The bees in February

The bees in February


This winter has been mild with just one spell of exceptionally cold weather.  The overnight temperatures dropped to sub-zero even down to minus eight degrees centigrade, but that all finished a week ago only to be replaced by exceptionally warm, sunny weather with highs of plus eighteen and mild overnight temperatures!

The quick seesaw of temperatures has not disturbed our honey bees who are as active as ever gathering pollen and nectar.  I like to try and guess where the pollen comes from by its colour.  The above photograph does not show a darker more red pollen that is somewhat rarer.


The pale cream pollen might come from the Viburnum tinus as there is a large bush not far from the hives that is in flower now.


However, judging on noise level the Hellebores in the garden are preferred over the V. tinus and the pale pollen could be theirs.


I’ve no doubt that the majority of the pale yellow comes from the winter flowering honeysuckle.  I now have three bushes in the garden and the largest is very close to the hives.

The darker red yellow I would guess comes from the abundant gorse around the garden and some dark yellow from the Lamium.


The small flowers of Veronica (I think persica) have opened all over the garden and surrounding fields in the past few days.  Some fields are covered by a blue haze of these flowers.  Although tiny, they provide both nectar and white pollen to honey bees from what I have observed.


It is not only the honey bees that are attracted to the Veronica.


I did not expect to see any solitary bees (with the exception of bumble bees) in the middle of February but this one is getting off to an early start.


The appearance of the Syrphid flies is not so unexpected as there are plenty of Lesser Cellandine (Ficaria verna) around but I rarely see bees on the Cellandine.


We try to provide different sources of water for the bees.  This mossy stone is a favourite place for them.


Once the sun hits the stone warming up the damp moss there will be five or six bees sunning themselves and taking water.


What surprises me more is the number of bees on the ground taking water off leaves.  They are particularly partial to these leaves.  Perhaps the humidity pools in convenient sized droplets or perhaps they are taking in more than just water from the surface of the leaves.


Yesterday I saw Bombus pratorum queens for the first time.  There were three or four in the large winter honeysuckle bush.  They move much more rapidly than the ponderous Bombus terrestris queens that fly all the winter in the good days.  All were stocking up on nectar but I have not seen any of the bumble bees gathering pollen yet.


The carpenters (Xylocopa violacea) have returned in earnest this past week and join the melee in the honeysuckle.  In the melee I am sure I saw an Osmia cornuta.  The red body is difficult to miss but it was soon gone and I was unable to take a photograph.


Stop Press!  I have just seen a Bombus lapidarius today but she seemed badly infected by mites.


Close up the mites resemble ticks.  They have taken hold in the softer, less protected folds of her body and do not look at all comfortable.  Some of the mites which infect solitary bees live on the cell debris of the nest and have little effect on the life of the bees but I am not so sure about these ones.


The bee season is off to an early start in the garden.



The early bumble bee, Bombus pratorum

The early bumble bee, Bombus pratorum

This is the fourth bee I hope to have identified although by trying to identify bumble bees I am going where angels fear to tread.  I never realised how difficult it is to identify bumble bees because their colouration, at once so distinctive can also be variable intra species and confusing interspecies because of similarities between the species.  It is safer to identify them just as bumble bees but I hope I am safe with this one.

Bombus pratorum 28.2.13


Bombus pratorum is usually the first bumble bee to start nesting.  I took this photograph on the 28 February 2013.  It was a cool spring and I think this was a young queen.

Bombus pratorum 26.3.13


Outside the garden I see them on red dead nettle ( Lamium purpureum).  I find the workers very fast flying and difficult to photograph and I do not have a good photograph of a male – yet.



Inside the garden they frequent the Lamiastrum and ..



the Cerinthe.

I have started to read “The Humble-Bee” by F.W.L. Sladen for the second time.  The first time I read it too quickly because I was enjoying it too much – despite the fact that I had purchased a cheap paperback edition as I had not got much expectations of the readability of a book first published in 1892.  Now I am savouring my new hardback edition with colour plates.   I am very much in awe of Sladen who had worked all this out before he was sixteen and I am struggling to upload the information he presents to me ready packaged.

Sladen notes that the colonies break up in July.  I tend not to see them in the garden before that so perhaps as the spring progresses they have more wild flowers to forage outside of the garden.

Sladen notes that he has seen them as late as September in a garden at Ripple, England.



I see them for the last time here in France as late as October.