World Bee Day 2021

World Bee Day 2021.

I’ve just bought a new external Røde VideoMic NTG microphone to link into my standard Lumix FZ 1000 bridge camera, to enable me to capture sound better without the machinery rumble which comes from the camera’s on board mike, when using video mode. I was really pleased with the sounds I recorded in the last 2 days using this, as our bees seized a brief, slightly warmer interlude to forage, and produced the short You Tube compilation, below.

Only to discover that today is apparently World Bee Day 2021.

So this is being rushed out as a rare, brief, post.

So for all you bee lovers, who’ve never heard the sounds and sights of busy happy honey bees up close, and working incredibly hard, have a look below, but you really need to watch it in HD (you can change this in your You Tube settings box). This truly is one of nature’s marvels.

I’ve also copied some relevant notes below.

April 2021 has been record breakingly cold, dry and sunny here. Then May 2021 has been, so far, record breakingly cold, wet and windy, with many night frosts. The 3 honeybee colonies shown here have all survived the long winter of 20/21 with no treatments or artificial feeding. The ‘hives’ (one’s an old butterchurn, one’s a simple home made double box, one’s a conventional ‘National’ hive, but all have been modified and insulated with cork or bubble wrap) are rarely if ever opened. I prefer to observe the bees closely from outside, and leave them undisturbed. These clips were all taken around 1 pm on May 17th and show dramatically different levels of foraging and drone activity, on a day of sunshine, cloud, Northwesterly winds and cool temperatures, peaking around 12 degrees C. (But with perceived temperatures nearer 9 degrees C. Air pressure 1008 hPa, and humidity of 80%  – data courtesy of Ventusky.com).

So certainly not warm.

There are no commercial crops like oil seed rape nearby in our remote upland, pasture and woodland landscape, but sycamores and Malus are just beginning to flower, and there is much yellow and orange pollen being taken in from gorse, willow and dandelions.

The busiest hive’s bees now have 5 smaller ‘super’ boxes to inhabit and fill, as well as one deeper, brood box. The other two hives have a fixed, and much more limited capacity, so have no need to be working as hard. There are also differences in the bee’s genetic mix, as evidenced by the mainly dark/black bees in the last 2 smaller colonies, and possibly the ages of the queen bee in each hive.

So it’s not really a case of languishing or flourishing, just coping with their different circumstances. Each colony is about 50 metres from each other. You can see the many, much larger eyed drones, struggling to leave the busy hive, against the incoming flow of laden bees. They’re flying out to, and back from, the special ‘aerial drone congregation areas‘, where they all meet up with drones from other colonies nearby, to attempt to mate with any virgin queen bees on their nuptial flight, who’ve also flown to this small mating zone. If successful with their brief, in-flight mating attempt, the drones are permanently and instantly fatally damaged, and fall to the ground and die.

Today the bees will be working hard inside their hives all day, making the most of their provisions – they have 48 hours of incessant rain and strong winds, with nearly constant rain for the next 5 days, to look forward to.

Finally, I’m still trying to identify this species of Andrena, a solitary mining bee, which I spent ages trying to photograph, pressed belly down on the turf, as a group of 3 of them whizzed around our crazy mossy croquet lawn as I was whizzing round, cutting the ‘grass’. The bees seemed disturbed by this and were struggling a little to find the entrances now, to their underground nest mines. There are 68 different species which have been found in the UK!

Earlier in the day, I’d found this recently emerged example of a nomad bee, probably Marsham’s nomad bee, Nomada marshamella, on a flower of the stunning Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Koichiro Wada’ AGM.

Nomad bees, of which there are 34 species in the UK, are all small, cleptoparasitic bees. They locate the mines of other solitary bee species, like the Andrena above, enter, and lay their own egg in the uncapped underground cell of the Andrena. The emerged nomad grub destroys the host’s egg or larva with its strong mandibles, and then feeds on the food stores laid down in the nest by the adult Andrena bee.

So, this nomad would probably find its way to the mossy croquet lawn, about 20 yards away, and locate the bee’s mines. The known hosts for this bee are A. scotica, A. trimmerana, and possibly,A. rosae and A. ferox. 

Which one is she?

For the most impressive photos and knowledge about the vast range of bees in the UK, do look at Steven Falk’s amazing website and Flick site. 

