Birds and Bees

Black Headed Gulls
Yesterday I went to Perry for an afternoon walk and stopped at the bird hide which overlooks the reservoir looking north. Right in front was a gang of black headed gulls perching on the wooden posts. There was much preening and primping, sleeping and occasionally squawking. Some have their dark brown heads and some are in grey headed winter plumage.They have a very attractive white eye border which gives them lots of character.


It was calm, very quiet and very peaceful. It’s a good place to make a few sketches with a bench and ID guides.

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Some balance on quite small posts and have to keep shifting their weight.



Some find larger posts and sleep.


A little Goldeneye swam past too. I have been working some more on the woodcut this week and am thinking how these birds might work as prints.


Black headed Gull A washy watercolour sketch :

I like this relaxed pose where they tuck their head back. His post is just slightly too small though. :).There was quite a bit of shuffling.

Bumble Bees!

Back in the garden I have seen lots of Bombus terrestris now. I am wondering if they are queens from the rescue colony, because last year they were not so numerous. I would like to think so. They are on the bird cherry, winter honeysuckle, crocus and surprisingly to me on the little violets. I had not seen them on the violets before but it seems they are a good nectar source. This bee spent quite a while on each flower.

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A gorgeous bee on equally gorgeous flower..some nice complementary colours there! It’s great to see them.

Let’s help the BEES…shall we?? It’s so very easy.

First bee sightings
I haven’t really been looking for bees yet but I know from BWARS reports many have been active in the south over this mild winter. On Saturday I saw my first 2014 bumble bees and a honey bee here the garden, along with a big bee mimic hoverfly.
The bumbles were the Buff tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris and the Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum. My bee friendly neighbour has an early clematis and we both have winter honeysuckles and the wild bird cherry is just coming into bloom.
The bees were busy around them all. We were talking today over the fence. “When I saw the bees were back it just made me smile” she said. Me too Carole!


My painting of the big beautiful Bombus terrestris on wonderful bee friendly early Mahonia.

The last bee of 2014 was this Bombus terrestris I photographed on Nov 30th on very late flowering comfrey.
The comfrey is such a star.



It was very depressing to hear of the discovery of yet more  new problems for Bumble Bees last week. It has just made me more determined to redouble my efforts this year to help wild bees and promote their conservation. I am just a small scale gardener and the easiest, most effective and cheapest thing that people like us can do is to plant more bee friendly flowers…and goodness,  that is easy enough.

What I am doing…
I am thinking of how I can get people to join me in planting more BFF’s both here in the village and wherever they live. Maybe I will set up something online … but for now here is what I am doing

1 Bee house clean out, repair, reassemble and restock the solitary bee house with new tubes. Maybe build an extra one…Yes!

2 Order some new bee friendly perennials. Lots of online shops, and garden centres now display the helpful RHS pollinator friendly logo.


There are also specialist suppliers. like Bee Happy Plants who I have bought from in the past.

3 Seed checking I am checking my seeds to see what annuals I might need to sow or restock. I save seeds from poppies, phacelia and  anything else I can think of that might help. It’s a random business but I end up with lots of seeds which I generally scatter on newly dug bits of the front garden. We are slowly getting rid of the grass out there.

4 Looking to see which flowers and trees the bees are visiting
We garden on very VERY heavy clay and the previous owners did not garden but put down grass. We are digging it up… slowly. I am not used to heavy clay and not all of the lovely bee friendly flowers will grow here. It is the beginning of year three for us here and I am beginning to see which plants are happy and which are not. Thistles absolutely love it..sigh…

5 Bee Fostering Collecting boxes for possible Bumble Bee fostering. My bee friendly local pest control guy Mathew brought 4 colonies to me last year. He is very VERY reluctant to move Bumble Bees and tries to persuade people they are benign, but some people just don’t listen. Three made it through to a certain extent. One lucorum, one very successful lapidarius and a huge terrestris colony. It was very rewarding.

Plant Lists For now if you are dithering about some new plants look for the many online resources and suppliers of Bee Friendly Plants. The RHS’ two PDFs Perfect for Pollinators: Garden Plants  and  Perfect for Pollinators: Wild Flowers are a good start.

Print them off… give them to your friends… pin them up at school, community centre, leisure centre, gardening club…anywhere….everywhere…  More bee encouragement to come… Oh and luckily my Tree Following trees, Willows and Horse Chestnuts, are very good for pollinators!!

