BOMBUS HYPNORUM: A TREE / GARDEN (& HOUSE) BEE


I watched this small bee as it circled round the flower, busily filling its already bulging bright yellow saddlebags. We are fond of these little bees, which were introduced to the UK (or perhaps simply spread here) quite recently and have made themselves at home. They are one of two bee species that have chosen to live inside our house. 

The location varies from year to year, but for about 3 months a year over the last few years there has been gentle bee-chatter going on in the roof-space above our bedroom, or in an old wall cavity between 2 rooms.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

This year the tree bees decamped to the roof-space above the kitchen; and a splinter colony has recently set up a buzzing plant-produce stall in a cavity above the front porch, no doubt to the surprise of the bats that hang out there.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)You may have noticed that the bee featured here is carrying a tiny passenger, a mite, that you can see in some of the images (eg the header image). There’s a small story about these photos. I own ‘beloved camera’, ‘unreliable camera’, ‘snappy camera’ and an iPhone. **

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

When I first saw this little bee, I had ‘unreliable’ with me (‘beloved’ being 125 miles away). It is a martyr to light sensitivity, with an annoying ‘satirical’ take on focus. Reader, I rattled off 20 shots. Then I deleted every one of them. Quickly throwing the camera behind a wall in disgrace, I reached for my phone in desperation to catch the bee at work in the sunshine. Here are the results, with a level of clarity that only ‘beloved camera’ could have matched.

Bombus Hypnorum - The Tree of Garden Bee (Keith Salvesen)

** There was ‘hated camera’ too, a DSLR that I never mastered and eventually sold back to the place I bought it for a fraction of the original cost. They saw me coming…

All photos © Keith Salvesen Photography

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A BEE HOUSE IN DORSET


Bee House & denizens, Dorset

It took a year before there were many settlers in the new bee house. To begin with, there were just some transients; tiny bees that stationed themselves at the mouth of a hole, retreating from time to time to the depths. I’ve no idea what type of bee they were, but they didn’t leave any building works. And then there were a few wax caps to wonder about. 

The first resident occupied the penthouse.Bee House & denizens, Dorset

The box began to weather a bit during that first winter, and to fall apart slightly. That summer, we had mason bees in many of the holes, with around 60% occupancy – plus some waxed caps. The timber homes were clearly preferred to the bamboo sticks, and the first to fill up. Later, we noticed the first leaf cutters moving in, their green plugs slowly turning brown as the leaves withered.

Bee House & denizens, Dorset

This year, by the end of May, business was thriving. The house was weathered and had no doubt completely lost the heady scent of Garden Centre. The upper storey was more popular than the lower; maybe the horizontal stem of a cox apple tree growing against the old wall was a disincentive for potential downstairs dwellers.

Bee House & denizens, Dorset

Bee House & denizens, DorsetBee House & denizens, Dorset

Two months later, as July fades into August, there are a few changes, but overall the house is much the same. So far, there have been no leaf cutters. And no little ‘peeping’ bees either. I’m disgracefully uninformed about the types of bee to which we offer a home. We’ve replanted much of the garden to benefit honeys and bumbles – with a consequent increase in butterflies and hitherto unknown types of moth. The solitaries are still a bit of a mystery. Time I got a grip, I think. Still, the apples are looking very promising…

Bee House & denizens, DorsetBee House & denizens, Dorset

All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

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…

BEES GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS (1)


Dorset honey bee in flightDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset honey bee on HyssopDorset Honeybee on HyssopDorset Honey bee on runner bean flower

SUMMER BEES IN A DORSET GARDEN (1)


The sun was out, the bees were out and I was out trying camera settings having failed spectacularly to come to terms with a new(ish) SLR. The problem remains me, not it, but I sense that the hatred is mutual. Anyway, a few bee shots worked well enough to use… This is my favourite bee, tiny and pale, far smaller than the sturdy yellow and black bumbles jostling for the space on the hyssop and lavender. I like the way their packed saddlebags matched their  colouring. There are probably two or even three different species of bee here for all I know, but it’s hot and I can’t be bumbled to look it up…

This is the first year I have taken on board the number of mites the bees carry. #1 has a fine one under the wing; and I saw one bumble with a smart necklace of mites. I realise they are mostly non-parasitic (apparently), and maybe it is even a sign of good bee health…

Bees in August, Dorset Bees in August, DorsetBees in August, DorsetBees in August, Dorset Bees in August, Dorset Bees in August, DorsetBees in August, Dorset Bees in August, Dorset

BEHOLD: A BEE HOUSE


I was given a bee house in May. Previously I was the proud owner of a bumblebee nest box, which didn’t seem to be a success until, in early Spring 2014, I watched a small, dozy bumblebee crawl out of it, slowly get its act together, and fly off…

I wasn’t certain how a bee house would work, so I put it in a quiet south-facing out-of-the-way corner, later adding a pot of lavender under it.

Bee House, Totnell 1

After a couple of weeks of nada and niente, I decided to move the house to a length of wall that stayed longer in the morning sun, and to dispense with the lavender.

IMGP3531

IMGP3532

This looked more promising, but I was highly doubtful that such a fine multi-apartment abode would find favour with the bees. The holes looked good – a range of large down to very small – but still, it looked a bit… NEW. I thought it would need to be weathered for 6 months to get rid of the smell of ‘shop’. 

Gratifyingly soon, however, I was proved wrong. One morning we found (a) a bee inspecting one of the penthouse suites and (b) 2 partial wax capsBee House, Totnell 3

Note bees on the roof and on the lower storey; 2 partially capped cells on the upper storeyBee House, Totnell 4

The following morning there was evidence of further activity – one completely capped cell

Bee House, Totnell 5Bee House, Totnell 6

Since then a number of bees have taken overnight accommodation in the bee house. They prefer the holes drilled in wood over bamboo holes for a short stay, and at any given moment there are two or three small faces visible.

So overall we are pleased to report that the experiment can be counted a success. The garden has been revitalised during the last 2 years following 20 years or so of benign neglect, and bee-friendly plants have been a priority. So far, so good.

IMGP3542 IMGP3537

A SELECTION OF SUMMER BEES IN DORSET


This is a small selection of bees visiting a Dorset garden during the last month or so. The favoured flowers have been Hyssop, Lavender, Alium and Cosmos. And if anyone knows the name of the pale bee in photo #4, I’d be pleased to know – it’s a real beauty.

Summer Bees Dorset 1Summer Bees Dorset 2Summer Bees Dorset 3Summer Bees Dorset 4Summer Bees Dorset 5Summer Bees Dorset 6Summer Bees Dorset 8Summer Bees Dorset 9Summer Bees Dorset 10Summer Bees Dorset 11