its head out and look me in the eye (or so I thought it did!)

I was determined to photograph them and spent quite a bit of time on warmer days crouching under the plum tree watching them.  I did not have a Macro lens then so the photographs were not detailed.  However, it is very pleasant under the plum tree when it is in full flower with the sun shining and the bitter almond perfume of the flowers drifting around you.  I was not able to identify the bees last year, I could not even be sure what genera they belonged to – but I was hooked and I knew where to look for them this year when I was going to be more prepared to identify them.

24.2.14

24.2.14

The weather has been so mild (but very rainy) that when I looked on the first sunny day for ages, on the 23 February, I was surprised to see that the nests had started to appear.  The next day I saw my first bee emerge.

Andrena

Yes, it was the same bee.

Andrena

She left the nest too quickly to get a really good photograph but it was much better than last year – and I was very pleased to see the bees had survived in the sodden ground.  Mining bees usually prefer dry, soft soil.  Some like sandy sites or chalky soil or nice sunny banks to nest in.  The soil under my plum tree would never usually be very wet as my garden soil drains rapidly, probably as the region is based on limestone rock.  This year we have had unprecedented rain and many areas have flooded – happily not under my plum tree!

1-IMG_9411.wing venation

Two days later I was able to get some pictures from above that gave me a clear image of her fore wings.  The wings have three sub marginal cells and the lower border of the third one is longer than the middle one (sorry the red lines are very fine)  In addition, the basal vein meets the longitudinal vein at an acute angle (see better red arrow).  Also, the vein pattern is the same as a photograph of Andrena flavipes in “Bees of Surrey” by David W. Baldock.  So I am satisfied that it is an Andrena.

26.2.14

26.2.14

I don’t know what she has been doing as she seems to have something sticky on her foreleg.

Andrena

She was taking time to groom herself which gave me time to get some photographs.

Yellow pollen

I didn’t see her on any flowers and I wondered if she had gathered pollen from the plum tree above us.  The photograph above shows a bumble bee gathering the plum pollen that seems to match but the Sallow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden is also providing the same colour of pollen.  So it is hard to say at the moment what she is using.

7.3.2013

7.3.2013

I haven’t seen any parasitic bees this year but last year I saw what I think is Nomada fucata. This further convinces me that my mining bees are Andrena flavipes as these are parasitised by Nomada fucata.

Andrena on hand

She is a very sweet bee and hopefully I will be out there watching her in another day or two as the rain is forecast to stop and we are even promised some sunshine!

It’s in black and white

It’s in black and white

Andrena cineraria

Andrena cineraria is – I quote from BWARS –  “a  very distinctively marked ground-nesting bee”.  Yes! It looks like a bee that is easy to identify.

Adrena cineraria

Here she is having a pollen frenzy in a dandelion.  She has also a common name – the Ashy Mining Bee.  I find her very attractive with her ruff of white hair behind her head and a second white band at the rear of her thorax.

Andrena cineraria

I am particularly fond of her because one day at the end of last March I saw her land on the ground when I was under the large plum tree in my back garden.

Andrena cineraria disappears into ground

Then she promptly disappeared into the ground.  Under the plum tree the grass is not usually very thick at this early time of year and there are quite a few bare patches.  However, it was difficult to see where she had gone.  So I had to sit and watch quietly for any movement.Andrena cineraria in nest

Sometimes its only some soil moving and a black antenna appearing.

Andrena cineraria in nest

Then a whole head might appear.  I did get the impression they could see me but maybe that is a bit paranoid.  Certainly any movement and she would disappear back down the hole.  I would love to show you a series of photographs as she finally emerges and takes flight but her exit is remarkably rapid and quite impossible for me to capture.

Andrena cineraria female head

She is quite a fluffy bee and has more white hairs on her face that I can see when I get close enough to take a photograph.

I cannot be sure how many nests there were under the plum tree, I would guess at least six which is not a large nesting site for these bees.  As the season advanced more grass grew over the bare patches and obscured the nest entrances making clear observation impracticable.

The Andrena cineraria were not the only mining bees to have chosen this site, they shared the site with another Andrena but that’s another story.

Andrena fulva in my blackcurrant flowers

Andrena fulva in my blackcurrant flowers

Andrena fulva female 25.4.13

Andrena fulva female 25.4.13

I spotted a female Andrena fulva female in my blackcurrant flowers on the 25 April 2013, exactly a day later than I had seen my first one the previous year.

25 April 2013

25 April 2013

I look forward to my blackcurrants flowering because I am sure to see this beautiful mining bee feeding from the nectar.

Andrena fulva on blackcurrant flower

I have never noticed the male who is harder to spot as he doesn’t sport the same brightly coloured coat but resembles more non de-script Andrenas.  He does have a pronounced tuft of white hair on his face so I will be on the look out for him this year.

These bees are spring flying bees and will feed on pear, cherry and apple blossom.  I have all of the latter trees in my garden and I watch and photograph the bees with a great interest in the spring but I have only seen the Andrena fulva on the blackcurrant flowers!  Again I will be watching even more carefully this year but they are not bees you could miss easily.

Andrena fulva female on blackcurrant flowers

Perhaps, she prefers the pollen or finds it in a more generous supply.

Andrena fulva female on blackcurrant flowers

She lets me get quite close up to photograph her as she is so involved in securing the nectar but in the end she gives me a warning wave of her leg  to indicate I’ve got quite close enough.

Andrena fulva May

I took this photograph in May, some of the bushes were still flowering and I felt sorry for this bee who had got a little wet.  Once my blackcurrants stop flowering my Andrena fulva desert me.

They are mining bees and could be tempted to nest in my “lawn” or the nearby bare areas as the sandy soil should suit them but although several types of mining bees that have taken up residence, I have not seen Andrena fulva nesting.

This is my first Andrena and my sixth bee identified.

Have you seen Andrena fulva on any fruit trees?