We recently had an indoor talk from Dr. Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust on bumblebees. At the end of the talk she said that she would be happy to arrange for our group to visit Dungeness RSPB reserve to find out more about bumblebees and the conservation work being carried out to reverse the decline of bumblebee populations. So we quickly arranged for two visits (this one to Dungeness and another to Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve in August (See our programme for details). So we duly met Lucia and Geoff of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at the visitor centre on a rather cool and breezy morning (ie less than ideal for flying bumblebees!). After a brief introduction to the identification and biology of bumblebees we set off with nets, tubes and plenty of guide sheets to an area of the reserve with flowering viper’s bugloss, tufted vetch and bird’s foot trefoil.
We soon started to find bumblebees, but at this point, the first of two bitterns flew over our heads! We managed to keep focussed however, and we eventually managed to coax bumblebees into our nets. Norman, who had previously been on a one day bumblebee course, maintained that catching bees was so easy he could do it with one hand tied behind his back!
Over the next hour or so we found and identified buff-tailed bumblebee, common carder bee (I caught this one!!), garden bumblebee, red-tailed bumblebee and the rare brown-banded carder bee. Lucia and Geoff provided us with answers to all our questions and we soon learnt that bumblebees can be melanic (what should be yellow can be black) and “sun-bleached” (what should be coloured can be white). I also learnt that pollen is not always yellow. One bumblebee that we caught had its pollen basket full of green pollen! It was really green – how amazing is that! I “googled” this as soon as I got home. Some plant species do have green pollen, and other colours too. One bee keeping website that I found even has a pollen colour chart.
Norman did find some of the best specimens – one, a male red-tailed bumblebee, had a yellow beard. The queen red-tailed that he found had probably just emerged from the nest, and may have been on her maiden flight – she was quite superb! All of the bees were released to continue foraging for nectar and pollen.
Many thanks to Nikki, Lucia and Geoff for a great morning. You can find out more about the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust here. Bumblebees need our help.
After lunch we returned to normal bird watching mode. It was good to see lots (50+) common tern adults and juveniles on the newly created islands. They seem to have had a good breeding season at Dungeness. However, we were not the only ones keeping an eye on the terns and gulls. A peregrine passed over, scattering the birds in all directions. As we went around the reserve it was quite difficult to walk past bumblebees without stopping but we did manage to find some special birds too – ruff, wood sandpiper and a red knot were found. Thanks to everyone that came – a good day.
Thanks to Sally for the photographs.
As mentioned above, our next Tuesday trip is to Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve. The walk will be led by Bumblebee Conservation Trust and we hope to see Bombus sylvarum the shrill carder bee – possibly the most endangered species of bumblebee in the UK.