I also decided my next bee painting will be Bombus Ruderatus the beautiful black version of the Large Garden Bumble Bee which I saw a couple of years ago in Dads garden. I made a sketch at the time but, especially as it is a fairly local species it’s time I made a good study.

Spring Bees on the Buckthorn

On Tuesday, the first day of Spring, the bees were out and about, even in the Empty Garden. I have three things in bloom now, a pretty magnolia just starting, a wild plum of some sort and the biggest hit with the bees, the vicious purging buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica, which has won itself a reprieve of at least one more season by being such a brilliant early bee attractor.


Its thorny, whippy branches are smothered with sweet smelling white blossom. Tiny simple flowers came long before the leaves which are now just beginning to emerge and the bees love it. It hums with honey bees and the occasional huge bumble bee.

I have seen 2 very dark B terrestris, a white tailed of some sort, B pratorum and what looked like a B lapidarius. Then there are the little bees whose identity I am much less certain about.
Most are flying too high for me to get a decent photograph but below are just a few. Standing for a while and watching them all makes me realise how quiet some of the solitary bees are. You have to look hard for them.

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One of the many honey bees..

honey bee

..and a hover fly.


Some bees come to rest nearer the ground. This gorgeous gingery bee with gingery hairs on its hind legs I think might be Andrena clarkella (*** please note Alan’s comment below so I am revising this to A bicolor… Will I ever get to grips with these mining bees!! )

This one, who I am not sure about, was sunning itself on a magnolia flower. (**for ID see Alan’s comment below..possibly A flavipes)


It’s so lovely to see the magnolia in bloom. Evolving before bees, magnolias don’t rely on flying pollinators but the big smooth petals provide a handy sunbathing spot. I have seen several insects taking a break there.
Our tree is very small, nothing like the magnificent grandifloras of Florida, but it is a poignant reminder of Leu Gardens and all my friends there, both legged and leafy.

The Black Queen, The Beautiful Bombus ruderatus from Lincs

Sometimes the coincidences that life throws up are both spooky and delightful, rather as if some good fairy has taken charge of things for a change.
A while ago now I was reading the Bwars forum messages which come regularly into my inbox and noticed a message from Leslie in South Lincs. I don’t often see questions from my part of the Uk so I was interested in her report of her B ruderatus sightings.

That afternoon, I went out into the garden with my camera and there drifting slowly from one clump of Yellow Archangel  (Lamium galeobdolon) to another was a large velvet black bee.
Very big and very black.  My bee knowledge is still slight but I knew it was a Bombus and not an Anthophora.
When I looked again at the books it could only really be Bombus ruderatus. A very odd occurrence as only that morning I had been reading about them.

blackb2   black b4   black b3

This is the dark form of the lovely ruderatus (var. harrissellus) which has, it seems, quite a few colour variations. She is carrying some yellow pollen  and had a dusting of pollen on her head from the flowers but apart from that I could not see any other coloured hairs.

They don’t seem to be very common, but apparently have a bit of a liking for Lincolnshire. This is from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan site.

“Although this bumblebee was considered to be very common in southern England at the beginning of the 20th century, by the 1970s it was already considered a scarce but widespread species. The decline has continued since, with fewer than 10 confirmed post-1980 sites for this bee, mostly in East Anglia. There are no confirmed post-1960 records for Wales and no records for Scotland or Northern Ireland. This bee is widespread but declining in Europe.
In Great Britain this species is classified as Nationally Scarce.”

Buglife have a good “species management” sheet for more information here. and Bwars records have a distribution map here. If any other Lincolnshire readers see this bee, Alan Phillips ( norwegica blog) would like to know!

Being a long tongued bee it likes red clover which you really don’t see so much of these days. Another coincidence is that this beautiful long faced and long tongued bee was one of the hopefuls sent to New Zealand to pollinate the red clover crops in the 1960’s. Studies were made of their nesting habits in Lincoln .. but Lincoln, New Zealand not Lincs UK.

I have subsequently called in to see Leslie and to talk to her about her bees.
Her lovely garden was just full of them with bee houses/ nesting sites and bee flowers everywhere. She has been recording bees for many years and her records are fascinating.
Identifying this particular species is tricky because of the many different colour variations and its similarity to B hortorum to which it is related.  I think I am going to try to make a chart.
I saw the black queen just once more before we moved and  I think this is another bee I will have to add to the British bee set.


A Pembrokshire Buzz; The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee

The last Bumblebee for my British Bees set, the lovely Shrill Carder bee B. sylvarum, one of the smaller members of bumblebee family and endangered.

As with the Great Yellow Bumblebee I received some help and advice from one of the conservation officers at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pippa Rayner.

The shrill carder bee is her baby.. lucky Pippa! .. and in February this year the trust won 30,000EURs funding towards this great bumblebee project on the Pembrokeshire Coast!..Pippa says :

We will be creating a wildflower-rich habitat to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. By connecting key sites, this attractive route through spectacular scenery will help prevent the national extinction of the shrill carder bee.

The project will benefit lots of other wildlife too; Wales, like the rest of the UK, has lost most of its wild flower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend upon them. It will also create a lovely place to walk, with flowers and bumblebees along the path that takes walkers, horseriders and cyclists through areas that were previously inaccessible, thanks to the new route provided by the MOD”We’ll be bringing extra colour and ‘buzz’ to beautiful Pembrokeshire!

I wish her well and what a very good reason to visit one of the most beautiful parts of Wales. It takes quite a while for things to happen though doesn’t it! Back in 2006 at the launch of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Professor Dave Goulson told the Independent newspaper this:

“UK nature reserves are simply too small.The only way to provide sufficient areas of habitat for bumblebees is if the wider, farmed countryside, and the vast areas covered by suburban gardens, are managed in a suitable way. To do this we need to educate people, and encourage activities such as the planting of wildflowers and traditional cottage-garden flowers in gardens, the replanting of hedgerows, and the recreation of hay meadow and chalk grassland habitats..

This echoes Buglife’s wonderful vision of the “Rivers of Flowers” earlier this year.










Bombus sylvarum from James Lindsey’s Ecology of Commanster Site, via Wiki here. (**James’ site is wonderful)

A Greenish Bee

From Sladen: “ The prevailing colour is greenish-white, often with ayellowish tinge.” From the Natural History Museum: “Fresh pale B. sylvarum are almost unmistakable in Britain with their ‘greenish’ yellow hair.” From Arkive It has a distinctive combination of markings, being predominantly grey-green, with a single black band across the thorax, and two dark bands on the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is pale orange.”


The Flower: Devils Bit Scabious Succisa pratensis

I asked Pippa about which flowers this bee favours and she told me it likes several plants in particular, including red clover Trifolium pratense, yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor, common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus , common knapweed Centaurea nigra, red bartsia Odontites verna. But,
I would suggest devil’s-bit scabious would be ideal as this is an important plant at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire where it provides forage for the shrill carder later on in 

the summer”


from Shutterstock by Andrey Novikov .

So the lovely little Devils Bit Scabious it is.
The curious name coming from the root form which looks cut off, or bitten off. Legend says the Devil found it in the Garden of Eden but was envious of the little flower’s many good and helpful properties so bit off part of the root, but the plant survived.
There is a curious little piece in the Edinburgh Review’s 1809 review of J. E. Smith’s “Introduction to Botany “1809 . Smith is talking about root systems and quotes Gerards of herbal fame.

“ old Geralde is quoted ‘ ‘The great part of the root seemeth to be bitten away; old fantastick charmers report that the divel did bite it for envie, because it is an herbe that hath so many good vertues and it is so beneficial to mankinde.’: And the Doctor facetiously adds that “the malice of the devil has unhappily been so successful that no virtues can now be found in the remainder of the root or herb.’”

However Culpepper has the plant curing plague, pestilence, external and internal problems alike, plus snake bites and wounds. Another useful plant to have around, not only for the bees! Let’s hope it get on well in Wales without the Devil’s interference. It’s the prettiest pale lilac little thing.. quite beautiful.

The Painting

A few roughs and on with the painting. The grey-green pile looks more grey than green against the white paper but a simple mix of Payne’s grey and yellow was a good colour for it. It’s a very pretty hairy little bee!

