As we wave goodbye to another year and welcome in 2023, it’s the time to look back once again at my own personal highlights from the last twelve months.
Top of this list just had to be the success of my ‘bee garden’, a small patch of garden which I transformed into a mini wildflower meadow to provide a home and food for bees and other tiny creatures.
With a few square meters of lawn dug out and sown with a generous sprinkling of wildflower seeds it was time to sit back and wait for nature to take it’s course. The garden needed little encouragement and after little patience and lots of sunshine, the first young green shoots began to emerge from the bare soil. Once plants started blooming there was no holding stopping it and within just a few weeks the bee garden had truly burst into life, every inch of available ground occupied by vibrant, pollinator friendly flowers.
With an array of tempting flowers to choose from it wasn’t long before the wildflower garden was swarming with bees of many different species just as I had hoped. On particularly warm and sunny days the garden became really rather crowded with bees jostling for space, the sound of their humming wingbeats all around.
One of the first bees to appear in the bee garden was the fluffy gingery brown carder bee, a common and widespread species that are found in almost any habitat. The carder bee is one of the earliest bees to emerge in spring and they can be seen on the wing right through until late autumn as long as the weather is warm enough and there are flowers to feed on.
They may have been the most abundant visitor to the garden, but their small size and speedy flight meant photographing these little bees wasn’t always easy!
With their long tongues, the carder bees are able to access pollen from many tubular flowers which other shorter tongued bees are unable to reach. They seemed particularly partial to the hairy bugloss flowers and could often be found with their heads buried deep among the petals.
Next to the garden came the instantly recognisable honeybee, sleek and streamlined with gorgeous golden stripes on the tail. All of the honeybees seen in the bee garden were female workers, industriously collecting pollen and nectar to take back to their hive, which could be as far as several miles away!
The diminutive carder bee and honeybee were dwarfed in comparison to the bee garden’s largest visitor, the buff tailed bumblebee. The queen buff tail is particularly striking, large in size with two yellow bands on the body and a distinctive buff coloured tail which gives this species it’s name.
Male and worker (female) buff tailed bumblebees are considerably smaller than the queens and, rather confusingly have white tails although a thin line of buff colour hairs is often visible at the margin between the body and tail.
The buff tailed bumblebee is often confused with another large species of bumblebee, the white tailed bumblebee. All sexes of this species have completely white tails, and like the buff-tailed bumblebee, two yellow stripes on the collar and body. These stripes tend to be more of a bright, lemon yellow colour in the white tailed bumblebee, although to confuse matters further this is not always the case!!
Accurate ID of these two species is difficult (queens aside) and so below is a selection of photos which may (or may not be) white tailed bumblebees…
Both buff and white tailed bumblebees have short tongues and so favour more open topped flowers like these vibrant orange California poppies where the nectar is easy to reach. Only blooming for a couple of days, the poppies provided a fleeting splash of new colour to the garden at the height of summer.
The final species of bee discovered in the bee garden is the red tailed bumblebee, which fortunately is much easier to identify than the aforementioned buff and white tails. Queen and female workers are jet black in colour with an almost velvety appearance and an unmistakable flame red tail which gives the species it’s name.
The male red tailed bumblebee is smaller and more vibrant with bright yellow stripes on the head and body and like the females, a flame red tail, although these colours tend to fade with age. Whilst sightings of males of the other species of bumblebee were scarce, the male red tails more than made up for this with their abundance.
Male red tailed bumblebees also have distinctive yellow faces which I think makes them really rather endearing and perhaps my favourite of all the bees to photograph among the wildflower garden.
You can see just how much pollen this patch provides by the colourful pollen baskets adorning many of the female bees rear legs. Pollen baskets are specialised hairs on the legs which enable a female (worker) bee to carry large quantities of pollen back to her nest in a single trip. It is possible to tell which flowers a bee has been foraging on by the colour of these pollen loads.
Some of the bees’ legs were so laden down with pollen, like this large buff tailed bumblebee, it’s a wonder they could still lift into the air. These are the most enormous pollen baskets I’ve ever seen!
I’ve lost count of the amount of hours I’ve spent watching and taking photos in this tiny patch over the year, but is their a finer way to while away the time? I don’t think so… and I plan to do the same all over again in 2023!
In the meantime, here are a final few photos of some of the garden’s other inhabitants.
Photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2022
If you like what you see, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@greyfeatherphotography) to see my latest photographs. Click the ‘follow’ button on the bottom to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading!