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?