Trip reports

Dungeness RSPB Reserve/Bumblebee Safari (Leaders Sue Carter & Steve Goodrich)

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Fathers' Day was celebrated by Medway Group with a quiet stroll around this normally busy reserve. The day was mostly dry, warm and sunny, but with a chilly off-shore wind. Water levels on the pits were still too high, but on Burrowes we saw lapwing, ringer plover, pochard, great-crested grebe, tufted duck, gadwall, shoveler, numerous mute swans and the ever-present collection of various gulls.

On the leisurely walk to Christmas Dell hide we added shelduck, oystercatcher, whitethroat, linnet, buzzard, several hobbies hawking dragonflies overhead and a painted lady butterfly. Once in the hide we were treated to fly-pasts by common terns and more hobbies and also saw an animated spat involving three little grebes.

Dragonflies and damselflies were far more numerous than the birds, or so it seemed.

At Dengemarsh hide the highlight was a couple of common gulls and a raft of common terns. One of the latter brought in a fish, quickly followed by a dragonfly, which was refused by the brooding female and swallowed by the male instead!

The viewing mound produced a grey heron, more hobbies and both house and sand martins, but not the hoped for bearded tits.

The return trail was no longer waterlogged and we added sedge warbler and great tit to our list.

After a lunch break back at the visitor centre we were delighted to meet up again with Dr. Nikki Gammans. Nikki had given us a talk back in February on bumblebee conservation and had offered to take us on a safari at Dungeness to maybe see the reintroduced short-haired bumblebee.

Nikki and her two assistants took us back along the boardwalk and return trail and worked diligently netting the insects and transferring them to plastic pots for us to view. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the hour in their company flew by. We were given pocket guides and asked to identify the little captives before they were released. We learned that flowers such as red clover, yellow horned poppy, foxglove and viper's bugloss are important pollen sources for bees and that vetch (a member of the pea family) is a nitrate specialist which produces the protein they require. We were shown a plant, similar to a white campion, which is called Nottingham catchfly and has a sticky stem. This plant is very rare but is flowering in profusion on the shingle at Dungeness this year.

We were able to see and identify a queen buff-tailed bumblebee, a male heath bumblebee, both queen and male garden bumblebees, a queen early bumblebee and a male moss carder bee. This latter one was the first worker seen this season and is the third rarest on the ID sheet.

We learned that honey bees aren't native to Britain. However, there are 18 species of bumblebees and six species of cuckoo bumblebees here. The latter are so called because they mimic the size and shape of their hosts which are left to feed their offspring. Only male bumblebees have pollen baskets on their legs and only females sting.

A huge thanks to Nikki and her helpers for their time and expertise.

A successful trip during which the ten participants found out a lot about bees, saw 45 different bird species, found a puss moth and identified common blue, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell gatekeeper butterflies (as well as the afore-mentioned painted lady). We also found a garden tiger moth caterpillar and several lackey moth caterpillars.

Sue Carter & Steve Goodrich