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Autumn & Winter BB activity

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Dear Readers,

Here’s a way of keeping your “Bumblebee Enthusiasm” going during Autumn and Winter -
Watch out for B. terrestris workers bees on the flowers of Mahonia bushes, or other winter flowers.

Bees from late (second generation) colonies of B. terrestris (Buff tailed bumblebee) work the pale yellow Mahonia flowers for both pollen and nectar. 
Sometimes they can also be spotted on the small fragrant white flowers of autumn flowering Elaeagnus - a shrub which has small waxy laurel-like leaves - or other winter flowers

Autumn / Winter B terrestris colonies are said to occur in the south of the country.
Can we use this BBCT Forum to get some feedback on how far up the country the occur ?

I live in the Chilterns, to the northwest of London.
I’ve spotted worker bumblebees on Mahonia flowers up to January in some of the last 4 or 5 years.

Several B terrestris workers were active near my home today - and I’ve seen this over the last few weeks.

The workers seem to be fairly large,  so can be very easy to spot !

Photos below.

There’s also been a some discussion on winter B. terrestris in another Forum thread -
“Possibly Buff-tailed queen” in the forum topic ‘Bumblebee Identification’.

Clive

Photos (hand-held, so not as sharp as I would like !) :-
1. Queen B. terrestris collecting pollen from Japanese Anemones on Sept 2nd ‘12 - in a neighbour’s garden.
2.  Worker B. terrestris working Mahonia flowers for pollen and nectar 15th Nov ‘12.
3. Two worker B terrestris busy working Mahonia flowers on 15th Nov ‘12

     

Image Attachments

B_terr_Q_Sept12_Pollen_CIMG0859.jpgB_terr_+_pollen_Mahonia_CIMG1217.jpg_2_B_terr_on_Mahonia_CIMG1218.jpg

Click thumbnail to see full-size image

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Hello Clive

I think this is a super idea. Thank you for posting.

The BeeWalk surveyors have recently been having a great discussion about over-wintering bumblebees on the BeeWalk Google Group.
I found some interesting sightings mentioned on the BWARS website which I will reproduce here. It seems it that the Early bumblebee is also in on the act.

The following is from the BWARS website page http://www.bwars.com/index.php?q=content/bombus-pratorum-observations

Bombus pratorum observations

1. Bombus pratorum worker flying in December 2006
From the BWARS Forum: Steve Farmer Sunday 17 December 2006

This morning (Sunday 17 December 2006) we visited the Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park. There we saw 5 Bombus Pratorum workers simultaneously collecting pollen and nectar from Rhododendron flowers. The bumblebees were very easy to observe as the Rhododendron pachysanthum was on the edge of the path. The workers had one yellow band on the thorax but the band on the abdomen was virtually absent. Each had the typical orange tip to the abdomen. They each had the typical rounded “dumpy” shape of B. pratorum. They were all small and one was very small. Four out of the five were collecting pollen as well as nectar. This particular rhododendron has been flowering for the last month. It has small cup shaped white flowers pointing upwards and the workers were climbing down into the flowers. The Rhododendron is growing on a warm south facing bank and was in full sunshine. The air temperature was only about 6C. The exact location is the south side of High Flyers Hill SU969694

Later on we saw one more Bombus pratorum worker on winter heather in the Heather Gardens. This was also collecting pollen and nectar. The bed of Erica x darleyensis “Karmer’s Rote” was in full sunshine. About half an hour later as we returned we saw one more B. pratorum worker in the same location (or the same worker again). The location is SU971697 about 400 metres from the first site.

During this walk we also saw four queen Bombus terrestris on Mahonia and two queens and two worker B. terrestris on winter heathers.

We also saw about 12 worker wasps on the Mahonia, and 3 red admiral butterflies. Bumblebees, wasps and butterflies were only seen on flowers in full winter sunshine.

Stuart Roberts responded:
These are pretty remarkable observations of B. pratorum at this time of year! Clearly an active nest. I do know that our French colleagues were observing B. pratorum in late Jan this year in the Bordeaux area.

2. Bombus pratorum workers in Windsor Great Park December 2007

From the BWARS Forum: Steve Farmer 11 December 2007 and 30 December 2007.

This is a brief summary of some recent observations during November and December 2007 at Windsor Great Park, in the Valley Gardens and Heather Gardens (SU96).  There have only been 2 air frosts in this area during the early winter and many winter flowering shrubs are already in bloom.