18 thoughts on “World Bee Day 2021

  1. Great sound recording Julian, and I could hear bird song so clearly, I looked up at at my own window, in case a bird was perched close by me here. I had not realised there was an option to change to HD, what a difference that makes. Looking forward to better weather, Best wishes,
    Julie

    • Hello Julie,
      Glad it worked all right – I only discovered the HD settings change, after I’d uploaded this, and was frustrated by how poor the video looked. But the bee sound (and birdsong!) were amazing, though different this year – more blackbirds and garden warblers than usual and fewer cuckoos, swallows and thrushes. I agree about the weather!
      Best wishes
      Julian

  2. Lovely post, your bees look and sound very happy and healthy. I think too little attention is paid to insulating hives so I am sure your bees have done well because of the good insulation. I am afraid I cannot help you with the Andrena bee. I think you have done very well getting to the genus level. You have to be prepared to catch them and examine them thoroughly to be sure of the species. I am content now just to watch them. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      I’m sure this sort of activity is familiar territory for you in sunny warm France! But these bees now have 5 days of incessant winds and cold rain to cope with – a really dreadful spring for them.
      I’m amazed by Steven Falk’s Flickr website, and it did occur to me that they might not even be Andrena!
      I listed both bees on i-Spot today, but so far no one has jumped in with an accurate ID.
      I’m sure you’re right, and like you I don’t ever plan on catching one to be confident of an ID,
      Best wishes
      Julian

  3. Hello Julian
    Your new microphone really works!! Amazing sounds and wonderful shots of all those bees. Mind you any bee would love to forage in your garden so many wonderful plants to choose from! The last photo is a delight!
    Can’t believe this weather with the gutters blocked and overflowing and now we’ve put the heating on as it’s quite chilly! Hope your bees stay in their hives and stay dry! Do they make any sound when they are inside working?
    Take care and stay dry.
    Best wishes Marianne

    • Hello Marianne,
      Glad you liked them. Photographing the mining bees was a real challenge!
      I quite agree about the weather – I clearly shouldn’t have written about the cold blob and slowing gulfstream a few months back! Our heating hasn’t been off – the temperatures are so low up here. ( At least it is now working, though!!)
      But the forecast for the next 5 days is dire. I’m sure the bees had an inkling which is why they were working so hard before the latest storms arrived.
      Actually now the hives are insulated with cork, you can’t really hear anything when they’re inside – before you could hear a low hum – not even hear the whistle as they put the kettle on…
      Pity the poor farmers waiting for the grass to grow and burning through bought in feed,
      Stay dry indeed,
      best wishes
      Julian

    • Hello Tony,
      What a brilliant comment, and why I like WP! The ability of others to spot something like that. I even thought when I first read your comment, what an odd thing to say, the penny didn’t drop….
      The irony of it all – I’ve viewed the developing clump of nettles right next to the hive as a real stinging nuisance!! Occasionally creeping out at night to clip them back with shears, rather than use a Li-ion strimmer, lest I disturb the potentially aggressive horde!
      BTW, by chance we looked at this interview/presentation with Bernard Trainor, who seems to be from your neck of the woods, and found it interesting on several levels.

      It seems he’s done very well from his take on landscape judging by his house and clients, and I wondered if you’d come across him? But of course California is a big place… We’ve found a few of these MC interviews enlightening, and not as dumbed down as much of the other gardening media stuff over here.
      More perceptive or excoriating comments gratefully received!
      best wishes
      Julian

  4. Except for my colleague in Southern California, I am not acquainted with landscape designers. It is not what I do, as I am certainly not a landscape designer. Actually, I have been useful for my colleague because I am ‘not’ involved with the design. I am just there for the horticulture. Unfortunately, few landscape designers here are as concerned with horticulture as they are with ‘design’, as if they are arranging furniture.
    It is gratifying to know that you will gratefully receive my excoriating comments. I did not watch this entire video. Actually, I just watched a bit of it. I find it offensive. This designer is not Californian, but talks as if he is an expert on Californian landscape design, Californian horticulture and, most objectionably, Californian culture. Although he chose to live here, he expresses dislike for our native vegetation and ideal climates. He is far more proficient with self promotion. There is certainly a market for that!

