Masons and Miners

  • May 20, 2017 2:13 pm

Just a quick update from me, Spring is in full swing now here in South Norfolk. Blue tit’s are nesting in the box on the back of the house, and the Hawthorn hedge at the bottom of the garden was in magnificient full bloom until the rains came over the last two days. Every year I’m fascinated by our wild Red Mason Bees, which have been using the bee nesters I installed on the east facing side of the house for several years now. They are solitary bees, each one creating an individual nest, but they come in great numbers to use the bee nesters now. Starting from around 8 bees when we first moved here to far too many to count now is fantastic to see as they are such important pollinators. I wonder if the neighbours either side are wondering why their apple trees have been producing such vast amounts of fruit over the last few years? I love listening to the constant hum of the bees going back and forth to their nests, and occasionally having a quick peek down one of the tubes to admire the pile of glorious yellow pollen that the bee has accumulated. The females are busy right now, each one provisioning their nest with pollen collected from the surrounding gardens, their rufous fur covered with sunshine yellow, as if they had been dipped in lemon sherbert. A few weeks ago though, the females were still tucked safely inside, and the newly emerged males were vying for the best spot, waiting for the girls to appear. I took this photo of a male waiting inside the nesting tube, warming himself in the early Spring sunshine.

New for this year in the garden are the Mining bees. Much like the Mason bees, they are harmless solitary bees, and great pollinators of course too. As the name suggests, instead of nesting in holes in masonry, these little bees dig their own nest chambers underground, often resulting in a little hill of soil in the lawn with a hole in the middle of around 4mm diameter. These little bees are only about 8-11mm in length and prefer nesting in well drained soil. They are a little shyer than the Mason bees, retreating into their nest when you wander past, but with a little patience I was able to photograph this Early Mining bee basking in the sun at the entrance to her nest.

Although photography is my medium of choice I do occassionally dabble in video too, and this year I was able to film a male mason bee emerging from the nester for the first time. You can take a look at that video here: https://youtu.be/FsDcjPGzLFU

 

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Spring Bees

  • May 31, 2016 8:59 pm

Just a quick May update from me. You might remember last year, I was very happy to find wild Red Mason Bees using my solitary bee box, I was amazed that there were around 8 bees using it, I think I said ‘the most I’ve ever seen…’ Well, scratch that! This year I’ve counted over 30 bees, and I’ve even had to make and buy additional boxes for them! It’s really interesting to observe their whole lifecycle. In early May I discovered the much smaller males had hatched out, and were hanging around waiting for the females to emerge. When they did, it was incredible to watch the males pounce on the females, fighting with each other to grab her, and hold on to her to stop her getting away. Others tried to push the successful male off, but finally one suitor remained. He stayed with the female, until she was ready to mate, and so begin the whole cycle again.

Red Mason Bees, Osmia rufa, pair on edge of flowerpot, garden, Norfolk

 

Red Mason Bees, Osmia rufa, pair on edge of flowerpot, garden, Norfolk

Once the females had mated, they began clearing out the old nesting tubes, removing the debris and last years empty cocoons. I found one of these in a plant pot, a tiny bronze capsule, really interesting to find.

 

Red Mason Bee, Osmia rufa, empty cocoon, garden, Norfolk

 

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Red Mason Bees

  • May 25, 2015 6:53 pm

I’ve been trying to photograph the Red mason bees again, these wild bees have been using my solitary bee boxes over the last few weeks and they are fascinating to watch. I’ve had the odd bee using the bee boxes in the past, but this year they seem to be doing really well, and on Friday I counted 8 bees going in and out, the most I’ve ever seen.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

As well as trying to photograph these quick and tricky little subjects, I’ve also been watching them, as their behaviour is so interesting. Each bee, and these are all females, collects many loads of pollen which they deliver to a nest chamber where they lay a single egg. Once this food store is complete and egg laid, they seal off the chamber and then begin the process again, repeating until the bamboo cane is full, and then finally sealing off the tube with a wall of thicker mud to protect their growing offspring. Each egg develops into a bee larvae, which steadily munches away at the larder of pollen, before spinning a silken cocoon and pupating into an adult bee. This bee overwinters in it’s cosy cocoon and then emerges the following spring. So next year, hopefully I’ll be seeing even more of these characterful little creatures.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, covered in pollen,  May, Norfolk

