Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Project B, because there is no project A.

Good day dear follower hope all is well in your world. Weather has turned very autumnal of late with summer still trying to keep a hold on by giving us the odd warm day here and there. These warmish days have still got the bumblebees buzzing around looking for as much nectar as possible in the last of their days before the chill kicks in and they succumb. I too have been a bee of late visiting flowers collecting as much pollen as possible before all the flowers die off. No, don't worry, I haven't lost the plot, it's all part of my new master plan for next year.

This year I got a great insight into the world of the ever munching caterpillar, their instars, their sleep patterns, everything. Next year I want to learn more about our dear little friends, the bumblebee. So, here's the plan. 

I'm going to set up a bumblebee nest box in my office at home with a pipe leading from it to the outside via a hole in the wall, which the kind wifey has given me permission to drill. The nest box will have  red coated viewing windows. Why red coated? Because bumblebees cannot see red and therefore it will remain dark to them. I am also planning to set up a webcam on them and 'possibly' a livestream to the web. I say possibly as I don't really know if that is possible to do with my set up, need to speak to a friend first.

How am I going to get a bumbler to nest in my box? I hear you ask. There are two ways of doing this:
1. The lazy way. Buy a box of bumblebees from a commercial bumblebee producer (Yes, they exist). I don't recommend that anyone do this as the bumblers from these places may not have native origins and they do not help our native bees by adding new ones to the environment to take the food. 
2. The harder way. This involves me catching a newly emerged queen, but not just any old queen. No, she must not be collecting any pollen, because if she is collecting pollen, then that means she already has a nest site and is collecting food for her eggs. If she doesn't have pollen sacks on her legs, she may still be looking for a nest site and will be the one for me. 

So why am I collecting the pollen? Well, about this time of year, the newly emerged queens will be burying themselves underground to see out the winter months. Then, come spring, they will leave their hibernation hole to seek out a suitable nest site. When they've found this suitable nest site, they then go on the search for pollen to feed their young, as mentioned above. When I collect my queen, I must assure her that my nest box is the best thing since sliced bread (not that bees use bread). By providing her with enough pollen (about two pea sized balls) and some lovely sugar water and some nesting material such as an old bird or mouse nest, then she should be happy and start to lay the first eggs of her hive. 

So that is why I've been a busy bee collecting pollen, as I must have the pollen ready before I catch the queen. Now I know that I could have gone to Holland & Barrett's and bought some pollen, but the problem with this pollen is that although it may be good for human consumption, it isn't good enough for the bumblers. It needs to be of a higher quality for them. 

So how do I know if the pollen I'm collecting is of a high enough quality? I don't. Although what I do know is that I've watched the bumblers all summer visiting the plants in my garden and that's where I've been collecting the pollen from. To keep the pollen fresh, I've been storing it in the freezer. So all I can do is hope that the pollen that I have collected is good enough for the new queen that I'm hoping to catch. If after a few days the queen still hasn't laid any eggs, I will release her, I'm not planning on harming anything to further my interests as it were.

So watch this space for further updates on Project Bee.

A Brown-banded Carder Bee I found in my garden this week.

A fungi to be with.

Took a walk around my local patch this week and come across some lovely looking mushrooms. Unfortunately, my camera is away having a bit of a clean up so I was left having to use my phone for the pictures.
Little ones of all shapes and sizes have been pushing their way
up through the leaf litter.

I'm not a mushroom expert, so not going to even try to name them.
But they do look lovely...

...and colourful too.

Not all mushrooms are edible to humans, so please be 110% sure
of what you're picking if you decide to try them.

As you can see, some are huge

And some don't even look appetising.

This looks like a little mini spaceship landed.

And the textures, well...
I just wish I had my proper camera for these shots and I just hope that there are some mushrooms still about when I get it back. We will see.

