Sitting by a winter honeysuckle

Over the last few weeks I’ve been looking out for a glimpse of the first active bees of 2014 . With yesterday’s sunshine and the help of a nearby winter honeysuckle, I was in luck and spotted a lovely little flurry of bee life!

Honeybee hives are 100% female this time of year [males to be created later for summer mating] and the honeybees are clustering around their queen, keeping her warm so she can lay a few eggs a day. On fine days like yesterday, some workers will brave the cold and emerge from the hive to collect pollen from early blossoming plants.

This worker out for the forage stopped for a breather in front of me having just collected some fresh pollen from the winter honeysuckle [you can see the yellow pollen in the pollen baskets attached to its legs].

Honeybee in Feburary

Moments later, along came this large queen Tree Bumblebee [Bombus hypnorum] to visit the honeysuckle for an energizing nectar drink. Both the honeybees and the bumblebees were all over this plant so a good one to have in the garden!

Tree Bumblebee

She basked for a while enjoying the sunny south-facing wall and then started flying up and down, skimming along the wall for about 10 minutes. This may have been part of her springtime nest-searching flight that all bumblebee queens do while on the look out for a nice spot to set up their new nests after hibernation. Tree bumblebees like to nest above ground in parts of buildings and bird boxes so she may have been checking out the wall for a suitable crevice to call home!

I see more Tree Bumblebees in London than any other bumblebee which is a little strange considering they only arrived in this country in 2001 … they sure are thriving in London!

Watch out for buff-tailed bumblebee queens, who are the most active during the wintery months. Yesterday I saw one squished on the pavement outside our house. It’s a bit sad to think that it survived hibernation only to be stepped on but it is so very easy to squish a tired bee on the pavement without knowing. When bumblebee queens emerge from hibernation, they can quickly become exhausted if they can’t find flowers for food so occasionally you might find a sleepy bumblebee queen resting on the pavement.

I absolutely love this blog post [click me to see] by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which tells us how we can help an exhausted bee! They say that we can prepare them a small bee drink of warm water and sugar to help them on their way which I think is rather charming and truly a rewarding act of if they do happen to drink it! I’ve had some that have just flown off with the offer of my bee cocktail … but that’s ok … I imagine it’s no match for the real sweet flowery nectar on offer out there : )

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