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The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee, Bombus sylvarum zooming in at full throttle to the Devils Bit Scabious

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Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8 x 8”

***PS.. there is a super little Bumblebee film here by Jamie-Lee Loughlin

Mr Frederick William Sladen and His Humble Bees

I have been reading “The Humble-Bee” by F.W.L. Sladen. I have the 1912 edition borrowed from my local library, on loan from some other distant library in the USA and it has to go back tomorrow.
I am reluctant to let it go, very reluctant. It’s a piece of Bumble Bee history being the first in-depth study of Bumble Bees and their behaviour to be published in English.
Written in a similar style to Fabre where observation and affection are given equal billing it is a delightful, informative and engaging read.

 title page

Sladen published this book in 1912 at the age of 26 which seems young enough but it was preceded by a 40 page pamphlet which he wrote and published at the tender age of 16.

“The title, scheme, and some of the contents of this book are borrowed from a little treatise printed on a stencil copying apparatus in August 1892.”

What Frederick Sladen calls his “little treatise” was in fact an already knowledgeable study of bumble bees and their behaviour.

I wonder if any sixteen year old these days could produce anything so wise and careful. He was fortunate to be born into a wealthy family with the encouragement of private tutors, but it is still an outstanding achievement.
One of eleven children he lived on the family estate at Ripple Court, near Dover in the UK (which is curiously only a few miles from my last UK home. If only I had known !).

Here he would find bumble bee nests and move them to a place in the garden where he could not only observe them, but care for them with the concern of a fond parent, protecting his bees from parasites, predators and inclement weather.
The book is full of scientific information, species descriptions and  lovely anecdotal observations.
He keeps a nest of B lapidarius in his study and watches them as they fly in and out of the window while he works, he cares for a crippled B terrestris Queen, finds foster mothers for abandoned broods and tirelessly removes earwigs, millipedes and ants from the nests.

There is of course the scientific collector about him and he describes how to make a collection of pinned specimens, which still makes me feel queasy.
Although I have been grateful for specimens from others I just can’t be the one to deliberately end their little lives.

A Two Hour Photo.. Photographing bees in 1912

It’s so easy just to run out with the digital camera now, take a millions shots, hope that one of them will be OK and casually delete the rest.   But if Mr. Sladen was not so fortunate in his technology the excitement and possibilities of photography back then must have made every effort to photograph a living bee worthwhile, and a leap of faith.
On June 17th, 1911 he is endeavouring to take a photograph of a B terrestris Queen on her nest and even gives her a bit of film star touch-up before the shot.

I carried the nest to a suitable spot for taking the picture. To make a satisfactory exposure it was necessary for the queen to sit still for about half-a-minute, and several attempts were a failure; but a successful one was finally made, and the result is shown in the frontis-piece.

During the long ordeal, which lasted two hours, the queen took wing and flew back to her domicile four times. Each time I caught her in my net, and on the last two occasions she was quite pleased to find herself confined therein, having quickly learnt that this was the prelude to coming back to her nest, and she showed great eagerness to find her brood when she was placed on the photographing table, knowing perfectly well that it was there.
Her coat was a little dusty, and she allowed me to brush it clean with a camel’s hair brush as she sat on the brood, just before her picture was taken. This nest eventually developed into a very populous colony.

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Frederic Sladen’s photo of B terrestris on her nest 1911

The book also has very good colour plates from photographs of his own collection, which makes it seem quite modern. Sadly it seems the original photos were lost and modern editions only have scans of the old printed pages.

sladen bombus prtorum

If like me you can’t afford the 229.00 UK pounds for 1912 edition you can buy a print-on-demand edition via Amazon.
A better option, but still expensive, is the Logaston Press edition from 1989 which has a facsimile of the original 1892 “little treatise” in the appendix.
However you can read and download the whole book here at the outstanding resource that is the Biodiversity Library,’s just not quite the same as the original though, is it?

It has been a delight and a privilege to hold this lovely, tatty, well thumbed old book in my hands. I wonder where it has been in the last 100 years?
Who else has pored over its wonderful contents? And who else after reading it, felt that need to rush out into the garden to look with new eyes at what is going on around them?
Yes, I am extremely reluctant to return this book.

Bombus pratorum: the Early Bumble Bee, Questing Queens, Nests and the wonderful Mr.Sladen.

Bombus pratorum ( L Pratum meadowland). Although known as the “ Early Nesting Bumble Bee” this pretty little Bumble Bee is not the earliest to be seen in the UK but usually one of the first.
Also confusingly, there are considerable colour variations but a rough guide is that queens, workers and males all have orangey red tails, and the male has more yellow hair on the thorax and of course the wonderful yellow moustache.