    • Wow,
      Thanks Tony, I did ask for that…
      I guess anyone with a blog is also involved with self-promotion too, like it or not, though perhaps the difference with what I, and you (?) do, involves no financial gain – which personally I’ve always liked.
      The most I hope for is to get readers to think about, or see something, they haven’t encountered before, or even inspire them in some tiny way. Though I realise that even this could be picked apart and criticised. And also that I have the privilege of being able to live pretty frugally here, without the need to currently earn a crust – though I’ve certainly done that in my previous existence.
      Much of what BT did, in his own garden anyway, was clearly very invasive and disruptive. As an outsider who watched the whole thing though, it’s interesting that I didn’t get the same impression that he was belittling Californian culture or horticulture, but I probably missed some nuances you picked up on, like my stinging nettles!
      Best wishes
      Julian

  5. Most landscapes here are invasive and disruptive, regardless of what style they are, or who designs them. It seems to me that the disruptions are more obvious with the more stylish landscapes, perhaps because they are visually less compatible with the natural landscapes. Unfortunately, without some degree of disruption, landscapes would not be possible. Not many of the plants that people want or expect in their gardens would survive without irrigation. Even native plants are more appealing through the end of summer with a bit of irrigation.

    • Fair comment Tony, about the inevitability of disruption to create ‘new’ designs/landscapes. ‘Twas ever thus, Capability Brown, and all that over here. Interesting point about the plants people want not surviving, where you live and work, without irrigation – not a problem for us here! With nearly 300 mm rain falling this May!
      But actually a point made by Trainor in his presentation, (and he was really influenced by Beth Chatto amongst others, with her ‘right plant-right place’ mantra), was that the planting schemes for his own garden are apparently designed to work with no irrigation, other than to get plants established in their first year. So he does give quite a lot of thought to which plants to use – though I didn’t find so much evidence of great planting interest when I looked at the examples shown on his own design website!
      Best wishes
      Julian

      • Well, the material is appropriate, and would mostly survive without irrigation. However, it would not look as good as it does without irrigation. Fox tail agave is one of the few agaves that prefers a bit a water through summer, and can look rather shabby and pale without it. Other agaves that require no irrigation for comparably healthy growth would unfortunately not look so good in that particular landscape though. The various aeoniums likewise need a bit of water for such lush growth. They can look that good as they start to grow in early spring, shortly after winter rain, but soon shed much of their foliage after the rain stops and the weather warms. Although winters are mild, sparse aeoniums do not refoliate much until the end of winter. Potted plants of all sorts need to be occasionally watered because they can not disperse their roots as efficiently as those in the soil. Ironically, ‘drought tolerant’ plants are more likely than other plants to desiccate in pots, because they rely on extensive root dispersion to survive through long dry summers. Technically, except for the potted plants, the landscape would likely survive without irrigation. However, it would not perform satisfactorily.

      • Hello again Tony, and thanks for that very interesting insight, which with no knowledge of these plants, I had no way of assessing. So essentially, we were being shown the garden and plants at its peak – it will survive, but not look as good as it does on the video, say mid to late summer?
        I think he did hint at this in his presentation, but it’s the classic problem of how one portrays a garden. It’s really performance art, and the photographer will always choose the best time of year, best days, best time of day and even the best bits of the garden to feature. I do this here of course, though over the years, more bits look photogenic for longer periods of time. It’s just that other big part of the equation, the dodgy Welsh light and rainfall that limits recording it.
        Which is just as well, as otherwise I’d spend all my time just wandering round doing nothing! You lovely guys in California won’t have quite the same issues with light to contend with, I guess, other than it being too bright on occasion 🙂 Anyway an interesting bit of chat from which I’ve learned a lot, so thanks, for taking the time and trouble to respind.
        Best wishes
        Julian

      • Well, it can look as good as it does now as long as it continues to be irrigated. Now, if the irrigation stops, the various material will start to look natural at various rates. Some agaves will always look good. (They can be seen growing wild in the region.) Some species will look tired, as you say, mid to late summer. Plants that really are endemic to chaparral or desert climates may look tired even earlier, before summer even starts. That is just how the ecosystem works here. Things bloom early, before the weather gets too dry. Some species are at their best in winter.
        In the future, most of those plants will need to be groomed or pruned, which can be tricky for some of the chaparral plants.

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