The most interesting observations have been of Bombus pratorum. One B. pratorum queen was seen on 25 Nov on Rhododendron pachysanthum collecting nectar.  On 11 Dec there were 1 queen (nectar) and 2 workers (pollen and nectar) on the same Rhododendron and one Queen (pollen and nectar) on Prunus subhirtella and 1 worker (nectar) on Mahonia.

On 30 Dec I was able to confirm that there was certainly a B. pratorum nest in the Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park for the second winter running. There were just two B. pratorum workers on Rhododendron pachysanthum at midday in bright sunshine. This Rhododendron comes into flower very early and has a long winter season. The position is very sheltered on a south facing bank under scattered mature Scots pines. The earlier flowers have been damaged by recent hard frosts (minima down to -6C locally) but more fresh flowers have opened. The flowers are cup shaped facing upwards and the B. pratorum workers have to climb down into the middle. They are very easy to observe on the edge of a path and there is no problem about identification.

There were no further sightings of B. pratorum workers during three subsequent visits to the Valley Gardens during January 2008

In the BWARS Newsletter Spring 2007 pp.11-12 I reported that last winter B.pratorum workers from an active B. pratorum nest were seen between 17 Dec 2006 and 15 Jan 2007. It appears that another B. pratorum nest was established this winter in the same location but probably failed soon after New Year.

     
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Hello


I have just seen this morning on the BWARS website that they have launched a new project gathering data on winter active bumblebees.

Here is the link to the project page

http://www.bwars.com/index.php?q=content/winter-active-bombus-terrestris-data-gathering

It seems that some bumblebees in the south of the country, particularly Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) have been foregoing hibernation and going straight to colony founding as mentioned by Clive in his first post above.

So winter may not be as quiet a time as we had thought.
Keep looking out for these hardy bumblebees and get involved!

Michelle, our Conservation Officer, has found that Hymettus have produced new factsheets about gardening for bees over the seasons including Autumn. So there is still plenty we can be doing to help our beleaguered bees.

http://www.hymettus.org.uk/information_sheets.htm

all the best,
elaine

     
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Clive - whereabouts are you? I’m in Berkhamsted, also in the Chilterns. That’s some great pictures of active bees, I’m curious about the Mahonia that they’re feeding on - is it a bush? how big does it get? I might look to plant one.

     
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Hi Malcolm - and sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

I’m about 30 ? miles away over the hills to the south west of you, in the Wycombe area.

I don’t know much about Mahonia yet, but it seems to be a moderately common shrub / small tree.  It has pinnate leaves like an Ash tree, but darkish-evergreen and pretty spiky, like holly.  Most of the examples round here are around 1.5 metres tall, but a neighbour has one that must be approaching 4 metres but it has probably never been pruned.

The bees were active on two shrubs of it up until last week, but I’ve not yet seen any since the cold weather at the weekend.  However, BBs are pretty resilient, so if it warms up a bit they will probably be back.

In the past I’ve also seen bees working Winter Jasmine flowers, but the tubular flowers are probably rather on the long side for B. terrestris,  unless the nectar was to build up to a good depth in the flower tube. 

The fragrant white autumn flowers of the bush I know as Eleagnus are also sometimes visited by B. terrestris and other species in the mid-autumn. (I’ve seen B. pascuorum, B. pratorum and B. hypnorum on this too.)

I hope this helps !              Yours         Clive

     
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I just nipped into the garden to fill up my bird feeders and the sound of a Bee really made me jump. I looked up to see what looked like a Queen Bombus Lucorum flying around my Hazel. I nipped in to get a camera but sadly it had gone. I can’t ever remember seeing a bee in December although I ususally see some in January smile
It’s made me realise I don’t have anything in flower that it could feed on…something to look into perhaps

     
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Thanks Paula.

Can you tell us roughly where you are in the country? It would be interesting to know how widespread this activity is.
Keep your camera handy, maybe she will come back.

regards, elaine

     
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Hi Elaine,  I’m near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire and my camera’s at the ready smile

     
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I have to say I never saw my Bumblebee again and I haven’t seen one since. Most years I get to see one or two in January or February on a Sunny day but I haven’t seen one at all so far. I’m just hoping that the recent floods haven’t scuppered things again :(