They are small, short tongued bees who cannot easily access the nectar from vetches, preferring the shallower flowers of the daisy family, dandelions and in the spring, willow flowers. They are described as having a characteristically rounded dumpy shape.

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Left Male 11-13 mm: Right: Queen 15-17mm and similarly coloured workers 10-12mm

Queens and Nests Normally active from March the big handsome Queen bees will be seen cruising for suitable nesting spots. She will not be too fussy about where she makes her nest and like many other bumble bees will take advantage of abandoned mouse nests, tangles of dead grass, empty bird boxes or old nests.
I have seen big bumble bees meandering around in the spring in that seemingly aimless way, I realise now they they were just queens looking for good nest sites. Again, from the excellent (from whom I have learnt so much!)

“It is at this time that you most commonly find bumblebees straying into your house and behaving strangely. They will investigate any dark corner, flying slowly and sometimes even disappearing down holes, or even into pockets. They seem oblivious to their surroundings, and not at all interested in flowers.”

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I found this charming little illustration from a version of the equally charming Anna Botsford Comstock’s “Handbook of Nature”. She writes;

“In early May one of the most delightful of spring visitations is one of these great buzzing queens flying low over the freshening meadows”

Bumble bee nests are not as regimented and conformist as those of the honey bee. They look like a jumble of bubbles, rather like the inside of a giant Aero, but are still beautifully and ingeniously crafted. Karl von Frisch in Animal Architecture” describes two of his collection of nests;

I have in my possession a wagtails’s nest from a sheltered spot under the eaves of a boathouse. In its soft padded hollow I found not eggs but the nest of a bumble bee. An even more cozy abode was chosen by a colony of early bumble bees ( bombus pratorum) that made their nest in a basket of chicken feathers. when I opened it I found the feathers immediately surrounding the hollow place that contained the the comb, were stuck together to form a thick crust, which made an excellent insulating layer between the nest cavity proper and the fluffy mass of the feathers.. … I assumed that the material was wax or resin collected from trees…but wondered how the bees had managed to work such hard substances into the loose mass of feathers”

But thirty years later when Frisch had a chemical analysis made he was surprised to find this crust was made of sugar!

“The bumble bees had obviously used either nectar or thickened honey from their storage jars to moisten the feather so that the whole dried to a dense solid crust “ Clever clever bees!

There are many illustrations of bumble bee nests but this is a particular favourite of mine. The nest of Bombus pratorum from the beautifully illustrated 1923 Die Europäischen Bienen by H Friese from excellent German wild bee site here

bombus pratorum

I have also been reading Frederick W L Sladen’s ‘The Humble Bee’ It’s Life History and How To Domesticate It.

People who read my blog will know how much I love the lyrical writing of naturalists from earlier days, just for the affection and gentleness which I find lacking in much modern writing. This beautiful piece about the quiet end of the Bombus pratorum queen had me in tears !

The End of the Old Queen “In the case of B. pratorum, and probably of other species whose colonies end their existence in the height of summer, the aged queen often spends the evening of her life very pleasantly with her little band of worn-out workers. They sit together on two or three cells on the top of the ruined edifice, and make no attempt to rear any more brood. The exhausting work of bearing done, the queen’s body shrinks to its original size, and she becomes quite active and youthful-looking again. This well-earned rest lasts for about a week, and death, when at last it comes, brings with it no discomfort. One night, a little cooler than usual, finding her food supply exhausted, the queen grows torpid, as she has done many a time in the early part of her career; but on this occasion, her life-work finished, there is no awakening.

Thank you Gloria from Pollinators Welcome and Square Metre for posting this.

More lovely writing from Mr Sladen soon.

The Painting

My Queen Bee however is alive and well .. I have not quite finished the background yet but again I have run out of time today. I am painting her contemplating a suitable nest site, her busy life all ahead of her..


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Bombus pratorum the Early Bumble Bee.

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Watercolour and pencil .. not quite finished.. I blame it on Twitter!

The White Tailed Bumble Bee and the Short but Merry Life of the Male Bumble Bee.

This is another of the Natural History Museum’s “Big Six” common UK Bumble Bees and very similar to B hortorum.  (I think some of these bees are very hard to distinguish from each other).
Bombus lucorum has an all white tail (mostly)and the yellow stripes are a clearer more lemony yellow, than those of B terrestris.


lucorum ident

Bombus lucorum: male left and queen/worker right

The males may have varying amounts of yellow on their thorax too! Its all quite difficult for a beginner. I have chosen to paint the male. He has the most charming moustache and it gives me the opportunity to write a little about the male of the species.

