Our resident bee expert, Rosie Earwaker, is looking forward to warmer weather and the wildlife it brings...
A reason to smile
On the milder days at this time of year, any excuse and I’ll be outside searching for bees. A sign that spring is on its way, heralded by these little creatures, will not fail to put a smile on my face. After the long winter months, I’m not even fussy about it; any insect will do, from the flittering flight of a butterfly to the darting movements of a beetle.
In my garden, I’m on the lookout for the mini-volcanoes of earth in my wildflower patch. These belong to the tawny mining bee (pictured above), which burrows into the soil to nest.
They were here last year, but will they be back this year? Perhaps I’ll find a ginger-haired female collecting pollen on one of the dandelions.
A more faithful bee to my garden is the hairy-footed flower-bee (above). I enjoy watching these each spring zipping about among the lungwort flowers. Look at them closely and you will see how they get their name because the males have incredibly long hairs on their ‘feet’ (legs really!).
Another bee that’s common in my garden is the red mason bee. I watch them peeking out of my bee hotels and see them basking in the sun. They join a whole assortment of bees on the cherry blossom. How many different types can you spot in your garden?
The big bees
Garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum
The most obvious bees out and about now are the queen bumblebees, which certainly do a good job of living up to their name; ‘bumble’ by name, ‘bumbly’ by nature.
Having freshly emerged from overwintering, they spend much of their time refuelling on spring flowers. You will also find them flying around, perhaps looking a bit lost, as they investigate bird boxes and mammal burrows with the aim of finding a suitable nesting site.
The cuckoo bees, which you can be forgiven for thinking are wasps (they’re not your ‘classic’ bee), are starting to appear now. You might see them sipping a bit of nectar with some other bees, but you will certainly not be catching them busily collecting pollen to take back to their nest like the other bees.
The cuckoo bee Nomada goodeniana
Your best bet for finding these cuckoos is to observe the nests of other solitary bees, which is what the cuckoos are really after. When they find the nest of their host bee, they will hang around, waiting for the opportune moment to nip in to the nest and lay their own eggs inside. Sneaky they may be, but fascinating to observe, especially if the host comes home early because they will defend their nest!
It's easy and fun to help bees and other insects in your garden. Why not browse our bee-friendly gardening activities?
It’s that time of year again. Tuesday 28 March will be the once-a-year day on which families up and down the UK can be found frying, flipping and frying again as they work their ways through a pile of eggs, syrups and lemons. My household is no exception.
Pancake day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and was traditionally the feast before the fast - using up all those naughty, tasty things like fat, eggs and honey while you still could.
I’ll admit that we don’t give much thought to all that in our household (we don’t practice fasting) - but I do love the connection to a long tradition dating back to at least Medieval times.
And this Tuesday, when we’re all home from work and school, we’ll be making these…
Pancake pictures take Shrove Tuesday's ancient customs into the 21st century.
Why go for flat and featureless when you can celebrate your love of nature and the arrival of spring? It’s surprisingly easy. Which is why our team on the magazine decided to create this how-to video for our junior members’ magazine, Bird Life.
Working with our lovely video team, we decided to celebrate the season with pancake pictures of spring’s new arrivals: a young nestling, a cluster of frogspawn and a caterpillar.
They’re all easy to do - all you need is your usual pancake mix, two squeezeable drinks bottles and some cocoa to add to the mix for the brown outlines. Just draw, fry, flip and serve - delicious and delightful! Enjoy.
Oh, and send us a picture! Find us on Facebook or tag us on Instagram.
There are many beautiful sounds birds make in the morning. I’m sure most of you reading this will be familiar with the dawn chorus, one of the top wildlife phenomena of the year, kicking off as early as when the days start lengthening after Christmas. But the sound-scape I’ve been enjoying recently as I get out of my car in the morning is a little more subtle.
Bleary eyed, I emerge to drumming. Two great spotted woodpeckers enter a percussive battle for territory across the car park, and I can’t help but stop and listen. The mist that often blankets the undulation around the Lodge HQ certainly adds to the atmosphere and atavistic feeling of nature carrying on regardless – in this case of the morning rush of staff.
Ringing of a great spotted woodpecker at the Lodge HQ in 2015 - I think he's enjoying the head scratch! (photo: Graham Slade)
My hunt for a lesser spotted woodpecker last year was unsuccessful. I’ve never seen one, but hope that changes this year if one shows up at the Lodge again. Using the superb RSPB bird guide and from speaking to experts, I was able to learn to identify the difference in their drumming. Great spotted drumming tails off at the end, in a kind of diminuendo, and the lesser spotted drum is more of a rattle, ending abruptly. Handy to know, and I’ll be employing that knowledge this year in my search.
I don't have a photo of this one... yet... this is the year! (Illustration: Mike Langman)
I reckon I like wood almost as much as woodpeckers. Being out in nature is relaxing, and that’s now being backed up by evidence that indicates a strong link between experiencing nature and our wellbeing. For me there’s something similar going on with handcrafts, and I’ve really noticed this having got into wood carving early last year.
Some of my kit and a couple of "blanks". (Photo: Jack Plumb)
You can pick up all the tools you’ll need for between £50 and £100, depending on if you’re happy to start with an off-the-shelf hand axe or go for a bespoke carving axe. The other basic tools are a carving knife and a crook knife (on the right in the image above), both readily available online. It’s a very satisfying hobby, and once you get the knack your spoons will make great gifts. Here’s a video of me starting off a spoon.
Warning: I'm self-taught, so be careful not to copy any dodge technique. (Video: Jack Plumb)
More importantly than what you do, is if you’re doing anything similar at all. Whether it’s nature watching, knitting or spoon carving, take some time to focus on just one thing and clear your mind!