From the moth trap

Yes, even though the weather has begun to turn, I'm still running the moth trap to see what turns up as well as trying to break the 300 moth species barrier on the Garden Moth Challenge. As of the 27th September I'm only 8 away from my 300 mark.
I reached this with the help of 5 new moths this week which included the following:
Sorry for the blurriness, but it is a Large Ranunculus, really.
Another first, this lovely Black Rustic
I've had this one before, but not in this form, so it didn't count as a new moth.
It is a Common Marbled Carpet.
Blair's Shoulder-knot
I had two of these and they just looked pristine, Autumnal Rustic
I also trapped a Brindled Green to make the 5 new ones, but the photo was really poor and did it no justice whatsoever, sorry. Strangely, I didn't have any craneflies this week even though there's been a lot about. 
Did get this fellow though, alas, he's not a moth.
Common wasp, not a moth.

Book Review

Here's the books I've been reading of late and I thought I'd give you my opinion of them:

A Sting in the Tail by Dave Goulson

This book I can only describe as brilliant. As you may have guessed, it was this book that gave me the idea for my next project. Starting with his childhood years and his keen interests in nature, he tells of how he learnt about the environment about him, sometimes with disastrous, but funny consequences. How in his later years he moved on to studying bumblebees, his projects and experiments which even involved a bumblebee sniffing dog or two. 
Well worth the read.
Learn about his travels around the world studying bees in their environment and how he started the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Learn about the threats to bumblebees, how cats can be considered as a help to bumblebees and even how Darwin studied bumblebees. There's so much in this book that would be of interest to anyone with an interest in nature.

5/5 stars

Next on the list and still on the Bumblebee theme is this:

Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland by Mark Edwards & Martin Jenner

If you're looking for a field guide to bumblebees, then you will be hard pushed for choice. There really doesn't seem to be much out there, what is out there is mostly out of print or to big to be called a field guide. Yet this book is a field guide and will fit nicely in a largish pocket. It has a good introduction giving you some information about the bee's lifecycle and conservation aspects. It has easy to read colour ID tags for the thorax and abdomen to help you identify your bee. Icons to tell you the habitat you should be able to find it in, plus time of year and a distribution map. It also has icons for the face shape, which I must say, is pretty pointless considering that even though pictures are shown to show the differences in face shape, the differences are SO subtle, even an expert would be hard pushed on that one in the field. 
Not bad, but I think there's better to come.
Yes, it's not a bad book for identifying bumblebees, yet I find the pictures are not the best and don't really show the bees clearly and my other gripe is the way it's written. I found myself having to re-read sections to understand what was being said.
Like I say, it's not a bad book for bumblebee identification, yet I reckon there's better to come.

3/5 stars

Sticking with insects, here's the next one:

The Insects, structure and function by R. F. Chapman

This book is heavy going, really heavy going and is more for the academic than the amateur naturalist. Basically, anything you wanted to know about insects and wished you never asked is in this book. Spanning over 900 pages with brilliant diagrams, pictures and graphs, this book is for the serious entomologist or person who really wants to know how insects work. I've only just started this book and in the first two pages I picked up the dictionary more times than I have all year. But this is a good thing, this is how we learn and I will be spending a long time learning on this one. This book will be a welcome gift for any student of entomology without a doubt and priced at just over £38, it's an absolute bargain in my eyes.
You're in for a long read.
If anything, this book is more of a dip and pick book rather than a read from page to page book. For example, if you want to know more about the exoskeleton, you can go to this book and look it up and it will tell you in unimaginable detail about the exoskeleton and more. A nice book on any shelf.

5/5 Stars

Spring has sprung?

What!!! Don't talk daft. But it's true, well almost. Even when I went out in the morning to look at the moth trap, I heard the toads in the pond calling. Something they usually do in spring to attract a mate, even someone on Twitter reported to seeing and filming grass snakes mating. Someone else reported seeing a blue-tit sitting to the entrance of a nest box singing, again, trying to attract a mate. So what's going on? 

If you look at the weather at the moment, you could say it's a bit spring like and if you consider we've just passed the autumnal equinox, which 6 months ago would have been the spring equinox, so the sun is more or less in the same position in the sky today as it is in spring. So yes, the animals are a little confused but it's nothing to worry about, after all, it is only us humans who have a physical calendar unlike the animals who just have nature to go by.  So to them it is spring like, after all, they don't know there's only 11 Saturday's till Xmas!

Till next time folks :)


  1. Loving your Bumblebee Project! Please do keep us updated with it!

    1. Will do. Have just about got enough pollen together and have ordered some beeswax to place the pollen in. Roll on spring!