Apr 04 2018

Signs of Spring

Read volunteer Valerie Hurst’s story of her first encounter with a red-tailed bumble bee this season. 


Heat was suddenly spiralling on the south facing wall of the garden.  Heat, it was a wonderful feeling.  Bright sunshine and colour was instantly apparent.  The dull hues of winter, worn grass changed to a vibrant green in just seconds.  The first garden flowers seemed to perk up instantly.  It was a transformation.

It was Sunday, 11th March, 2018, at just past noon.  There was beautiful warmth, which felt so familiar, yet so forgotten after such a hard winter, even in our garden; brick walled and south facing.  It is like a secret garden surrounded by brick walls with a tall wooden gate.  In the height of summer temperatures soar in this secluded area and the heat is retained in the brick.


Red tailed bumblebee
The red-tailed bumblebee easily identified by it’s distinctive red tail (WTML)

Suddenly as the colours all shone brightly, there was an unexpected movement past my eyes.  It moved from bottom right to top left and was of significant size to call my attention.  It was too small for a bird but still noteworthy.  It was not a rapid movement, but more sedate and well paced.  I kept still and waited and then was rewarded.  It was the red tailed bumblebee.  This bee is very distinctive by its colour, size, gait, steady speed of flight, and its predictability.  I know from last year where her nest is situated in the garden and see it from time to time. I also hear her; she has a very loud distinctive buzz which is almost like a warning to let you know that she’s coming.

The red tailed bumblebee buzzed past and headed to the guttering on the conservatory where there is always rain water present.  The bee disappeared over the guttering and was quiet for a few seconds and then re-appeared buzzing again, in forewarning of her movements.  It brought a smile to my face, as this was one thing I had been waiting to see to record on Nature’s Calendar.  It also reminded me that perhaps the bad weather was over and was pleased.  My pleasure fled as no less than an hour later, clouds thickened, temperatures plummeted and rain started to fall, maybe winter had not quite finished yet.  But the red tailed bumblebee had been out and that was a good sign.

Red tailed bumble bee
We only record queen bees on Nature’s Calendar distinguished from worker bees by their size and lack of any other marking other than their tail (Pete Holmes/ WTML)


Why do we record queen red tailed bumblebees on Nature’s Calendar?

If mild winters encourage the queen bee to emerge too early, she might not be able to find enough nectar to feed on as most plants won’t have flowered yet. If we then experience a cold snap she might not be able to return to hibernation. We only record queens as these are the first to emerge from hibernation in the spring. Keep sending in your records so we can try to determine how a changing climate may affect species like these.

Find out more at https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/. 

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