Exploring the North East’s solitary bees (part 2)

Prior to the current warm spell, the weather recently had been nothing short of diabolical and as a result, insects were been few and far between. A few urban walks and the odd jaunt further afield were the best I could manage throughout April and early May. That said, since my last update, I have managed to stumble (often accidentally) onto a few interesting bees

A new species for me a few weeks back, the aptly named Orange-legged Furrow Bee pictured above confused me at first. Mainly due to its large size – considerably larger than the small and bewildering furrow bees I have seen before. With well-defined silver ‘bands’ on the abdomen and lovely orange legs, its identity really should have come to me sooner. Having encountered my first (nectaring on a dandelion) at the Prudhoe Spetchells, I have since stumbled across this species at a further three sites, including my adopted urban patch at Heaton. In each case, by looking closely at Dandelion blooms.

Nomad bees are a confusing bunch. Having learnt through countless mistakes to simply ignore any with a hint of red, some are thankfully easier to identify. Gooden’s Nomad Bee, one our largest and most abundant nomad species, is one such bee. A known cuckoo of Buffish Mining Bees, the one pictured above was found lurking amid a colony of the latter at Weetslade Country Park. A slightly chilly morning and thus, a rather lethargic bee, providing a good chance to enjoy it up close. The second yellow band on the abdomen, entire in this case, helps separate it from the similar Marsham’s Nomad Bee which I have not yet encountered.

Something a little more familiar now and, for the last few weeks, one of the most numerous solitary bees observed around Newcastle has been the Orange-tailed Mining Bee. Females, like the one pictured above, really are a joy to behold with their fox-coloured, hairy thorax and conspicuous orange rear. I was lucky enough to stumble across what appeared to be a nesting aggregation of these charming insects at Weetslade.

Something a tad more exciting now and, on a rare trip into the wilds of North Northumberland a few weeks back, I was lucky enough to encounter the pretty bee shown above. Noting its incredibly hairy, orange hind legs, photos were quickly sent to ever-helpful local experts and lo and behold, it turned out to be a Northern Mining Bee. As its name suggests, this species is a Northern specialist and is often encountered in areas rich in willow. Plenty of which was seen on our trip to Linhope Spout.

On a somewhat surprising note, the above encounter has since been confirmed as the first record of this species for North Northumberland (VC68). It really does pay to look at the smaller things in life now and again…

Back in our urban yard now and, right on cue, the first Bronze Furrow Bee of the year paid us a visit last week. First encountered in the garden in 2019, these metallic little bees have occurred in force each summer since – showing some preference for the scabious planted to appeal to local pollinators. This is another species that appears to be under-recorded across the North East. Little surprise, really – they’re rather small.

Right on cue, the first Blue Mason Bees have also appeared in the garden, with both male and female bees showing a clear interest in the weedy Ivy-leaved Toadflax that has colonised our wall. Not a species I see very often locally so always a treat whenever they stop by.

Elsewhere on the home patch, numbers of Red Mason Bees have increased tenfold over recent weeks. With both sexes visiting the garden on a daily basis, and one intrepid female even perching atop our bee hotel, we had hoped this might be the year they finally choose to breed here. No such luck, but at least the outgoing blooms of Pulmonaria are holding their attention.

By the local allotments, the omnipresent Chocolate Mining Bees are still out in force. An interesting observation this year was an apparent shift in the plant species used for basking during the early morning. In 2020, they were invariably found on the large, glossy leaves of Cherry Laurel. This year, they are showing a strong preference for ornamental lilac. I don’t suppose it matters too much…

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