Exploring the North East’s solitary bees (part 1)

The last few weeks have seen countless bee species emerging across the North East. The annual appearance of these colourful invertebrates providing the ideal opportunity to reacquaint myself with the common and abundant species found close to home but also, as restrictions ease, to set out in search of a few new and exciting species. Spurred on by the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s North East Bee Hunt, I am pleased to have caught up with my fair share of these winged treasures of late. A sample of which can be seen below.

One of the most numerous solitary bees spotted over recent weeks, Tawny Mining Bees are everywhere at the minute. The lovely females shown above were spotted in Iris Brickfield, my local park, where a small colony can be found amid the close-cropped grass on the margins of the playing field. Always a delight, it is far easier to photograph them on dull days – they are just too quick when the sun is shining.

Another abundant bee, Buffish Mining Bees have emerged en masse over the last week or two. A visit to the famed colony at the Prudhoe Spetchells rewarded Matt and I with the sight of what must have been a few thousand bees engaged in what appeared to be a breeding frenzy. The sheer volume of bees made for quite the sight even if I found it difficult not to feel for the females engulfed by frenzied swarms of males.

While it is possible to visit the Spetchells safe in the knowledge that you will see Buffish Mining Bees, I had not expected to encounter a fresh female in our yard a few weeks back. The latest in what is turning out to be a long line of bee species to visit our patch since we started planting intentionally for them last year.

Superficially similar looking to the above species but sporting a white/blonde pollen brush as opposed to a buffish one, I seldom find Chocolate Mining Bees to be numerous. Indeed, over the last few weeks, I have noticed ones and twos at various sites locally, but alas, no great aggregations. Last year, I was lucky enough to discover a small colony of these chunky bees in my local park and sure enough, this year they emerged on cue. Once again favouring a particular stand of Cherry Laurel – the shrubs broad, glossy leaves apparently provide the ideal spot to bask and warm up.

A nice resource highlighting the difference between Chocolate and Buffish Mining Bees can be found here, courtesy of Charlotte Rankin.

A slightly more unexpected find, this time on the sandy banks of the Tyne near Close House Riverside, was a colony of Sandpit Mining Bees. Small and looking somewhat ‘silver’ in the field, a good number of these delicate little bees were observed around burrows positioned where a landslip has removed a good chunk of the bankside vegetation. Further bees still were observed foraging on Dandelion nearby.

Each year we eagerly await the emergence of Red Mason Bees in our little corner of urban Newcastle. Sure enough, right on cue, the first mason bees began emerging here roughly a fortnight back. A few pioneering males followed, in turn, by the larger females. Despite a wealth of potential nest sites in our yard, these bees appear to show no interest. The male pictured above (right) was however quite taken by the scabious we’ve planted to attract our local pollinators.

Now, this is an exciting one. Previously only known from the Alnwick area, the Hairy-footed Flower Bee now appears to be rapidly colonising much of Northumberland. Or perhaps they were there all along and are only now being noticed? No matter.

A few weeks passed, I was delighted with the opportunity to visit a known site for this species at Warkworth and sure enough, within minutes, was enjoying the sight of three of these energetic bees feeding on Flowering Currant. Fast forward a short while I have now also encountered these species in multiple squares around Felton and possibly also at Ulgham. They really are a joy to behold and I look forward to a day when they can be encountered closer to home in Newcastle.

While visiting Felton in search of the aforementioned flower bees, we also bumped in striking Early Nomad Bee shown above. A new species for me! A nest parasite of Clarke’s Mining Bee (Andrena clarkella) it was intriguing to watch the fearsome-looking cuckoo bee marauding about what I suspect was a colony of the former.

Bees really are a tricky group and, over the last month, I’ve made many mistakes while trying to identify the various species encountered on my ventures across the North East. Still, they are a fascinating group and I am very much enjoying the opportunity to get to grips with some of the more abundant species to be encountered in my area. As I (hopefully) encounter more over the weeks ahead, I’ll update this blog with any findings.

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