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Standing by and photographing them means I was able to watch the whole process. They are quite choosy, carefully selecting a tube by zigzagging in front of the box to find an unoccupied hole. When a bee hovers too close to a hole already taken, the resident races out with forelegs waving to ward off the competitor.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Once a tube is chosen they can begin the process of provisioning the first chamber with pollen. They collect as much pollen as they can carry, often all over their furry bodies, and return to the nest to offload it. They carefully back into the hole and groom the pollen off before going out again to gather more. Using my reflector to carefully peer down one of the holes after the bee had left, I could see a great heap of sunshine yellow pollen, like a lemon sherbet fountain, and the beginnings of a mud wall, as the bee prepared to seal that particular chamber.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, covered in pollen, May, Norfolk

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Once the pollen store is full and the egg laid, the bee gathers mud to seal off the nest. They carry a ball of wet mud in their jaws and return with their heavy load, carefully building a mud wall. A couple of the bees I was watching had reached the front of their bamboo canes and were busy making a thicker wall to protect the nest chambers. They are so industrious, constantly back and forth with more mud, and such determination as they build the wall. Not just dropping the ball of mud there, but carefully spreading out each piece, like a master plasterer, building it up, smoothing it out.

This last image has to be my favourite, this bee is just taking off, you can see she is still covered in pollen and if you look very closely (click to enlarge) you can see a few grains flying off. An amazing moment caught by good planning and exceptional camera work. (Haha just kidding! It was luck, sheer luck!)

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, taking off, covered in pollen, May, Norfolk

For more info on these incredible animals and some wonderful images of inside a nest tube, take a look here: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

 

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Here and there

  • May 17, 2015 8:45 pm

Over on the Fen first thing this morning, the Sedge Warblers were quiet again, but the Reed Warblers were singing away. Their song is softer than the harsh, scratchy tune of the Sedge Warblers, more bouncing, more musical. They were busy collecting nesting material, hopping up the reeds to choose a few strands of fluffy seedhead, then dropping them, perhaps not suitable for requirements, and then choosing a few more. Try as I might I couldn’t get any photos as they bounded around the swaying reeds. I did capture one though, peering though the reed stems at me.

Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus, perched amoungst reeds, Fen, Norfolk, May, Spring

Leaving them to it, I wandered on and spotted the local Roe deer, distant, but relaxed, munching away amongst the sedges. Over on the dry fen margin, tiny young Rabbits scampered away with wide, dark eyes and trembling whiskers. This one sat at his burrow entrance calmly observing me as I tried to take his picture.

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, young rabbit in undergrowth, Fen, Norfolk, May

The sun was already warm and around the next corner I found a beautiful jewel of an animal, a Common Lizard. I’ve wanted to do more reptile photography, they are such fascinating creatures, what a treat to find one happy to pose in the open for me. Not the best photo in the world, far too distracting a background, but so lovely to see.

Common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, basking on corrogated iron sheet, fen, Norfolk, May

Back home, this weekend I’ve been trying to photograph some Red Mason Bees which have been making my solitary bee box home. These cute little insects with their russet red fur have been very busy, collecting pollen which they deliver to a chamber containing a single egg, before sealing the nursery with mud and repeating the process again and again until that particular bamboo burrow is filled.

I highly recommend this article which shows inside the Red Mason bee burrows and describes their life-cycle in-depth – very interesting: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

These images are still a bit of a work in progress, I’ve not quite got the photos I want yet.

This bee is prospecting for a nest site, trying to find a hole not already occupied. They defend their nests from other bees vigorously, fascinating to watch their behaviour.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Here is a bee entering it’s nesting chamber, you can see it’s abdomen is fully laden with a load of pollen, while another bee is just flying in.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, entering nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

This little bee has just popped it’s head out to ward off a rival bee which had landed at the entrance.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Finally, this bee is reversing into her burrow to offload all the pollen she has collected.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

These bees are perfectly harmless, and incredibly fascinating to watch. As you can see from the amount of pollen they carry they are important pollinators, just like all bees. If you have a little room for a solitary bee box, simply a box filled with bamboo canes, I highly recommend installing one. A simple, yet extremely beneficial act of kindness for nature.

 

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