Bumblebee surveying - whatever the weather!

Last weekend I delivered my first bumblebee survey training event of the year. I was training the volunteers of the Sustrans charity, all of whom are already involved in surveying the biodiversity of stretches of the public transport infrastructure in Scotland.

I dusted off my training materials which I hadn’t looked at since summer – boxes of pinned bee samples, ID guides, nets and collecting pots. I also had to remind myself of the content of the three presentations I’d be delivering throughout the day and update them.

Despite the best preparations though, the British weather was to live up to its reputation and deliver a day with all four seasons in one! It started off very rainy, which was fine as we were indoors all morning anyway. In the afternoon, we went outdoors to find some bees to look at. At first there were no bees to be seen, despite the number of bee-friendly plants in bloom, including willow trees with dusty yellow catkins – usually a favourite of bumblebees. The weather certainly had a part to play though, with strong winds and gusts which were made worse by the fact that we were in a fairly exposed area. We eventually managed to find a sheltered patch of scrub and woodland which was a bit more sheltered, and the sun even came out for a while. And that’s when the bees came! We found three different species; queens of the Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris), White-tailed (Bombus lucorum) and Early (Bombus pratorum) bumblebee species. This is a great result, considering that there are only six common species in most areas.

The following day I was leading some bee walks in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. I was lucky to have delivered them at all, after being warned that the gardens might close for the day because of strong winds! But I’m glad I persevered, as we found six species, including the three already mentioned, as well as the Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum), Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and the Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus). I was especially happy to see the Heath bumblebee as it’s one of the less common species to find, and the first time I’ve seen it in the Botanic Gardens! We also found worker bees of a few species, showing us that spring is well under way and some queens have been well ahead of the game and established strong nests already.

So here’s to another year of bumblebee surveys and events – whatever the weather!

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