Males are much smaller than females and have no pollen baskets on the hind legs, which is fine as they don’t really have much fetching and carrying to do!


White tailed bumble bee by Steve McWilliam from

The Life of the Male Bumble Bee

“Short” really sums it up, but by turns frantic, in his search for a lovely mate, and lazy, in that he does no work to help with the colony. But then it’s hard to blame him as he really has little chance to contribute much.
One of the last bees to emerge from the nest, the males are not even a twinkle in the Queen’s eye until after she and her workers have established the colony. As explains, the arrival of the males signifies the decline of the colony.

“The production of males usually signals the beginning of the end of the co-operation and organisation of the nest. The males drink the stores of honey, but do not forage to replace it. “

Once he has left the nest he is not, generally, allowed to return so must resign himself to a hedonistic life of chasing queen bees, drinking nectar and sleeping in flowers.  His sole purpose is to mate. (Although its seems that some more enlightened American bumble bee males,  a breed of “new bee” I guess, do lend a hand in incubating the young.)

After the males have left the new young virgin queens will begin to emerge and the game is on. Courtship rituals depend on the species but all the males will spend a considerable time on the look-out for a mate.
Sometimes they will perch on some high vantage point and adopt a “knock ‘um dead” approach, zooming in and literally knocking the female to the ground, some lay sweetly smelling pheromone trails to attract a mate and some, abandoning all semblance of romance just hang around the nest entrance and pounce.. something like a night club I suppose.

Some people, noticing a sudden increase in bumble bee activity in the summer, become nervous and think the bees may have suddenly become more aggressive, but stinging you is the very last thing on the male bees mind!
It’s interesting that different species of bees will patrol for mates at specific heights. Bombus lapidarius, terrestris and this little lucorum male will conduct tree top high romance while sylvestris and hortorum hang out nearer the ground.

This patrolling behaviour was noticed by Darwin .. here is a passage from “Bees of the World” by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw:

“He observed that several male bumble bees flew along well-defined routes in his son’s garden. He enlisted the help of his grand children in following them and it transpired that the bees flew along circuitous routes. Darwin’s notebooks show that he speculated correctly as to the nature of these circuit flights. He notes how several males of Bombus hortorum patrolled the same circuit and landed repeatedly  at the same spots, which he suspected were scented by the bees. He wondered of the bees at their landing places “Is it like dogs at a corner stone?”” ….

Nice to be Darwin’s grandchildren..if a bit dizzying..

The Painting

I decided to have a front  view of this little bee to show off moustache, perching on some leaves.  I was researching about how important willow trees were to bees, especially as they are an early nectar source for spring bees, and happened upon James’ blog Musings of a Surrey Beekeeper.

He was feeling guilty about cutting back his willow.  Being a new bee keeper as I am a new bee artist, he was not aware of how important willows are either. But they didn’t make it easy for him:

”Willow has this uncanny knack of reminding you that it is a very efficient whip.You turn your face towards it and out of nowhere this little slither of willow just whacks you across the face and it stings – especially in the cold weather. It is almost like it is getting you back for something!” Read

It was the bees James.. the bees…. Anyway I included some willow leaves for James, and to appease his bees!

luc sk 2sm


The Delightful Little Bombus lucorum male.. on the lookout for a girlfriend.~

bombus lucorum sm

The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

I had to include clover in one of the bumble bee paintings because the bees  are such crucial  pollinators for this important crop.
Bombus terrestris, the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee must be one of the most common bumble bees we see in the UK, recognisable (as you might expect), by the Buff coloured section of the tail and its two yellow stripes which are a deeper yellow that those of the B hortorum.

 terrestris ident

I still have the small disintegrating sample which I brought back from the UK last year, which has been useful.

I sketched and wrote about it before, in regard to “nectar stealing” here.   I won’t repeat myself but will shamelessly re-quote this delightful extract about bumble bee behaviour from the wonderful, which seems quite apt, given the date and may well strike a chord with some.

