Bees and botany at Newbiggin

A short while ago, a sunny Saturday afternoon provided the perfect opportunity for a June venture to the Northumberland coast. Deciding against sites we visit frequently, it was decided that we would head to Newbiggin for a closer look at the plants and insects that abound along a stretch of coastline we seldom visit.

Departing the bus at church point, we were immediately struck by a mighty profusion of blooming Hoary Cress, with countless foamy flowers strewn across the car park, adorning pavement, verges and once manicured flower beds alike. Here too, it was interesting to find two garden escapes: Silver Ragwort, with its lovely pale foliage, and Pink-sorrel, a particularly vibrant oxalis native to South American.

Stopping briefly by the rocky beach here, it was nice to see the delicate but beautiful flowers of Sea Milkwort while the strandline held what I think might be Frosted Orache. The queer-looking succulent leaves of Sea Sandwort were a nice find nearby, as was a substantial patch of Good King Henry growing amid the cliff-top grassland a little further North.

Walking North along the margin of the golf course, the number of bees on show was quite remarkable. Common bumblebee species, mostly, though we did notice several male Vestal Cuckoo Bees, all looking rather fresh and colourful. Given the number seen during our walk (around 16) it was likely these had just emerged. Nearby here, a rather large red-tailed bee turned out to be Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee – only my second of the year and still quite a scarce bee locally. A male Fork-tailed Flower Bee was also a nice spot here.

Further North still, a large expanse of Sea Thrift provided an opportunity to admire yet more insects. Green-veined White were numerous and a couple more Fork-tailed Flower Bees were seen. More exciting still was what appeared to be a small colony of Chocolate Mining Bees nesting in the exposed soil of the cliff. After a breif wait (and a very undignfied pursuit with a net) their cuckoo, Marsham’s Nomad Bee, was also found.

As you near the hulking power station at Lynemouth, the small cliffs meander down into a sandy bay and here, making the most of the countless blooms of Mouse-ear Hawkweek and other plants growing on the exposed sand, a number of Sandpit Mining Bees were seen, alongside the rather striking wasp shown below. Thanks to a speedy identification by an expert online, this turned out to be Ancistrocerus scoticus or the Maritime Mason Wasp. A fitting choice of location!

Here too, a sharp-tailed bee of some description was also potted as it inspected the nest holes of a potential victim. While it impossible to be sure, it seems likely that this was Dull-vented Sharp-tailed Bee – a new one for me.

Nearing the power station, we decided to detour back up to rough edges of the golf course to take a closer look at the plants here. A good job as we immediately stumbled across a sizable patch of Purple Milk-vetch. A rare plant in Northumberland, and one that suffers from poor management of coastal grasslands, it was interesting to note the greatest densities growing on the golf course itself where mowing had removed much of the taller vegatation. Lets just hope the mowers don’t return before it seeds…

Here too, a number of Northern Marsh Orchids were seen, alongside a glut of Burnet Rose and stacks of Bloody Crane’s-bill – the county flower of Northumberland. Our attention was also grabbed by a particularly large orchid with spotted leaves, looking superfisically similar to marsh orchids growing nearby yet, at the same time, completely different. We chalked this up to a hybird between Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid.

What else did we encounter? Well, it was interesting to find a solitary patch of Snow-in-summer growing in the dunes, silver foliage contrasting sharply with the surrounding grasses. A rather beefy crane’s-bill growing on a patch of wasteland by the power station looked like a good candidate for French Crane’s-bill and a small, stocky umbellifer confused me no end at first but was later revealed to be Wild Parsnip. An 11-spot Ladybird resting on a fence post proved a nice way to end a productive coastal walk.

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