MEGACHILE CENTUNCULARIS: LEAF-CUTTER BEES IN DORSET


Bee box on a wall, Dorset

This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log. Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.

NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…

A HANDSOME & COMPLEX SUNDIAL IN NORMANDY


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This sundial is something rather special. This decorative dial is both elegant and very complex. It must have taken a long time to devise and lay out accurately. It stands in the extensive grounds of the elegant Abbey Church of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy. I managed to get hold of a small pamphlet in the Abbey bookshop – it wasn’t on display, and I had to go back to collect it once they found one. Even then I failed to understand the sundial properly, and not simply because of my rusty but workable French. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it, but it photographs well in its picturesque setting, and I have included a shot of the explanatory plaque at the end for the science-minded.

One fact I learnt is that until WWII, France was on Greenwich Meantime. During the occupation, the Germans changed the time zone to Central European time, a practice that has remained ever since.

St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1.1 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 1St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 2

St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 3St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1. 1 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 4 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 5 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 6 St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 7

Does this help?St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 8

HOVERFLY IN DORSET (Helophilus trivittatus)


Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 15

While photographing bees last week I encountered a smartly marked hoverfly.  I was particularly impressed by its striped head. I have to admit that until I looked into it, I has assumed that there were maybe half a dozen different species in the UK. I’ve never really examined them closely until this one flew into my lens range.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 13

How wrong I was. Fortunately by googling ‘hoverfly ID’ my first hit was a wonderful site about the natural history of Rutland and Leicestershire called NATURESPOT.  The link will take you to their hoverfly page, from which you will learn that “There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain and around 140 of these have been recorded in Leicestershire and Rutland”.

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 14

Additional useful information includes this lightly edited précis:

  • Many have black and yellow markings and are often confused with bees and wasps
  • Hoverflies are totally harmless and are definitely a gardener’s friend
  • The larvae of several common species have a voracious appetite for aphids
  • Very few hoverflies have common names
  • Those that exist (e.g. “The Footballer”) are not always widely known or agreed
  • However the Latin names of all the species are accepted

Hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 18

This is the best (though somewhat average) in-flight shot, included to show the trailing back legsHoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) Dorset 03

I had to scroll quite far down the hoverfly page to reach the striped-headed ones. Here’s a clip of the part that I used for a clear ID as Helophilus trivittatus. I highly recommend Naturespot not just for hoverflies, but for many different species. It may be local to a specific area, but it is a mine of information for the UK generally, and very well organised.

IMG_1478

Hoverfly weblink: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/taxonomy/term/19415

THE STRANGE STONE CIRCLES OF SHAP ABBEY, CUMBRIA


Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Even on a wet day, the ruins of the remote Premonstratensian Abbey of Shap in Cumbria are impressive. Although not much that is vertical remains, the layout of the extensive Abbey buildings can clearly be seen, with clarification from the helpful information boards. There was one particular puzzle that we encountered: a number of neatly incised circles on the floor of the nave, on both sides.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

The purpose of the two lines of circles – we found 5 very clear ones – turns out to be quite straightforward. The nave floor dates from the c15. At that time, each Sunday there would be a procession involving the senior clergy. They entered the Abbey through the now-ruined west door. The circles marked the positions to be taken by the Canons, who then stood in two files before the nave altar.  So the circles are in fact place-markers.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Shap Abbey, Cumbria

 

PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES IN DORSET: FIRST SIGHTING


Midsummer’s Day is usually the first day I begin to notice painted lady butterflies in our Dorset garden. They have probably been around for a few days before then without my noticing them. So when I actually start to look out for them to test the robustness of my ‘Midsummer’s Day’ theory for the ‘first’ ones, I am in fact working with a flawed self-fulfilling hypothesis. It worked again this year, as usual… And as so often these days I only had an iPh@ne with me to record the success, with unspectacular but tolerable results.

PAINTED LADY, DORSET 1PAINTED LADY, DORSET 5PAINTED LADY, DORSET 4PAINTED LADY, DORSET 3PAINTED LADY, DORSET 2

I was hoping to get an underwing shot, but no luck. So I have plundered Wiki to get one

Painted Lady Butterfly underwings (wiki)

All photo except the last, RH with an iPhone

SPARROW CHICKS IN DORSET


Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.

Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 01 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 02 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 03 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 04 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 05 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 06 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 07 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 10

Gable End Wall 2
Gable End date

ORANGE TIP BUTTERFLY, DORSET


There’s a time and place for resorting to an iPhone for close shots. The time is when your camera is not handy – possibly 3 or 4 counties away; the place is where you are right now, when an orange tip – so often a skittish species – decides to choose a plant to land on and to stay there for a while.Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 3

The technique for getting reasonably sharp pictures with an iPhone is this: take 20 – 30 rapid shots of the subject, holding the phone at varying distances from it until you get too close and the creature flies away. This specialist process is necessary because it is impossible to be sure what the camera has actually focused on and what the optimum distance for the shot actually is. This may be a question of distance, angle or lighting – or any combination. These were the best of them – but I also got some great detailed shots of the flowers and their stems, with the butterfly a smear of orange and white.

Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 4

These images are never going to make the grade in the aggressively contested photograph section of the village art and craft show (unless there’s a special iPhone group, perhaps). But they are better than I was expecting, with reasonably sharp ‘buds’, as I think the blobs on the end of the feelers are called. That’s the first thing I look at when deleting butterfly photos…
Orange Tip Butterfly, Dorset 1

JUMIEGES ABBEY: AN ELABORATE EARLY SUNDIAL


Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 1

A picnic lunch at the Abbey of Jumièges, Normandy, has much to commend it – not least tranquility and a stunning view. As we sat enjoying the sunshine on our white bench, we both noticed something unusual on the nearest tower, something not mentioned in anything we had read about the Abbey. On the south wall below the 4 levels of arcaded towers you’ll see in the header image a small red item pointing down at 45º. A gnomon – and where there’s a gnomon, there’s a sundial (although the reverse is often not the case). So we went to investigate.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 3

The Abbaye de Jumièges was a Benedictine monastery founded in 654AD. In the c9, the original abbey was burned down by Vikings, then rebuilt. A new and larger Abbey was consecrated in 1067, and it was further enlarged in the c13. Restoration work was carried out in the late c16. Subsequently, a vast sundial dated 1660 was crudely carved in the south face of the tower.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 4

The primitive design and execution of the sundial is rather at odds with the architectural precision of the stonework and the daring of the conceit of  building a hexagonal tower on two square ones, and topping it off with a circular tower… just because they could. The rustic sundial has more in common with the medieval Mass or Scratch sundials on churches, primitive devices that originally evolved simply to indicate the time of the next Mass, with the Priest moving a stick into the appropriate hole on the wall to mark the forthcoming canonical hour. From being an ‘event marker’, the addition of a gnomon and roughly scratched numerals placed higher on a church wall would later provide a community with a way to mark the hours – at least when the sun shone.

A rough medieval scratch dial above a church door near Epernay (sans gnomon)France sundial

Longburton Church, Dorset: a more sophisticated scratch dial high on the Ham stone south wall – ?c16Longburton Church, Dorset: scratch sundial

Returning to Jumièges, here is a closer look at the sundial, with embellishments that seem to have been carved freehand and endearingly ineptly for such a splendid and august building. Yet the time markers have clearly been carved with precision. My only negative comment on this exuberant and enjoyable timepiece is the modern gnomon that looks completely out of place to me. Maybe it’s the colour that’s the problem. Or the flat utilitarian blade of metal. Anyway, without glimpsing it from our picnic spot we would never have seen that side of the tower, and we would have missed an unusual treat.

Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 5Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 2Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 7

All images: RH

 

ST MARY’S, MELBURY BUBB, DORSET: A “SINGLE-TREASURE” CHURCH


St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 03

St Mary’s Church in Melbury Bubb, Dorset stands on a hillside deep in Hardy Country. In The Woodlanders, the hamlet is called “Little Hintock”. The little-known church contains a particular pre-conquest treasure – a well-preserved c10 Anglo-Saxon font of great beauty and intricacy of carving. Simon Jenkins calls St Mary’s a “single treasure church” and praises its extaordinary “lack of pretension”. This remains one of the few un-electrified Dorset churches, with oil lamps for light and a coal-fired stove in the nave for warmth. The solitary church at nearby Hilfield is another. 

The interior has a carved wood rood screen and wooden ‘waggon’ roof. The stove and oil lamps are visible.St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 05St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 06

THE FONT

A quick glance at the font reveals that it is in fact upside down. The theory is that it is carved from the upturned base of a Saxon cross, perhaps a “preaching cross” that presumably predated the original early church building as a place of congregation and worship. The carvings appear to depict – possibly – a lion, a wolf, a horse, a stag, a dolphin or porpoise, and a couple of smaller creatures. It takes a bit of a leap of imagination, and of course the beasts may even be mythical rather than representational. However, the helpful memorial frieze on the wall certainly makes tentative identifications easier without having to crick one’s neck unduly. I thought I’d detected a fish of some sort, but it turned out to be an upside-down animal haunch… I have included photos of the documents that are on the wall by the font, which give additional information and historical interpretations about the “single treasure”

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 04St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 07

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 08 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 09

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 12

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 13 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 14

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 15

Two c17 tombs in the churchyardSt Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 02 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 01

Credits: all photos RH; light-touch research from church documents and Simon Jenkins ‘Great English Churches’

THE APIAN WAY IN NORMANDY: THE ULTIMATE BEEHIVE?


St Martin de Boscherville is a small town – more of a large village – quite near Rouen, but a world away from the bustle of the city. In many ways, it is much the same as any similar French rural community 30 or more years ago. Set in an agricultural landscape in a loop in the Seine, it has the familiar small shops for provisions, the cafe / bar, some old houses and barns, some neat modern houses and… a magnificent early Norman abbey, St Georges. It was largely spared from revolutionary destruction by being designated the parish church, as it remains today. There’s more to be written about the abbey, a favourite of artist John Sell Cotman during his Normandy tours.

The gardens are being – have been – restored, if not to their former glory at least to an impressive standard, with well-ordered flower beds, vines, herbs and fruit trees – staples of the medieval way of monastic life. And a hive. A truly splendid ‘Bee Pass’ chimney hive that stands impressively tall. Each facet has one or more doors for access to the innards. I have posted videos below that show the workings of this unusual hive rather better than I can describe them. These hives have been installed in a number of locations in France – not least the Chateau de Chenonceau – and Germany. I’ve no idea if there are any in the UK yet, but if not, there ought to be…

Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 7Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 9Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 2Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 3Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 6Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 5Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 4Beehive, St Martin de Boscherville, Normandy 1

Click HERE to go to the ‘Abeille Avenir’ website

Click HERE to reach the ‘Abeille Avenir’ Facebook page

All photos: RH