“I get a huge number of emails from people asking me why their bees are sick, when in fact they are just males who have spent the day chasing queens and drinking nectar and then stayed out all night. Sometimes it rains and they get soaking wet, but they will recover once they drink or get warmed up by the sun. Sleeping inside a disk or bowl shaped flower is a good strategy for these bumblebees as research has shown that the temperature at the base of the bowl, near the source of nectar, can be as much as 10 °C higher than the surrounding air temperature.

Happy Valentine’s day all! I hope the sun shines on you. It’s damn cold here I can tell you and not the weather for either man or beast to be sleeping off a hangover in a flower..

Good news for Bumble Bees in the UK .

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has just been voted the most worthy eco-project 2010, from the ‘Live For the Outdoors’ website  and its  Pembrokeshire path project, will now be funded with EUR30,000.
Pippa Raynor, the Conservation Officer who will be working on the project explains what they will be doing:

“We will be creating a wildflower-rich habitat to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. By connecting key sites, this attractive route through spectacular scenery will help prevent the national extinction of the shrill carder bee.

The project will benefit lots of other wildlife too; Wales, like the rest of the UK, has lost most of its wildflower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend on them.
It will also create a lovely place to walk, with flowers and bumblebees along the path that takes walkers, horseriders
and cyclists through areas that were previously inaccessible, thanks to the new route provided by the MOD.”

Sounds wonderful…Lucky  Pembrokeshire! I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing and painting a Shrill Carder bee, they are really pretty! Meanwhile back to Bombus terrestris, 2 early sketches: In the second one I bent the clover head over a little more than the first.

bomb terr sketchsmterrest sk 2 sm

And in the end I tilted it over a bit more still… these are fairly substantial bees after all. I may add the leaves later when I look at the set as a whole. No more time left today!


Bombus terrestris: The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

bombus terrestris sm

Watercolour on Arches HP 6 x 7 inches

Red Tailed Bumble Bee and Chives.

The beautiful and very handsome queen Bombus lapidarius, the Red Tailed Bumble Bee or “Stone” Bumble Bee, from its habit of nesting under stones or in walls.

I sketched this one in November. This is the bee that Thomas Belt back in 1896 felt would be the preferred pollinator over B terrestris for the New Zealand clover crop, mostly because of B terrestris’ naughty nectar robbing habit.
Belt also has a nice account of  B lapidarius’ bad temper.
Read more in my previous posts The Beautiful but Grumpy Bombus Lapidarius and Floral Larceny and Nectar Robbing.

The queen is large and a glossy black with the flame red tail. The workers are much smaller with similar colouring and the males still have the red tail but have 2 yellow stripes on the thorax.

lap ident sm

male, left and female/worker right, from my ID sketches.

Because of its rather short temper it might not be the hot choice as an aid to pollination unless perhaps you intend to grow fields of onions, because although these are relatively short tongued bees they do like chives and the allium family in general.

They will spend time clambering around the flower head, which is comprised of many small florets, gathering a sip of nectar at each stop.

Chives Allium schoenoprasum

Surely every garden must have chives?  When I was home in the summer they were very alive with bees and hover flies. But even without any interest in bees they are so pretty, easy to grow and wonderful to cook with.
I would lift a few potatoes, simply boil them and serve them tossed with butter and fresh chives… delicious..


Image by V. J. Matthew from Shutterstock.

Good companions

Chives are also very good companion plants, sow them amongst your carrots, tomatoes and brassicas, to help not only to repel bad bugs, but improve both flavour and growth. I wonder how?

I was also interested to read that they seem to help prevent scab in apple trees. The ancient unnamed apple trees at home are full of scab so I will have to send my father some seeds.

Just like cornflowers in my last post, you can add the florets to salads, for both prettiness and flavour, and of course if you happen to be plagued by evil spirits, hanging up a bunch of chives will do the trick.

The Wing Problem.

Deciding the position of the wings is always a problem. Sometimes they can cover too much of the body and therefore the pattern and colours of the bees.

I don’t put too much detail in because they can look much too solid if you paint every vein.  As you can see I still had not decided, even when I started painting.

There had been some of those nasty “bad painting” spirits around yesterday morning,  the ones that make your hand shake when you are poised over that tiny detailed bit, but after I hung up the chives everything went just fine, (I wish).

lap sk sm lapidarius sk sm 1

Finally, I settled for the forward wing position

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Red Tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius,  and Chive  Allium schoenoprasum

B lapidarius, sm

watercolour and pencil on Arches HP, 6 x 8 inches