Tuesday Walk and the Humming Pollen Tree

The morning is glorious, new corn shoots mist the rolling fields with pale green. There are tiny flitting chattering birds who fly alongside me, white, yellow and multicoloured butterflies, more and more bees, many beeflies and tiny dancing black flies. In one of my favourite secluded sun drenched spots I find a willow, heavy with pollen laden catkins covered with bees and butterflies. I stop for a while to watch.

To watch and listen, to the bees collecting pollen, to an owl in the nearby wood, to see the drifting shape of a buzzard pass overhead, to watch a flame tailed bumble bee collecting moss, to see the delicate long-nosed beeflies hover and dart.


A pollen drenched honey bee


A high flying buzzard


Bombus lapidarius collecting moss


A Peacock Butterfly


A little solitary bee at the field edge   It’s a much loved place of mine, on an old road. In its summer flora it reveals odd traces of cultivation and there is a stand of ancient oaks nearby.


My sketch of the Humming Willow Tree on the old path, with its glowing catkins set against the dark leafless hedges and trees. There are a few hints of green appearing in the nearby hawthorn branches. Watercolour 5 x 7 inches.

I might choose this willow to be my main tree this year. Willows become more and more fascinating the more you learn about them. But today is a day to be out, to forget your troubles, to be warmed by the sun and cooled by a spring breeze. On the way back I passed the place where a big dead tree fell across the path last year. It has now been chopped back leaving a waving stump. From one angle it looks like a cheery waving figure.. Old Man Tree we call it.


Waving Cheerfully on this lovely day.. Old Man Tree

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.

Homes for Solitary Bees.. Do it now!

It’s March and I see from BWARS that more bees are being spotted and so it’s time to get your solitary bee houses out and sited in safe and convenient places.
Being here in the UK for a few months, I hope to get or make one very soon. I have been looking round the garden for a suitable location. A sunny south/southeast wall or hanging spot and at least a meter from the ground.

There are some very nice looking bee houses for sale but of you prefer a DIY approach it is not too difficult. Do have a look these excellent pages about making bee houses on Marc Carltons’s “Foxleas” site. He has very good and comprehensive information about how you make them and why you make them the way they are, and as well as small houses he advocates larger and more luxurious homes

“It is easy to make a larger house for solitary bees. I first saw one like this in Switzerland in the early 1980s. Since then I have seen them on several occasions in Germany and Switzerland, but curiously they are rare in the UK. It is time to put that deficiency right!”

marc carlton Foxleas

This is a section of a large “house”. A series of rather nice insect apartments with different sized holes to suit different sized occupants. I think I will be going for the bundle of hollow sticks approach this year. I hope someone will come.. anyone really…and as Marc says:

“Various other sorts of parasitic solitary wasps and parasitic bees will find your bee house once it is occupied, preying on, or taking over, the nest cells of mason bees. Don’t worry about them, they are all part of the fascinating community of insects.”

Indeed!With a bit of luck it will be home to some of these… a sketch for my next painting, a little osmia bee.

osmia sketch

Marc Carlton’s bee house instructions at Foxleas.com.** Also see Gary´s post on his excellent insect and bee houses! here at Gary’s Garden

Foxy Lady of the Solitary Bee World, the Tawny Mining Bee.

This is another bee I painted before for Deborah’s 16 bee set here. It’s the lovely Tawny Mining bee, Andrena fulva who leaves little volcanoes in your lawn after  digging out her nest. It is one of my favourites, she is so pretty.
I wrote about it before too, but I am repeating this quote from David Kendall’s site from my previous post, because it is worth repeating and timely.

The female bee makes a small volcano-like mound with the soil excavated from the nest. There may be many nests close together, giving the impression of communal life, but each female is actually working alone. Nesting activity lasts only a short time (perhaps 2-3 weeks), after which the small mounds of earth around each nest entrance soon disappear, with no permanent damage to the lawn.
Take care not to confuse solitary bee nest mounds with the mounds of earth caused by the nesting activity of ant colonies. Solitary bee mounds have a single large entrance hole in the middle, and by watching for a short while on a warm sunny day, you will see the bees coming and going to collect pollen.

If left alone, these bees will often nest in the same area year after year, and provide an annual service by pollinating your early flowering fruit trees and shrubs (apples, pears, currants and gooseberries) and other garden plants – so helping to ensure good crops later in the year.

from his very nice readable site “Insects and other Arthropodshere.

Let’s hear it for the Solitary Bees!!

My hesitant efforts to promote the exhibition,  were rewarded recently with an email from an organisation who are having a  “bee support” campaign.
They said they were not really interested in what I was doing because it was about solitary bees and their concern was for honey bees.
I was quite dismayed at this remark (understatement!) which smacks rather of the French attitude which Paul fromSolitary Bee encounters.
Perhaps it came from someone who doesn’t really know much about bees in general (..  she says, trying to be kind), but it did make me more determined to be a champion of these important  “other” bees.
I do realise that, to win the place in our hearts and minds that honey bees occupy, solitary bees have quite long way to go, but they have so much going for them and they serve us so very well.
I know there are quite a few of us out there who feel the same.
I feel a ranting blog post and campaign coming on !… and how could you not love a little Tawny Mining bee!!

