Queen Tree bumblebeeToday was an excursion across Lark Rise Farm, conducting the first of the monthly Bumblebee Surveys. Wonderful clear blue sky and bright spring sun – the effect of having no vapour trails now that flights are more or less suspended is so noticeable. 

The bees have been very active in gardens, but the wider countryside takes a bit longer to really warm up, and the cool breeze was apparent after spending a morning in the shelter of my garden. Nonetheless, queen bees were out and about, with four buff-tailed bumblebees logged on survey.

We’ve had this many twice before, but the other years (since 2015 when we started this survey) have had fewer bees on the March visit. At this time of year all the bumblebees are queens, building up new colonies on their own. It’s the best time of year to learn to identify bumblebees, as the queens are distinctive; once worker bees start to appear in May there are more colour forms to cause confusion, and it gets worse in July when the males appear, as they often have different patterns once again.Red Tailed Bumblebee

There are eight widespread species in Britain, seven of which have been recorded at Lark Rise – the heath bumblebee doesn’t appear in our area, but buff-tailed, white-tailed, red-tailed, carder, early, garden and tree bumblebees are all to be found and all are likely to occur in well stocked gardens with plenty of nectar. We’ve had a few rarer species too, but they tend to emerge later in the year, so that’s another good reason to start now! Bumblebee Conservation Trust have some great identification help on their website.

The other sightings during my excursion were five hares, lots of peacock butterflies, singing chiffchaffs and a blackcap, early arriving migratory birds, and a baker’s dozen of yellowhammers still in their winter flock. Cowslips were coming into flower in several places, adding another splash of colour to the daily changing countryside. It was also good to see the newly planted plum trees coming into flower in the new Lark Rise orchard.

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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