The Painting
I know what I wanted for this one so not so much dithering.
She is perching on a twig looking down at the nest she has excavated.

rufa sketch

These are really neat little bees with shortish hair which stands out from the body .. I think I described them before as rather like little bottle brushes. (think of the tree!).
I was going to make this the title of the blog post (“Bottle Brush of the Bee World”) but didn’t want to be responsible for any harm coming to Tawny Mining bees: you know how stupid some people can be.

I have a reasonable scanner but it does average the colours out and I don’t have time to play around with things too much, but in the original she in much more a two tone foxy redhead, as she should be.


The Tawny Mining Bee.. Loveable .. YES..!

Tawney mining bee

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP.   8×7”

The Hairy Footed Flower Bee.. yes really..

If ever a bee belonged in the world of the fairies this is it. The amazing Hairy Footed Flower Bee. I have painted the male, with its plumed feathery feet, its Roman nose and its equally endearing Latin name, Anthophora plumipes.

I had not really given much thought to bees’ feet before I started this project but they are wonderful things. See the plumes on the second leg..


photo by Jeffdelonge for Wikipedia here

Anthophora is another large bee genus with over 450 species worldwide. They vary enormously. Some are known as digger or mason bees and make wonderful elaborate homes with mud.
This particular species is an early April bee and particularly long tongued, so able to make the most of tubular flowers such as the spring-flowering Lungwort, Pulmonaria, Comfrey, Symphytum, Cowslips, and the dead nettle family Lamium.

Adrian Knowles, Hymenoptera Recorder for the Suffolk Nature Society has this to say:

“At about 13mm long they are a little smaller than most bumblebees and they fly with very quick wings in a swift and darting flight, frequently hovering in front of flowers and so have a rather different “jizz” to their larger relatives. They are perhaps more reminiscent of rotund hairy hoverflies in their behaviour.
They nest in tunnels excavated in steep, dry soil banks and .occasionally within the crumbling mortar of old masonry, as do several other solitary bees.
Amazingly, they emerge from their pupae in late summer but remain in their sealed nest cells until the following spring – about 6 months spent as an adult just standing still!
The females are all black, with yellow/orange hairs on her hind legs (you may need to look carefully to avoid confusion with bees bearing yellow pollen on their hind legs).
The males are strikingly different, with dark orange/brown hairs towards the front of their bodies, giving way to black hairs anteriorly. “ ………
not forgetting those hairy feet!

from Suffolk’ s Box Valley (UK) Nature Website here which will also take you to some interesting books on Suffolk’s Natural History.

The reason for the extravagant hairiness is, of course all to do courtship.
If you are a female Hairy Footed Flower Bee (but without the hairy feet as the females don’t have them), I guess you will appreciate the tender ministrations of your beau as he wafts his hairy feet over your antennae, transferring his own brand of irresistible aftershave as he does.
It’s not quite my idea of romance, but then I am not a bee …yet. Gordon Ramel of the excellent Gordon’s Solitary Bee Pages has another theory …
As the females are notoriously skittish, it is possible that the male covers his mate’s eyes with those hairy feet to calm her down, (or to knock her out with that aftershave)
He tells us more about this game little bee

“The males are territorial and tend to guard a home range which contains either, the sorts of flowers the females like to visit, or a site suitable for nesting.
The male patrols around his home range spending time at each patch of flowers and or nest site chasing off intruders. He is very serious about this and defends his chosen resources from all comers whether they are a competing male bee or not.
To drive intruders away from his range he accelerates straight at them very quickly and rams them with his head, he can knock out insects much larger than himself this way”

You will also find links to some very good illustrations on this page, and Gordon’s Earthlife site is fun and informative and about much more than just bees.

Here is a photo of the lovely black female Hairy Footed Flower Bee with her orange coloured back legs..

a plumipes female

The gorgeous female HFFB by rybaros from a Polish entomological site which has excellent insect photos here

This particular species Anthophora plumipes, is most common in the Europe but according to the excellent Discover Life site, after introduction in Maryland they can now be found throughout the Washington DC region.

Look out for them if you live in this area. I spent far too long researching and reading about these bees. Sometimes it takes a long time to collect even a small amount of accurate information. I am going to put a list of useful bee sites on the sidebar soon.

However deciding how to draw this bee was not too difficult. Of course I had to include the feet, that Roman nose and it does have lovely big eyes. I am also getting a little more familiar with bee anatomy so I made a couple of quick sketches just to get the pose right and then got on with the painting.


anthophora sketches2


Bee No 9: The Hairy Footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes

hairy footed flower beesm